Studio Ghibli

The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness

When you think of the films produced by Studio Ghibli, certain images inevitably spring to mind. A cat bus bounding across the fields in My Neighbour Totoro. A warrior leaping from rooftop to rooftop in Princess Mononoke. A little girl soaring high above the clouds on the back of a dragon in Spirited Away. These are moments of pure cinema, full of imagination and wonder. How appropriate, then, the title of this new documentary, that offers an unprecedented look into Studio Ghibli’s inner workings. If you’re a fan of the Ghibli canon or of Japanese animation in general, The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness is a must. Beautiful classical music accompanies the doc’s opening shots, as the camera floats gently through the company corridors and gardens, passing over pin-boards covered in hard-drawn sketches and storyboards. It’s a serenade to an animation house whose body of work easily measures up to the likes of Pixar and Walt Disney. In reverent voiceover, director Mami Sunada does her best to temper her enthusiasm, as if in fear of upsetting the tranquility of such a sacred space. Slowly, she introduces us to the upper echelon of the 400-strong staff. Producer Toshio Suzuki. Lawyer Nonaka. Ushiko, the Studio Ghibli cat.

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Princess Kaguya

One of the most impressive things about The Tale of Princess Kaguya is its dual nature as a delicate epic and a powerful slower burn that’s never dull. It’s like watching a feather turn to stone over two hours before being knocked down by it (and those who know Grave of the Fireflies won’t be surprised that Kaguya has that kind of strength). This is a fine followup for Isao Takahata, who brings a half-century of animated storytelling and the tearfully hopeful Fireflies legacy to this ancient folktale. As the cultural ambassador for Japan, it’s fitting that Studio Ghibli is the one sharing “The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter” — the country’s oldest surviving narrative — on this scale with the rest of the world. The story features an older man who discovers a tiny princess growing out of a bamboo stalk, who he takes home and raises as his own daughter. He also finds a hefty amount of gold, which allows him and his wife to bring the little bambina to the city to grow up in a mansion as a proper lady. The princess, who spent her earliest days skinning her knees and climbing trees with close friends in the country, rebels at every turn.

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Ronia the Robbers Daughter Studio Ghibli

Because this is not a Japanese film site, Japanese film news tends to slip under the radar. So while Ronia, the Robber’s Daughter was announced in February as something new and sparkly and unique — a Studio Ghibli TV series, headed up by Goro Miyazaki (son of Hayao), to be done entirely in CGI — it was mostly forgotten about in the post-February world. Only now, several months later, has Ronia has peeked its head above the Tokyo skyline, and it’s here to show us what traditional Ghibli animation looks like when hauled screaming into the third dimension. The results? They’re OK, I guess.

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Studio Ghibli When Marnie Was There

Hayao Miyazaki may have retired from the animation world, but that doesn’t mean Studio Ghibli is about to plummet from the sky like a giant flying Totoro whose umbrella has been riddled with machine gun fire. No, the studio soldiers on, and while their latest release, The Tale of Princess Kaguya, hasn’t yet arrived here in the Western world, their latest latest release is gearing up to premiere in Japan (we’re so behind). That movie would be When Marnie Was There, an adaptation of Joan G. Robinson‘s novel of the same title. It’s the story of a young girl named Anna who’s depressed and alone, brimming with all the angst a lonely teenager can muster. But then she meets Marnie, and the pair soon form a quick bond. Real, palpable details about the movie are scarce, but according to the book’s synopsis, Marnie “isn’t all she seems…” But then, the very next sentence describes the book as “an atmospheric ghost story,” so Marnie is exactly what she seems, so long as you’ve read the back of the book. A new trailer doesn’t provide much expository help, ether.

