Currently playing on Netflix is this excellent 2012 documentary on the history of film, and our crossroads between photo-chemical film and digital technology. It is produced and narrated by Keanu Reeves and features discussions and insights by scores of filmmakers, including Martin Scorcese, David Lynch, James Cameron, George Lucas, Christopher Nolan, Richard Linklater, Robert Rodriguez, and many more.
I'm watching the movie and am entranced. On the analog vs digital debate, I tend to side with analog, at least when it comes to music. I do appreciate the many conveniences of modern digital technology, but analog has a special way of capturing reality, either images or music, that is warmer, more romantic. There's a ritual to the mechanics of placing a record on a platter, and moving a tonearm into position. Pressing the Play button isn't quite the same experience.
This is an exciting time for music, photography and the movies. Digital technology and the internet open doors of opportunity that we could barely imaging. I only hope we don't discard that analog magic in the process. I'd like to find a way for both mediums to exist peacefully.
Anyway, find the time to see this movie. It will certainly spark discussions and debates among your movie-loving friends.
Animator and writer Michael Sporn is feeling slightly conflicted about his critical review of From Up on Poppy Hill.
I think of Ponyo riding those waves of the Tsunami. My heart – my entire body lifted in exuberance with that scene. No matter how many times I’ve seen the film it always does it. I think of Spirited Away (so many moments) where Chihiro rides on that ghost train with “No Name” to the dark foreign and silent land of Yubaba, Zeniba’s twin sister. I think of Princess Mononoke when the god of the forest, dressed like a deer stands watching him from across the lake. It’s so glorious a moment. Or one of my all time favorite moments in the movies – standing at the bus stop with Totoro in the rain waiting for the bus to arrive. It doesn’t get better than that in film.
There are so many other Ghibli moments for me, I could keep going. Yet not even a hint of any of these in Poppy Hill. Maybe that’s why I felt I was so negative. I wanted something I shouldn’t have expected from a sophomore director without the proper experience to play out that very complex relationship between him and the girl. It becomes cliché when it should have torn at our hearts.
I completely understand and agree with your sentiments. My first viewing at the Uptown Theater was a frustrating disappointment. Perhaps I just wasn’t in the best mood, and like you, I feel a great desire to WANT to like this movie. Goro Miyazaki, after all, is the presumptive heir apparent to the studio. He’s being groomed to inherit the family business from his father, and despite his lack of experience, they’re working their hardest to help him grow into the director’s role.
But it always comes back to that simple fact – Goro Miyazaki has no experience as a filmmaker, a storyteller, or an animator. I will gladly agree that Poppy Hill is much better than Earthsea (a very low standard indeed), but the movie was still lacking passion, lacking vision. It was a dutiful son punching in his time card and doing a very respectable, if uninspiring, job.
I have a "copy" of the Japanese Blu-Ray (ahem), but I still haven’t summoned the energy to watch again. I feel as though I’m making excuses, trying to find a reason to like this movie and give it a favorable review. Sigh, it’s like I’m writing for GamePro Magazine all over again. When you're telling yourself that you must "like something," it becomes dishonest, to myself and to others. I want to see a good movie, despite all evidence, therefore a "good" movie appears before my eyes. Believing is Seeing.
It’s interesting to note that Ghibli’s best animators (including the great director Yoshiyuki Momose, the true heir apparent) were working on the animated “film” for Ni no Kuni, the Playstation 3 video game. I’d like to see those animated scenes compiled and shared online, if only to compare to Poppy Hill’s presentation. I also think this movie is very Japanese, and much of the nostalgia and reflections on their post-war generation won’t speak to us. This setting, in the looming shadow of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, was Hayao Miyazaki’s key change from the original source material (a 1980 girls’ romance comic); the role of Japan's post-war generation, caught between tradition and the modern world, is arguably the great theme of his directorial career. Younger Goro doesn’t have that life experience, and so we don’t get those key insights, those little details, that we cherish so much in Miyazaki’s and Takahata’s films. Compare Poppy Hill to Mimi/Whisper and Omohide Poro Poro, and you’ll see that difference all too clearly.
