For the overnight video, we have the Japanese trailers to Takahata's 1991 masterpiece, Omohide Poro Poro. It is easily my favorite of all the Studio Ghibli movies, and one of my all-time favorite movies. I've often described this film as "Ozu painted with watercolors," but Poro Poro has a modern pop-centric sensibility that gleefully steals from Western mass media in the service of cultural satire, it flows between a "modern" 1991 and "nostalgic" 1966 to question Japan's postwar values, its Western influences, its very identity in the face of economic collapse. The "bubble" economy is the unspoken elephant in the room, as the personal and the cultural melt together.
What does it mean to be Japanese in the post-war world? Horus begs his dying father, "Who? Who are my people?" These questions of personal and national identity are one of the dominant themes of Takahata's films. And he does so by telling deeply humane, emotional stories. I always find myself completely verklempt after watching one of his movies, and I need a good five minutes after to bring myself back down. I can think of a number of moments where Poro Poro does this: the baseball game that doubles as a childhood courtship; a sunrise over the mountains where the flowers sing in a beautiful chorus; a father's frustration at his daughter erupting in sudden (and shocking) violence; a daughter trapped by society's strict rules; consoling herself by singing the theme song to her favorite television show; and, of course, the final ending during the credits. Yes, it's a schmaltzy ending. Willy hears ya, Willy don't care.
Of course, you don't need to understand Japanese culture circa 1991 to connect to Poro Poro. Anyone who has ever felt lost, drifting in a life that seems to carry you away, can connect to Taiko-chan's crisis of identity, and her journey of the self. Who am I? Who have I become? What became of the child I once was? Where do I go from here? These are universal themes.
Why can's such movies be made in the West? Is it really so impossible to comprehend the idea of animation that doesn't sell to five-year-olds? Can we really imagine any future for the medium beyond "the electric babysitter?" I don't see any reason why animation cannot tell stories for all audiences, covering all topics, incorporating all of the history of cinema. In the West, Walt Disney is the Black Hole of Animation. Nothing escapes his gravitational pull. That's unfortunate. It's like Dorothy is trapped for eternity in boring ol' black-and-white Kansas, completely unaware that Technicolor even exists. Dorothy is being deprived and it's a damned shame.
It's interesting. Everyone is kvetching about Studio Ghibli closing its doors, and when I announce that there may be another movie in the works...crickets. Hayao Miyazaki's last feature film plays in US theaters...crickets. Isao Takahata's last feature also plays in theaters...crickets.
And then there's the curious fact of Goro Miyazaki's Ronia, the Robber's Daughter, and Hiromasa Yonebayashi's When Marnie Was There. Absolutely no buzz for either of those. It's a safe bet that Marnie won't even make a million dollars in its upcoming US theatrical run. From Up on Poppy Hill and Tales of Earthsea didn't.
And don't even get me started on the pre-Ghibli films now available on DVD: Horus, Lupin III, Panda Go Panda, Sherlock Hound. Have any of those home video releases sold over a thousand copies? Over a hundred?
Exactly where are these Ghibli fans I keep hearing about? Were they really only Spirited Away fans, or Totoro fans? The whole scene appears to have peaked in 2011, when Arrietty was released in the States, and support has melted away ever since.
I've had this theory that Japanese animation came into vogue in the 1980s because American animation, and particularly Disney, was sorely lacking, leaving a void to be filled. With the success of Pixar, the Disney renaissance, and the dominance of Hollywood studios, that void no longer exists. People aren't looking for alternatives anymore. They might consider something different, animated movies from Japan or Asia or Europe or the UK, only as long as they fit into the existing Disney/Pixar paradigm. If not, no thanks, not interested.
I have to say that I'm a bit surprised by this. I had expected a sizeable Studio Ghibli fan community by now. Most of the studio's major films are available on home video, as well as much of the pre-Ghibli Miyazaki-Takahata catalog. And yet, nobody is biting. Very strange, and I don't have an easy answer to explain it.
Maybe it's just the warm weather outside. But it does feel like the end of the party. Perhaps my "Conversations on Ghibli" book(s)* will serve as the final capstone of the era, a chronicle for future generations. Oh, well. If so, it was a great party. We had fun.
*I've been working to translate the Ghibli Blog essays and reviews into book form, which keeps growing and growing. We might end up with two books by the time we're done. And there's a stack of manuscripts to work on after that's done. Whee! Can I have a grant?
Rape the Environment, I-III (2003)
Another series of digital prints from my 2003 Digital series. These are similarly titled because they were created in short fashion, progressing from one to the next. I aimed to preserve everything while tinkering with Paint Shop Pro, and at the end, decided to keep each of these.
The titles, as well as many of the 2003 Digital titles, referred to the policies of the George W. Bush Presidency, which was a complete and utter disaster. Thankfully, this is now an opinion that nearly everyone agrees with, and so I don't feel quite as isolated as I did back in 2003, when the trauma of the September 11 terrorist attacks rallied the nation around Bush.
As for these digital prints, I wasn't aiming for a psychedelic look, and at the time, I had no idea what "psychedelic" even meant, other than as some Baby Boomer hippie thing (yuck, goes our Generation X). I only was interested in the form, the color and shape and texture. I also aimed for something that didn't look "digital" or pixelated, but painterly. The swirling patterns of "Part III" more closely resembled my Watercolor on Canvas paintings, and so I happy to recreate that on a computer screen.
While Hayao Miyazaki remains, for the moment, happily retired, Isao Takahata remains active, hot on the heels of an Academy Awards nomination for The Tale of the Princess Kaguya. And so speculation is rife with questions over his future plans.
Speaking in France in promotion of Kaguya's theatrical release in that country, Paku-san has revealed some details over his possible future plans at Studio Ghibli:
"I have not started working on a new project" explained the director. "But I had a project on which I had started to prepare before The Tale of Princess Kaguya, and the producer, Yoshiaki Nishimura, asked me to make a short film. Osamu Tanabe, the central animator [animation director] on Princess Kaguya, is also interested in the project. Thus, most of the conditions for a production have been satisfied. However, for my part, I have not really even started to work on it.
"You will be kind enough to treat this information as conditional," the director concluded with a laugh.
I have often said that several conditions must be met before Takahata can direct another film. There must be a willing and supportive producer. There must be the necessary funding, perhaps even with a willingness to forgo turning a profit. There must be an animation director willing to undertake the task (Paku-san is not himself an animator). And Takahata himself must be committed with a compelling story and script. As of now, most of those conditions have been met.
