Thursday, October 27, 2011

To import, or not to import?

My frustration with Disney's history of distributing Studio Ghibli titles in North America is probably pretty evident if you're a frequent reader of this blog.  Although most of the studio's library is available here on DVD (Only Yesterday and Ocean Waves being the exceptions), to say the flow of Blu-ray titles from Japan is a trickle would be a huge understatement.

Japenese Blu-ray editions of Castle in the Sky and My Neighbors the Yamadas.

Don't get me wrong, I understand how foreign film distribution works.  Generally, a certain amount of time has to pass before a title is available elsewhere in the world in order prevent reverse importing, which can lead to a forfeit of domestic sales in the country of origin.  However, what I don't understand is why Disney takes so much longer than other studios worldwide to bring the releases to North America.  Take a look at the list below:

Blu-ray titles currently available in Japan:
Blu-ray titles being released 11/16/11 in Japan:

That's ten titles (and counting) so far.  Meanwhile, in North America, the only two releases we've seen to date are Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind and Ponyo, with not so much as a peep from Disney as to if and when we'll see more anytime soon.  It's been about ten months since Castle in the Sky and My Neighbors the Yamadas were released in Japan, a North American waiting period that trumps that of Nausicaä (eight months) and Ponyo (three months).  To add insult to injury, both titles, as well as a few more, are already available worldwide.

Disney's Blu-ray releases of Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind and Ponyo in North America.

Maybe Disney is holding out for the North American theatrical release of The Secret World of Arrietty to release more Blu-ray titles in an attempt to drum up interest in the new film.  Or maybe they've come to the conclusion that Ghibli titles don't sell well enough in North America to cover the costs required to bring them here.  I hope the latter is not the case, but you can't help but wonder the longer we go without additional releases.

This brings me to the question posed in the title of this post, "to import, or not to import?"  I'll admit that even though I have not personally imported any of the Studio Ghibli Blu-ray titles (the shame!), my impatience with Disney has definitely made me consider the option lately.  My problem is that I tend to be a bargain shopper, and importing is not exactly an affordable way to add to your film library, to say the least.  Any of the releases listed above will set you back about $80-$90 each through or  Meanwhile, the Disney releases are, when finally made available, priced at around $20-$25 each and sometimes a little less during release week with a coupon from Disney.

So do I bite the bullet and start importing, or try to remain patient in order to save my hard-earned cash?  I know most hardcore Ghibli fans out there probably prefer the original Japanese releases with their unique packaging and original menus/features, but when Disney finally does come through with a release, I think they do a pretty good job with presentation.  I guess it all comes down to personal preference; there are so many ways to enjoy Studio Ghibli films and everyone has their own way of doing so.  For the time being I'm going to try to be patient, but in the event I decide to make a bold move and import, I'll be sure to report on my experiences.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Disney's The Secret World of Arrietty official trailer

Walt Disney Pictures has released the official trailer for The Secret World of Arrietty, which makes its North American theatrical debut February 17, 2012.  Check it out:

Spotlight on Studio Ghibli in L.A.

If you're going to be in the Los Angeles area in late November, here's your chance to see two classic Studio Ghibli films on the big screen for the first time in years!

Laputa: Castle in the Sky (1986)

On November 26, 2011, Film Independent at LACMA will host "Spotlight on Studio Ghibli," a one-night event celebrating two of Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli's most acclaimed classics, Castle in the Sky and Spirited Away.  Both films are celebrating anniversaries this year and will be screened using a brand new 35mm print with original Japanese audio and English subtitles.

Spirited Away (2001)

The Studio Ghibli event ends a month-long celebration of film at LACMA, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.  According to their website, "the inclusive series offers unique film experiences, bringing together Film Independent’s large community of filmmakers and wide spectrum of audiences, with LACMA’s commitment to presenting cinema in an artistic and historical context."

Tickets are $10 for the general public.  For showtimes, please check out LACMA's website.

Monday, October 24, 2011

First season of Lupin III coming to DVD

Although not exactly Studio Ghibli news, Discotek Media has announced via Facebook that they've licensed the first season of Lupin III for DVD release in spring 2012.

L to R: Jigen, Lupin, Fujiko, and Goemon (source)

The Lupin III television series debuted in Japan in 1971, inspired by the manga series by Kazuhiko Kato a.k.a Monkey Punch.  The storyline follows master thief Lupin III, grandson of Arsène Lupin from the Maurice Leblanc novels, and his exploits alongside a group of criminal friends.  The television series ran for three seasons (1971-1985) and inspired a string of popular films, including what is probably the most famous of the group, The Castle of Cagliostro (1979).

Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro (source)

Although common knowledge to Studio Ghibli fans, Hayao Miyazaki served as director of several episodes of the first and second seasons of the series (alongside future creative partner Isao Takahata) and made his directorial debut with The Castle of Cagliostro.  Long before his feature film work, Miyazaki was making a name for himself in television animation with several series, including Future Boy Conan and Sherlock Hound, and many see his contributions to the Lupin III series and film as transitional works that would eventually lead to the birth of Studio Ghibli.