I have no idea if Goro has greatness within him; I’m not even sure he wants the job. He’s fulfilling the role of the dutiful son, hoping this will bring him closer to his estranged father, or at least understand the man. But he doesn’t have any of his father’s passions or obsessions. Father Miyazaki was traumatized by war, raised among the ruins of a destroyed nation, and dreamed of drawing comic books and flying.
What makes Goro-san tick? He appears to be highly intelligent, very thoughtful, a peaceful man who would rather cultivate gardens or design architecture. I don’t know how he turns those passions into storytelling. And I don’t think he knows, either. His voice has yet to emerge, and he must also emerge from the shadow of his famous father. And the clock is ticking. A daunting challenge, indeed.
Anyway, I’m sorry for rambling and taking up so much space. But I’m still shook up over Roger Ebert’s passing, and it’s good to talk about the movies with folks who understand.
Where can you see Goro Miyazaki's From Up on Poppy Hill? GKids, the American distributor of the Studio Ghibli film, has updated their list of cities and theaters where it is playing. More venues may be added if popular demand is there.
In related news, Poppy Hill has grossed $341,793 as of April 4, according to Box Office Mojo. More theaters will open the film throughout the month of April, slowing down in the following months.
Here is the list of cities and theaters playing From Up on Poppy Hill:
New York - IFC Center
New York - Film Society of Lincoln Center
New York - Kew Gardens
New York - Beekman Theater
New York - Williamsburg Cinemas
Malverne, NY - Malverne Cinema 4
Huntington, NY - Cinema Arts Centre
Los Angeles - The Landmark
Los Angeles - Regal Edwards University Town Center 6
Los Angeles - Laemmle Playhouse
Toronto - TIFF Bell Lightbox
San Francisco - Landmark Embarcadero Center
San Francisco - Sundance Kabuki Cinemas
San Rafael - Regency San Rafael
Berkeley - Landmark California Theater
Pleasant Hill - Cinemark Century 5
Palo Alto - Cinemark Palo Alto Square
San Jose - Cinemark Santana Row
San Jose - Camera 7 Cinemas
Chicago - Landmark Century 7
Evanston, IL - CinéArts at Evanston
Minneapolis - Landmark Uptown Cinema
Seattle - Egyptian Theater
San Diego - Landmark Hillcrest
Waterloo, Canada - Princess Cinemas
Sacramento, CA - Tower Theatre
Boston, MA - Landmark Kendall Square Cinema
Claremont, CA - Laemmle Claremont
Santa Cruz, CA - Nickelodeon Del Mar Theatre
Redwood City, CA - Cinemark Century 20 Downtown
Long Beach, CA - Art Long Beach
Lancaster, CA - BLVD Cinemas
Los Angeles, CA - Laemmle Monica 4
Los Angeles, CA - Laemmle Noho 7
Seattle, WA - Sundance Cinemas Seattle
Seattle, WA - Majestic Bay Theater
Denver, CO - Landmark Esquire
Boulder, CO - Cinemark 16
Portland, OR - Regal Fox Tower
Honolulu, HI - Kahala 8
Washington, DC - Regal Gallery Place
Fairfax, VA - Angelika Mosaic
Danvers, MA - Hollywood Hits Danvers
Amherst, MA - Amherst Cinema
Minneapolis, MN - Landmark Edina
Omaha, NE - Film Streams
Cleveland, OH - Capitol Theatre
Cincinatti, OH - Mariemont Theater
Roseville, CA - Cinemark Century 14
Point Arena, CA - Arena Point Theater
Tempe, AZ - Harkins Valley Art
Philadelphia, PA - Landmark Ritz at the Bourse
Gaithesburg, MD - AMC Rio Gaithesburg
Arlington, VA - AMC Shirlington
Silver Springs, MD - Regal Majestic Silver Springs
Houston, TX - Sundance Cinemas
Tucson, AZ - Loft Cinema
Austin, TX - Regal Arbor
Dallas, TX - Landmark Magnolia
Plano, TX - Cinemark West Plano
Atlanta, GA - Landmark Midtown Art
St. Louis, MO - Landmark Plaza Frontenac
Boca Raton, FL - Living Room Boca Raton
Gainesville, FL - Hippodrome Theater
Madison, WI - Sundance Cinemas
Mobile, AL - The Crescent Theater
Millerton, NY - The Moviehouse
Bar Harbor, ME - Reel Pizza & Cinerama
San Luis Obispo, CA - The Palm Theatre
Sebastopol, CA - Rialto Cinemas
Santa Rosa, CA - Summerfield Cinemas
Charlottesville, VA - Regal Downtown West
Charlotte, NC - Regal Manor
Salt Lake City, UT - Broadway
Ithaca, NY - Cinemapolis
Las Vegas, NV - Regal Village Square
Bellingham, WA - Pickford Film Center
Marthas Vineyard, MA - MV Film Center
Knoxville, TN - Regal Downtown West
Waterville, ME - Railroad Square Cinema
Nashville, TN - The Belcourt
Milwaukee, WI - Landmark Oriental
Nyack, NY - Palisades Center / Rivertown Film
In 2002, Roger Ebert gave an interview for Central Park Media's two-disc DVD of Grave of the Fireflies. It remains one of the most elegant and thoughtful discussions of Japanese animation.