It's quite telling that Studio Ghibli producer Yoshiaki Nishimura, who inherited the reins from Toshio Suzuki, wants another Takahata film. And he is more interested in long-term strategy, in crafting a movie that will be revered 20 years into the future, than turning a profit for the studio. It's safe to say that he isn't willing to make such a move for anyone else but Paku-san, the legend, the revolutionary.
Crafting a Takahata movie is much like dragging a stone up a mountain (an image visualized perfectly by Hayao Miyazaki during the Horus production of the 1960s). The final piece of the puzzle remains Takahata himself. Can he commit to the necessary preparation and planning? Can he create a story up to his standards? And can Nishimura keep him focused and on-track?
Given his recent comments, and given Kaguya's Oscar nomination, I do suspect that Paku-san wants to create another film. But what kind of film, which topic, and what format (short or feature length) remains up in the air. He seemed ready to accept retirement after his latest masterwork, and indeed, Kaguya has that same Abbey Road feel as Miyazaki's The Wind Rises. The Oscars have given him a new lease on life, a new currency. And he intends to spend it.
Watch this space. Studio Ghibli isn't finished yet.
The complete Studio Ghibli (JP) Blu-Ray feature film collection. The only title in the catalog not yet released on BD is the 1993 TV movie Umi ga Kikoeru ("I Can Hear the Sea," aka "Ocean Waves"). I'm honestly not sure why that title hasn't been released, or if it has been demoted in the official canon. That would be unfortunate, because it's an excellent movie, fitting perfectly within the studio's "neo-realist" animations, such as Omohide Poro Poro, Mimi wo Sumaseba, and The Wind Rises.
As always, the Japanese Blu-Ray titles have the best picture quality (video file sizes are regularly double that of the US Disney BDs), and the best packaging. They're also the most expensive, thanks to Japan's odd policy of high prices for home videos. Ya gets what ya pays for, kids.
(Photo: Blu-Ray.com Studio Ghibli int'l forum)
The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness, the 2014 Japanese documentary about Studio Ghibli and its founders Hayao Miyazaki, Toshio Suzuki and (occasionally) Isao Takahata, is now available on Netflix Instant. The film is already available on iTunes, Amazon Instant and DVD.
Hopefully, this could mean more Studio Ghibli movies could make the migration to digital streaming. I would expect that to happen, sooner or later, as that's the direction the movie industry is headed. The Blu-Ray format has already peaked a couple years ago, and it's doubtful that consumers are willing to dip their toes in the pool for yet another media format ("Ultra HD" 4K). There's only so many times one is willing to purchase the exact same movies, and we've already moved from VHS to DVD to BD, with a couple extra stops (Beta, LaserDisc, HD-DVD) along the way. We're tired of this scam. Just put everything up on Netflix and Hulu, please. Online is devouring cable, and there's no reason to think it won't devour physical formats, as well.
As for me, I'm holding out for the "Super Ultra HD Turbo Alpha 3: Third Strike" format to arrive. Then I'll have the perfect home movie library!
Following up on our recent post announcing the arrival of Studio Ghibli's Spirited Away and The Cat Returns on Blu-Ray, Disney has announced the release date is June 16, 2015. Pre-orders are now available at Amazon and most major retailers.
Be sure to get your orders in early, fans. While most so-called "fans" won't touch any of the recent Ghibli films (an unfortunate fact that irritates me to no end), they will turn out for this. Heck, for most Miyazaki fans, Spirited Away is Studio Ghibli, the only one that matters. It also helps that the film's only DVD was released a dozen years ago (no remastered reissues diluting the money pool).
I'm curious to see if The Cat Returns sells by virtue of hanging on Spirited Away's coat tails. It might be wise for retailers to stock up on their Ghibli DVDs and BDs, just so see what else can sell. You won't get such an opportunity again.
As for Isao Takahata's wonderfully funny, charming and inventive My Neighbors the Yamadas...I guess we'll have to import the Blu-Ray. It doesn't appear that Disney ever intends to release it. This is their final "contractural obligation" release for Studio Ghibli. After June 16, the Ghibli-Disney relationship in the US is finished. It will be left to GKids Films (and smaller publishers like Discotek Media and Sentai Filmworks) to carry the flame.
For the Sunday (weekend) overnight video, I wanted to pick something a little different, and so I chose one of my "needle drop" audio recordings available on my YouTube channel. A "needle drop" is a recording of a vinyl recording; years ago, one would record to cassette tape or create a mix, while today, most everything is recorded to digital, for transfer to smartphone or burning to CD.
This album is one of my favorite records, a 1976 LP by Canada's Orford String Quartet of Beethoven's String Quartet Op.130. This is one of Beethoven's very last pieces of written music, and shows the emotionally-turbulent master at his peak, full of sound and fury, but also a delicate beauty and clarity. I found this LP for 50 cents, which is common for classical albums. It's very easy to build a record library of classical music for less than the price of a sandwich. Thankfully, the price inflation that has accompanied the Vinyl Revival has yet to extend to classical.
I recorded this LP in 2010 with a Sony PS-X5 direct drive turntable (1977-79), an Ortofon 2M Blue phono cartridge, Musical Fidelity V-LPS phono stage, and Harmon Kardon 330c stereo receiver. This was never my favorite audio line-up, but it was very effective and it got the job done.
My current setup: Sony PS-X600 Biotracer turntable, Shure M91ED cartridge, Pro-Ject Tube Box SE II phono stage, and Marantz 2235b stereo. I really love my stereo system, especially the Biotracer deck and the Tube Box. The humble Shure cartridge - one can easily be found for $20 these days - is the weak link in the chain, yet it has a musical, full-bodied sound that is quite effective. A Jico Super-Analog Stylus is available for $130, and dramatically improves the performance of the cartridge. Jico makes a similar stylus for Shure's M97XE cartridge, and is widely regarded as a killer combination for the budget minded music lover. It is nice to know that one need not spend hundreds or thousands of dollars on their stereo systems.
Anyway, enjoy the LP recordings. I've often toyed with the idea of writing hi-fi audio reviews on Saturdays or Sundays here on the blog, but weekends tend to be my "down time." I'm also quite busy running around all the time. We'll see if I get around to that. Back to work on Monday!
