When Marnie Was There (impressions)
9 March 2015
By Audrey Akcasu
Although the recent Studio Ghibli creation, The Tale of the Princess Kaguya, didn’t receive the coveted American Academy Award for Best Animated Feature this past February, there’s good Ghibli news to be had too!
Last Saturday, Mitaka no Mori, the Studio Ghibli museum in Tokyo, held their 12th annual “Animation Festival” at the Mitaka City Arts Center. As usual, the event showcased some animated work (unrelated to the studio), but also featured a special screening of the studio’s most recent release, When Marnie Was There, followed by a talk by the director, Hiromasa Yonebayashi, who also hinted about upcoming projects!
The first part of the event, called “Music and Animation,” explored the use and importance of music in animated works. The session featured six short animated films hailing from Japan, America and Canada, all with extraordinary accompanying music.
The second session of the event turned out to be the hot topic of the day. It started with a screening of the studio’s July 2014 release, When Marnie Was There, a touching and beautiful film based on a book of the same name by British author Joan G. Robinson. Studio Ghibli’s founder Hayao Miyazaki proclaimed this book as one of his top fifty most recommended children’s books. The Ghibli adaptation was nominated for the Japan Academy Prize for Animation, although was beat out by Stand by Me Doraemon (because… Doraemon!).
Marnie is the second film Hiromasa Yonebayashi has directed for Studio Ghibli, after his debut film The Secret World of Arrietty in 2010.
If you are not familiar with Ghilbi’s version of Marnie, the story follows Anna, a young girl who moves to the countryside of Hokkaido due to illness and melancholy. She finds herself drawn to an abandoned house where she has an interesting encounter with a blonde-haired girl. The connection with her strange new friend helps Anna grow, find herself and become well again, with a lot of other interesting stuff along the way, of course.
Constantly shifting between illusion and reality was a challenge for the filmmakers, despite the otherwise simple animation of the film. The head animator, Yohei Taneda, said, “The illusionary world was portrayed as beautiful and ideal, while the real world was drawn to mimic the less-than-perfect environment around us.”
On Saturday, during the post-screening discussion, Yonebayashi gave the audience a glimpse of his past. Before joining the studio himself, he’d watched the Ghibli film, Whisper of the Heart, the directorial debut of now deceased director, Yoshifumi Kondo. Yonebayashi was impressed by the film’s fresh feeling, which drove him to join the Studio Ghibli team himself, wanting to make similarly influential films. He admits that a lot of the inspiration behind Marnie came from Whisper of the Heart.
During the Q&A portion of the event, Yonebayashi was asked the one question that was on everyone in the audience’s mind (and is constantly on the mind of every Ghibli fan), “When is your next film coming out?”
After gently reminding the audience that there was a four-year gap between the release of his first and second films, he also joked that if you take too long between films, people may forget who are, poking fun at fellow Ghibli director Isao Takahata, who took eight years to complete The Tale of Princess Kaguya.
Yonebayashi continued with some juicier details. He explained that while he sees the need for and importance of “quiet” films such as Marnie, he agrees with Ghibli poducer Toshio Suzuki, who, for the sake of the animation itself, would prefer to do a film with more movement and excitement. On that note, Yonebayashi suggested that his next film could quite possibly be the direct opposite of Marnie and could be more along the lines of the playful and active Ponyo.
As he has only just started cooking up some ideas, there isn’t much more to be said at this stage. All we know is that we really hope it won’t take four years to complete! Less lectures, more movies, guys! Just kidding, we always love taking peeks into the heads of the geniuses behind the Ghibli films.
If you have yet to see When Marnie Was There, you’ll have to wait until March 18 for the Japanese DVD release (March 19 for South Korea) or Americans can see it in theaters starting May 22. Remember, the Manga-Anime Guardians would really appreciate it if you didn’t just illegally download it!
The Japan Times
8 September 2014
The artistic legacy of Hayao Miyazaki, the reclusive and bearded Academy Award-winning director and animator sometimes called Japan’s Walt Disney, has never been more certain.
Yet at the same time, the commercial future for Studio Ghibli, the privately held Tokyo studio he left behind in retirement, has never been more in doubt.
Under Miyazaki, Ghibli became famous for intricate, hand-drawn animation and imaginative coming-of-age story lines that made films like 1988′s “My Neighbor Totoro” into an international hit. A dozen years later, he masterminded what remains today as Japan’s highest grossing film, the Academy Award-winning “Spirited Away.”
