Zavvi Disney Steelbooks – An update

In February 2017, I published an article that criticised Zavvi’s policy on Disney steelbooks. I still stand what I said at the time, because the situation was dire and frustrating. There had been 35 brilliant releases from them, but the new items had started to dry up before dropping off a cliff. To make matters worse, they’d started re-releasing some of the more popular films again with lenticular cases.

Whilst the article was written out of anger, the result was something of a pleasant surprise. Lilo and Stitch was made available immediately after the article went out. Since then, we’ve seen a five further items hit the Zavvi online store:

Atlantis The Lost Empire

Meet The Robinsons

The Rescuers Down Under

Bolt

Basil the Great Mouse Detective

This is all fantastic news, giving the steelbook collectors hope that finally we’ll get a full set of Disney releases that are in the same format and with consistent packaging.

So what’s left? Well, there’s good news and bad. We’ll deal with the former first…

WHAT’S LEFT TO RELEASE AND CURRENTLY AVAILABLE ON BLU-RAY IN THE UK?

Fun and Fancy Free
Disney Classic #9
Originally released on September 27, 1947
Currently available on Blu-ray in the UK

The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad
Disney Classic #11
Originally released on October 5, 1949
Currently available on Blu-ray in the UK

The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh
Disney Classic #22
Originally released on March 11, 1977
Currently available on Blu-ray in the UK

Oliver & Company
Disney Classic #27
Originally released on November 18, 1988
Currently available on Blu-ray in the UK

Dinosaur
Disney Classic #38 (US numbering)
Originally relased on May 19, 2000
Currently available on Blu-ray in the UK

Home on the Range
Disney Classic #44 (UK numbering)
Originally relased on April 2, 2004
Currently available on Blu-ray in the UK

Chicken Little
Disney Classic #45 (UK numbering)
Originally relased on November 4, 2005
Currently available on Blu-ray in the UK

The Wild
Disney Classic #46 (UK numbering)
Originally relased on April 4, 2006
Currently available on Blu-ray in the UK

WHAT DOESN’T CURRENTLY HAVE A UK BLU-RAY RELEASE?

Saludos Amigos
Disney Classic #6
Originally released on August 24, 1942
Not currently available on Blu-ray in the UK

The Three Caballeros
Disney Classic #7
Originally released on December 21, 1944
Not currently available on Blu-ray in the UK

Make Mine Music
Disney Classic #8
Originally released on April 20, 1946
Not currently available on Blu-ray in the UK

Melody Time
Disney Classic #10
Originally released on May 27, 1948
Not currently available on Blu-ray in the UK

The Black Cauldron
Disney Classic #25
Originally released on July 24, 1985
Not currently available on Blu-ray in the UK

Winnie the Pooh
Disney Classic #51
Originally released on July 15, 2011
Not currently available on Blu-ray in the UK, but is available in the US

WHAT NEXT?

So that leaves eight releases that Zavvi could realistically issue in the future. Given their rate of release recently, this could well happen in the next few months.

Where the issues will arise is with the remaining films that are yet to be issued in the UK on Blu-ray. 2011’s Winnie The Pooh reboot seems fairly attainable since we know there’s an HD Blu-ray transfer that is on sale in North America.

The remainder present a real issue, but what can be said is that it’s completely out of Zavvi’s hands. They can’t issue a special edition case for a release that doesn’t have a standard edition.

Interestingly, a gorgeous 55-disc boxset of all of the films has gone on sale at Zavvi. It lists five films as being unavailable on Bluray.

It also excludes entirely the 2011 Winnie The Pooh film, along with Dinosaur (which Kel Smith kindly pointed out is excluded in listings of Disney Animation Studios films in the UK), though it includes The Wild (Dinosaur’s replacement).

So, it’s a slightly confusing situation, but the current activity gives me hope that we’ll finally get as far as we can with the Zavvi steelbook collection.

Fingers crossed for the coming months.

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The Problem With Zavvi’s UK Disney Steelbooks

There is a huge problem brewing with Zavvi’s steelbook range in the UK.

