See you at Anime St. Louis this weekend!

Just a reminder for those of you coming to Anime St. Louis this weekend I will be hosting my panel Capturing the Wind: Miyazaki and Takahata before Studio Ghibli Saturday afternoon. More info at my previous post. Hope to see you there and have fun my friends!

Also, Happy Comic Book Day and Stars Wars Day for those of you who celebrate and for my astrology people, Happy New Moon in Taurus!

… crossing my fingers that I find another awesome art book.

– J

CAM is back again at Anime St. Louis this May

I will be presenting yet again at my local convention of Anime St. Louis (still waiting on my time slot!). This is my fifth year so I guess I have had enough practice to not be nervous? Yeah right, I am human and an introvert (INFP, sometimes INTP, especially on Tuesdays), but once I am behind the podium… I dunno… something takes over and it all becomes natural. Originally I submitted three panels, but have cut down to a singular entry so I have time and energy to work on other personal projects including rebuilding part of my basement. I will be presenting a solo panel this year; a crowd favorite, Capturing the Wind: Miyazaki and Takahata before Studio Ghibli. I highlight a select grouping of the work that Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata did before Studio Ghibli; many of the titles are featured already in my blog, but I will not say which ones… a magician never reveals their secrets. 😉

Hope to see you there if you are attending. And if not, I know a lot of you will be with me in spirit. Thanks everyone and enjoy the rest of this calendar year of 2019! Are you going to any conventions, or have any other awesome plans for the summer?

– J

#130 : Chie the Brat

ctb_1If there is one truth of Isao Takahata, is that he is a master storyteller who uses the most basic fundamentals of human relationship dynamics. Takahata’s partner in crime at Studio Ghibli, Hayao Miyazaki, can wow a crowd with his knack for showmanship and feeling. Yet Takahata’s work is more reserved, quieter and yet it has a charm that Miyazaki just can’t touch. In the handful of years before the founding of Studio Ghibli, that being the early 1980s, Takahata would help to create a couple gems that equal, or even at times, surpass, his work at Ghibli. The first of these was the adaptation of the manga Jarinko Chie, translated as Chie the Brat.

ctb_2Now you can say Chie the Brat is a story about everyday life in Osaka. I have come across this idea in many places, but I think this movie can mean something else. This is a story about one character, one girl, and the world she both lives in, but also the world that she has influence over. Often times we may ask ourselves what purpose do we hold in our mundane activities in this world? Many of us are not famous, or even our popular, but still we all have an impact that spreads like a ripple in water from a thrown stone. Our actions and the people we meet all create change in small, yet subtle (or even major) ways that become something greater. So a story about Osaka? Yes, but then again Chie the Brat can be a story about any town, anywhere and anyone. It’s a story about all of us no matter who we are, or where we come from!

ctb_3Let’s meet our protagonist, Chie Takemono. A working class girl, who is quite bright and intelligent, yet schooling takes a back seat as she is more often cooking skewers at her father’s little hole in the wall restaurant. Where is dad, Tetsu? Out gambling from borrowed money from his father and getting into trouble with the local syndicates. Now what about mom, Yoshie? Separated from Tetsu at the moment and occasionally she gets a visit from Chie. True Yoshie loves Tetsu, but Tetsu needs to straighten up a little. A slightly dysfunctional family? Yes, but not a cynical way. Like most relationships it an get difficult, but usually there is a compromise, or maybe perhaps a glue that can hold things together, or make things work. And of course the is Chie’s job. …Hang on a minute I forgot about someone. I can’t leave out Kotetsu. He is the ultimate and coolest character in the whole movie simply because he is a cat. A cool cat, a street fighter who is a sweetheart and Chie’s adopted friend. NOW! the family is complete.

As I mentioned before about how this film is about the influence one of us has on others that surround us, I can’t help but see a Pollyanna quality to the story. Yet Chie is not too overly optimistic, she has a little chip on her shoulder, but that’s what makes her truly… human. She has heart, but a little of an attitude. She may not be the prettiest girl on the block, but she has a beauty that is rare. She may not be perfectly book smart, but she has a strong connection with her gut intuition, which to be honest is more important than knowing outright ‘facts’. It would be interesting to see the story beyond Chie’s years of youth because if she can harness those qualities she could become a very successful adult.