In recognition, Hollywood is about to add its ultimate honor by giving Miyazaki, 73, a lifetime achievement Academy Award.
But the animation studio is finding that life after Miyazaki, who retired last year, is tough going.
Ghibli’s first release since the legendary animator’s departure, “When Marnie Was There,” has failed to catch fire with Japanese moviegoers over the summer.
Besides the gaping hole left by Miyazaki, Ghibli, like Japanese companies in other industries, faces a range of challenges: high payroll costs, low productivity and the rise of new and cheaper hubs for production elsewhere in Asia.
In six weeks, “Marnie,” the story of an asthmatic high school girl sent off for what becomes a summer marked by an unexpected and mysterious friendship, has taken in just $28 million at Japanese theaters. The mediocre takings come as Ghibli’s fans and critics debate how and whether the studio will survive without the commercial magic of its founder.
Senior producer Toshio Suzuki made waves last month when he said in a series of interviews that Studio Ghibli might have to dismantle the expensive production system set up under Miyazaki, which included employing full-time animators in Japan.
“We’re going to spring clean and restructure,” Suzuki, 66, said in an interview with TBS broadcasting.
Suzuki said the studio would take a break and could re-launch with a different and lower-cost business model that could shift production from Japan to Southeast Asia or Taiwan.
“Ideas will be formed in Japan and the animation could be made in another country,” he said. “It will be ‘Made in Asia.’”
Ghibli declined to make Suzuki or Miyazaki available for comment. A studio spokeswoman, who declined to be named, said the company had no further comment on its plans.
Famous for starting production without a complete script, Miyazaki insisted on working in pencil and spurned computer animation, resulting in intricately drawn frames and very long production spans. Some feature animations consist of about 10,000 drawings, but Ghibli’s sometimes exceed 80,000.
In fact, Ghibli, under Miyazaki, made a virtue of its high-cost approach, doing everything — and working deliberately — from an ivy-covered, three-storey building in Tokyo’s western suburbs.
Ryusuke Hikawa, an expert on Japanese animation, estimates Ghibli was averaging just five minutes of animation production a month, given its recent pace of producing a feature every two years.
That was sustainable when the studio, with Miyazaki at the helm, was turning out consistent hits. The nine Ghibli films that he directed averaged a box office take of $115 million.
“Spirited Away,” which came out in 2001 and won the Academy Away for best animated feature, remains Japan’s highest grossing film, taking nearly $300 million at the box office — ahead of both “Titanic” and Disney’s “Frozen”.
Box office takings are particularly important for Ghibli because the company has limited spinoff merchandizing, another break from the approach of Hollywood studios that long ago abandoned hand-drawn animation for computers. In June, Suzuki, 66, told a podcast for fans he had cautioned staff to keep merchandizing sales below $100 million to sharpen the focus on movie-making.
In part, as a result, Ghibli has had a volatile earnings record, according to credit rating agency Tokyo Shoko Research, which audited the studio’s books. In the fiscal year that ended in March 2012, it earned $9 million. That dropped to $5 million in 2013 and then jumped to $30 million in the just-ended fiscal year, reflecting the success of Miyazaki’s last film, “The Wind Rises.”
Fans are focusing on “Marnie” because it is the first Ghibli film shaped entirely without the involvement of Miyazaki, Suzuki or the other famed Ghibli director, Isao Takahata.
Yuichi Maeda, a movie critic, said the film’s director, 41-year-old Hiromasa Yonebayashi, had delivered brilliantly drawn animation, but without the energy of a Miyazaki film. The studio said overseas distribution plans have yet to be decided.
Maeda said he did not believe Ghibli could prosper without Miyazaki’s guiding hand. “Ghibli’s popularity, unlike Pixar or Disney, depends on who directs its movies,” he said. “I don’t think Ghibli without Miyazaki can succeed.”
11 January 2014
'When Marnie was There'
Andrew Osmond on what’s next for Studio Ghibli
By Andrew Osmond
In December, Studio Ghibli announced its next feature film to the world. Well, it’s probably not the next for Britain – we still haven’t seen Ghibli’s mixed 2013 double of Miyazaki’s The Wind Rises and Takahata’s The Tale of Princess Kaguya. In Japan, though, Ghibli is already looking ahead to summer 2014 and When Marnie was There, based on a British children’s book by Joan Robinson. The Japanese name is Omoide no Marnie, or The Marnie I Remember. As with Arrietty, Ghibli’s version of The Borrowers, Marnie’s British setting will be reportedly changed to a Japanese one. The film will also have Arrietty’s director, Hiromasa Yonebayashi.