St. Scholastica Blues (2003)
St. Scholastica Orange (2003)
These two pieces are part of a very large series of digital artworks created in 2003. Everything was done on Paint Shop Pro, utilizing the various filters and effects.
I chose the title because St. Scholastica was where I spent my first year of college. It's a private Catholic university on the hills of Duluth, Minnesota, across the street from the University of Minnesota-Duluth campus. It's a small school, one very old castle, one newer building for the science departments, and one building for the dorms, where I lived for a time. The Catholic nuns live in their own quarters on one wing of the main building. It was a fun little school, but focused mostly on medicine, so I later transferred to the U of M.
I also thought of St. Scholastica when creating the "orange" piece, which reminded me strongly of 1970s pop art. One would find these kind of rounded-curve patterns on walls everywhere in the late '70s, and so it had a certain nostalgic pull for me. I also created these pieces as texture-map tiles for video games such as Quake III and Unreal Tournament; I would use those games to "test" the digital artwork, so ensure that no seams were present, and the tiles flowed smoothly.
I'm not sure, exactly, how to achieve that feat in the real world, since the resolution for the 2003 Digital series is all too low (my mistake). I suppose solutions could be worked around it somehow, if the funding were available. It would be cool to make wallpaper out of these patterns for an art gallery show, especially for Orange.
Okay, somebody out there has to upload some Marco clips to YouTube. I could barely find anything at all. I was lucky enough to find this clip video.
3000 Leagues in Search of Mother was the 1976 follow-up to the enormously successful Heidi, Girl of the Alps. As before, the trio of Isao Takahata, Hayao Miyazaki and Yoichi Kotabe were the creators, although Takahata was clearly the dominant player, whereas Heidi was very much a team effort. This dominance, however, strained relations with Kotabe and Miyazaki, who both left after the series conclusion. The old band, together since the Toei Doga days, had broken up.
Miyazaki broke out fully on his own, creating one of his iconic masterworks, Future Boy Conan. It's quintessential Miyazaki, perfectly fusing his love of cliffhanger adventure serials with the sense of social conscience learned from Paku-san. And his obsessive work ethic on Heidi and Marco resulted in absolute creative dominance on Conan. Everything was his vision, his direction, and one often gets the sense that if Miyazaki could have animated and painted every single drawing himself, he would have.
Fortunately, relations with Takahata remained on good terms, even asking him to guest-direct two episodes of Conan. Miyazaki would return one final time for Anne of Green Gables in 1979, before departing the series after episode 13 for the Telecom studio and Lupin the 3rd: Castle of Cagliostro.
For Kotabe, his career proved more difficult in the late 1970s, working freelance animation jobs. His greatest achievement during this period was as the animation director of Toei's 1979 animated feature, Taro the Dragon Boy (it's a very good movie, btw). In 1981, he joined with Takahata once again, serving as co-animation director with friend and fellow Toei alum Yasuo Otsuka. He contributed key animation to Miyazaki's Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind in 1984, before retiring from animation completely to work at, of all places, Nintendo. All those Mario drawings over the years? Pikachu? Yeah, that's Kotabe-san.
Of those three World Masterpiece Theater series of the 1970s - Heidi, Marco, Anne - Marco/3000 Leagues has always been my favorite. I can understand why it doesn't hold the same universal appeal of Heidi, which exploded with such energy and vitality. Marco is pure emotional melodrama pushed to its absolute limits. Heidi might remind you of Studio Ghibli movies such as My Neighbor Totoro or Kiki's Delivery Service. Marco is Grave of the Fireflies. It's 52 episodes of that. It's also the best-written of the three series, with the best cast of characters, most interesting locations (spanning two continents and an ocean), and the most emotionally involving.
Imagine The Book of Job, starring James Dean, directed by John Ford, Frederico Fellini or Sergio Leone. That's 3000 Leagues in Search of Mother. I'm sorry I couldn't find any complete episodes on YouTube, but this short clip video is a nice glimpse. We really ought to upload some episodes. Fortunately, a fansub translation has been available for some time, so it's easy to track down and download.
Discotek once asked me what new anime titles they should pursue. My answers? Heidi, Marco, Anne. These are the best animated films Isao Takahata, Hayao Miyazaki or Yoichi Kotabe ever created. Ever.
Rendered drawing of the Portland Tower, a 17-story mixed-use building (retail and condos) in downtown Minneapolis, near the site of the Minnesota Vikings stadium, Wells Fargo headquarters, and "commons" park, all of which are currently under construction. The Portland site broke ground yesterday in a public ceremony, and is expected to be completed by Summer 2016.
Slowly but surely, the open sea of empty parking lots are being filled in, and the old city of Minneapolis returns to life. Like so many American cities, it was crippled by post-WWII suburban sprawl, urban renewal, and our obsession with cars. A booming economy and young Millennial Generation are fueling an urban renaissance.
Now if we could do something about the eight miles of hamster tubes ("Skyway") that keep people hidden inside of buildings and away from the streets.
“Rather than paintings that declare ‘I am the real thing, I prefer paintings that say ‘As you can see, I am not the real thing, but please use me as a means to imagine or remember in a vivid way the real thing that is behind me. My intent was to have the viewers be there at the moment when the sketches were being drawn and to have them share in the emotions. I want to make sure that we don't forget the great power of paintings drawn by lines on paper to stir our imaginations and memories.”
- Isao Takahata, on the iconic, symbolic power of visual art in animation.
Wired.uk spoke to Isao Takahata recently, touching upon his insights gained from a revolutionary 50-year career. The interviewer, Matt Kamen,, to my pleasant surprise, knew his subject's work, and brought up the 2003 anthology movie, Winter Days, in which Paku-San contributed a scene. That was very nice; Winter Days is one of those animated movies championed by animators and artists, playing in museums and festivals on a regular basis. Instead, it remains almost completely unknown outside of Japan. I guess it doesn't fit within the established genres of "Anime," "Disney," or "Pixar." That needs to change.
Takahata also comments on the freewheeling, impressionist art style of Princess Kaguya, which first emerged in his 1999 feature My Neighbors the Yamadas (and a number of Studio Ghibli short films), and was very strongly influenced by the films of the late, great Frederic Back.
Kamen speaks of Kaguya as Takahata's "final" movie, and this is a common mistake, probably owing to Hayao Miyazaki's retirement from feature films. Paku-san has never announced any retirement; indeed, he has recently spoke about future film projects he might pursue. Will those plans come to fruition? It's hard to say. The clock's ticking, in any event, a fact that Paku-san will happily point out.