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Princess Mononoke

In the context of American animation, Hayao Miyazaki’s films seem nearly unfathomable. With their conspicuous absence of exclusively kid-centric theatrics and their eschewing any burden of pop culture topicality, Miyazaki’s films are instead allowed to explore the limitless imaginative possibilities of animated filmmaking. And there are few imaginations quite like Miyazaki’s. That’s what makes his retirement on the occasion of The Wind Rises that much more of a loss. It’s difficult to be anything but grateful for the beautiful films the 73-year-old director has made, but his absence will certainly leave a giant, gaping hole that no other filmmaker can replace. So here’s a bit of free film school (for fans and filmmakers alike) from the man who makes us wish we could call a giant wood spirit our neighbor.

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It couldn’t have been easy being Hayao Miyazaki‘s kid. Dad is heralded as an unparalleled genius; the pressure for a young Goro Miyazaki to do the same must have been astounding. It’s probably why, at a young age, he cast aside a career in animation for the completely unrelated field of landscape agriculture. Yet eventually the call of anime became too great (or he may have stumbled upon some mystical forest spirit that willed him to change careers), and about ten years ago Goro began directing animated features of his own. With the retirement of the elder Miyazaki, all eyes are on Goro. What will he do next? Where will he take Studio Ghibli? Now we know: a 3D CGI television series. Gasp and faint accordingly. According to The Hollywood Reporter, the younger Miyazaki will direct a series entitled Ronja the Robber’s Daughter, an adaptation of a similarly-titled children’s book by Swedish author Astrid Lindgren. The protagonist, Ronja (obviously) is the daughter of a bandit chief (more obviously), and the series will follow her and her family’s adventures in their magical forest home.

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Princess Mononoke

The best movie culture writing from around the internet-o-sphere. There will be a quiz later. Just leave a tab open for us, will ya?

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thehobbit-commentary5

With this week’s The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, director Peter Jackson and his filmmaking fellowship continue their long journey towards expanding J.R.R. Tolkien’s 1937 fantasy novel into a blockbuster trilogy. Even watching the film, it’s evident the adaptation process was a tricky one; Jackson lifts familiar beats from the book, scrutinizing over details while reconfiguring set pieces and emotional beats to align with his cinematic sensibilities. Because one does not simply walk into billion dollar box office franchisedom, even with Lord of the Rings behind them, The Hobbit has to be a great set of movies, a great set of Peter Jackson movies. The Hobbit can be an epic Hollywood triptych because nothing is sacred in the art of adaptation and nothing should be. Over the years, “The Hobbit” has been the source material/victim of the process. Like Jackson, artists saw Tolkien’s adventure tale as malleable. The goal wouldn’t be to trump the original, but to find something new within it or reach an audience that may not have discovered it in the first place. Ahead are nine more Hobbit incarnations; only time will tell if Peter Jackson’s trilogy will be the one to rule them all.

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Spirited Away

Since some fans are keen on creating petitions, here’s something that’s actually worthy of public outcry. This is what it would have been like to hear that Walt Disney was quitting. For five decades, Hiyao Miyazaki has been a wondrous fixture in our imaginations, and at the ripe young age of 72, he’s expressed interest in retiring, according to Variety. What’s remarkable is that he’s only directed 11 features (all in a time-intensive medium), but that batting average places him in an elite group of filmmakers that aimed high on quality instead of overwhelming quantity. He’s also threatened to retire before — notably after Princess Mononoke — so there’s still hope that he’ll change his mind again. If he shunned a permanent vacation then to make Spirited Away and Howl’s Moving Castle, it seems reasonable that he has even more magic up his sleeve (or in his fireplace)  following his latest, The Wind Rises. But if that is indeed his last film as a director, its anti-war sentiment, epic scope and connection to his airplane-building father make it a fitting capstone. The world needs Miyazaki’s vision, but we’re lucky to have gotten so much of it already. Then again, maybe we should be launching a petition anyway. He really needs to know about the Soderberghian Retirement Method.