If any readers know the book, we’d like to see your thoughts in the comments section below. First published in Britain in 1969, When Marnie was There is a very respectable book, shortlisted for the Carnegie Medal and read by actress Ann Bell on the BBC’s Jackanory. It’s also a very good book, rich in the way of fine children’s fiction. If you read it as an adult, you’ll be rewarded and surprised by the way it goes. Hayao Miyazaki likes it – it was on his list of fifty children’s books released a few years ago. It’s unconfirmed if Miyazaki has any involvement in the Marnie film, having retired from directing, but the fact that Ghibli picked one of his approved books speaks, well, volumes for Miyazaki’s continuing influence.
Here’s an early passage from When Marnie was There, which might have caught Miyazaki’s eye:
This house stood alone and had a quiet, mellow, everlasting look, as if it had been there so long, watching the tide rise and fall, rise and fall again, that it had forgotten the busyness of life going on ashore behind it, and had sunk into a quiet dream… It was as if the old house had found itself one day on the staithe [riverbank] at Little Overton, looked across at the stretch of water with the marsh behind and the sea beyond that, and had settled down on the bank, saying ‘I like this place. I shall stay here forever.’
The protagonist – whose impressions are relayed in the above passage – is a girl called Anna, rather different from Ghibli’s usual cheery adventurers. To the people around her, Anna seems cold and listless, uninterested in having friends. Robinson, though, is highly sympathetic to the girl, making you wonder if she was modelled on the author’s own childhood. Anna sees herself as highly self-sufficient, and resents grown-ups who think there’s something wrong with her. An example of her thought-process: Anna took sudden and unreasonable exception to being called ‘a quiet little thing.’ It was one thing to not to want to talk to people, but quite another to be called names like that. And here’s a beautiful description of Anna’s thoughts when she sees a group of strange children, who attract her in a distant way:
She wanted to know about them, not to know them. She wanted to discover, gradually, what their names were, choose which one she thought she might like best, guess what sort of games they played, even what they had for supper and what time they went to bed. If she really got to know them, and they her, all that would be spoiled. They, from inside, looking curiously at her, outside – expecting her to like what they liked, have what they had, do what they did.
It will be interesting to see how much of Anna’s delicately-conveyed character will make it into the anime. Viewers with expectations shaped by previous Ghibli anime – and anime in general - might find her unlikable, though From Up on Poppy Hill had a very private girl as a protagonist. Anna’s personality is a key part of the story, which starts when her foster mother, worried by her unsociability, bundles her off to live with family friends in a Norfolk village. The setting is backed by a salt-smelling creek and marsh, “a remote, quiet world where there were only boats and birds and water, and an enormous sky.” And the house, which fascinates Anna.
After a long build-up, Anna encounters Marnie, the little girl who lives in the house. She has pale fair hair, and wears a long white dress (hands up everyone who’s thinking of the Princess Clarisse in Miyazaki’s Castle of Cagliostro). “It would have looked strange on anyone else,” the author comments, “but Anna accepted it almost without question. It seemed right that the girl should look like the character out of some fairy story.” While Anna accepts the girl without question, we instantly wonder who exactly Marnie is. Is she a real girl, another outsider like Anna? Could she be a ghost? Is Marnie simply an imaginary friend, a playmate Anna has conjured up (though very real to Anna herself)? Or could Marnie be something else again?
The next part of the book deals with the intimate friendship between Anna and Marnie, two outsiders who seem to be perfectly in tune. This, of course, is familiar territory for Ghibli – Totoro and Kiki each focused on different kinds of girls’ relationships, though Ghibli might look back to an older anime by its founders. The 1979 serial Anne of Green Gables was directed by Takahata, with some design and layout work by Miyazaki. Several of its episodes focus on the lyrical friendship and shared dreams of Anne and her playmate Diana, and could provide useful pointers for When Marnie was There. (Despite its age, the Anne anime still has a presence in Japan, with a prequel series and a compilation film in recent years.)
As Marnie’s story continues, Anna encounters other members of Marnie’s household, gawping at their finery while disguised as a beggar. After these bright lit parties, events take on a darker hue. There are suggestions that Marnie’s ostensibly glamorous life hides cruelties, while a menacing, shadowy windmill draws the girls. The story builds to a fine climax, involving storms and a flood far scarier than Ponyo’s.