Jigen and Lupin III in a scene from the first season. (source)
There's no word yet from Discotek Media regarding whether the first season DVD release will feature a dub or subtitles only, but more information should become available as we near the release date.  I'm personally a big fan of The Castle of Cagliostro, so any news is good news when it comes to more Lupin III heading our way!

Friday, October 21, 2011

Two more Blu-rays in Japan

In a little less than a month, animation fans will finally be able to get their hands on the next wave of Blu-ray titles from Studio Ghibli.

L to R: Howl's Moving Castle, Tales from Earthsea, and Ponyo (source)

Hayao Miyazaki's Howl's Moving Castle (2004) and son Gorō Miyazaki's Tales from Earthsea (2006) are set to make their Blu-ray debut in Japan on November 16, 2011.  Also out that day is a re-release of Ponyo (2008), with updated cover artwork that makes it a better match to the rest of the collection currently available in Japan.

Six Blu-ray titles are currently available in Japan and various other countries.

Fans not interested in importing can probably expect the titles to be made available in other parts of the world, except North America, sometime early next year.  Unfortunately, Disney handles Studio Ghibli releases at a much slower pace here than elsewhere around the world.  At this point, we're still waiting for Castle in the Sky, My Neighbors the Yamadas, and Whisper of the Heart to be announced for release, so it's anyone's guess as to when we'll see Howl's Moving Castle and Tales from Earthsea in our neck of the woods. 

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch

A new video of the upcoming PlayStation 3 game Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch (also known as Second Country and The Another World) has been released online.

The game, a collaborative effort between developer Level-5 and Studio Ghibli, is the first of its kind for the animation studio and set for release in Japan on November 17, 2011.  NAMCO Bandai Games will publish the title in North America in early 2012.  Game play centers around main character Oliver, a 13 year-old boy, and follows his journey through a parallel world as he attempts revive his recently deceased mother.

Ni no Kuni: Shikkoku no Madōshi for Nintendo DS (source)

A separate version of the game, Ni no Kuni: Shikkoku no Madōshi (The Jet-Black Mage), was released for the Nintendo DS in Japan on December 9, 2010.  Although the DS version and this upcoming title share a similar core story, the PlayStation 3 version will feature game play, graphics, and music unique to the release.  Composer Joe Hisaishi, famous for his contributions to Studio Ghibli films including Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away, is providing the musical score for the PlayStation 3 installment.

Animated cut scenes showcase Ghibli's classic character style.

As seen in the video and various screenshots available online, Oliver and the supporting characters have that classic "Ghibli look" and the world in which they interact looks as if it was pulled straight out of one of the studio's films.  Animated cutscenes are spliced together with interactive game play, and Level-5 has done an amazing job of cel-shading the characters to the point where it's hard to tell where the Ghibli animation stops and game play resumes.

Cel-shaded characters match the animated cutscenes. (source)

Although I'm not a huge gamer, I own a PlayStation 3 and definitely plan to pick up this title once it is made available in North America.  Each of Studio Ghibli’s films have their own unique “worlds,” so the thought of an interactive game from the studio where the “world” can be fully explored and experienced in a new way is very exciting!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Secret World of Arrietty

Walt Disney Pictures will release Studio Ghibli's 2010 film The Borrower Arrietty (also known as Arrietty in the UK) in North American theaters as The Secret World of Arrietty on February 17, 2012.  The film is based on the novel The Borrowers by Mary Norton.

The North American English dub features the voices of Bridgit Mendler (Disney's Good Luck Charlie) as title character Arrietty and David Henrie (Disney's Wizards of Waverly Place) as Shō, the boy who discovers and befriends Arrietty.  Also included in the voice cast are Amy Poehler, Carol Burnett, Matt Levin, Will Arnett, and frequent Ghibli dub star Tress MacNeille (Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, Kiki's Delivery Service, Pom Poko).

Bridgit Mendler as Arrietty. (source)

The Secret World of Arrietty marks the directorial debut of Hiromasa Yonebayashi , an animator at Studio Ghibli whose credits include work on Hayao Miyazaki's Howl's Moving Castle, Spirited Away, and Ponyo.  Miyazaki co-wrote the screenplay and served as production planner for the film, which was produced by Toshio Suzuki. 

With the recent resurgence of interest in hand-drawn animation, thanks in part to the highly successfully re-release of Disney's The Lion King in 3D, I'm hoping that Arrietty does well with US audiences.  By the time February rolls around, it will have been about 2-1/2 years since the last Ghibli release stateside, Ponyo.  I'm also hoping Disney releases a few more Blu-ray titles from the Ghibli canon in an effort to drum up interest in this theatrical release.  After the US Blu-ray debut Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind last March, there hasn't been a peep from Disney as to when we'll see Castle in the Sky and/or My Neighbors the Yamadas on Blu-ray here.  With additional Blu-ray titles being announced in Japan on a fairly regular basis, Disney is falling behind!