Life after Ghibli?

Two new trailers have been released for Mary and the Witch’s Flower, the debut film from Japanese animation company Studio Ponoc.

Watch them first, then read on to find out more.

Trailer #1

Trailer #2

Studio Ponoc is a new Japanese animation house based in Tokyo. The head of the company is Yoshiaki Nishimura, who was lead producer for two Studio Ghibli films: When Marnie Was There and The Tale of Princess Kaguya.

It is clear to see the similarities with the best of Ghibli in the above clips, and it’s not just Nishimura who connects the two studios.

Hiromasa “Maro” Yonebayashi is directing the feature, having also directed Ghibli films The Secret World of Arriety and When Marnie Was There. He also worked as an animator on the likes of Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke, Howl’s Moving Castle and Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea. Essentially, he was a key player at Ghibli. 

Maro pens the script alongside Riko Sakaguchi, the screenwriter of The Tale of Princess Kaguya, another excellent Ghibli film released in 2013 to critical acclaim.

Takatsugu Muramatsu returns as film composer, having provided the score for When Marnie Was There.

There is currently no official U.K. release date for Mary and the Witch’s Flower, but it is scheduled to hit cinemas sometime in 2017. Traditionally Ghibli films took around a year to make the transition to English and finally get a release in the U.K., but who knows if the same rules will apply here.

Whatever happens, there will be a huge amount of interest in the film when it surfaces.

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Secret Cinema X event 2017 – What is it?

Note: Super sleuth Oliver Morris can have most of the credit for this article!

This morning all previous attendees of any Secret Cinema events were unexpectedly sent an email providing limited details on their next fully secret event.

Launching on Sunday 9th April and running until Friday 14th April, the email promised that they would be “presenting a yet unreleased secret film in a secret location”.

“Exploring vivid, enigmatic landscapes ripe with intrigue and coded messages, you will become part of a world that blossoms like a delicate flower to reveal a clandestine, unforgettable experience”.

The tickets for the event go on sale tomorrow (Wednesday 22nd March) at 13:00 (GMT).

You may be intrigued by the idea, but if you want to know the likely films that it could be, read on.

The facts

The email states that the event is strictly for people over the age of 18, which indicates that the film has been rated with an 18 certificate by the BBFC (British Board of Film Classification).

We can also deduce that the film is probably going to be released in a short window between late April and the end of June. The film must be ready for viewing by the general public and it wouldn’t benefit from the extra press this will generate if its release date is too far in the future.

There is also a lot of allusions to plant life, flowers, growth and blossoming, which indicates that this is a strong theme in the film.

The quote “You can cut all the flowers but you cannot keep spring from coming” is a quote from Pablo Neruda and is possibly a red herring, but could be a clue to the film’s country of origin. My hunch is the former.

The final clue provided in the email is the visual title, which features a sketched eye pouring into a waterfall, set amidst a backdrop of a Japanese-style sun that is reminiscent of their flag. It looks Dali-esque, but is certainly very much something that makes the viewers think of the country Japan.

So what films could it be?

This leaves not many option for films. Here are the best guesses.

The Handmaiden


Park Chan-wook’s latest film is an erotic mystery horror that lit up the end-of-year lists for many of the in-the-know critics last year. It is based on the Sarah Waters book Fingersmith, but is set in South Korea under Japanese colonial rule rather than Victorian Britain. The story revolves around a young woman who has been raised as a thief and working as a handmaiden undercover in a rich heiress’s house.

This might seem like quite a leftfield choice for Secret Cinema to tackle, but it certainly fits the bill. It’s essentially set in Japan and has already received a BBFC classification of 18.

It is set for general release on 14th April, which is the day the Secret Cinema run finishes.

Park Chan-wook’s previous work includes two films from 2013 – Stoker and Snowpiercer – along with 2009’s Thirst and 2003’s Oldboy. His films are certainly beautiful works of art and their quality belies the fact his wider work is largely unknown in the west. But perhaps that is the perfect reason for Secret Cinema to base a whole event around his new release.

Alien: Covenant

The only other feasible alternative to The Handmaiden in my eyes is Alien: Covenant. Set for release in May 2017, the film concerns a new crew visiting an uncharted planet that looks on arrival to be full of blooming flowers and plantlife – initially appearing to be a paradise planet.

It is a direct sequel to Prometheus, which itself was subject to a Secret Cinema event in June 2012 immediately prior to its release.

This sequel is set for general release on 19th May 2017, which would put it in the frame for being tackled.

It is probably going to receive a 15 rating (the trailers were rated 15), but that doesn’t mean the night can be so horrifically planned that they don’t want to admit people younger than 18. Plus there will probably be alcohol for sale, which would also need an age restriction.

Certainly the spending power of 20th Century Fox would lend itself to a last-minute decision to be subject to a huge Secret Cinema event, with increased cost as a result of running it in parallel with the Moulin Rouge event across London. Would the Secret Cinema team put so much pressue on themselves to run two concurrently unless they were set to make a lot of money on the back of it?