And then… well, there’s actually a lot of the book left to go, taking the story unforeseen ways. New characters are introduced, the tone shifts, and Marnie’s nature is finally addressed. And addressed in a good way, with a clever solution in the manner of a detective story, which still leaves room for ambiguity. However, it’s quite possible the film may excise or compress this part of the book. It could work in a serial, but its unexpected transitions will be tough to sell in a film. And frankly, while the book’s last part is ingenious, it’s less compelling than the earlier chapters, barring the continuing mystery of Marnie.
The Marnie book is available from Amazon UK as a Collins Modern Classic. Marnie’s author, Joan Robinson died in 1988. Some of her other books are still available, though many were for much younger children. They include Mary-Mary, about a (naturally) contrary little girl. Her most famous creation – and some readers must know this one! – is Teddy Robinson, a “cosy, jolly, easy bear.”
It seems plausible that Marnie may be along very similar lines to Arrietty: a fairly small number of characters, not much spectacle, but plenty of room for atmospheric locations and subtle interactions and reactions. Arrietty was particularly good at getting inside its heroine’s head, a priority in Marnie.
Yonebayashi is credited as a co-writer on Marnie’s script, along with two more familiar names. One is a woman, Keiko Niwa, who had co-writing credits on Arrietty, Poppy Hill and Tales from Earthsea. The other is much more surprising: Masashi Ando, who apparently will also provide Marnie’s Animation Direction and Character Design. Ando is a renowned anime veteran, who’s contributed to a wide range of anime (Paranoia Agent, A Letter to Momo, Evangelion 3.0). However, he had the temerity to express his creative disagreements with Miyazaki when he worked on Spirited Away (for more, see here).
The fact that Ando is being invited to work at Ghibli again – and supposedly this is a Ghibli “after” the reign of Miyazaki – suggests that hatchets are being quietly buried. You never know… Perhaps someday we’ll see Ghibli reaching out to a director that it once humiliated and kicked out the door – a chap called Mamoru Hosoda.
What does Marnie suggest about Ghibli’s future direction? On the one hand, the fact that this is an adaptation of a solid children’s book, with young girl protagonists, could be taken as deeply conservative. This is Ghibli’s second kid-lit adaptation in four years. Perhaps the studio is moving in the direction of the old World Masterpiece Theatre anime strand; that is, adaptations of venerated books from Heidi to Anne of Green Gables. It’s a tempting route for a studio anxious to be associated with quality without the risks – and Ghibli without Miyazaki is in a dangerous spot.
We’ve already mentioned Miyazaki’s list of fifty children’s books. Could this actually be Ghibli’s Ten- or Twenty-Year Plan? If so, then we might expect Ghibli versions of The Little Prince, The Wind in the Willows and The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle. It wouldn’t be the first time something like this has happened. The Disney studio spent much of the 1950s and 1960s mining British classics like Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, Mary Poppins and The Jungle Book. What goes around…
Then again, it’s far too soon to judge, before we see even a second of Marnie’s animation. The latest Disney film, Frozen, looked like a conservative fairytale on paper, but it threw humongous character and story curveballs, and dragged the Disney princess into the twenty-first century. There are plenty of ways Marnie could startle us, even while giving us the Ghibli tropes we know. Heck, Marnie could turn out to be a full-on subversion of the studio style - Ghibli’s Puella Magi Madoka Magica! Okay, so maybe that’s going a little bit far…
When Marnie Was There will be released by Studio Ghibli in Japan this summer.
30 May 2014
It’s been a banner year so far for Miloš Karadaglić. After releasing our highest rated album of 2014 thus far (see review) this past February, the classical guitarist is set to be featured on the film score for Studio Ghibli’s upcoming feature When Marnie Was There, as revealed by sources close to the movie’s composer Takatsugu Matsumura.
Listening to Karadaglić’s debut recording (The Guitar, 2011) and its easy to see why the classical guitarist is a natural fit in providing the music for the generally emotional storylines that fans have come to expect out of Studio Ghibli.
The film based on the Joan G. Robinson’s children’s novel of the same name will be directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi at its helm.
The publisher’s description of the novel resembles the generally emotionally complex and character driven screenplays of most Studio Ghibli films:
Anna hasn’t a friend in the world – until she meets Marnie among the sand dunes. But Marnie isn’t all she seems…
An atmospheric ghost story with truths to tell about friendship, families and loneliness. Anna lives with foster parents, a misfit with no friends, always on the outside of things. Then she is sent to Norfolk to stay with old Mr and Mrs Pegg, where she runs wild on the sand dunes and around the water. There is a house, the Marsh House, which she feels she recognizes – and she soon meets a strange little girl called Marnie, who becomes Anna’s first ever friend. Then one day, Marnie vanishes.A new family, the Lindsays, move into the Marsh House. Having learnt so much from Marnie about friendship, Anna makes firm friends with the Lindsays – and learns some strange truths about Marnie, who was not all she seemed...