Here are the key segments from the Wired.uk interview:
Between My Neighbors the Yamadas in 1999 and The Tale of the Princess Kaguya, you were involved with Kihachirō Kawamoto's Winter Days anthology. It's probably your least known work in the west, so could you discuss how you became involved on the project?
Winter Days is a collection of collaborative linked poems hosted by BashōMatsuo, the renowned seventeenth century haiku poet. Creating renku, collaborative linked poems, is a highly cultured amusement in which several people take turns composing extemporaneous short, linked poems to jointly create a long poem. Humour was an essential aspect of this form of haiku, or the playful form known as haikai.
Kihachirō Kawamoto, to whom I owe much, came up with the idea of creating a film of Winter Days by assigning each poem to a different animation director to realise this project. He asked me to participate in this effort. I thought this was a rash attempt, but I wanted to applaud Mr Kawamoto's foolhardiness as he knowingly took this on. I first cooperated with Mr Kawamoto in turning the old and difficult language of the linked verse collection into modern Japanese. This was distributed to the participating animation directors. While we were working on this, from the expectations I had and respect I felt for mutual friends of ours, the Russian Yuri Norstein and the Canadian Frédéric Back, I decided to take on one of Bashō's haiku. Unfortunately, Mr. Back was unable to participate as his schedule was too busy.
The result was a unique and interesting film. But, unless one understands the meaning of each poem, it might be hard to comprehend. I was especially impressed by Mr. Norstein's segment in which he showed such a Japanese poetic sentiment and humour, far beyond what Japanese people can express.
Visually, The Tale of the Princess Kaguya is closer to Yamadas than your earlier movies. What appeals to you about this more impressionistic style?
It is interesting that you describe the style as impressionistic! I have been strongly influenced by Back's Crac!and The Man Who Planted Trees. His animation style can truly be called impressionistic.
In order to have people believe in a fantasy world and characters that no one has seen in reality, it may be best to present the space, objects, and characters in a three-dimensional manner. It is as if that world existed right there, in a trompe l'oeil fashion. The current American animation films utilise 3D CG to aim in that direction.
But I wonder about the representation of the world we know well, how to depict very ordinary daily landscapes, nature, and people. I have long thought that it is better to appeal to the viewers' memory and imagination but this was impossible to express through animation. The initial act of sketching has been the best method for carving onto people's minds and memories the true impression of objects and figures.
Convinced that it was unnecessary to draw in scrupulous detail the everyday world that everyone knows, I used this style forMy Neighbours the Yamadas. I thought that the gifted Hisaichi Ishii [creator of the manga Nono-chan, thatYamadas was based on] had captured a distinct reality of Japanese people in his graphic renditions, and I believe I made the characters move with greater reality than in the usual animation films.
How did you apply those techniques and styles to The Tale of the Princess Kaguya?
With [this film] I went further along this direction to have the audience vicariously experience the instant the artist rapidly sketched what was occurring in front of his eyes. I aimed to have the audience vividly imagine or recall the reality deep within the drawings, rather than thinking the drawings themselves were the real thing. This would allow the viewers to feel moved by the actions and emotions of joy and sorrow of the characters, and sense nature teeming with life, in a more evocative way than through a seemingly real painting.
For this effort to succeed, it was essential to have the collaboration of a brilliant animator and an artist with special talents. Without Osamu Tanabe, who created the character design, animation design, and layout, and Kazuo Oga, who created the artwork, "The Tale of The Princess Kaguya" could not have been made. This work is the crystallization of the efforts of these two and the entire staff who supported our vision.
My Picnic Was Hijacked by the Ant-Hill Mob (2000)
Watercolors and Liquid Paper on Canvas, 18" x 24"
One of the goofier titles, I'll freely admit, playing off the old Wacky Races and Laff-a-Lympics cartoons. I think the name came to mind because of the Wacky Races on Sega Dreamcast, which arrived in the summer of 2000. It was also one of the early videogames to feature "cel shading" graphics, which aimed to recreate a hand-drawn animated look to polygon graphics. It was a pretty innovative idea at the time, best utilized in Sega's own Jet Grind Radio (Jet Set Radio in Europe and Japan).
The painting continued the "watercolor on canvas" series, with multiple layers and quantities of paints, with a couple layers of correction fluid as the final layer. If I remember rightly, I didn't use the Kinko's brand this time, but one of the other major "Liquid Paper" brands. I discovered that they were not the same; this brand didn't dilute with water very well, preferring to clump together. It resulted in some interesting patterns, which helped make this painting stand out from the pack. But after this piece, I immediately went back to the Kinko's brand.
I'm not sure if that Kinko's fluid even exists anymore. I should have bought a 20-year supply and put everything into storage. But one can never anticipate the future, knowing what will stay, and what will disappear forever. Your only solutions are to make peace with the impermance of life, or become an obsessive hoarder. I don't have that much closet space.
Errol Morris is one of America's finest documentary filmmakers, and I consider his 2003 The Fog of War one of my all-time favorites. He has a remarkable talent as an interviewer, in knowing how to draw details out of his subjects, of bringing us closer to the truth...or the "truth," which is often evasive, elusive, dark. No other subject matches that description better than the JFK Assassination, which continues to haunt us half a century later.
I have no patience for conspiracy theories, which Terence McKenna once described as eschatological cartoons - "As soon as I hear the words, 'ex-NASA scientist,' I reach for my revolver." If you bring up Area 51 or Bigfoot, I'll head for the exits. And if you bring up 9/11, I'll probably hit you with a rolled-up newspaper. But JFK...something dark and sinister went down in Dallas that morning. What, exactly, and why? I couldn't answer those questions to save my life. I only know that the quote-unquote, "official" story is absurd and logically impossible. Beyond that lies an infinite morass of half-truths and half-lies.
This short film, a "doc-ed" for the New York Times website, discusses that day in Dallas with noted author Josiah Thompson, of "Six Seconds in Dallas" fame. It does not entertain conspiracy theories or offer fantastic solutions to the great puzzle. It quietly reflects a few basic facts, contemplates their meaning, and meditates on they mystery. The more one examines a crime, the clearer the events that transpired become. This crime has only become murkier, darker. We witness a titanic shift of history, but cannot explain it.