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studio-ghibli

It’s long been rumored that legendary Japanese animation studio, Studio Ghibli, was working on two new film, one each from its two founders, Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata, but today the studio went ahead and made the rumors into official announcements [via SlashFilm]. Not only is Princess Mononoke director Miyazaki set to bring us a new film called The Wind is Rising, which is said to be something of a biopic for the designer of a famous Japanese fighter plane, and not only is Grave of the Fireflies director Takahata set to bring us a new film called The Tale of Princess Kaguya, which is said to be a re-telling of the old folktale “The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter,” but both films are actually set to be released on the same day. This is kind of a throwback to when Miyazaki released My Neighbor Totoro and Takahata released Fireflies on the same day 25 years ago. Which was kind of a big day for animation.

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If you’re “too old” to skulk around all hunch-backed in your own yard looking for the painted eggs your little cousin hid for you, why are you holding that remote with the Pause Button at the ready? We all love hunting. It’s in our nature. Just like we love discounted Criterion titles, free scotch and foot massages that don’t mean anything sexual. So here are some Movie Easter Eggs to hunt down. Bonus one? They involve movies, so you have a solid excuse to just watch movies all week. Bonus two? If you can’t find them, they won’t smell rotten after a few days. And be sure to add your favorite in the comments section for fellow hunter/gatherers:

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Kevin Carr

This week, Fat Guy Kevin Carr takes the week off because the studios didn’t screen the new releases anywhere near him. In fact, he was specifically told not to come to one particular screening. And that can’t be a good sign, can it? What else can you expect for the movies in the weeks leading up to the Oscars, ‘cause the new ones in the theaters don’t stand a chance of winning anything next year. To take away the pain of not seeing movies this week, Kevin makes a deal with the devil, selling his soul for the ability to set his skull on fire whenever he sees a bad movie. Unfortunately, the light from said flaming skull got him kicked out of the theater because someone thought he was using his cell phone to pirate the film.

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Austin Cinematic Limits

Co-founded in 1985 by Hayao Miyazaki, Isao Takahata, and Toshio Suzuki, Japan’s Studio Ghibli is famous for its masterfully crafted animated films. A retrospective series of newly struck, 35mm (subtitled) prints of Studio Ghibli’s films is coming to Austin thanks to Alamo Drafthouse. Each film will screen for one week at the Alamo South Lamar, beginning with Spirited Away on February 10th. The touring retrospective is intended to build anticipation for the famed Japanese animation studio’s latest U.S. theatrical release, The Secret World of Arrietty (the directorial debut of Hiromasa Yonebayashi, co-written by Hayao Miyazaki). If you were to ask me whom I believed to be the three greatest Japanese filmmakers of all time, my first two responses – Akira Kurosawa and Yasujirō Ozu – are all but indisputable; the question is whether or not a director of animated films, namely Miyazaki (who is by far the most prolific director on the Studio Ghibli roster), could be considered in the same high regard as Kurosawa and Ozu. To accept Miyazaki as a legitimate filmmaker, one might need to overcome the opinion that animated films are merely for kids. For example, even though Spirited Away is ranked among the top ten on BFI’s list of 50 films you should see by age 14, the film is more than just a “kids’ movie.” The narrative is light-years more mature, intricate, complex and thoughtful than most modern Hollywood dramas – and the same can be said for any of Miyazaki’s films.

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According to Twitch, the legendary animation house Studio Ghibli will be producing new work from co-founders Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata. Miyazaki’s next is described as an “autobiography,” but it’s unclear whether that means he’ll be telling his own story on screen or telling someone else’s (although Dick Cheney just had a book out, right?). As for Takahata – in his first project in 12 years – he’ll be telling a classical Japanese story involving a baby found inside a bamboo stalk who turns out to be a princess. We call that the Reverse Moses. It’s most likely “The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter,” a folktale from the 10th century. That’s speculation based on the description, but if someone else knows their Japanese literature and has a different answer, please feel free to enlighten. Even if these two announced a joint project about watching paint dry, it would still be exciting. Ghibli is perhaps the most consistent studio on the planet – delivering phenomenal work year after year. Miyazaki and Takahata are the heart of it all, so this is like an all-you-can-revel-in buffet of good news for animation fans.

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published: 12.19.2014
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published: 12.18.2014
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published: 12.17.2014
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published: 12.15.2014
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