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The End: 3000 Leagues
Saturday, December 17, 2005 -
12:12am cst (link):

3000 Leagues in Search of Mother - the closing shot

I finally reached the end of 3000 Leagues in Search of Mother, and I'm left with that same empty, dull ache I had when I finished Anne of Green Gables. This weekend I'll try to compile some notes about the series, and try to come to terms with it all. The story carries a complexity and sense of depth that is unsurpassed in animation (and nearly all live cinema).

I suspected this when watching Anne, and 3000 Leagues has confirmed it. Takahata and Miyazaki's greatest work are their World Masterpiece Theatre productions. The Studio Ghibli movies play out like brilliant short stories; but Heidi, Anne, 3000 Leagues...ah, these are the epic novels.


Morning Sedition's Last Day?!
Friday, December 16, 2005 -
7:12am cst (link):

Okay, now it's official - the people who run Air America Radio are jerks. You guys suck! BOOO!!!

Morning Sedition has always been my favorite AAR show after Randi Rhodes. Much like Unfiltered, which likewise was cancelled (and replaced with...Jerry Springer?!), it was a great radio show that defied my expectations and immediately hooked my on the network. I expected a shrill, self-righteous version of public radio...only "nerdier." I discovered a wildly funny, casual morning show that also happened to know the score with what was happening around the world.

Dammit, I'm starting to really hate the people who own AAR. Who's making these decisions? What are they gonna replace it with? No more "fire truck?" No more "zombie death cult?" No more "Morning Sedition Radio Theatre?" No more Red Hot Chili Peppers at six in the morning?! BOOO!!! BOOO!!!


3000 Leagues in Search of Mother - A Few Pics
Wednesday, December 14, 2005 -
12:00am cst (link):

I've been relentlessly watching Isao Takahata 3000 Leagues in Search of Mother for the past ten days. I have another 16 episodes to go, and it is masterfully complex, thoughtful, literary. It is also an emotional ride, full of tragedy and heartache. A wise, sad stoicism permeates throughout.

However, the video quality on the Taiwan DVD box set is noticably weaker, using an older film print covered in scratches, debrit and faded colors. It's the only release with English subtitles, so I'm still grateful, so I can't compare it against the Japanese DVD's or laserdisks.

I'll use the following pics as a comparison. The first photo, like the two above, were taken from a German fansite devoted to World Masterpiece Theatre; the second is from the 3000 Leagues DVD:

The quality of the artwork, as you can see, is outstanding, combining the neo-realism of a De Sica with an expressionism that brings out the characters' minds. Notice the above picture's strong resemblance to Much's "The Scream," an appropriate setting for that particular episode. You can also see the obsessive attention to detail that is a hallmark of Takahata and Miyazaki's careers.

3000 Leagues in Search of Mother deserves to be seen in North America (alongside Heidi and Anne, of course). Anyone who decides to bring it here, however, would have to work on completely restoring the picture quality. We're talking about a 26-hour epic. Know anyone who wants to go into business?


The New Studio Ghibli Movie Has Been Announced
Tuesday, December 13, 2005 -
7:20pm cst (link):

Gedo Genki, the 2006 Studio Ghibli movie

Today, Studio Ghibli's next feature-length film has been announced, and it's not without a degree of surprise and controversy. The title of the film is "Gedo Senki," or "Gedo War History." It is an adaptation of Ursula K. Le Guin's A Wizard of Earthsea, and is set for release next June. The director for this project is Goro Miyazaki - the son of the master filmmaker.

This is where much of the controversy stems from. Hayao Miyazaki's son, to the best of my knowledge, has no experience in animation, either as an animator, a writer or a director. He has been in charge of the Ghibli Museum since its 2001 opening, and is listed as a Planner for this year's Hayao Miyazaki and the Ghibli Museum documentary.

Now, one does not have to be a craftsman to become a great filmmaker in animation; Isao Takahata is the greatest example of that. However, I have to admit to feeling, well, a little skittish. The elder Miyazaki has been very vocal in his opposition; he is fiercly against the idea of having his son dropped in charge of a major Ghibli production.

There's something of a feeling of privilege in this that I just cannot shake. Miyazaki dragged himself through the ranks the old-fashioned way, with endless hard work and a relentless drive that is legendary. The democratic environment in place at Toei Doga in the 1960s enabled this, and young Hayao ran at the opportunity.

