It's about time that we started discussing Studio Ghibli's latest feature film, Hiromasa Yonebayashi's When Marnie Was There. Here are the Japanese and US trailers for viewing.
As always, there are a lot of things to discuss about this movie in the coming weeks, as GKids Film rolls out the US theatrical run. The not-quite-hidden gay subtext being among them, of course. I'm not yet decided whether this was overtly intended, or if we "straight people" have cracked the secret code to gay and lesbian characters in literature and movies, the "wink-wink" code of Fried Green Tomatoes and Thelma & Louise and Anne of Green Gables. Oh, and all those Expendables movies. Can't forget those.
A fair warning: Marnie contains a large spoiler, which I'll kindly advise everyone to keep a secret.
Studio Ghibli is scheduled to release Panda Kopanda, Jarinko Chie, Gauche the Cellist, and Sherlock Hound on Blu-Ray and DVD in Japan this July 17. What a surprise! It appears that Ghibli is turning some attention to the "pre-Ghibli" eras of Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata's long and storied careers.
None of these titles will feature the "silhouette" design reserved for the Ghibli catalog titles, since all pre-date the studio's founding by a number of years. But the cover designs do feature the original movie posters, in keeping with the remastered Ghibli DVDs.
Jarinko Chie is Isao Takahata's 1981 viciously funny comedy, rooted in the Kansei-region city of Kobe, and featuring the voice talents of one of Japan's popular comedy troupes (somebody out there, please help me with the names!). It's episodic structure is similar to My Neighbors the Yamadas, but more tightly wound around a central plot of a young girl (Chie) her struggles to fit within her dysfunctional family. The comedy leans heavily towards the slapstick and the gross-out, which is highly unusual for Takahata, and helps this movie stand out. Longtime friends and Toei Doga alums Yasuo Otsuka and Yoichi Kotabe served as the film's animation directors. It's a personal favorite of mine, and it remains criminally overlooked.
Gauche the Cellist is Takahata's 1982 feature, one of his true masterpieces. Lovingly crafted over the span of six years, this movie is pure poetry, masterfully blending historic melodrama, beautiful music, and a nostalgic longing for Japan's long-lost agrarian past. I want to live in Gauche's world (which is really Ludwig Van Beethoven's world), the fields and the forests, the gardens, the rainstorms and fiery sunsets, and the small yet tightly knit community, where modernity has yet to destroy nature.
Sherlock Hound was Hayao Miyazaki's 1981 TV series, which was created in collaboration with Italy. The production was scuttled after only six episodes were created, owing to copyrights issues with the Conan Doyle estate. Several episodes were shown alongside Miyazaki's Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind and Laputa: Castle in the Sky, and finally arrived on TV several years later...unfortunately, with a completely different animation team that was nowhere near as talented as Miyazaki's crew. This Blu-Ray features the "theatrical" version of the Sherlock episodes (meaning, we don't have the wonderful music from the TV show).
Finally, Panda Kopanda was created by Isao Takahata, Hayao Miyazaki and Yoichi Kotabe at the A Productions studio in 1972, hot on the heels of the infamous scuttling of their much-anticipated Pipi Longstockings animated project. Many of Pipi's ideas quickly found their way into this short movie, which played the opening slot for one of Toho's Godzilla pictures. The movie became a hit, and a sequel, Panda Kopanda and the Rainy Day Circus, was quickly commissioned and produced. They're both terrific little movies, and I often enjoy the second one a little more. I do wish more Panda cartoons had been made, and future animators seeking to continue Miyazaki's legacy may find inspiration here. And, as everyone knows, Panda could easily pass for Totoro's uncle, complete with a pipe and hat and that big, silly grin.
These Blu-Rays will retail for 5,800Yen, and the DVD will sell for 4,700. I don't yet know which, if any, will include English subtitles. Both Panda Kopanda and Gauche the Cellist previously had quality subtitles, so that's good. Jarinko Chie's prior BD/DVD releases did not include subtitles, which is too bad; a fansub translation has been available for a few years, and I really wish somebody had the sense to send copies of the script to Ghibli HQ. I don't think the previous Sherlock Hound BD included English subtitles.