The new film is drawing attention as Yonebayashi is expected to be one of the leading Ghibli directors now that legendary Hayao Miyazaki has retired.
Studio Ghibli’s films are heralded for its brilliant scores that are impressive as stand alone recordings. One look at the Studio Ghibli Fans facebook page reveals countless adoration and affection towards it music, ranging from countless covers to remixed interpretations on soundcloud. Studio Ghibli also had possibly one of the coolest classical music LP releases ever with their limited edition vinyl sets put out by MONDO in 2013.
Miloš Karadaglić, whose recent repertoire includes many favorites suited perfectly for anime features (specifically for Studio Ghibli’s generally lush, emotional soundscape scenarios), will be lending his subtle and gently harmonious skills to Matsumura’s score.
Meanwhile, When Marnie Was There‘s music is also drawing attention due to the theme song of the movie being by performed by American singer/songwriter Priscilla Ahn as announced last week. The song “Fine On the Outside” will be the first ever English theme song for a Studio Ghibli Film.
When Marnie Was There is set to be released in Japan on July 19, 2014. No release date has been given for a soundtrack release date, though here’s hoping it will be released in a collectible vinyl as previous memorable Studio Ghibli scores were on last year’s special MONDO collectible color vinyls.
Don’t think the music of an anime film can be emotionally powerful? A trip to 1988′s Grave of The Fireflies will change that...
23 June 2014
By Noriki Ishitobi/ Senior Staff Writer
Leading anime production house Studio Ghibli Inc. has set its sights on new horizons with its latest feature film, which is in the pipeline for a summer release.
"When Marnie Was There" will be the first film for the studio not based on original ideas or a screenplay provided by Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata, the anime maestros who have long represented Ghibli.
The project is directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi, who also wrote the screenplay. The animator, whose nickname is Maro, made his directorial debut with "The Secret World of Arrietty," which was scripted by Miyazaki.
"Maro is working on (the movie) with a strong determination, saying 'I don't want to hear people say it is the best we can do without Takahata and Miyazaki,' " said Ghibli producer Yoshiaki Nishimura.
"When Marnie Was There" is the story of Anna (voiced by Sara Takatsuki), a 12-year-old girl who spends a summer with a mysterious girl named Marnie (Kasumi Arimura) at a house standing next to a marsh.
The film was adapted from a British children's novel.
Miyazaki loves the story. But he said he couldn't make it into a movie because it was too difficult for him. "Heroines in Miyazaki's movies are young girls who are idealized, but Anna is a realistic girl," Nishimura said.
It is Yonebayashi's hope that the film will resonate with children. Referring to a friend, whose son is a junior high school student, Nishimura added: "I hear that his son finds 300 text messages on his smartphone via his Line (free call and messaging app) account every morning. This is a time when you have to know how to swim with the tide, and Anna loses track of herself. This is a story about a girl who is the most straightforward in Ghibli's works."
The locale of the story has been shifted to Hokkaido, Japan's northernmost main island, a setting Studio Ghibli had not used in a story until now.
"In Hokkaido, you can't expect to see a clear and blue sky too often," Nishimura said. "The Ghibli world is all about the blue sky and white clouds. (The gray sky) provides a backdrop for Anna's mind, but it is also a challenge to draw a sky which is not clear and blue."
Like past Ghibli films, its production is running late. The release of "The Tale of the Princess Kaguya," Takahata's recent project for which Nishimura served as producer, was delayed for four months.
"I'm told to deliver the finished product as soon as possible," he said, raising a laugh among reporters.
"When Marnie Was There" will be released nationwide on July 19.
3 August 2014
Iconic anime producer needs to slim down since retirement of Hayao Miyazaki
By Mark Schilling
TOKYO — Veteran Studio Ghibli producer Toshio Suzuki discussed the famed animation house’s future in a documentary broadcast by the TBS network on its “Jonetsu Tairiku” program on Sunday evening.
Suzuki talked about the need for “big changes in all aspects of our operations.” One possibility he mentioned was a hiatus in the production department and taking what he described as a “short break” to assess the studio’s future.
He added that it “would be possible for us to keep making films indefinitely.”