When Zavvi initially launched them in 2014, there was much excitement from the steelbook community and Disney fans alike. Marrying two strong groups of collectors together was a financial goldmine for Zavvi and Disney. At £20 a pop and with each item having a limited run of around 4000, the revenue on the entire collection was considerable. £80,000 per release, over fifty releases… That’s potentially over £4m of revenue by the time the series was over.

Out rolled the big hitters. Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King from their 1990s renaissance period. Snow White, Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella from their classic princesses era. New releases for Frozen, Big Hero 6 and Wreck It Ralph sold out quickly as pre-orders.

They’d suckered everyone in and could hope for a continued interest as more were released. Or could they?

Suddenly they were into the realms of the unknown. Sure, Tangled will sell well, but what about the less popular releases? The Sword in the Stone? Brother Bear? What about Oliver & Co or Saludos Amigos?

They started on this path, but clearly something in the numbers gave them cold feet and by the time Treasure Planet was launched in February 2016, they decided no further vault releases would see the light of day. Instead, all that has been issued since then is the new release item Zootopia and a pre-order for Moana, due for release in April 2017.

To make matters worse, Zavvi have now taken to reissuing all the Disney films already available as standard steelbooks, but this time as lenticular steelbooks, which indicates that they aren’t planning any further standard versions. For those collecting the set and with 35 Disney steelbooks in their possession, that’s something of a kick in the teeth.

WHAT’S LEFT TO RELEASE?

The following Disney vault films are yet to see the light of day as steelbooks, though some aren’t even available as Blu-rays yet.

Saludos Amigos
Disney Classic #6
Originally released on August 24, 1942
Not currently available on Blu-ray in the UK

The Three Caballeros
Disney Classic #7
Originally released on December 21, 1944
Not currently available on Blu-ray in the UK

Make Mine Music
Disney Classic #8
Originally released on April 20, 1946
Not currently available on Blu-ray in the UK

Fun and Fancy Free
Disney Classic #9
Originally released on September 27, 1947
Currently available on Blu-ray in the UK

Melody Time
Disney Classic #10
Originally released on May 27, 1948
Not currently available on Blu-ray in the UK

The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad
Disney Classic #11
Originally released on October 5, 1949
Currently available on Blu-ray in the UK

The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh
Disney Classic #22
Originally released on March 11, 1977
Currently available on Blu-ray in the UK

The Black Cauldron
Disney Classic #25
Originally released on July 24, 1985
Currently available on Blu-ray in the UK

The Great Mouse Detective
Disney Classic #26
Originally release on July 2, 1986
Currently available on Blu-ray in the UK

Oliver & Company
Disney Classic #27
Originally released on November 18, 1988
Currently available on Blu-ray in the UK

The Rescuers Down Under
Disney Classic #29
Originally released on November 16, 1990
Currently available on Blu-ray in the UK

Dinosaur
Disney Classic #38
Originally relased on May 19, 2000
Currently available on Blu-ray in the UK

Atlantis: The Lost Empire
Disney Classic #41
June 15, 2001
Currently available on Blu-ray in the UK

Lilo & Stitch
Disney Classic #42
Originally relased on June 21, 2002
Currently available on Blu-ray in the UK

Home on the Range
Disney Classic #45
Originally relased on April 2, 2004
Currently available on Blu-ray in the UK

Chicken Little
Disney Classic #46
Originally relased on November 4, 2005
Currently available on Blu-ray in the UK

Meet the Robinsons
Disney Classic #47
Originally relased on March 30, 2007
Currently available on Blu-ray in the UK

Bolt
Disney Classic #48
Originally relased on November 28, 2008
Currently available on Blu-ray in the UK

Winnie the Pooh
Disney Classic #51
Originally released on July 15, 2011
Not currently available on Blu-ray in the UK, but is available in the US

IS THERE A SOLUTION?

Well, without the numbers to help guide us, it’s difficult to speculate on making a business decision that should be focused on a financial gain. No business runs for long on a loss, so we can’t expect them to issue something that loses money.

However, there should be a compromise. Those invested in the majority of the items so far are more than likely to want to complete their collection, so they’d need to estimate how many people make up that pot.