Finally, will there be a US release for any of these titles? Discotek Media has released Panda Go Panda (the Westernized title) and Sherlock Hound on DVD. A Blu-Ray release isn't beyond the realm of possible. I know I would be thrilled to work on any of these projects. If you'd like that to happen, please send an email or letter directly to Discotek.
Outside of the United States, I would think that these movies would arrive in the usual territories sooner or later. As the Studio Ghibli catalog winds down, publishers will look to the earlier Takahata/Miyazaki films and find a host of hidden gems. It has to happen. It's only a matter of time.
And the Studio Ghibli Blu-Ray feature film collection is now complete. Umi ga Kikoeru ("I Can Hear the Sea," aka "Ocean Waves") will be released on Blu-Ray in Japan this July 17. Word was made public on Disney's Japanese website this week. The high-definition disc will retail for 6,800Yen.
Umi ga Kikoeru's DVD release from 2003 is still available, but I would expect to see a "remastered" edition, in keeping with the recent DVD remasters from the rest of the Ghibli catalog. I purchased this disc a decade ago, and it remains a prized addition to my movie library. In addition to the main feature, a 40-minute documentary reuniting the production team was also include (but, sadly, no English subtitles for this extra). We should expect to see everything translated to the BD.
Umi was Studio Ghibli's 1993 "made-for-TV" feature, broadcast on Japan's NHK network, who are longtime collaborators with Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata, dating back to Future Boy Conan in 1978. This production was created by Ghibli's young staff, many of whom had graduated from the studio's in-house animation school, which was founded to nurture new animation talent.
Outside of Japan, we should expect to see Umi released in Australia and the UK, under the "Ocean Waves" title, as they have previously released the DVD edition years ago. Please don't ask about Disney releasing a Blu-Ray in the US. It's never going to happen. Perhaps GKids Films could step in and secure the rights? Please Please Please...I recommend that you start harassing them with emails as soon as possible.
I highly recommend this movie. It's one of Studio Ghibli's neo-realist films, a "slice-of-life" drama in the style of Omohide Poro Poro, Mimi wo Sumaseba, From Up on Poppy Hill, and The Wind Rises. A teenage romance with wit, humor, longing, and a keen sense of wisdom, with an climactic final scene that sweeps you off your feet (and openly quotes Yasujiro Ozu). "I Can Hear the Sea"...Ghibli always loved to give their animated movies such flowing, poetic names. They demonstrate a mastery of an animation form that isn't even being conceived here in the West. This style of art does not exist on our shores, and it's a damned shame, and I'm getting tired of repeating this same phrase, year after year. We await a new generation of animation storytellers, inspired by these works, to create naturalist animations of their own. It can be done. It should be done.
Special props should go to the Ghibli fan crew at the Blu-Ray.com forums, who first broke the news that Umi was being prepared for BD. Thanks to everyone for their due diligence.
A couple years ago, I came up with the ultimate Ghibli Blog April Fools Day prank: I announced that Disney had just bought out the studio and would begin cranking out My Neighbor Totoro sequels. It spread across the internet and caused mass hysteria and panic for months. It was great fun. The only downside is knowing I can never top that.
And so I had the idea of completely scrambling the daily programming for this year's April Fools, publishing a stack of older essays from Daniel Thomas Vol 4. If I had the time, I would have messed around with the site's art assets or color scheme. Ah, well. Most of you were probably not too impressed, but I enjoyed the absurdity of the stunt.
I also had the ulterior motive of wanting to share some of my non-Ghibli writings, as all of my blog work is being translated into book manuscripts. I spent this evening on a bunch of music essays, as well as slowly working my way through the Ghibl Blog archives. I have no idea how many books we'll have by the time we're finished. Walking around downtown during my lunch break today, I got the idea of publishing everything in short, five-dollar paperbacks, instead of massive volumes. Eh, maybe, maybe not. We'll consider all options once the manuscripts are finished, rewritten and edited.
Tomorrow, it's back to the regular programming schedule, such as it is.