Such short breaks are common in the Japanese animation business, in which companies hire animators on a per-project basis and dissolve the production teams, save for a few key staff, when the project is completed.
Studio Ghilbi was unusual in retaining a large number of full-time staff by industry standards, with annual personnel expenses totaling nearly $20 million by one estimate.
But with the retirement of studio maestro and co-founder Hayao Miyazaki (pictured) in September of last year, Studio Ghilbi lost his fabled box office clout. Its latest feature, Hiromasa Yonebayashi’s “When Marnie Was There,” is expected to finish with about $36 million, which makes it a solid hit, but Miyazaki’s films would routinely top the $100 million mark. His last feature prior to retiring, “The Wind Rises,” finished with nearly $120 million. So as Suzuki noted, the studio has to economize; now that it has become a more normal studio by local standards.
A post to an English-language blog subsequently picked up by other media, wrongly reported Suzuki as announcing Studio Ghibli’s closure and dissolution. The death of Japan’s most famous animation house, to paraphrase Mark Twain, has been greatly exaggerated.
4 August 2014
By Brian Ashcraft
Ghibli co-founder Hayao Miyazaki recently said that his studio's demise was "inevitable." Today, there are quotes from Ghibli producer Toshio Suzuki that are causing people to freak out, believing that the beloved animation house has decided to stop making films. People, stop freaking out. For now.
Last night, Suzuki was profiled on MBS program Jounetsu Tairiku (情熱大陸). In one segment on the show, Suzuki discussed the future of Studio Ghibli, and made comments that are causing Japanese blogs and foreign sites to report that Studio Ghibli is closing down its production department.
The source for the story in English is a Ghibli fan Tumblr, which simply states that Toshio Suzuki "announces" the closure of Studio Ghibli. The Tumblr site has a series of images, featuring Suzuki and his comments. These comments, however, were not translated.
So, let's look at Suzuki's comments and translate them. These images are from Japanese blog Someone One One!! Kotaku has yet to see the full Jounetsu episode to confirm.
"Still, these words are somewhat harsh..." (in yellow — I assume this is the show's announcer)
"We're thinking about disbanding the production department and.."
(Note: The language Suzuki uses here isn't definite.)
"...making a big change to the larger view of Studio Ghibli."
"'Restructure' is called saikouchiku (再構築) in Japanese." (in yellow) Note that "saikouchiku" means "reconstruction."
As pointed out on Excite News, Suzuki calls this "spring cleaning" or a "major cleaning" (大掃除 or ooshouji), using the restructuring to improve the environment for the next generation. Suzuki says this has been considered for a while.
"Obviously, Miyazaki's retiring was quite significant."
"After that, what should Ghibli do?"
"With that, continuing to endlessly create like this..."
"is not impossible, but..."
"once, right about now, we will take a short rest and think about what's next."
Just a note: the wording Suzuki uses ( 小休止 or "shoukyuushi") can mean "pause" or "a break" or a "breather." He does not use the more definite word "kyuushi" (休止), which means either "stop, pause or suspend."
Suzuki's wording makes it sound like the studio is considering reorganization and regrouping. It could mean that Studio Ghibli decides it won't make anime films anymore. Though it could mean they do keep making anime films. It could mean a lot of things!
Realize that, at the time of writing, no major Japanese newspaper is running this story. Nor did any morning TV shows. Had Studio Ghibli - a national treasure - definitively ceased production of films, it would be headline news around the country, as it would be important in both the entertainment and business worlds.
Last month, Kotaku first reported a Japanese rumor that claimed Studio Ghibli was shutting down it's anime production department. Today's confusion could have stemmed from this older report.
So, what's the future of Studio Ghibli? Who knows. Studio Ghibli might not even know. But that's probably what this breather is for: to figure things out. For the time being, at least, no final decisions have been made.
4 August 2014
By Jackson McHenry
Studio Ghibli, Japan’s most famous animation studio, responsible for hits such as Spirited Away and My Neighbor Totoro, has announced plans to put film production on hold, though it is not closing its doors—despite reports to the contrary.
In an interview with Japanese TV program Jounetsu Tairiku Sunday night, Studio Ghibli producer Toshio Suzuki commented on plans to restructure the production company. Stills from Suzuki’s interview, as noted in Kotaku, were initially posted without translation on a Ghibli fan Tumblr under a heading which implied that the studio had plans to close permanently.
As Kotaku and other reports have made clear, however, such reports were exaggerated. Suzuki’s comments merely noted a pause in production for the studio to take stock of itself. Variety points out that these kinds of short breaks are common in Japanese animation industry, where staff are often hired on a per-project basis.