There are groups of films there that can be treated slightly differently. Classics #6-#11 (Saludos Amigos, The Three Cabaleros, Make Mine Music, Fun and Fancy Free, Melody Time and The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad) are obviously niche items, but someone interested in one of them would surely want to pick all of them up. One solution on that front is to group them all together as one or two boxsets, which helps people complete the series whilst reducing their risk on people buying just one or two of them and leaving the rest. Indeed, the total running time of the six films is around 6.5 hours, so they could be done over two discs.

Some of them are popular enough for a standalone release. Bolt, The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, Oliver & Co. and The Rescuers would fall into that category.  Limiting the releases to 1,000 copies and making that explicit on the item description would tempt in some sales to collectors – anything extremely limited with a Disney logo on it is bound to ignite interest.

It doesn’t help matters when the faithful shoppers are getting bombarded with pre-order emails for steelbooks of the likes of Street Fighter, Flight of the Navigator and Short Circuit.

Perhaps the best solution is to launch the remainder as a subscription service, with one released every month over a two-year period.  This could be modelled on their ZBOX series, and they could throw in other items to sweeten the deal. It may not be perfect but how else will they ensure people stick around for the release of Dinosaur?

Film review – 君の名は。/ Your Name (Makoto Shinkai, 2016)

It is very unusual for a Japanese animated film to make it beyond the smaller art house cinemas littered around the country. Most don’t make it that far. Even the most recent Studio Ghibli releases – When Marnie Was There and The Tale of the Princess Kaguya – failed to ignite the chain multiplexes, despite a global popularity that is unrivalled for world cinema.

It is strange then that Your Name has found itself in amongst the blockbusters at Showcase Cinemas in the UK this week, alongside the likes of Strange Beasts and Where to Find Them and Doctor Strange. No doubt many cinema goers will be nonplused that a weird Japanese film is taking up one of the screens, blissfully unaware that neither Cumberbatch nor Redmayne stand a chance of usurping Makoto Shinkai’s romantic fantasy anime to top the annual box office charts this year in Japan. As of 21st November it has taken 189.8m USD, making it Japan’s seventh highest grossing film of all time.

Films that are popular in Japan, of course, don’t always transfer to the global market, as exemplified by the rest of the all-time top ten films in terms of box office takings. Five are Japanese (of which only one is live action). No Japanese film bothers the equivalent top 100 list for global takings.

So what’s Your Name about and why is it so popular? It tells the story of Mitsuha, a high school girl living in the isolated countryside of Itomori, who makes a wish to be brought back as a handsome Tokyo high school boy in a future life. The next morning Taki, a high school boy living in Tokyo, wakes up in Mitsuha’s body, whilst she is now living in his body. It’s a classic body-swap setup that has served many good (and bad) films well in the past.

Or as it’s known by the poorly educated, You’re Name

The film may start in the most simple of ways, but as Mikota Shinkai throws a couple of devastating curveballs into the robust script to juxtapose the well-balanced comedic elements, it quickly becomes apparent where the success has come from. It’s a story driven by two characters that develop at a perfect rate to drive the plot forwards, and a serendipitous romance that is easy to get engrossed in.

Visually, the quality of the animation is very reminiscent of the best work of Studio Ghibli, particularly in the Itomori countryside scenes, away from the bright city lights of Tokyo. It’s such a relief to see something like this being released as Ghibli are finished as a motion picture production house, or at least going on a prolonged hiatus. Shinkai is being hailed as the new Hiyao Miyazaki, which seems far fetched on paper but in reality may not be so unrealistic. Unsurprisingly, he sites Miyazaki’s Castle in the Sky as his favourite film. His passion and dedication to follow in Miyazaki’s footsteps is abundantly on show here, from the beautifully-realised backdrops to the organic growth of the lead characters as the story progresses.

Put simply, it’s a beautiful film with a lot of heart and an engrossing story. What more could you ask for?

2016 March Grand Sumo Tournament, Osaka

If you’re thinking of visiting Japan any time soon and you’re lucky enough to land your trip at a time when the sumo tournament is on, you need to make sure you go. To absorb yourself in Japanese culture completely, you should consider all aspects and in a country where sport is so important you might as well opt for a uniquely Japanese sport rather than football or baseball.