There's a famous story of the 1965 animation film Gulliver's Space Travels, where a young in-betweener (essentially a starting position in animation) boldly suggested a completely different ending to the story, one which completely changed the context and tone of the movie. The story originally involved Gulliver rescuing a robot princess, but Miyazaki suggested that the princess, and all her people, should be humans trapped inside the machines. That the new kid could essentially walk up to a director, make such a suggestion and then animate the scenes, is extrordinary, and speaks volumes about Miyazaki's spirit that carries through to the present day.

For Miyazaki, who started with nothing and became the highest-grossing filmmaker in Japan's history, the idea that his son could be hand-picked for the role of film director cannot be deeply offensive. It's goes against everything: his work ethic, his politics. At least, that's my theory.

I have no doubt that Goro Miyazaki can possess a degree of talent; he has to have inherited something from his parents (his mother, Akemi, worked as a key animator on Horus, Prince of the Sun, Puss in Boots, Animal Treasure Island, and Panda Go Panda). But, I ask myself, why not simply work up the ranks first? Shouldn't he have to pay his dues?

My own suspicion is that this relates to the looming crisis for Studio Ghibli. Namely, what will happen to the studio when the old masters, Takahata and Miyazaki, finally retire? Both have projects in the pipeline, but they are getting older; Takahata, who's last Ghibli film was 1999's My Neighbors the Yamadas, is 70, and Miyazaki is 65.

There are many brilliantly talented senior animators at Ghibli, and several who have directed short films, incliding Yohiyuki Momose (Ghiblies Episode 2), Hiroyuki Morita (The Cat Returns), Katsuya Kondo. and Kitaro Kosaka (who directoral debut was the 2003 film Nasu: Summer in Andalusia). These are all clear candidates for successors at Ghibli. The clear successor was once Yoshifumi Kondo (Whisper of the Heart), but he died suddenly in 1998. This has been a growing problem ever since.

So now, we suddenly have the son of Miyazaki in charge of a major film, and that may be enough to keep the public interested. It makes great press, and everyone will want to see if Goro can follow in his foosteps. No doubt Gedo Senki will be a good film, but this feels so much like a gamble.

It would be foolish to expect the younger Miyazaki to create the same kind of emotionally complex, personal films as his father. So much of Japan's greatest animation comes from that post-war generation, whose explosion of freedom and creativity revolutionized the medium. Can a new generation create classics in the vein of Horus, Heidi, 3000 Leagues in Search of Mother, Nausicaa, Porco Rosso? Or will they be safer, more formulaic, more committed to the cliches and conventions?

The thing that strikes me about the new movie poster is how much it looks like the last one. It looks just like Howl's Moving Castle, and is likewise adapted from a series of Western children's fantasy novels. But what made Howl so great, what I really loved about it, was how Miyazaki threw away the book after introducing the major players, and told his own personal story about war, his marriage, and growing old instead. It's the sort of bold thing you expect from a great filmmaker. Imagine someone taking similar liberties with C.S. Lewis or Harry Potter.

What kind of risks would Goro Miyazaki take? Where would he take animated film? Does he possess that love and respect for Italian Neo-realism, that awareness of Japan's rich history and culture? How much of his personal life, his inner turmoil, will appear on the screen? Or will we simply see a calcluated, audience-friendly cartoon fantasy, set within the confines of the quote-unquote "Ghibli movie?" The Cat Returns had these same problems, and to a degree it is to be expected; these are movies made by young people who are inexperienced, learning their style, learning to hear their own voices.

That sort of thing takes time. I'm not sure that this is the wisest path to take; sometimes being the child of a famous artist, and being asked to continue their legacy, can prove a heavy burden. Think of Julian Lennon. Perhaps, again, this is why Miyazaki pere is against the idea. I don't know. I'm only an American artist and writer who's still digging through all that history and trying to make sense of it all. Next June should prove very interesting.


Bush Shipping Dead Marines Home as Freight
Sunday, December 11, 2005 -
11:10pm cst (link):

What a pack of sick, sadistic fascists. Now can we impeach these bastards (insert favorite swear words here)?

I often wonder about the members of the Bush Cult, that twisted cult of personality that comprises at least a third of Americans. Do they get some sort of perverse joy out of this? Do they just stick their fingers in their ears and parrot, ever louder, that daddy is perfect, daddy can do no wrong, daddy is doing God's work? Just what is it going to take?