Conclusion

Honestly, it could be either of the above. Or neither. The beauty is in the guessing and the not knowing.

Either way, the nights will be a wonderful treat for fans of cinema and well worth the money.

Act fast tomorrow at 13:00 to avoid disappointment.

Note: This article proved to be spot on (2 for 2!). Check out the follow-up here and a quick haiku review here.

Disney’s Moana – Everything you need to know

Walt Disney Animation Studios will be releasing their 56th animated film globally on 23rd November 2016. Titled Moana (or Vaiana or Oceania, depending where you live), the film follows a 16-year-old as she embarks on a quest to a mystical Polynesian island to find the demigod Maui and uncover the island’s secrets.

This article should bring you up to speed with everything you need to know.

Who’s directing the film?

The directors are Ron Clements and John Musker, the directorial duo who have been responsible for some of the greatest Disney films over the last thirty years.

Here’s what they’ve made:

That’s a tremendous track record, with two of the films stone-wall classics and the remaining four well-regarded if a little under-appreciated. Their last work – The Princess and the Frog – may well be the best Walt Disney Animation Studios film released in the last decade.

Where is the film set?

The titular character is a native of the fictional island Motunui, which is said to be in the Pacific Ocean.

There is a coastal town in New Zealand that shares its name, and there is also an island just south of Easter Island, but neither of these is the setting for the film. Instead, the inspiration for the setting is said to be Teti’aroa, a different Polynesian island most famed for being bought by Marlon Brando in the 1960s.

This is located about where the pin is on the following map (courtesy of Apple Maps).


Basically, it’s in the middle of the South Pacific Ocean in French Polynesia. By all accounts, it’s a beautiful part of the world to visit and, thanks to the Marlon Brando Estate you can!

I’ll be, erm, saving up my pennies.

Who’s in it?

The lead character of Moana Waialiki is voiced by Auli’i Cravalho, a 15-year-old newcomer to the film industry. The video above shows you how thrilled she is to effectively be the next Disney princess. A huge role and it’s a nice touch they managed to find someone from Hawaii to take on the role.

Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson voices legendary demigod Maui, the unlikely buddy for Moana to set off on her journey with.

Elsewhere there are contributions from Pussycat Doll Nicole Scherzinger as Moana’s mother Sina, Temura Morrison (Episode II’s Jango Fett) as Moana’s father Chief Tui, Flight of the Conchord’s Jermaine Clement as the crabby Tamatoa, Rachel House (who you may remember as the over-zealous welfare services officer Paula in Hunt for the Wilderpeople) as Moana’s grandmother Tala and Disney regular Alan Tudyk as idiotic bird Hei Hei.

On top of that, there are musical contributions from Lin-Manual Miranda, who has managed to fit this in between the massive success of Hamilton and the preparation for the Mary Poppins reboot he’s just been cast in. Oh, and Star Wars.

There’s a short clip of the song “You’re Welcome” below.

Are there any trailers or clips available now?

Disney have been releasing a slow trickle of scene previews and trailers. Here’s a selection:

Official Trailer

https://youtu.be/LKFuXETZUsI

International Trailer 1 (Japanese)

https://youtu.be/Ljik3zsGNF4

International Trailer 2 (Portuguese)

https://youtu.be/4ojO2luxMc4

International Trailer 3 (Russian)

https://youtu.be/_NGlIDDeSfI

International Trailer 4 (German)

https://youtu.be/DHeBo2M3GoY

International Trailer 5 (Italy)

https://youtu.be/_ZpA-PtXhf4

Official Teaser Trailer

https://youtu.be/C6PbWhWGUrY

Clip – Is there something you want to hear?

https://youtu.be/YWBSxmcQGqo

Song – “We Know The Way”

https://youtu.be/unoJii5PJV4

Clip – Moana meets Maui

https://youtu.be/88_Ailmf8Z4

When is it released?

It has various release dates. The key one for me is the UK release date of 2nd December, although it will be hitting USA screens a few weeks earlier on 14th November.

Most of Europe will have it before Christmas, apart from Scandinavia who won’t be able to enjoy it until 2nd and 3rd February. The last country to get it is Japan on 10th March, a full four months after its initial release date.

Film review – 思い出のマーニー / When Marnie Was There (Hiromasa Yonebayashi, 2016)

The latest film released from the Japanese animation powerhouse Studio Ghibli is also the final feature film they will ever release. At least, that’s the line they’re taking. There doesn’t seem to be any indication that this isn’t true, although secretly most Ghibli fans – myself included – hope there will be something else around the corner. 

