25 June 2007

Studio Ghibli Shorts

Everyone knows the blockbuster movies for which Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli are famous – My Neighbor Totoro (1988), Grave of the Fireflies (1988), Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989), Princess Mononoke (1997), and Spirited Away (2001) – just to name a few. What you may not know is that under the guidance of Ghibli producer and president Toshio Suzuki (鈴木敏夫), Ghibli pays the bills between the big movies by doing commercial projects.

For example, Studio Ghibli distributes foreign animation of renown within Japan. Films under the Ghibli label include Les Triplettes de Belleville (Sylvain Chomet, 2002), Le Roi et l’oiseau (Paul Grimault), and Moya Iyubov (Aleksandr Petrov, 2006), among others. The studio is also happy to do television commercials as well as music videos and other commercial ventures.

In 2005, Studio Ghibli released ショートショート(Short Short) as a Ghibli ga ippai special edition DVD. With a run-time of only 42 minutes, the DVD features music videos and commercials produced by the studio between 1992 and 2005.

The creative force between the featured short animation includes the usual suspects at Ghibli: Hayao Miyazaki (宮崎駿b. 1941), Yoshifumi Kondou (近藤喜史1950-1998), Yoshiyuki Momose (百瀬義行b. 1953), Osamu Tanabe (田辺修b. 1965), Shinji Hashimoto (橋本晋治b. 1967), and Takeshi Inamura (稲村武志b. 1969).

The thing that I found striking about the commercial work included on this DVD is that it gives one an opportunity to glimpse the artistic style of Ghilbi animators who usually get second billing. Momose has been an in-betweener on several major Ghibli productions, but in recent years he has formed his own studio, Studio Cajino, under the Ghibli auspices and he takes the director’s chair for the Capsule music videos. While the style in these videos is partly influenced by Capsule’s retro-chic look, the character design and futuristic look are quite distinct from the films helmed by Miyazaki and Takahata.

My favourite shorts on the DVD would have to be the nostalgic advertisements for House Shokuhin. They remind me of the nostalgia of My Neighbor Totoro, with their romanticisation of post-war Japan. The theme of the ads is that House Shokuhin’s products (ie. instant curry) will allow your family to enjoy home-cooking just like in the good old days. The warmth of colours and the details of the traditional homes are very inviting and I find the old-fashioned style of the character animation particularly appealing.

Here's what's available on the DVD (only On Your Mark has an English version)

  • そらいろのたね (The Sky-Coloured Seed, 1992)、3 TV spots for Nippon TV
  • なんだろう(Nandarou, 1992), 6 TV spots to celebrate the fortieth anniversary of Nippon TV
  • On Your Mark (1995), a music video for J-pop duo Chage & Aska (includes Japanese and English versions of the song with subtitles)
  • TV spots for My Neighbor Totoro (1996) and Grave of the Fireflies (1996)
  • 金曜ロードショー(Friday Roadshow, 1997) opening sequence
  • SHOP-ONE Online Shopping Mall announcement spot (2000)
  • 旨茶 (Delicious Tea, 2001), 2 ads for Asahi beverages
  • Advertisement spots for the Ghibli Museum in Mitaka no mori (2001)
  • 3 LAWSON ticket service advertisements (2001-2)
  • 3 ハウス食品 (House Shokuhin) commercials (2002)
  • 3 りそな銀行 (Resona Bank) commercials (2003)
  • おうちでたべよう (Let’s eat at home, 2003-4), a series of commercials for House Shokuhin products (ie instant curry). One cycle for the summer season and another cycle for the winter.
  • KNB YumeDigi PR Spot (3 versions, 2004)
  • 3 Yomiuri Shimbun commercials (2004-5)
  • どれどれのう唄 (Dore dore no uta, 2005) for the Yomiuri Shimbun
  • A series of three music videos directed by Yoshiyuki Momose for the shibuya-kei pop band Capsule:
  • ポータブル空港 (Portable Airport、2004)
  • Space Station No. 9 (2004)
  • 空飛ぶ都市計画 (A Flying City Plan , 2005)
Ghibli ga Ippai Special Short Short / Animation

© Catherine Munroe Hotes 2007

05 June 2007

The Uchoten Hotel (The 有頂天ホーテル , 2006)

I find it surprising that The Uchōten Hotel (2006) has not yet been snapped up by distributors in North America and Europe. Perhaps they were unable to see past the bad English pun in the full original title: The 有頂天ホーテル (Suite Dreams). The producers must have thought it would be cool to have three kinds of script (romanji, kanji, and katakana) in the title. Translating the title directly into English would make it sound like a bad porno flick – Ecstasy Hotel – but if they repackaged it as Hotel Avanti, the actual name of the hotel in the film, the film would appeal to the same overseas audiences who fell in love with Kōji Yakusho (役所 広司) in Shall we dance? (Shall We ダンス? Masayuki Suo, 1996).

Yakusho headlines a star-studded cast in The Uchōten Hotel: Shingo Katori (香取 慎吾)of SMAP and Shingo Mama fame, the multi-talented actress and J-pop singer/songwriter Takako Matsu (松 たか子), the voice of Anpanman Keiko Toda (戸田恵子,), J-pop singer turned actress/author/TV personality You (ゆう), yet another J-pop singer turned actress Ryoko Shinohara (篠原涼子), Koichi Sato (佐藤浩市,), Katsuhisa Namase (生瀬勝久,), Kumiko Asō (麻生久美子,), and acting legend Toshiyuki Nishida (西田 敏行). The wide array of well-known faces assured that the film was a big hit when it premiered in Japan in January 2006.

The success of the film was doubly assured by the reputation of its director Koki Mitani (三谷幸喜). Mitani has a history of producing quality television series like Furuhata Ninzaburo (古畑任三郎, 1994) and the popular and critically acclaimed chambara series Shinsegumi! (新選組!, 2004). Mitani’s biggest hit was the 1997 film Welcome Back, Mr. McDonald (ラジオの時間) which, like The Uchōten Hotel has a large cast and a complicated storyline.

The Uchōten Hotel adopts the setting and style of Grand Hotel (Edmund Goulding, 1932). The set, particularly the central lobby, resembles the set of Grand Hotel and Mitani emphasizes the allusion by having suites named after the stars of the classic talkie: Barrymore, Crawford, Garbo, and Lionel. Grand Hotel is also famous for being the first film to successfully weave a large cast with multiple storylines into an engaging picture. However, Grand Hotel was at heart a drama with comedic flourishes, whereas The Uchōten Hotel is more of a screwball comedy.

Mitani throws into the mix an homage to the witty repartee and grace of Billy Wilder’s best comedies. The hotel’s name refers to one of Wilder’s lesser known films Avanti! (1972), and the costume play and pace of the film reminded me of Some Like it Hot (1959).

There is a touch of Robert Altman in the skill with which Mitani balances his web of subplots and large cast. Mitani also shares Alfred Hitchcock’s passion for playing with filmic conventions by sticking to a one shot per scene rule à la Rope (1948). Mitani ably avoids cuts by employing a dramatically moving camera, sometimes in startlingly humorous ways.

I recommend this film to fans of screwball comedies who are prepared to watch without cynicism. It’s a film for light-hearted film fans, particularly fans of Japanese television comedy and drama.

The Uchoten Hotel Original Soundtrack / Original Soundtrack

© Catherine Munroe Hotes 2007


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