Ah, well. A bit of a speech for an arts and movie blog. But that's what the arts are supposed to do.
There's only 12 hours left on this sale, so be sure to hurry if you're interested.
The newly-completed CHS Field, the home for the St. Paul Saints, a minor-league baseball team. The stadium lies in the heart of lowertown, at the end of the "green line" light rail to Minneapolis (which ends, nicely enough, at the Minnesota Twins Target Field Station).
The previous Saints stadium was a shambling mess, hidden in the middle of nowhere, like so many attractions in the Twin Cities. Building a new stadium in downtown was a whip-smart move. This field looks spectacular, offers superb views from all seats, and is easily the best thing to happen to St. Paul in ages. Best of all: cheap-seat tickets are five bucks. Tickets to the new Minnesota Vikings stadium will run five thousand. Ouch.
ProTip: Actor Bill Murray is a part owner of the St. Paul Saints. He can be seen at games on rare occasions.
(Photo: The Minnesota Skinny)
In 2008, Goro Miyazaki drew a one-page comic for Studio Ghibli's layout exhibition in Japan. The comic, "What is Animation Layout?" shows us how layout and storyboards fit into the production of animated movies. I wrote a post about this in 2012, showing the comic in its original Japanese. Now, thanks to the fine folks at Buta Connection, Goro-san's piece is now fully translated into French and English.
I continue to be amazed at how Goro-san draws himself: an almost-entirely empty face. He looks like Charlie Brown after one too many plastic surgeries. He's a blank slate, receding into the background against the dominant personalities of his father, Hayao Miyazaki, and the great Isao Takahata. The reluctant director as a living enigma...just who is Goro Miyazaki? This is the question he must answer, for himself and the outside world, if he is to become a successful filmmaker.
You will need to click on the comic panel to view in full-screen. It's a bit scrunched up as part of the post, as you can see above. Much thanks to Buta Connection, as always, and enjoy!
Smartphone video game developer Rovio is producing a $180 million Angry Birds Movie, set for release in theaters on Summer 2016.
Ghibli Blog has received an early draft of the script, including the explosive ending. Here, below, is a worldwide exclusive from The Angry Birds Movie:
Mouse: Hey, Angry Birds, you look like you have something to say? Do you?
Red Angry Bird: We certainly do!
Black Angry Bird: We have to go now. Our planet needs us.
(Fade to black.)
(Text on screen: "Angry Birds died on way to their home planet.)
"McBain" was The Simpsons' spoof of 1980s action movies, openly parodying the likes of Die Hard, Lethal Weapon, Dirty Harry, James Bond, and anything starring Gov. Arnold. Some years ago, as I'm sure you've heard, some enterprising people realized that all of the bite-sized McBain clips could be assembled into a "full-length movie," and stitched everything together. It's actually quite entertaining; not exactly an intended hidden film, but more of a happy accident. You could probably do the same with all those '80s action movies.
Kids today are probably scratching their heads at that '80s Rambo culture. It was everywhere, in our movies, our video games, even our foreign policy. The old geezers in the Ronald Reagan administration certainly watched too many McBain movies, that's for sure. Ah, well. Time to punch up the Konami code for 30 lives, sit back, and have a few laughs with The Simpsons (insert tired "when they were cool" joke here).
Another Cat Bus photo. You'd think there would be a whole cottage industry around this.
Discotek Media, hot on their heels after releasing their excellent DVD of Lupin the 3rd: Castle of Cagliostro, is ready to unleash the Blu-Ray edition. This new version includes all of the features from the DVD, including the Streamline Pictures and Manga Entertainment US dubs, newly-translated English subtitles, audio commentary by Lupin scholar (and project leader) Reed Nelson, restored trailers, a reversable cover design, and a slipcase cover. All new BD-exclusive features include a mini poster, and interviews with voice actors Bob Bergen and David B. Hayter, who played the role of Lupin in the aforementioned dubs.
When will the Cagliostro BD be released? Well...that's a bit tricky. Discotek originally announced an April 28 release date on their website earlier this year. This month, however, the release date for "wide release" was set for June 23. According to sources, the official word is that Discotek will have the movie available for sale exclusively on their website in April, with the wider release (Amazon, major retailers, etc.) in June.
This is an interesting wrinkle. Perhaps this is simply a matter of resource management, as Castle of Cagliostro is hotly anticipated on Blu-Ray. Or perhaps Discotek is experimenting with a tiered release schedule in order to promote their own site's store. Because of wholesale prices, their take from direct sales will be much higher than sales via third-party retailers like Amazon. It is for this reason that I often advocate buying DVDs and BDs directly from the publisher store, if one is available.
I don't know if this is, in fact, Discotek's strategy. As they remain a two-man operation, handling direct sales will strain their limited resources (they really need to hire a staff, ahem...sliding resume under the door...). But those sales will result of greater revenues for the company, which is crucially important for a niche market as anime. This could be a very fascinating experiment, and I'm looking forward to the results.
As for the so-called anime "fans" who have held back from buying the DVD, now you'll have no excuse. If you're waiting for the Blu-Ray, here it is. Pony up the cash. This is a great movie, and a terrific company that deserves your support.
Disney has announced their final wave of Studio Ghibli titles on Blu-Ray Disc: Spirited Away and The Cat Returns. No release date has yet been announced, but we can rest assured that both titles will be available in the coming weeks.
With this announcemnet, Disney will complete their collection of Studio Ghibli feature films Blu-Ray. However, there is one glaring exception: My Neighbors the Yamadas, Isao Takahata's 1999 animated feature. Yamada-kun was one of the first Ghibli BDs released in Japan, and its endless delays on American shores puzzled fans. Today, with Disney's announcement, and given their history of grouping together several titles in a "release wave," it appears that Yamada-kun will not be released on BD at all.
As always, the relationship between Ghibli Freaks and Disney has been a challenging one, to say the least. Critics will point to endless foot-dragging, painfully slow release schedules, and an uneven track record in the quality of English language dub scripts. But there is much to celebrate: a decade ago, none of these movies were available in the US, apart from My Neighbor Totoro, which was held by Fox and available in a dub-only, pan-and-scan DVD. Today, nearly all of the Ghibli features are available at any major retailer.