  
How does the day work?

We went on the 13th day of the tournament, which is the business end of things. Basically, the format of these tournaments is that they last fifteen days and each sumo wrestler competes against a different opponent each day. They don’t have time to compete against everyone but they don’t repeat any match ups. 

As each wrestler is ranked according to his status and record, the fights are split into sub-sections throughout the day. In a nutshell, you can get into the arena from 08:30 but the best wrestlers won’t fight until about 15:00. Since we were travelling over from Tokyo in the morning, we went to the arena at about 13:00 and didn’t feel like we missed anything, seeing the tail-end of the Makushita Division fights (3rd division), all of the Juryo Division fights (2nd division) and all of the top level Makuuchi fights.

Do I need to know anything about sumo?

The sport of sumo is very easy to figure out, and it’s made easier by the fact that the fights come thick and fast so you can pick it up on the day. 

In simplistic terms, the aim is to get your opponent out of the ring or on the floor. Only the soles of the wrestler can touch to floor at any time. 

You will be able to follow the events unfolding before your eyes with a piece of paper with all the match-ups written out and the form of the wrestlers included so you can see the favourites. The wrestlers from the east are always on the left and the wrestlers from the west are always on the right (though the east/west placement is arbitrarily handed out to the wrestlers regardless of hometown).

Sumo isn’t just about the fighting. There are a lot of rituals that each wrestler must go through and they are followed before each and every fight. The build up to each fight lasts several minutes and the fights rarely go over ten seconds.

Who are the big stars?

In over 300 years of the sport, only 69 fighters have been awarded the Yokozuna title, though this has only been recognised as the highest rank for around 100 years. They achieve this by winning two grand tournaments in a row (there are only six per year). There are currently three Yokozuna fighters: Hakuhō Shō, Harumafuji Kōhei and Kakuryū Rikisaburō. All three are from Mongolia. When these fight, you know about it as the whole stadium erupts with delight. 

This is never more evident than with Hakuhō, the most successful sumo wrestler in the history of the sport. We were lucky enough to see him fight against Kakuryū, another Yokozuna, and come out victorious.

  
When are the tournaments?

There are six tournaments throughout the year: three in Tokyo (January, May, September), one in Osaka (March), one in Aichi (July) and one in Fukuoka (November).

Food (Osaka-specific)

There isn’t much choice of food once you’re inside the arena. Other than ice cream sold by vendors walking around the ground, you’re pretty much limited to a bento box if you’re looking for something substantial. These cost around ¥2100 (£15), but they include a whole host of cold Japanese snacks you can eat with the chopsticks provided. 

Here’s an example of what you’d expect to find.

  

If that doesn’t take your fancy, then you can wait for the tournament to finish and head of the arena in any direction and find heaps of restaurants with every type of food to take your fancy. I’m not even going to attempt to list them as there are too many to choose from.

How do I buy tickets?

This is the tricky part. Sumo tickets sell out almost instantly, especially for the latter days of the tournament.

It’s impossible to buy tickets from the official website if you don’t live in Japan. There are, fortunately, some 3rd party dealers who will help you get tickets. 

The one I used was www.buysumotickets.com, and the tickets were paid for with a small commission fee and were in hand within a few days. Really helpful service and sorted me out with alternative tickets when the ones I wanted weren’t available. 

Highly recommended!!

Conclusion

If you get chance to go to Japan and happen to be there when one of these tournaments is on, then it’s a must-do experience. Now is a great time to experience sumo, with three Yokozuna all competing at the same time. I went for one day and I’m now converted, wondering how I’ll see the next tournament from the UK!

Osaka Nightlife for a Solo Englishman

Grace was ill tonight and unable to leave the hostel, which meant that I had a free night to explore Osaka and experience the nightlife for perhaps the only time in my life. I should add, to argue against your immediate thoughts, that I did offer to stay in and look after Grace. She insisted that I should go out and explore or, to paraphrase, I’d resent her forever. Well, they were harsh words and forever is a long time, but the night was young and I increasingly wasn’t.