A glimmer of hope has come in the suggestion that more short films will be produced for the Saturn Theatre, the small cinema that resides inside the Ghibli Museum in Tokyo. Unfortunately for those of us outside Japan, seeing the existing ones is quite the task – you’ll need at least a return plane ticket to Japan and some forward planning to get tickets to the museum itself. Oh, they only screen one film a day and you can only see it once. There isn’t any plan to screen any of them anywhere else in the world, so seeing the sequel to Totoro might not be something to add to your bucket list.

All this sadly leaves us with only one more Studio Ghibli film to enjoy at the cinema, finally seeing the light of day almost two years after its release in Japan. When Marnie Was There is based on the original novel of the same name by British author Joan G. Robinson, with many of the details changed from the original novel. Most notably, the location has been changed from Norfolk in England to Sapporo in Hokkaido, Japan.


The storyline deals with a young girl, Anna, who suffers from anxiety and asthma. A loner at her school and lacking in confidence, she is sent away to live with family friends in Sapporo on the advice of her doctor, who suggests that leaving the city for the clearer air and change of scenery will cure her ailments.

Once there, she struggles to settle until she happens on a mysterious building called The Marsh House, inside which a beautiful young girl name Marnie is living, a girl with whom she strikes up an immediate and very close friendship.

So how does When Marnie Was There fit into the greater Ghibli catalogue? Instantly it will strike you that it’s just as beautifully animated as anything we’ve seen before, with hand-drawn drawings taking us on the typically personal, solitary journey of the main character. Animation has seldom looked this good, and I include Disney’s output in this statement too.

The storyline will be familiar to those fans of previous Ghibli works. A young girl sent away from her comfort zone to new surroundings dealing with a secretive and mysterious occurrence, via an unlikely friendship. It is ground well worn, but that shouldn’t be a reason to dismiss it. 

Anna herself is a wonderfully realised creation. The sense of isolation as she sits at school having an asthma-induced panic attack is heartbreaking and as realistic as any live-action portrayal of anxiety I’ve ever seen. This is a critical achievement – get it wrong and we’re dealing with a whiny self-obsessed teenager for two hours.

It is perhaps not as immediate as some of the more celebrated works. It’s a frustrating time to be a Ghibli fan. It’s probably the last film to hit the big screen, but it’s not the best place to start if you’re unfamiliar with the studio. If you can, watch My Neighbour Totoro and Spirited Away straight away, then head to the cinema to catch this before you run out of time.

Eleven Japanese phrases that are hilariously similar to their English counterparts

In learning Japanese, I’ve come across a few phrases that are so similar to their English counterparts they sound like someone doing an offensive impression of someone from Japan without any knowledge of the language.

Whilst they sound quite humorous at first, they are so easy to learn for native English-speakers that they should be seen as a quick win for anyone trying to learn the language.

Here we go!

1. Gēmusentā – Game centre

Yep! That’s the phrase to describe a video game arcade. If you’re anything like me this is a key phrase for when you go to Japan as there are so many to experience in Tokyo.

2. Kurejittokādo – Credit card

A really useful phrase for shops and cafés. Even if you can’t construct “Do you take credit cards?” as a full sentence (“Kurejittokādo wa tsukae masu ka?”), holding your card and saying the English phrase with an “o” sound at the end is a start.

3. Merii Kurisumasu – Merry Christmas

Might only be useful for you for about three days in a year, but say it confidently despite the fact it sounds like you don’t know what you’re really saying.

4. Kukkī – Cookie

I mean, it’s not even different.

5. Sandoitchi – Sandwich

That’s not far off either. Just put a quick “oh” in the middle and an “ee” sound at the end and you’ve got a great accompanying snack for your kukkī.

6. Remonēdo – Lemonade

One thing that people in the west do when trying to impersonate Japanese speech in a derogatory manner is to swap all the “l” letters for “r” sounds and vice versa. This is because neither letter exists in Japanese. However, if you’re partial for lemonade then you’re in luck because that’s exactly how you say it. Just try not to look embarrassed when you ask for “Remonēdo kudasai”.

7. Kyasshu disupensa – Cash dispenser

Or you could have “e-ti-emu”. I’m not joking. In many ways, having two phrases in your arsenal for one thing is borderline fluent.

8. Hoteru – Hotel

An easy and very useful one to remember!

9. Aisu kurīmu – Ice cream

I love this one and can’t wait to use it next time I fancy some ice cream.

10. Amerikandoggu – American dog (or hot dog)

Not quite perfect translation on this one as people in the west don’t tend to order an “American dog”. Then again, I imagine “Japanese noodles” are just “noodles” in central Tokyo.

11. Koin rokkā – Coin locker

A little like number six, this does sound a bit like a westerner poking fun at the way Japanese people speak. Similarly “koin randorī” will be a useful phrase if you’re backpacking and you need to wash your clothes.

There you have it. In “tsumari” (another real one), if you find yourself in Japan around the 25th December and find yourself hungry in a Tokyo video game arcade but without any cash, then I have just sorted you out big time. You’re welcome.