In fact, Ghibli had managed to avoid this sort of break — and maintain a large staff — for a long time due to the string of successful films by co-founder Hayao Miyazaki, who retired last year. Miyazaki’s work was highly regarded both in and outside of Japan, earning him two Oscar nominations (Howl’s Moving Castle in 2006 and The Wind Rises in 2014) and one win (Spirited Away in 2001) for best animated feature. This recognition translated to large audiences. Miyazaki’s films often made over $100 million, almost three times the gross of recent releases by other Ghibli directors. With Miyazaki gone, then, it’s reasonable that the studio would reconsider its business strategy.
American fans can expect to see two more films before this announced break. The first — The Tale of Princess Kaguya, directed by Ghibli co-founder Isao Takahata — will arrive in American theaters Oct. 17. The second — When Marnie Was There, directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi — opened in Japan on July 19. A U.S. release date has not been announced.
13 September 2014
By Atsushi Ohara
Studio Ghibli Inc. director Hiromasa Yonebayashi, who was mentored by anime giant Hayao Miyazaki, has found his own wings with his second feature film, "When Marnie Was There."
The movie is currently showing in Japan.
Yonebayashi made his directorial debut in 2010 with "The Secret World of Arrietty," which was based on story ideas and a screenplay provided by Ghibli co-founder Miyazaki.
"For my last work, I constantly asked myself, what would director Miyazaki do if he were directing it? But for my second film, I decided to make it according to my own vision," Yonebayashi said.
The story follows a 12-year-old girl named Anna, who has shut herself off even to her foster mother after her parents died. She visits a seaside village for relief from her chronic asthma, where she befriends a blond girl named Marnie.
The girls enjoy each others' company, going out for a boat ride and sneaking into parties thrown at a Western-style house where Marnie lives.
But no one is supposed to be living in the house, which was long ago abandoned.
Adapted from a British children's novel, the plot centers upon the growth of the main character. But it is also has elements of a fantasy and mystery, as Marnie's true identity is slowly revealed.
Yonebayashi was previously encouraged by producer Toshio Suzuki to make a film adaptation of the book, but the director turned down the offer.
"The story is driven by dialogue, and (initially I thought) that is not fit for a work of animation. But then the inspiration came to me that I could graphically express the inner workings of the protagonist's mind if I made her a girl who draws pictures," Yonebayashi said. "Images of her going on a night picnic with Marnie, and the girls enjoying a moonlight dance came into my mind, and I thought I could make a movie."
The film is full of usual Ghibli qualities such as the detailed portrayal of human characters and the natural environment as well as well-crafted dramatic development. But the film is also characterized by the elegant sexiness felt from the girls' eyes and their gestures.
"Marnie was popular among female staff members, who said they enjoyed drawing a cute-looking girl," the director revealed. "What's important for Marnie is to have a presence. We devoted our efforts into bringing out the sense of her being near Anna, and the warmth of their hands when they touch each other and showing them on the screen."
Born in 1973, Yonebayashi was working as an animator at Ghibli before he was singled out to be a director. Anime maestros Miyazaki and Isao Takahata, the other co-founder of Ghibli, gave their seal of approval for Yonebayashi's improvements to "When Marnie Was There."
"I figured out that Maro (Yonebayashi's nickname) is a guy who is 1+1=5," Miyazaki said, complimenting him in his own unique way.
"I'm sure he will be hailed as the ace of Ghibli after the old men are gone. I want to give my blessing to director Yonebayashi," Takahata added.
With Miyazaki having retired from making feature films and the unprolific director Takahata having reached old age, Yonebayashi is entrusted with Ghibli's next generation.
When he was asked what he intends to do for the future of the anime studio, Yonebayashi said: "I have no idea. Ghibli has always been doing its best to make each and every film. So, it's up to 'Marnie.' I'll be happy if I get the chance to make a next film."
20 May 2015
With When Marnie Was There (opening this weekend in LA and NY from Gkids in an English-language version), Studio Ghibli fittingly concludes its remarkable production run during this hiatus on a mysterious and meditative note. It's based on Joan G. Robinson's popular YA novel (one of Miyazaki's favorites) and explores the magic and melancholy of adolescence with shy, artistic Anna encountering strange, empathetic Marnie in the marshes of a seaside town. The English voicecast includes Hailee Steinfeld, Kiernan Shipka, Geena Davis, John C. Reilly, and Vanessa Williams. Director Hiromasa Yonebayashi (The Secret World of Arriety) discussed his second feature, which is somewhat of a visual departure for Ghibli, via email.