Fancying a stroll, I walked from Hostel 64 along the Amidaike-suji highway, took a left onto the American-themed Orange Street and walked towards the built up Soemon-cho area. Walking around until something took my fancy (criteria: prices were neither overly cheap nor overly expensive, queues weren’t tailing down the street, they had an English menu), I wound up in a place called Napoli’s Pizza and Caffé.

Napoli’s is an unusual place. It’s very popular with locals, though a couple of Westerners were here too. It’s primarily Italian-themed, though the bar itself is like any you’d find in the UK, with all the Japanese staff speaking at least a little English. Its prime beer is Carlsberg and their logo is proudly displayed all over the decor. It has a variety of spirits and beers on sale, none of which seemed unfamiliar to me. Most of the meat on the pizzas it serves is fish and that aligns it to the local Osakans (I’m sure that’s what they call themselves). The music played was Japanese-language soul music, but they helpfully counteracted that with several screens playing a subtitled Harry Potter film. It was the one where all the wizard schools from around the world battled for the tri-wizard cup and everyone realised Emma Watson was going to be really attractive but wasn’t yet because she was under-aged and to think that would have been wrong.

When I stepped back outside, I realised how easy it is to get completely lost in this area of Osaka. Bright lights everywhere, every intersection leads to another 100-200m of night spots. The nightlife potential here is second to very few cities in the world. Restaurants, bars, nightclubs, seedy underground spots. The world, or at least one of the best places to be on a Saturday night in the world, was my oyster. There was only one place to go: Murphy’s Irish Pub.

  
Yes, by this point in our trip (about a week in) I was now missing some home comforts. Knowing what I’d get here was a good move. It was absolutely heaving with a mixture of Japanese, Americans, Australians and a handful of Irish people. There was a live band on stage called Ichigo Ichie. They played a mixture of Japanese, English and American music, including but not limited to Radiohead, Chad Kroeger, Oasis and Pearl Jam. The Japanese songs, of which I was familiar with none, were by far the most popular. It was perfect for the mood in the pub, with people happy to chat to those beside them regardless of whether they knew them or not. I met a couple from Hawaii and had a nice chat about American soccer goalkeepers and t-shirts.

 

I then retraced my steps back to a place I’d seen on my way into the centre called Kamikaze, a craft beer pub. It has been operating for three years from its location on the Naniwa-suji highway. It’s a fantastic place with the menu offering such drinks as Highland Peat Scottish Ale, Izutsu Grape Field Beer and Real Blood Lager, the latter of which I went for. At 1620¥ (just under £10) it felt a little pricey for what I got, but a bar blasting out The Libertines whilst Meet Joe Black occupied the big screen was by-no-means a loss.

And so back to Hostel 64 to check on Grace. It turns out her headache came and went and she probably could have enjoyed the night as much as I did. Osaka is a wonderful city with a lot to offer. As a lonely traveller walking around on my own through the Osakan night I felt 100% safe and the opportunities it offered to me were endless.

Visit to Studio Ghibli Museum in Mitaka, Tokyo, 23th March 2016

Today we visited the Studio Ghibli Museum, located within Mitaka Inokashira Park in Tokyo.

It was an excellent day and one of the highlights of the trip so far. It’s quite easy to find tickets and locate, with the right advice.

How do I buy tickets?

For residents of the U.K., buying tickets might seem tricky but is fairly straightforward. There’s only one place to buy them from, a company called The Japan Specialist.

To order them, you do need to be vigilant on the release dates and not forget to logon as soon as possible on the sale date.

The general rule is that tickets go on sale on the 1st of the month for dates three months in advance. So, if you want to buy tickets for any date in September 2016, you need to login on 1st June 2016. At any one time tickets are available for four consecutive months, though they are usually completely sold out about six weeks in advance.

The tickets will be sent out to your home address immediately and you will need to make sure you remember to take your tickets on the day as no re-issues are available.

How much is it?

£12 per person.

How do I get there?

The best way to get to Mitaka is by train. There are no parking facilities there.

The best train to get is the JR Chuo Line, which is covered by your Japan Rail Pass (if you have one) and is relatively cheap without one at less than £2 each way.