Is it puzzling and a little frustrating that My Neighbors the Yamadas won't be released? Of course. But I don't believe Disney is doing so out of spite. Okay, maybe just a little. Their relationship with Hayao Miyazaki was also, shall we say, challenging. I don't think they ever got over the "Godfather"-esque incident with the samurai sword in Harvey Weinstein's mailbox. But I'm thankful for what we do have. And Miyazaki-san has two Academy Awards.
And, of course, it goes without saying that I would love to see Ghiblies Episode 2 included with The Cat Returns. The Yoshiyuki Momose-directed anthology short film played in Japan on a double bill with Neko no Ongaeshi ("The Cat Returns the Favor"), and the two make a fine pair. Left on its own, the main feature is a bit lacking. Oh, well, another reason to add the Japanese import to your library.
Apart from Disney, the following Studio Ghibli movies are available on Blu-Ray: Grave of the Fireflies, from Sentai Filmworks; From Up on Poppy Hill, The Story of the Princess Kaguya, and When Marnie Was There, from GKids Films. Omohide Poro Poro and Umi ga Kikoeru remain unlicensed, and unlikely to ever see a US release. Ghibli's many short films, and particularly the 2005 DVD Ghibli ga Ippai Special: Short Short, have never been released outside Japan.
Midnight Magic (1999)
Watercolors and Liquid Paper on paper, 20" x 30"
The title "Midnight Magic," comes from a Broderbund video pinball game for the Atari 800 back in the early 1980s. It was amazing in its day, I loved it dearly. An Atari 2600 version was created sometime around 1987, and was one of my favorite "go-to" video games that year. Atari and the Minnesota Twins, what a year!
This painting was the first full-scale watercolor painting I created, in several sessions during the summer months of 1999. I believe I moved to watercolors and paper after working with acrylics and canvas, just to experiment and stretch my wings and play around. I was working to learn my craft and having a lot of fun.
I always felt that this piece had a certain 1960s "Jetson" quality to it, in the funky shapes and colored polygons and dashing lines. The use of Liquid Paper, the Kinko's (now Fed Ex) brand of correction fluid, was a common tool in my arsenal for many years. I created my fanzine covers with this stuff back in '94 and '95. As I studied and practice fine arts and abstract paintings, I worked to incorporate those skills into these more conventional tools, such as acrylics and watercolors.
Above all, I was trying to create something new, something unique. I wasn't interested in copying what all the other University of Minnesota students were doing, and it seemed that so much of their art had a same-ish quality. The students were learning from their teachers, after all, and had yet to develop their own voices.
I think this is probably why I enjoy the great musicians like Miles Davis and John Coltrane, Bob Dylan and The Beatles. I enjoy that relentless searching for the new frontier, for the new discovery. I'm probably still that way, although time and experience has a way of forcing you into a groove. When you're 21, everything is wide open and new; when you're 41, you're already building your castle on the hill.
Ah, well. I still like this piece. Hopefully it doesn't look too messy. It's a testament to the idea that anyone can create. Even you and I.
"The Sky-Colored Seed" (Sora Iro no Tane) was a 1992 short film created by Yoshifumi Kondo for Studio Ghibli, broadcast on Japanese network NHK to commemorate their 40th anniversary. This film, the second directed by Kondo (the first being Telecom's 1984 Nemo pilot).
This short film is composed of two segments, and run roughly 90 seconds in all. It's based on a children's book by Reiko Nakagawa and Yuriko Omura. In the story, a boy with a toy airplane meets a fox carrying a seed. The two agree to exchange, and the boy plants the seed into the ground, which grows into a large house that draws together all the animals of the neighborhood. The fox returns, and in his jealousy, demands the return of his seed for the boy's toy plane, and expels all the animals from the house. The house continues to balloon in size, until it pops against the sun, evaporating instantly. The fox is left alone, bewildered.
It's a great little film, cheerfully animated and rendered in that "children's storybook" style. Here is a good example of Studio Ghibli demonstrating their skills, moving beyond the typical "anime" look. Their strong Western influence and willingness to experiment visually has always been the studio's greatest strengths. You never quite knew what to expect from Studio Ghibli. They were always coming up with surprises.
It's hard to realize that we've been without Yoshifumi Kondo for almost 20 years. His loss, in my opinion, proved crippling to Studio Ghibli. I can't say whether he could have crafted an endless supply of blockbuster hits, ala Hayao Miyazaki's blockbuster period, but any new Kondo film would be wonderful, unique, peaceful, humane. The world needs more artists like that, and more charming little movies like The Sky-Colored Seed.
Exterior and interior shots of the legendary Metropolitan Building, the first true "skyscraper" built in Minneapolis, and once the largest US building west of Chicago. Built in 1890 as the Northwest Guarantee Loan Building, it was sold to Met Life in 1905, giving the building its famous name.
The Metropolitan is best known for its luxurious interior, with a massive skylight and transluscent green glass for the balcony floors. Metal lattice on the railings and open-view elevators complement the design. The building stood 12 stories tall, and was the largest in Minneapolis until the construction of the Foshay Tower.
Tragically, the Met was destroyed in 1961 as part of a massive urban renewal program, which demolished all or part of 25 downtown blocks. The city of Minneapolis has never fully recovered from the devastation, which succeeded in removing its despised "skid row," but destroyed countless buildings in the process. Many of these classic structures are now empty parking lots facing empty streets. Today, thanks to the Millennial Generation, people are moving back, and a building boom is underway. Hopefully, we can finally recover the spirit of that old city that was lost.
In a just world, the city of Minneapolis would rebuild the Metropolitan as a luxury hotel and rooftop cafe. Heck, rebuild the old Post Office building that once stood next door, another magnificent landmark, and turn that into a museum. Can you believe that downtown Minneapolis has no museums? The Minneapolis Institute of Arts and Walker Art Center lie a couple miles south, buried in residential districts. No museums, no tourist traps, we don't even have a McDonald's or Dunkin' Donuts. You can't throw a rock in downtown Chicago without hitting a Dunkin' Donuts. This is what you get in a city that's afraid of its own shadow. Just hide inside the office towers, hide inside the skyways, and escape to the suburbs at five.
"Mi Vecino Miyazaki," the Studio Ghibli movie book written by Alvaro Lopez Martin and Marta Garcia Villar from Generacion Ghibli, has now published its second edition. Some minor edits and updates are included in this latest printing, keeping the book up-to-date for Ghibli and animation fans everywhere.