Ten years ago, in the early weeks of 2003, I was assembling my own artist's website, DanielThomas.org, putting the finishing touches to the layout and design, and writing a number of essays and reviews. Grave of the Fireflies was my first movie review, written after weeks of blood, sweat and tears. I struggled over every line and every paragraph, trying to share the experience of this unique, revolutionary movie, trying to understand a work of art I never before imagined. I continue that struggle to this day.
I couldn't do any of this without Roger Ebert. Without his reviews and insights to guide and inspire me, none of this would be possible. Cliche or not, my essay writings and Ghibli Blog simply would not exist if not for this man. His Greatest Movies series was required reading (and memorization), my informal education in the movies, and continues so today, so many years later. Everything I write is judged, in my mind, against the writings of my greatest teacher.
Roger Ebert was the first major American movie critic to champion Japanese animation, and he was the first to champion the works of Studio Ghibli. At a time when "Japanimation" spawned confusion, disdain and fear, Ebert treated these movies with respect. He accepted the art form on its own terms, understood that it evolved differently from Mickey Mouse and Bugs Bunny. He hailed anime movies like My Neighbor Totoro, Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away, Akira, Ghost in the Shell, Metropolis, Tokyo Godfathers. And Grave of the Fireflies was held in special esteem, above all.
Now this is a pretty cool discovery. These are a pair of artist renderings of an imagined "Studio Ghibli fighting game. The first one is the newer design, reminiscent of SNK's King of Fighters series, and looks pretty stylish. The second one is older, and more classically 8-bit (one could easily imagine such a game on Commodore 64).
This does raise an interesting question: which of the Miyazaki characters would win in a fair fight? Personally, I'd go with Nausicaa and Mononoke San, if only because they have a genuine psycho-killer streak. But a Totoro vs. No Face vs. Ohmu battle would be pretty impressive. Hmm...now that I think about it, a Ghibli fighting game could work. Maybe we should hire an indie video game studio to design it, snark.
Now here's the really cool part of this story: the 8-bit graphic is available as a $25 t-shirt, any size, front or back. Nice! The artist, Drewwise, has created a series of video game-related shirt designs. My favorite one, aside from this one, would have to be the Apollo shirt, obviously inspired by Stanley Kubrick's horror masterpiece, The Shining. I may have to order one myself. Who wants one of these?
(April Fools 2013) BREAKING: Disney to Acquire Studio Ghibli in 2014, Takahata and Miyazaki to Retire
The Walt Disney Company is in preliminary talks with Studio Ghibli to buy the Japanese animation studio, acquiring the rights to the studio's movie catalog and its wealth of characters. This comes on the heels of Disney's acquisition of Lucasfilm and the Star Wars franchise.
Furthermore, this transition is set to begin after completion of Ghibli's two major productions, Hayao Miyazaki's Kaze Tachinu and Isao Takahata's Kaguya Hime no Monogatari, in 2014. As is widely expected, both films are intended to be the final farewell by the famed directors, who wanted to pass the torch to the next generation.
Finally, both Isao Takahata and Hayao Miyazaki will retire once the transition into Disney's hands is complete. This should occur through the end of 2014. Goro Miyazaki will succeed his father as head of Studio Ghibli in Japan, and no major personnel changes are yet expected.