Then, once you get there, take the south exit from the station and walk about 1.5km. It’s a nice stroll and is well sign-posted so is difficult to miss.

What makes it so special?

The Ghibli Museum was designed and curated by legendary animator Hayao Miyazaki and his magic is felt throughout. There’s a replica of the Catbus for children to play in, a wonderful rooftop terrace garden to relax in, a permanent exhibition of the science of animation and a yearly temporary exhibition.

Another draw for Ghibli is fans is the opportunity to watch an exclusive Ghibli-produced short film in The Saturn Theatre. There are nine on offer and they are shown at random. You only get to see one film per ticket, making it difficult to see every single film unless you visit at least nine times.

The film we saw on our day is Yadosagashi (Looking For A Home), which I reviewed here.

  

Permanent Exhibition

The permanent exhibitions at the museum are absolutely stunning and well worth the trip out for fans of Studio Ghibli. The ground floor features several contraptions that provide an insight into the science and technology behind animation.

The most impressive item in the exhibition was a three-dimensional zoetrope called ‘Bouncing Totoro’, which is essentially a large rotating circular platform with around 200 small models that when viewed gives the impression of a short animated scene of characters from My Neighbour Totoro skipping and a running Catbus. Truly inspiring.

On the first floor there is a replica of an artists’ studio featuring 100s of sketches by Hayao Miyazaki and takes you through a journey from initial concepts to final production.  

Special Exhibition – The Haunted Tower: Perfect Popular Culture

The current exhibition is called The Haunted Tower and has been curated by Hayao Miyazaki.

It is a small exhibition based on Rampo Edogawa’s 1937 novel ‘The Haunted Tower’, a book that Hayao Miyazaki used as inspiration for his directorial debut ‘The Castle of Cagliostro’. It is laid out like a comic strip with the panels hand drawn by Miyazaki himself. There’s also a central labyrinth for children to get lost in.

One of the best features was a large diorama based on ‘The Castle of Cagliostro’, which was an impressive piece of art.

Does not speaking English hinder the experience?

Without a doubt there are things at the museum that can only be enjoyed fully with a complete grasp of the Japanese language. The temporary exhibition was almost impossible to understand, but it didn’t mean that it wasn’t highly enjoyable. 

If you are going to the Ghibli Museum then chances are you are a huge fan of the Studio Ghibli films, or at least animation in general. Like the films they have produced, the experience is very visual. Any fan would love this experience no matter what language they speak.

Maggie (Henry Hobson, 2015)

Post-apocalpyptic zombie horror film Maggie was screened as the opening film of the UK Festival of Zombie Horror Culture at Phoenix Cinema in Leicester in November 2015. The film stars Arnold Schwarzenegger as Wade, a man whose daughter Maggie, played by Abigail Breslin (best known for her performance in Little Miss Sunshine), has been infected by a zombie virus. Having been bit, she has fled home to protect the rest of her family. The film opens with Wade finding his daughter, who has been missing for two weeks, and taking her home to his wife. It then follows her slow transformation towards “the turn”, and the affect that has on her and her mother and father.

Drop Undead

Drop Undead

One thing we’ve come to expect when watching an Arnie film is an over-the-top performance with lots of one-liners and a handful of big set pieces. These are not present here. Instead, we get Arnie in an extremely restrained mood, and the result is perhaps the most convincing performance of his career. As one of the first films announced after his return to film from his political career, this was a perfect choice and is a great advert for more roles in a similar vain as he moves into the next phase of his career.

Breslin also shines in a complicated role where a girl is facing certain death. Having attempted to go through this on her own, she is desperately in need of her father. This complexity isn’t easy to pull off but she does it well, showing an increasing amount of fear as she gets further infected.

Where the film falls down is its slow pacing. It draws us in at first, but a slow pace clearly designed to explore the emotional side of the key characters paves the way for a few too many “switch off” moments. Admittedly, there is no room for a big stand-off and that kind of thing would have been out of place, but montages of time passing are easy to put together and allow the viewer to disingage for a couple of minutes.

Overall, well worth watching for the chance to see Arnie’s acting credentials and as an interesting angle on the genre.

Maggie is available on Blu-ray and DVD now.