It's good to see that this book has sold so well. Here's hoping the second edition is equally successful. Be sure to grab your copy if you haven't yet done so, but remember that this book is en espanol. English speakers will still enjoy having this excellent volume in their libraries.
(Full disclosure: I contributed a short capsule review of My Neighbors the Yamadas for this book.)
When Marnie Was There, the 2014 Studio Ghibli feature film directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi (Arrietty), was released to Blu-Ray and DVD in Japan on March 18. The packaging features the silhouette designs and cardboard cover of Ghibli's BD series, and looks terrific as always. Picture and audio quality should be fantastic, and well worth the price of importing. A DVD is also available at a lower price, and should also look excellent. Dedicated fans, of course, will want to own everything.
Here in the USA, GKids is preparing Marnie for a theatrical run, perhaps the final Studio Ghibli movie to appear on our movie screens. Expect GKids to also release the Blu-Ray, although no specifics have yet been announced.
(Photos: Blu-Ray.com Studio Ghibli Import thread)
Take the Power Back (1999)
16" x 20", Acrylic paints on canvas
I've always enjoyed this painting, part of a series of acrylic paintings in 1999. It was a lot of fun to create, as you could guess. Abstract Expressionism is often just a good excuse to make a big, enormous mess.
If I recall, I most likely used paints that were available in the basement of the college boarding house I was living in that year. It was a large house, many rooms, with a spacious living room with TV, a scary kitchen you wouldn't touch with a ten-foot pole, and a very large and spacious basement that would have made an excellent rec room. I used that space as my "studio" for painting, with the canvas on the concrete floor, paper or plastic underneath to contain the mess.
These kinds of paintings require a variety of techniques, not just wildly throwing paint everywhere. One has to follow rules of composition and form, an understanding of what the picture frame sees, and what you want to capture. In that sense, it's very much like a camera. The entire world is not contained within the frame; you are merely observing a portion of a greater whole. This observation, I believe, is often overlooked by painters, as they try to keep everything within that confined space.
Three dimensional space is crucial, not just into the picture frame, but beyond its borders. That's a very important lesson for this style of art.
It took four decades, but we finally have the Heidi series with English subtitles. Much thanks to the dedication and hard work of the fansub community, who worked across many years and several different parties to provide us with the final, and most significant, masterwork of Isao Takahata, Hayao Miyazaki, and Yoichi Kotabe. This landmark series spearheaded Japan's anime boom in the 1970s, and became an international success around the world. Heidi may be the first truly "global" anime series.
I've raved about this classic series enough times, so I don't feel the need to add to the hype. I've long argued that the three World Masterpiece Theater series of the 1970s - 1974's Heidi, Girl of the Alps; 1976's 3000 Leagues in Search of Mother (Marco); 1979's Anne of Green Gables - are the true masterpieces of the Takahata/Miyazaki canon. The Studio Ghibli movies owe everything to these three, like short novellas derived from the great epics. And everything comes back to Heidi.
To all of the Ghibli Freaks out there who are weeping over the retirement of Hayao Miyazaki and the fading away of Studio Ghibli, have we got a surprise for you. You thought you've seen everything? You've only scratched the surface. Here's the first episode of Heidi, with 51 more episodes to follow. After that, 52 episodes of Marco, 50 episodes of Anne...oh, and 26 episodes of Future Boy Conan. Why the heck don't Western Miyazaki fans know about Future Boy Conan? Isn't that the weirdest thing?
Ah, well. Here is episode one of Heidi, presented with English subtitles. Isao Takahata was the director, Hayao Miyazaki the scene designer and "idea man," and Yoichi Kotabe the animation director and "character designer" (the first time this term was used in an anime production, coined by Takahata).
"Shinders to Shinders," a 1982 short film directed by (then) 27-year-old photographer Daniel Polsfuss, is a surreal fantasy tribute to the notoriously daring, dark and sleazy "Block E" in the heart of downtown Minneapolis. Much like a parallel to Prince's Purple Rain, this film serves as a time capsule to the early '80s, with its dance choreography, hip-hop, pinball, funky hair, and dirty streets.
It's probably hard to imagine that Minnesota - the "wonder bread" capitol of dull, safe blandness - could have a sleazy city block straight outta Manhattan. But Block E was such a place. Its businesses included a Shinders bookstore (one of two on Hennepin Avenue, hence the title), a McDonald's, a record store, a famously dangerous dive bar ("Moby Dick's), and various sex shops that once plagued downtown streets. The wrecking ball, and the internet, drove everything to extinction in time.
In 1988, Block E was demolished, viewed by the city as an embarrassment and an eyesore. The lot remained empty for over a dozen years. What finally replaced Block E? A lousy, dull, soulless, witless suburban shopping mall, containing a number of equally dull and soulless franchise restaurants. They all failed, and the "Disney" version of the block languished for years as well. Today, in 2015, the site is being rebuilt again, this time as a Mayo Sports Clinic and practice space for the Minnesota Timberwolves and Lynx basketball teams. The beloved Kieran's Pub remains in the back, across from the Target Center, and it's one of the best pubs in Minnepolis.
Ah, well. The history of downtown Minneapolis is replete with such stories, of crazy, dangerous, but fully alive blocks demolished to make way for the wonder bread suburbans, who hide inside the skyway hamster rubes, looking for another Applebee's. It's a lot of back and forth. We look to the young Millennial Generation to turn the page once again, as they flow back into downtown, revitalizing districts that have been all but abandoned for decades. I certainly wouldn't want to see the sleazy sex shops return, nor the drug dealers. But I certainly want for something more than just another indoor mall.
Sleep tight, kids. Enjoy the time capsule, and realize that this is how your parents once dressed when they were your age. Try not to laugh to loudly.
One of the great cruelties for animation lovers is how Heidi, Girl of the Alps - the landmark anime series created by Isao Takahata, Hayao Miyazaki and Yoichi Kotabe - became an international success everywhere in in the world, except for the United States. For reasons that remain unknown, this classic cartoon series was never broadcast on our shores.
However, there was this one exception: a "greatest hits" movie compilation of Heidi which appeared on VHS. I don't yet know who was responsible for publishing the title, or who produced the English language dub. The videocassette is long out-of-print and a rare find on Ebay. If you find a copy, expect to pay a hundred dollars or more.
Here is "The Story of Heidi" in its entirety. It skims over the 1974 TV series fairly well, thanks to the concise structure of the original children's novel, and Takahata's expert pacing. I do believe he was also responsible for the "movie" versions of Heidi, Marco and Anne, although he was never very happy with the idea of truncating his masterworks. But business is business.