Details of the merger are not yet fully revealed, but it is expected that Studio Ghibli will retain its autonomy in Japan, and continue to produce their own films with Disney's help. In the United States, Disney will proceed with an aggressive, new push to bring Ghibli to mainstream audiences. This includes quick rollout of DVD and Blu-Ray, merchandising items (yes, kids, we're getting stuffed Totoros!), and, most of all, new direct-to-video spinoff movies featuring your favorite Ghibli characters.
Honestly, I'm stunned. I'll have more to say about this later tonight, once I can pull my jaw off the floor. Still, we probably should have seen this coming, right? Disney bought The Muppets, then Marvel, then Lucasfilm. Miyazaki and Takahata are nearing the end of their long and storied careers, and Ghibli has struggled to find suitable successors for the Ghibli studio.
Every year, Studio Ghibli issues a New Years Day card, usually hand-drawn by Hayao Miyazaki. 2013 is the Year of the Snake, and serves as the mascot for this year's illustration.
Have you noticed how Miyazaki's drawing style has become more loose and free in recent years? It's become more prominent in his anime films like Ponyo and Mr. Dough and the Egg Princess, and continues (to a lesser degree) in Katsuya Kondo's character designs in From Up on Poppy Hill.
Finally, can I point out how masterful an artist Hayao Miyazaki continue to be? Observe how he can achieve character and movement with simple lines. His youthful ambition was to become a manga illustrator, and his work as design and layout artist on such productions as Peppi Longstockings, Panda Kopanda, and Heidi are legendary. It's fascinating to see the debt Japanese animation owes to comics. Perhaps this is something animators in the West could learn.
Let this be the art lesson for the week: Study This Illustration.
"What, exactly, did Isao Takahata do between 1968 and 1971?" This has long been one of my great questions on the life of the great director. After Horus, Prince of the Sun failed at the Japanese box office in 1968, Takahata was sacked from the director's chair at Toei Doga, never to helm another feature at the studio. His period of exile wouldn't end until the early 1970s, with Lupin III and Panda Kopanda and, ultimately, to Heidi, Girl of the Alps. So what happened to him at Toei?
Now we have an answer: Takahata was moved back to television. His directorial career began as an assistant director on a few Toei features, but he really cut his teeth on the early TV anime series, Hustle Punch and Ken the Wolf Boy. After Horus, he was sent back to the small screen, as a "director-for-hire" on a number of series. Some work here, a little work there, nothing really steady, and no real creative input. One can understand why Paku-san would quickly grow tired, and begin to plot his revenge with his friends Hayao Miyazaki and Yoichi Kotabe.
One such television show was 1971's Apache Yakyuugun, or Apache Baseball Academy. This short-lived series (it ran for 26 episodes), about an athlete who rejects a professional baseball career to become a high school coach in a small village, has plenty of comic book action and melodrama to go around. In 2002, a DVD set was released in Japan, and it's currently out of print.
By sheer luck, I found a copy of Apache's second episode, which was directed by Isao Takahata. Subtitles are not included in these videos, but Japanese transcripts are included, so a fan translation is easily doable. I will admit that I haven't yet watched this episode, so I'll be enjoying it along with you. This may be a good opportunity to study the young Takahata's directorial style, his sense of timing and compositional skill. It's always thrilling to see a master at work, even if it's just a work-for-hire. Admit it, you'd pay good money to watch Martin Scorcese make sandwiches. So would I. Enjoy.
I hope Michael Sporn will forgive me for posting his review on From Up on Poppy Hill here on Ghibli Blog, but I thought it was a terrific read and would help spark some discussions among the Ghibli faithful. As an animator and filmmaker, he brings a unique insight into these films, and whenever a new Ghibli movie arrives in the States, he's the first person who's opinions I seek.
As always, I highly recommending his Splog, which is a treasure trove of animation history and full of wit. I learn something every time I visit, and so should you.
