Big in Japan: A sneak peak at Studio Ghibli’s newest anime

While a good number of Japanese anime flicks are certainly not everyone’s cup of green tea, one exception to this rule is anything produced by Studio Ghibli and written by Hayao Miyazaki.

While Ghibli and Miyazaki might not immediately ring any bells, these two powerhouse names in the world of anime were responsible for films such as the cult classic Princess Mononoke, the academy award winning Spirited Away, and the recent popular hit Howl’s Moving Castle.

More hardcore fans of Japanese anime also attribute a few other hits to Ghibli and Miyazaki, especially My Neighbour Totoro, Castle in the Sky and Nausica, which together illustrate a variety of themes ranging from Japanese nostalgia for country living to striking a delicate balance between environment and technology.

So, if you’ve seen any of these films, then keep on reading as today’s post offers a sneak peak at Studio Ghibli’s newest anime, Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea (???????????????, Gake no Ue no Ponyo).

(If you haven’t seen any of these films, head to Blockbuster ASAP and see what you’ve been missing!!)

Since October of 2006, Miyazaki has been tirelessly working on Studio Ghibli’s latest creation, Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea. Despite the recent advances in computer graphics (CG) that distinguish modern anime, Ponyo retains the classic Ghibli-style hand-drawn animation, and more importantly, has that distinctive Miyazaki look and feel to it.

Ponyo opened on July 19 in theaters all across Japan, though its English-language release is still another nine months or so away. Ponyo will also do the rounds at several of the major cinematic events including the 65th annual Venice International Film Festival. However, the anime has already received praise from a number of critics including the Japan Times newspaper, which gave the film 4/5 stars, and compared it to the classic My Neighbor Totoro.

Indeed, Ponyo is much more innocent and child-like than the heavy-hitting cinematic onslaught that is Princess Mononoke, and it’s much, much more comprehensible than Spirited Away and Howl’s Moving Castle. However, while young kiddies should have no problem following the plot line, adults can still conjure up their inner child to enjoy Ponyo. From an artistic perspective, the movie is also incredibly rich and deep, especially the stunning watercolor backgrounds of various seascapes.

The plotline centers on a half-girl, half-fish creature named Ponyo, who washes up on the shores of a small Japanese fishing village. However, she is quickly rescued by a young boy named Sousoke, who lives in a house on a cliff by the sea (hence the lengthy English title).

Without giving away too much of the story, Ponyo and Sousuke end up falling in love, which drives Ponyo to flee from her somewhat demonic father in the hopes of becoming a full-fledged human child. In classic anime form, the imbalance brought upon on the world by Ponyo’s transformation highlights the tenuous balance between humankind and nature.

Again, if you’re living in Japan, and you understand basic Japanese (remember – this is a kid’s movie!), check out Ponyo as it’s certainly worth your hard-earned yen. If not, no worries as it’ll only be a few more months before Ponyo hits North American theaters under the Disney name.

** All images are trademarked screenshots of the film Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea by Studio Ghibili, and are depicted on this website for the purposes of critical commentary **

Big in Japan: Can’t win the guys? Try anime eyes!!

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, which is certainly a good thing given that the human form comes in all sorts of shapes and sizes…

Indeed, first-timers in Japan quickly realize that Japanese standards of beauty are very, very different than those in the West. While individual tastes certainly vary, Japanese men – if you’ll permit me to broadly generalize for a moment – prize cuteness and innocence over sexiness and poise.

In fact, you don’t have to look very hard to find evidence of this statement. Don’t believe me? Just turn on any Japanese anime, and take a good look at the female protagonists. While their bodily dimensions are certainly not based in reality, their physical attributes are nevertheless striking, particularly those big watery eyes set against tiny faces.

Of course, no real woman could ever hope to mirror these graphical representations of idealized beauty…or could they?

On that note, allow me to introduce you to the newest fashion craze over here in Japan, namely contact lens that give you the much sought after ‘anime eyes.’

If you ask Japanese men to describe their perfect face, most will tell you that the answer lies in anime and manga.

While Westerners might find big eyes set against a small face to be comical, in Japan this image is a much sought after standard of beauty. In a country where cuteness is king, there is something irresistible about fluttering lashes, doughy eyes and an expression of childlike innocence.

Sadly, nature doesn’t always endow actual humans with anime traits, though you can still win over the guys by simply popping in some contacts and getting those anime eyes. Recently, a number of companies in Asia are starting to produce extra-wide contacts, which have thicker color bars to give the illusion that your irises are much larger than normal.