Let's see how busy I am tomorrow, and if we can't get a few posts published Monday. Enjoy the Heidi video!
The Ides of March (1999)
Acrylic and Spray Paints and Liquid Paper on Canvas
One of my personal favorites from my 1999 acrylic paintings. It's pure Abstract Expressionism with layers of gold spray paint, acrylics, and the venerable "Liquid Paper" on top. I believe I gave this one to a friend years ago, or perhaps it was sold. I can't recall. Fortunately, I saved photos of everything for my arts website, and for posterity. These would look nice as canvas or poster prints.
Arrietty the Borrower and When Marnie Was There director Hiromasa Yonebayashi was in the news last week, first with an appearance at the Ghibli Museum's 12th Annual Animation Festival, which showcased a number of animated films around the world (including Marnie, of course). At this appearance on March 7, Yonebayashi was asked about his latest film, and his future plans:
During the Q&A portion of the event, Yonebayashi was asked the one question that was on everyone in the audience’s mind (and is constantly on the mind of every Ghibli fan), “When is your next film coming out?”
After gently reminding the audience that there was a four-year gap between the release of his first and second films, he also joked that if you take too long between films, people may forget who are, poking fun at fellow Ghibli director Isao Takahata, who took eight years to complete The Tale of Princess Kaguya.
Yonebayashi continued with some juicier details. He explained that while he sees the need for and importance of “quiet” films such as Marnie, he agrees with Ghibli poducer Toshio Suzuki, who, for the sake of the animation itself, would prefer to do a film with more movement and excitement. On that note, Yonebayashi suggested that his next film could quite possibly be the direct opposite of Marnie and could be more along the lines of the playful and active Ponyo.
It was Yonebayashi's second event five days later that sparked attention on the internet. At a Tokyo event promoting Marnie, he revealed that he is no longer employed at Studio Ghibli. He, along with the studio's staff, were retired in late 2014, as the studio is currently suspending animation productions as they reconsider their future plans.
As you can expect, this caused mild panic among Ghibli Freaks online, and as these things usually go, a little information goes a long way. Unlike most Japanese animation studios, Studio Ghibli employed a full-time staff, which has steadily grown over the years as Hayao Miyazaki's films such as Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away became record-shattering blockbusters. The studio was also steadily involved in smaller projects, including Ghibli Museum short films, television commercials, music videos, and video games.
Today, Hayao Miyazaki is formally retired from feature film directing, and despite his wishes to create more short movies for the Ghibli Museum, and create a new Samurai comic, is keeping a lower profile, managing the studio's affairs and enjoying his spare time. He appears to be settling into his retirement. Isao Takahata, his elder partner of 50 years, is not retired, and would like to pursue new film projects, but the difficulties in securing funding and producers, and the march of time itself, may prove to be insurmountable. As for Ghibli's other ventures, they have all but dried up.
And so the studio has entered a holding pattern, not working on any new films. If and when any new productions are announced, the staff will likely be assembled on a contract basis. Yonebayashi, for instance, would most probably direct his third feature film for Studio Ghibli, and most of the veteran talent would return. But those are a lot of "ifs." As always, I would keep my eyes and ears trained on Toshi Suzuki, the studio's Svengali and power behind the throne, for any news. Everything else is just internet gossip and message board groupthink.
I've been rather busy since the Oscars with work and home life, but I'll try to get back on regular schedule. I'm probably not able to maintain the breakneck pace, which was full-speed "full time job" tempo.
For tonight's overnight movie, I wanted to share this magnificent documentary film about the old "Gateway" district of downtown Minneapolis. "Skid Row" was filmed from 1955 to 1961 by John Bacich, a World War II veteran and successful real estate businessman who owned a bar and "flop house" hotels on Washington Avenue. He shot movies of his neighborhood patrons on 8mm film, and in the late 1980s, assembled the footage into a 30-minute short film, complete with running commentary of his memories.
This is a haunting documentary, deeply moving, and full of the human experience - tragedy, despair, misery, and urban decay, but also humor, warmth, and the genuine compassion of Bacich, who was dubbed "Johnny Rex," the "King of Skid Row." It depicts an important part of American history that has now vanished. It is one of the most humane documentary films I have ever seen. Its power resonates and echoes in your heart and mind. I pray for the sous of these sad, lost men, as though they were here with me today, trapped in Purgatory.
In 1958, Minneapolis began a five-year crusade to reclaim the Gateway district, demolishing over 20 blocks and nearly 200 buildings. This was the old city, the original buildings of downtown Minneapolis in the late 19th Century. As the city's business core moved several blocks west, the liquor stores and flop houses took over, and the streets decayed into alcoholic slums. After WWII, the growing middle class embraced the new future of suburbs, with their clean and spacious streets, shopping malls, and luxurious cars. The age of the interstate highway had arrived. Edina's Southdale Mall was the first indoor shopping mall. City planners envisioned futuristic cities with gleaming highways, shining skyscrapers, bright, clean, rational. And almost totally devoid of human life.
That is the city Minneapolis built in the 1960s. An ambitious "urban renewal" strategy demolished over 20 downtown blocks, and nearly 200 buildings. Fully 40% of downtown Minneapolis was demolished, in preparation for that glorious Modernist future. We're still waiting for that future to arrive. So much of this city remains, to this day, a collection of empty parking lots, fortress-like buildings (City Center is the worst), and clueless banality. So many magnificent buildings were destroyed. It's heartbreaking. There is a spirit that hangs over places long after the people have died; this area continues to be haunted with sorrow and tragedy.
Today, amazingly, it is the young Millenial Generation that is returning to the cities, reversing the 60-year migration to the suburbs. The Gateway, "Warehouse" and "Mill" districts are rapidly growing with new apartments, restaurants, art galleries, boutiques. It is the biggest building boom in decades. But the ghosts still remain in the air, and the few older buildings that were spared destruction. They remind us of what once was, of what could be, of what might have been. Nostalgia, regret, mourning - they're all sides of the same gleaming cube.
This 1998 TPT (Twin Cities Public Television) broadcast includes Johnny Rex's "Skid Row" film, and an additional 30 minute film discussing the history of the city and reminiscences by Bacich. He died in December, 2012, at age 93. Be sure to watch this movie, then maybe once more.