Enjoy Mr. Sporn's review, and let the debates commence:
This week I saw The Croods (and reviewed it here) and From Up on Poppy Hill. I really wanted Poppy Hill to be a small masterpiece, but it wasn’t. It was just a trek. I wanted Goro Miyazaki to have a glimmer of the old man in him; it’ll be hard to let go of Hayao Miyazaki when he retires or decides to end his enormous career. This film was supposedly written by Hayao in collaboration with the son, Goro. I didn’t feel the spirituality of Goro in this movie; That’s what I love about Hayao’s films; there’s a spirituality. All those films (at least since Totoro) are about so much more than what’s on the surface. What’s on the surface is usually good, too. And lately the animation has been getting better. If there’s any spirituality in Goro, it didn’t make it to the big screen, and the animation was first class TV work. No magic there, either.
It’s the second film directed by Goro Miyazaki. Tales from Earthsea should have jump-started a new career. The film was just dull. I assume the artists at Studio Ghibli want things to go on, as well. Poppy Hill had some of the elements of a Ghibli production; it just lacked the magic. First rate styling, fine character design (they all do look a bit like, at times), and a human story.
Although the story had too little in it. It was quite subtle and for a sophomore director to pull it off was too much to ask. The animation rarely had a spark. The characters always did what they were asked to do, but they didn’t really have much of a lifetime within them. The director needed a LOT of experience within him to pull it off, needed a lot of animation experience to be able to pull stronger performances out of his animators and needed a stronger connection to the story to make us care about those characters. Zer0 for three.
Don’t get me wrong; I’d take this over The Croods any day, but I’d prefer to have something good rather than either of these movies.
As many of you are aware, Disney has announced a release date for My Neighbor Totoro and Howl's Moving Castle on Blu-Ray in North America, May 21. Great news for Ghibli Freaks over here.
For everyone at home keeping score, Howl's Moving Castle BD was released in Japan on November 16, 2011, and My Neighbor Totoro BD was released on July 18, 2012. The American market woefully under-served, as Japan and the rest of the world see the Studio Ghibli films released in a timely fashion. Disney continues to do the absolute, contractually-obligated minimum. Hmm...my lawyer is exactly the same way, now that I think about it.
In any case, we're finally getting Totoro and Howl on Blu-Ray, both of which look and sound spectacular, and a considerable improvement over the DVD. Greater color saturation and uncompressed audio? Sign me up!
Meanwhile, we're waiting for news from Japan on Ghibli's next BD release, which would arrive in the summer to coincide with Hayao Miyazaki's Kaze Tachinu. I say it's going to be Porco Rosso, so put me down on the office pool.
In late November, Viz Media released this spectacular Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind box set. It contains the entire 1,110+ page graphic novel in two volumes, includes numerous color illustrations, a full poster, and packages everything in a wonderfully-stylish case. For the true Miyazaki fan, this set is the crown jewel of your collection.
There's only one small problem: The Nausicaa box set may already be out of print. It's difficult to tell, because as much as I appreciate and applaud Viz for publishing Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli books, they do a lousy job selling them. Even their website is a dismal mess when you want to find something. For now, however, I must assume that the original print run has finished, and it's up to the publisher to decide whether to invest in another run.
Obviously, I will insist on more pressings of Nausicaa, a graphic novel masterwork that rivals Art Spiegelman's Maus for brilliance. It remains criminally overlooked by Miyazaki fans here in the US; I daresay that most folks don't even know these books exist, or that one could find them at the local bookstore...that is, if Viz could actually be bothered to stock them.
It's times like this when I wish I had the money to start a publishing company and just do it myself. I don't know about you, but I'd love to read Miyazaki's second volume of memoirs, Turning Point. I'd also like to read Isao Takahata's and Yasuo Otsuka's memoirs, Yoshifumi Kondo's posthumously-released art book, Michiyo Yasuda's book on color theory, and pretty much all of Miyazaki-san's comics. If I ever come into a large amount of money, I'll definitely give it a try.
In any case, Viz still has the seven-volume Nausicaa books, which are available separately. If you haven't discovered this novel, I strongly urge you to get your hands on some copies. And we'll cross our fingers and hope this terrific box set reemerges soon. Viz needs to get on the ball and start doing their damned jobs. There's no excuse for this.
After seeing From Up on Poppy Hill last night, I wanted to secure a copy of the 1980 Takahashi Chizuru manga on which it was based. No luck, as no English-translated versions exist anywhere, legit or otherwise. Fortunately, Sgt. Tanuki wrote this very helpful blog post detailing the differences between the manga and the Studio Ghibli film.