While initial reactions to these new contacts run the gamut from sheer horror to swelling envy, you have to admit that they’re a far better alternative to plastic surgery. And after all, Sailor Moon might not be everyone’s idealized image of female beauty, but on a number of fundamental levels, she is preferable to Paris Hilton.

But, why stop there? Color contacts are in amongst Tokyo’s famous Harajuku girls, so you why not try bizarre colors such as fluorescent purple, lime green and electric blue. Or, you can really spice things up with special effects lens – give into your feline side by flashing cat eyes, or show your Slytherin House pride with lizard eye slits.

Anime-inspired beauty and fashion might not be sweeping across the runways of Paris and Milan, but it’s all the rage in a fair number of spots in Japan and across Asia. So, if you’ve already got the platform shoes, the blue hair, the crazy pigtails and a good complement of kawaii (cute) accessories, why not round out the package with some anime eyes?

After all, 60 million Japanese men can’t be wrong! (^_^)

Big in Japan: Giant anime cat is Japan’s new foreign ambassador

If you thought that the political world of international diplomacy was dry and boring, then guess again!

Last week in Japan, government leaders shocked the world by announcing that their latest ambassador to the world is a giant anime cat.

Of course, we’re not just talking about any old cat, but none other than Doraemon (??????????????), Japan’s beloved anime robo-cat, that traveled back in time from the 22nd century to aid a schoolboy, Nobita Nobi.

On Tuesday, March 19, Japan’s foreign minister, namely Masahiko Komura, appointed a giant stuffed Doraemon as Japan’s first “anime ambassador” tasked with “making friends by travelling around the world.”

Doraemon responded by saying the following : “Through my work, I will do my best to tell people in foreign countries about what Japanese think, how Japanese live and what kind of future the Japanese hope to make.”

The ceremony concluded with television crews filming Doraemon shaking hands with real flesh-and-blood foreign dignitaries from around the world.

Isn’t Japan an amazing place?

In case you’re a bit confused as to who Doraemon is, and why he may be standing near you at an airport security line in the near future, keep on reading!

For starters, Doraemon is the main character in one of Japan’s most popular anime series, which has also become widely known in much of Asia.

Created by a cartoonist under the pen name Fujiko F. Fujio in 1969, Doraemon is a robotic blue and white cat (sans ears of course) who travels back in time to help a struggling school boy.

The manga was highlighted by Doraemon’s seemingly bottomless pocket on his belly, from which he would pull out all sorts of crazy futuristic gadgets known as dōgu (道具, literally tools).

Over the past several decades, Doraemon is believed to have pulled out roughly 4,500 different kinds of dōgu from his ‘fourth-dimensional’ pocket including everything from time machines and helicopters to bamboo horses and sniffer octopuses.

However fanciful the universe of Doraemon might be, his most recent appointment as Japan’s cultural ambassador is serious business.

In fact, Japan’s international popularity has waned significantly in recent years following a number of controversies including various World War II denial scandals and increased whaling efforts.

Which is of course why the Japanese government is extremely keen to promote the country’s strong cultural attributes, such as the weird and wonderful world of manga.

Just ask foreign minister Komura, who instructed Doraemon to “travel around the world as an anime ambassador to deepen people’s understanding of Japan so they will become friends with Japan.”

Alongside Doraemon’s diplomatic tour, the Japanese foreign ministry also plans to arrange showings of a Doraemon film at a number of diplomatic missions around the world including Singapore, China, Spain and France.

So, with election fever on everyone’s mind in the States, I guess it brings up the question of whether or not a giant anime cat is as effective of a politician as some of our country’s leading candidates.

I’ll of course leave that question up to all of you out there!

Word for the Travel Wise (01/11/07)

Coming up this March for all the anime lovers is the Tokyo International Anime Fair in March. To be more exact, the event will be open to the general public on March 24-25, 2007. The event is known as the world’s largest anime exhibition held every spring at Tokyo Big Sight.

Today’s word is a Japanese word used in Japan:

kokusai – international

Spoken Japanese comes smoothly for those who either practice or submit themselves to hours of Japanese pop music, but either way one can learn this language in through several avenues. Japanese Online is a VERY good FREE site to start learning. They have audio and a great conversation lessons. The lessons get more in-depth as you become a registered user which is still free of charge. has a list of over 2000 words worth checking out. Those on the road already may want to pick up the LP Japanese phrasebook or check into a school for a few weeks of learning. Study Abroad has a list of school located all over the country. If you’re seeking help with written Japanese best of luck to you!

Past Japanese words: hajimemashite, dewa mata, tomodachi, omocha, uchiwa, nori, shigoto