No military family who knows the score should ever vote Republican again. The GOP has shown their contempt over and over again.


The Patron Saint of Minnesota
Sunday, December 11, 2005 -
12:30am cst (link):

Eugene McCarthy, the Patron Saint of Minnesota

In Minnesota, if you are a progressive or liberal, or an Irish Catholic, then Eugene McCarthy is your patron saint. He was truly one of the great souls of this state, a strong, generous man of conscience. Politics has always been, to coin "The Adams Family," dirty pool, but McCarthy stood above it all, and remained a beacon of hope and a voice for justice, until his final days.

In recent weeks, we have seen the passing of great people whose lives are a testimony to the power of a single individual, the power within any one of us to change the world. Taking a stand for what's right is rarely easy, it is rarely without sacrifice or hardship. But never dispair. When you feel overwhelmed by the stupidity and cruelty of humanity, remember that you are not alone.

We look at America today, and recoil at how far she has fallen. Rising poverty, rising debt, a cruel and senseless war, a political class sliding ever futher into fascism, rape and torture perpetuated in secret locations across the globe, increasing pollution, increasing corruption, increasing incompetance, insecurity, uncertainty, fear.

Remember Gene McCarthy. Remember the injustices overcome in his day, the evil of Jim Crow, the evil of Vietnam. Perhaps, as rabbi Harold Kushner has suggested, God is to be found in the resistance, the struggle for freedom. We need to continue that struggle for freedom, the fight for equality and justice and peace for all.

Senator McCarthy now resides with the spirits of those other great Minnesotans, Hubert Humphrey and Paul Wellstone. We will always miss his voice, just as we will always miss theirs.


It Was 25 Years Ago Today
Thursday, December 8, 2005 -
11:00pm cst (link):

John Lennon


3000 Leagues (Marco) DVD Has Arrived!
Saturday, December 3, 2005 -
9:45pm cst (link):

My DVD box set for 3000 Leagues in Search of Mother arrived today! Hooray! This is one of the prize finds in my DVD collection.

3000 Leagues, aka Marco, was the 1976 season of World Masterpiece Theatre, the groundbreaking television series that was the jewel of Japanese animation. WMT became an annual tradition in 1974 with the Heidi, Girl of the Alps, directed by Isao Takahata. Marco was his second WMT production in 1976 (their third and final production was Anne of Green Gables in 1979), and also includes all the major players from Toei: animation director/character designer Yoichi Kotabe, screenwriter Kazuo Fukuzawa, art director Mukuo Takamura, color designer Yasuda Michiyo, and layout/continuity by Hayao Miyazaki.

While Heidi carried a naturalist tone with flights into fancy, Marco was fully immersed in neo-realism. Imagine De Sica's Bicycle Thieves and Umberto D, painted with watercolors. If you've noticed the European neo-realist streak in the Ghibli films, this is where much of that comes from.

The story focuses on a poor Italian family in the late 1800's, and specifically the young boy, Marco, who is traumatized when his mother departs for faraway Argentina, in search of work. Over the course of 52 episodes, Marco struggles to grow up, often arguing with his family, while dreaming of bringing his mother back home. He eventually sails for Argentina along with a family of travelling performers (think Fellini's La Strada).

By this point, Takahata's creative genius has already been cemented (with Horus, Prince of the Sun and Heidi), his masterful sense of control, his understanding of the camera and formal composition, and his ability to present an emotional intimacy to his characters that is matched or surpassed by only a handful of great filmmakers. Much of it comes from his training - Takahata is not an animator, but a director who chose to work in animation, and brought a filmic sensibility that - together with Miyazaki - revolutionized the medium. They've proven that over and over with Ghibli.

Now, a little about this DVD set. This is the official Chinese release, packaged in 10 discs in two boxes. Each box includes a booklet, with a synopsis on the characters and each episode (which is in English), and the second box includes three illustrated postcards. This is the only version of 3000 Leagues with English subtitiles, aside from a shady bootleg version that's unfortunately more easily available.

I bought this set online at JSDVD Mall, which is located in Taiwan. They also have for sale a number of other WMT series, including Anne of Green Gables, Heidi (at least the first half), and some of the later series. It goes without saying that this series deserves a place among your DVD collection.

3000 Leagues in Search of Mother DVD

3000 Leagues in Search of Mother DVD

3000 Leagues in Search of Mother DVD

3000 Leagues in Search of Mother DVD

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