Interestingly, it is Hayao Miyazaki's change of setting to 1963 Tokyo, the coming Tokyo Olympic Games looming as a marker of Japan's rebirth in the modern world, that is the largest change. A nation, and its people, caught in the fault line between history and modernity - this is the quintessential theme of the Studio Ghibli films.
Despite that, Sgt Tanuki highlights some criticisms that resonate with me:
Taken on its own terms, it's an utterly typical shōjo manga. Average. I guess I mean that as both a pejorative and a mere descriptor. That is, I don't find the manga really remarkable in any way; but there's a certain value in reading unremarkable works, too, because they help you appreciate the excellent ones.
The art: it's undistinguished. Very few compositions struck me as being memorable or arresting. At the same time it's obviously using the visual vocabulary of girls' comix circa 1980 in typical way: the flowers, the floating-in-space emotional moments, the dizzy-angle closeups of eyes, mouths, etc. It's kind of a primer on the genre.
The story: same. Puppy love presented with an accent on beautiful boys just out of reach, and the endless internal sufferings of a girl in love. Just enough complications to keep the plot going, and a resolution just in time to bring tears to your eyes. (Theoretically.)
Read in terms of the movie, however, it's fascinating, precisely because Ghibli was able to make such a deeply resonant movie out of such average source material. They kept the basic outlines of the story (Mer and Kazama's relationship, the boarding house, the school), but changed the setting from "contemporary" (in 1980 the manga was set in 1980) to "past," and thus the tone from up-to-the-minute (in the manga the boys all have Shaun Cassidy long hair) to nostalgic. Furthermore they drew out the emotional, almost mythic power of the dad-lost-at-sea motif.
I'm not yet sure where I stand on the movie. I'll have to watch again, this time with the Japanese soundtrack, before deciding where I stand. My feelings so far? Impressed by the art direction and design, but often frustrated, and surprisingly bored. Goro Miyazaki continues to improve and disappoint in equal measure. But perhaps I wasn't in the right frame of mind? I'll give it another go before making any formal declarations.
Update 4/1/13: In addition to the English-language version, a Japanese-language soundtrack should be included when Poppy Hill moves to the Lagoon Edina Theater on April 5. Thanks to GKids for sharing the news.
Goro Miyazaki's Studio Ghibli movie, From Up on Poppy Hill, arrives today at the Lagoon Cinema in Minneapolis. It's working its way through the indie circuit, courtesy of GKids, the fine folks responsible for the Studio Ghibli Film Festival last year. It is also playing in select cities in the coming weeks. I honestly don't know if or when the Blu-Ray (already available in Japan) will ever see an American release, so this is your only chance to see this movie in 2013.
As far as box office performance, it's probably best not to think about it too much. This movie will barely make a million or two during its (very limited) theatrical run in the US, far less than the average Hollywood studio cartoon will make on any given showing. It's fairly clear that our best chance for seeing Studio Ghibli reach mainstream success in our country has passed. Ponyo was about as good as it gets, and it's all niche from there.
Don't let that discourage you. Millions of people mindlessly slog through another season of American Idol, while ignoring the Miles Davis records on your shelf. The fun stuff, the truly interesting stuff, that's hidden away, harder to reach, off the beaten path. It has always been thus. And part of the joy of discovery lies in seeking out these hidden gems.
If you're able to see Poppy Hill, I strongly encourage you to do so. I'm looking forward to seeing how far Goro-san has progressed from Earthsea, if he is closer to finding his own unique voice, for seeing the latest chapter in the Miyazaki Family Saga. Personally, my favorite Ghibli movies are Omohide Poro Poro and Mimi wo Sumaseba, so I have high expectations for this film. I still find it astonishing that naturalist, neo-realist animation does not exist in the West. Why is that, I wonder? And what would have to happen to change that equation? Right now, I'm pretty much out of answers.
I always tell people to run to the theaters anytime a Ghibli movie plays there. We won't know when, or if, we'll have another chance. Hayao Miyazaki's Kaze Tachinu and Isao Takahata's Kaguya Hime open in Japan this year, but there's little to no chance that Disney will pick up either title for distribution. These aren't Disney cartoons, and there are no toys to sell. So don't take anything for granted, kids. Get to the theaters and see this movie while ya still can. Mozel tov!