ctb_4

So yet another gem helmed by the venerable Isao Takahata. This entry covers the film version, but there was also a television series that began the same year of 1981 (in case you need more Chie in your life). I don’t think Takahata was affiliated with the series, but I could be wrong. I had enough of a time getting my hands on this film version and graciously I was happy to get the chance to have the opportunity to watch this one. I rank Chie the Brat highly as one of Takahata’s best films if not his best (depending on my mood and the day of course). If you can find this one I won’t recommend you should watch it… I demand you watch 😉

#103 : Horus: Prince of the Sun

Horus_1I often wonder, was Horus: Prince of the Sun ‘born under a bad sign’? Many circumstances attempted to derail this early gem of the modern era of Japanese animation. It went over budget, it took more time to finish and even the parent animation company of Toei and it’s producers wanted to shelf this film. Why? This film had and even still has so much potential; it took chances and sounded a battlecry for a new generation of animators. And there in lies the answer as Horus: Prince of the Sun attempted to break free of the conservative standards of the day by telling a different story in both concept and direction. The results of this would honor Horus with critical notoriety over the years as one of the crowning achievements of the 1960s.

Horus_2By 1968 Isao Takahata had become a solid veteran in the animation industry and gained a reputation as a leader of those younger up and coming members of the industry in the 1960s. With both TV and film work of various degrees under his belt there was one achievement that this young man had left to fulfill and that was to direct a feature film. This opportunity came, but at a price. As mentioned before from the start this movie had some nasty karma associated with it. Producers at Toei, money and time all had a hand in stopping this film, but Takahata with his quiet demeanor and steadfast approach to being a director made sure that this film would get made, finished and then released.

The major controversy of this film can be traced into the story itself. The Norse mythology and look that was used was nothing more than a cover for another story that existed underneath. Japan’s native population, the Ainu, had for generations been looked down upon yet their culture was rich and diverse. A new generation wanted to adapt a traditional tale of the Ainu and present a more serious subject matter to give animation a more mature option. Both progress and change are a part of civilization and this new generation of artists and animators wanted to be at the vanguard of this movement. This was the 1960s after all and be it America, Europe, or Japan, the youth of the period were questioning and protesting against the rules and the establishment of their day.

Horus_3The story is a quintessential tale of the ‘Hero’s Journey’ (all hail Joseph Campbell) where our young hero Horus, sometimes translated to Hols, must integrate into the greater whole of civilization. This is a common theme I find in Takahata’s work and both sides of the extreme can be seen in Grave of the Fireflies (going against society and/or being ignored by society) on one end of the spectrum and Pom Poko (the community coming together for a common concern) on the other. Horus soon settles into a town and becomes a local hero after conquering a giant pike (fish) that prevented fish from being a food source to the local people. Soon afterwards he meets a wayward girl, Hilda, with a mysterious and unknown past and a large, very large, chip on her shoulder. Hilda is quite a complex character and her relationship with Horus is complicated and becomes a key element for the plot of the story as the film progresses forward.

Horus_4Horus: Prince of the Sun not only took more seriously the storytelling, but also on a technical level, the animation itself. This film amongst other examples of the era raised the standard of the quality of Japan’s output. Disney was the standard and Horus: Prince of the Sun is on par with the quality of the venerated classic Disney films. In certain aspects it excels, in particular with the action sequences with the pike fight and the final showdown. Of course Japan has always had an edge (my opinion) in regards to action and the movement and fluidity required to make those sequences work.

This is a film that has taken a few views on my part to fully appreciate the greatness to what Horus: Prince of the Sun truly is. Due to the issues with the production of the film it has it’s own way of unfolding the plot, which took me a little getting used to, but once I understood the whole of the scope of this film I came to love this movie. It’s classic Takahata and I recommend you to watch this one at least once to see where anime once was, where anime was going and see where this film has left it’s influence today.

… on a personal note, I dedicate this posting to the memory of Isao Takahata who passed away recently. Thank you good sir for your work and I for one will never forget the stories you shared with us all.

Isao Takahata
Oct 29, 1935 – Apr. 5, 2018

#75 : Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind

Mention the name Hayao Miyazaki today and you will be told he is the king of the world in regards to anime. Now imagine mentioning Hayao Miyazaki’s name in the spring of 1984 and the otaku world would say that this guy is the new rocket in town and he has his sights set on the stars and the infinite beyond. The film adaptation of his manga, Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, did more than move the masses and set the ground work for the future of Studio Ghibli. Miyazaki would present us with one of cinema’s greatest and most honorable heroes.

