In a country filled with manga and TV anime programs, Studio Ghibli Inc., the Japanese Walt Disney, stands far above the rest, with its releases virtually guaranteed to draw packed theaters and huge box offices.
This year, the major buzz in Japan's anime world is that Ghibli will release films directed by heavyweight directors Isao Takahata, 77, and Hayao Miyazaki, 72, on the same day this summer.
Takahata’s anime will be “Kaguyahime no Monogatari” (The tale of Princess Kaguya), which is based on the classic Japanese folktale “Taketori Monogatari” (The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter).
The release will mark Takahata's first film in 14 years, since his “Hohokekyo Tonari no Yamada-kun” (Hohokekyo, my neighbor Yamada) in 1999.
Miyazaki's new film will be “Kaze Tachinu” (The wind has risen), which depicts the life of Jiro Horikoshi (1903-1982), who designed the famed Japanese World War II fighter plane “Zero.” The acclaimed anime director's last release was “Gake no Ue no Ponyo” (Ponyo) in 2008.
The production of “Kaguyahime no Monogatari” started three years before the making of “Kaze Tachinu.” Due to Takahata’s deliberate pace in movie making, however, the completion of “Kaguyahime” was delayed. As a result, the release dates of the two films became the same.
Previously, although both were co-founders of Ghibli, the relationship between Takahata and Miyazaki was that of a superior and a subordinate. Now, however, they are rivals. When Miyazaki was told that their films would be released on the same day, he felt excitement. On the other hand, Takahata showed indifference.
Their two movies vary greatly in their subject matter and their conception.
In the classic folktale widely known in Japan, Princess Kaguya appears as a baby from the inside of the stalk of a bamboo plant and is raised by an elderly couple. What did the princess think in the milestones of her life? Takahata had thought about that since about 50 years ago, when he joined Toei Animation Co.
Using those thoughts and incorporating awareness of today’s issues, Takahata crafted his new anime film.
Meanwhile, “Kaze Tachinu” was born from Miyazaki’s idea of “What movie would be made if the love story of the same title, written by Tatsuo Hori (1904-1953), was combined with the life story of Horikoshi, the designer of the Zero fighter aircraft?"
Miyazaki was born in 1941 when the Pacific War began. Saying that he cannot avoid the subject of war in his work, he has studied Horikoshi's life extensively.
In a news conference held in December, Toshio Suzuki, a Ghibli producer, said, “People of the generation (of Takahata and Miyazaki) like weapons, such as fighter aircraft and warships. On the other hand, they also lived in the post-war years when the anti-war movement was active. In such a ‘contradiction,’ they want to make it clear in their movies ‘Why were people like me (full of contradictions) made?’ ”
With the two films, it is clear that Ghibli is ready to make its mark in theaters again this summer in a changing environment where anime films other than its own have become big box-office hits.
The box-office proceeds of “One Piece Film Z,” released last year, have topped 6 billion yen ($66.5 million) and are still growing.
“Evangelion Shingekijoban: Q” (Evangelion: 3.0 You Can [Not] Redo.), directed by Hideaki Anno, took in 5 billion yen at the box office and “Okami Kodomo no Ame to Yuki” (Wolf Children Ame and Yuki), directed by Mamoru Hosoda, raked in more than 4 billion yen.
This year, however, there are few releases of original anime films planned, according to anime critic Ryusuke Hikawa.
However, theatrical versions of some TV anime programs are scheduled. For example, “Toaru Majutsu no Kinsho-Mokuroku” (A Certain Magical Index) and “Anohi Mita Hana no Namae wo Bokutachi wa Mada Shiranai” (Anohana: The Flower We Saw That Day), will be released in February and summer respectively.
Film adaptations of manga comics are also planned, including “Sei Oniisan” (Saint Young Men), which will be released in May.
However, Hikawa pins his hopes on the original works of directors such as Hosoda, who has excellent storytelling abilities as well.
“What is important is not to produce theatrical versions of anime programs that have become hits on television but to produce original anime films,” Hikawa said, adding, “I hope that the number of directors who have abilities both as artists and entertainers grow.”
The anime critic is now paying attention to some up-and-coming directors, including Yasuhiro Yoshiura of “Sakasama no Patema” (Patema Inverted), which is scheduled for release this year.
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