Nau_1Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind cemented Hayao Miyazaki into super stardom and led to the formation of Studio Ghibli. He had been in the anime business for almost a couple decades by this point, but this one film changed everything overnight. So am I saying that Nausicaa is that powerful? That this is a film that can change destiny? Uh huh! And why is this? Two reasons. One, Nausicaa grounded fantasy and sci-fi so to speak (as did Fist of the North Star, also 1984). This is not about spaceships, or laser blasters. It’s about our Earth’s environment, the aftermath of great devastation and the corruption of those who don’t work in accord with their natural environment and within themselves. Which to be honest, is one and the same; as above so below. But more importantly, it’s about the heart. Miyazaki can pull your heart strings like few others and Nausicaa represents a spirit more often needed in anime or entertainment in general. This movie was ready at the right time.

Nau_2Now… what about our hero, Miss Nausicaa? How can you not love her? She is a role model for everyone who has a way with animals, an understanding of nature and a love of flight and freedom (so Miyazaki). Her powers can tame the wildest of beasts, build a garden from what many consider poisonous plants and fly a glider like a bird. Yet she is vulnerable as well because she is surrounded by factions that want to shake her standing on what she believes in and what is right to her. Despite these controversies she holds her ground and stays honest to herself and she knows how to get her hands dirty when needed. A princess and yet a tomboy who follows her heart… so noble. She would be the first in a line of strong female characters that Miyazaki would bless us with. Kiki (Kiki’s Delivery Service), San (Princess Mononoke) and Chihiro (Spirited Away) are all representative of the Miyazaki heroine archetype.

Nau_3Miyazaki has always been the showman compared to his partner in crime, Isao Takahata. Yet when Miyazaki goes into a more serious direction, he does not slouch. Even at this early stage of his career, he still showed the ultra professionalism that oozes from his work. This was a time where fame and fortune was just around the corner and he was hungry to prove himself as an auteur and while he did direct the awesome Castle of Cagliostro, Nausicaa would be his first total vision. But he needed help and various names are linked with this film. Takahata produced, a young Joe Hisaishi provided the epic score (which reminds me of his then current work on Mospeada and Birth) and Hideaki Anno, years before his time at Gainax, would be a key animator during one of the climactic scenes (I am not saying which one 😉 ).

Nau_4Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind is more than just another anime title, or even one of Miyazaki’s best films, it is required viewing. You call yourself a fan of anime? Let me see that you have seen this movie? Yeah I figured you have 🙂 as my readers have good taste. A timeless classic worthy to be in any collection, unless it is the Warriors of the Wind release (I have never seen that one). To Hayao Miyazaki, I thank you for making this movie that has made generations of fans cheer, cry and believe in a greater good. While many productions in the 1980s mark the times that they were made in, few can be considered eternal classics. Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind is and always will be a permanent classic.

#36 : Panda Go Panda/Rainy Day Circus

pgp_1There is the old saying that ‘anime’ is not for kids. It’s oh so mature and again… not for kids. For some ‘anime’ that is very true, but for all of anime itself, no. Is Doraemon for kids? Yes. Can a lot of the shonen and shojo titles that some consider ‘not for kids’ have an appeal and are made for a younger demographic? Yes. And Studio Ghibli titles, do many have an appeal to children, i.e. Totoro, Kiki’s Delivery Service, Ponyo, Castle in the Sky? Yes, yes, yes and YES! What about an early film series from Miyazaki and Takahata, like Panda Go Panda and it’s sequel Rainy Day Circus? Yup, it’s all for the kids.

pgp_2Way back in the early 1970s, after their tenure on the first Lupin III TV series, our intrepid heroes Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata were looking to do a project on their very own. A good decade before opening Studio Ghibli these boys had the idea that they could make a movie themselves, by their rules. The idea was simple, let’s make a version of the western tale of Pippi Longstocking. They even went all the way to Sweden to get the rights and in the end were rejected. Now what? Well why not take this character design that Miyazaki made who looked like Pippi and insert something else that could make it sell. What about pandas? They were fairly new to the zoos in Japan. Hmm… sounds like an idea that can work… OK we have a movie!.

pgp_3Thus Panda Go Panda was born. A simple tale about a girl who befriends a large papa panda (Papapanda), who looks like a creepy version of Totoro. Don’t quote me, but that dude is kind of scary to me. And a little baby panda (Panny) joins the mix as well as our young hero Pippy… I mean Mimiko becomes the mommy? And that’s as deep as this little story and the follow up Rainy Day Circus follows the formula. Both stories are cute as they are targeted towards young children and I don’t see anything non-offensive, except that giant daddy panda. Everything to him is nice, the weather is nice, the bamboo is nice. Maybe I am overthinking a simple kid’s movie?

pgp_4These two tales are the innocent days of being four, five and six where anything can happen because your imagination was not corrupted by TV, the internet or peer groups. I want to reclaim my innocence, then I could fully appreciate these titles. Though for the time these are great looking movies and with the shorter runnings time of just over half an hour each make them more palatable than say the longer Toei movies of the time like Puss n’ Boots and Animal Treasure Island. Besides all this, the historic significance of Miyazaki and Takahata making their own project is of great importance. Miyazaki contributed designs and the story and Takahata oversaw the whole production as director. Truly the best example of proto-Studio Ghibli.

Anime is not only for adults. Never has been and never will be. True we have titles that are made for more mature eyes, but you have to have titles that can be enjoyed by those before the years of puberty. Because anime in the end are cartoons and all cartoons are are images put to video. And cartoons, be it anime or not, are not mutually exclusive to one age demographic. There are cartoons for kids and cartoons for adults. Some of it is called anime and that is stuff made in Japan for Japan that ends up getting out to the rest of the world and we all fall in love with it. If you have kids and you love Studio Ghibli, well your kids now have the perfect gateway anime Panda Go Panda and Rainy Day Circus. In the end, we all win!

#34 : Anne of Green Gables

aogg_1Families can come in all shapes, sizes, or colors. Many times unlikely circumstances can bring about the formation of a family that may not have been planned. On another subject, how is it that Japan made some of the best adaptations of beloved western children’s novel? And another subject, the work of Isao Takahata before Studio Ghibli. Now to put together all three ingredients… and what we get is one of the trilogy of World Masterpiece Theater Series that Takahata directed. We shall look at the third and final, a beloved story around the world, 1979’s Anne of Green Gables.

aogg_2Before I begin I will say that I have yet to read the original book written by Lucy Maud Montgomery at the time of this writing. I was aware of another animated version that aired here in the U.S. on PBS as well as the famous name of this classic. But of course if a version was created for the Japanese market, in my eyes, I have to watch it. And watch I did as I have been getting into much of the World Masterpiece Theater Series and enjoying them immensely. Add in Isao Takahata’s directing vision and the skills of Nippon Animation and  you have a combination of fine pedigree. Though the first five episodes were a slow start, at least for me, it began to turn into a typical Takahata production of an investigation into the intimate lives of characters.

aogg_3The beginning of this story has Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert, an elder pair of siblings who live in rural Canada and are in need of a child to aid in the farmwork of Matthew. Hoping for a boy they end up with a scrawny red headed girl, Anne Shirley, who has had bad luck in finding a lasting home. Marilla’s strictness, Mathew’s gentleness and Anne’s imagination and firecracker temper all seems to meld together as the three learn what it is to be a family unit. Not only does Anne grow from childhood into adulthood, but the Cuthbert siblings also evolve. Almost in a direct opposition of Takahata’s Grave of Fireflies, Anne of Green Gables shows what happens with the community and child relationship working together to create the greater whole.

aogg_4Like many of the other World Masterpiece Theater Series shows I had my moments of joy and moments of tears. Anne’s friendship with Diana is adorable and real as things are not always picture perfect… just watch out for the raspberry cordial. Anne’s temper is also a fun thing to watch, much to the dismay of Gilbert Blythe… don’t call her hair carrots! Though the ending was a little disappointing on my end personally as Anne lets go of a great opportunity, but she has her reason. And that reason was justifiable in regards to the circumstances. I wish I read more books when I was a kid, as this anime is a good example. But the benefit of watching them now is seeing them with character designs I know and love.

aogg_5Released the same year as more ‘revolutionary’ shows like the original Gundam and Rose of Versailles, Anne of Green Gables can seem like a more tame family oriented affair. It is since much of the World Masterpiece Theater Series are basically adaptations of literature, but never, ever, discount these shows. I am honored that Japan back in the day gave the attention to bring stories like Anne of Green Gables a place in the sun. Not only does it show Japan’s willingness to be open to other cultures (because anything foreign is awesome, right?), but it gives those of us in the west to see familiar stories in a different style. Anne of Green Gables you are a fine classic. Who needs Cliff Notes? But you should still read the original… and so should I.