Bill Desowitz: Is "Ghibli Gothic" an accurate description of Marnie, which gives off the aura of a ghost story?
Hiromasa Yonebayashi: I didn’t consciously intend to make it a ghost story, but since I'm a fan of chilling stories, maybe some of that naturally seeped through. But if you watch the entire film, I’m sure you'll find that it's a story of love.
BD: After both Miyazaki-san and Suzuki-san recommended the book, you liked it but weren't convinced it could be captured with animation. Talk about the visual image of Anna and Marnie that lingered in your mind and became the catalyst for your proceeding with the project.
HY: In the book, Anna and Marnie interact quite a bit. As I read it, I was excited by the mysteriousness of these two girls spending time together even though in reality they're not supposed to be able to be together. And so I wanted to depict through animation the warmth, the smells, and other things that Anna experiences. It proved to be very difficult.
BD: The setting of Hokkaido is important with its marshes and lush beauty and seaside charm. Did it come to you immediately as a location or did it take time?
HY: When I thought of marshes in Japan, the first place that came to mind was East Hokkaido. The key members of the team were assembled in August, and Hokkaido has a short summer, so in order to scout the location as our setting, we needed to make a quick decision. Miyazaki was against it, but we couldn't lose any time.
BD: The stone mansion is like one of the characters: tell us about bringing it to life.
HY: I asked the production designer, Yohei Taneda, to make the mansion feel like a mother that watches over Anna. It was designed after scouting various locations in Hokkaido and combining elements of various buildings. It's so meticulously designed that it could be built in real life, and I think that's helped to create something with real presence.
BD: Take us through the various challenges: story, design and animation and the overall color palette.
HY: In the book, Anna says she likes gray, pearly skies. It's an important passage that expresses Anna's heart, so the challenge was to find a way to bring that to life. Typically, Ghibli films have always featured clean, blue skies, but it needed to be different this time. It wasn't easy to draw cloudy skies and still make the landscape clear and beautiful, but it reflects the tone of the character, and I think it's resulted in a distinctive mood overall.
BD: Yohei Taneda comes from live-action. But he created an exhibition from Arrietty. Tell us what it was like collaborating with him and what he brought to the movie.
HY: In this film, Marnie is a fantastical presence, so the scenes of Anna's normal daily life needed to be drawn in a more realistic way. That's where Taneda's designs from his live-action sensibilities proved very effective. What was stimulating was that he was even proactive about involving himself with things like the food on the dining table or the diary, which are things that are typically handled by the animators. Sometimes it created more work, but the resulting effect was terrific.
BD: And what was it like collaborating with Masashi Ando as supervising animator and screenwriter? What were his distinctive contributions?
HY: Just as with the background art, the characters needed to move in a realistic way. And the way Ando's characters carry themselves and think were indispensable to the film. He was a fan of the book, so I asked him to be involved in the screenplay. He has a very logical approach to screenwriting, often impressing me with how things made sense.
BD: What were the most difficult moments to get right?
HY: The film has mystery elements, so we needed to imagine what the audience would be thinking at each step of the story as went along. Setting things up and figuring out exactly how much to do of something was difficult. There are also some double-meanings that reveal themselves only after the audience learns the truth, and making that work was also a challenge.
BD: It's a very powerful story about adolescent alienation and two girls that become soulmates. It's interesting that Frozen connected so strongly around the world because of the great bond between two sisters. Similarly, you have a strong connection between Anna and Marnie. Tell us about the physical and psychic bond that they share.
HY: Anna and Elsa have a very clear relationship as sisters, so the story was easy to follow, but in our film, the relationship between Anna and Marnie is quite vague and probably difficult to grasp for viewers. At times, Marnie seems to be a ghost, and other times she's like an imaginary friend. I think what makes this story interesting is that there's one more level beyond that. It's designed so that once you learn the truth, all the dots will be connected.
BD: Tell us what you like about the score and the theme song and how they help underscore the sweetness and melancholy?
HY: The key thing with the music was how closely it can identify with Anna. The composer, Muramatsu, said he bawled when he read the book. At that point, I figured we were more than half way there. And the score he came up with was sweet, tender, and fit the story perfectly.
The theme song, 'Fine on the Outside,' is a song that was written by Priscilla Ahn when she was a teenager. But the lyrics captured Anna's inner thoughts perfectly, so I figured it was fate and chose it for our theme song. I love Priscilla's voice because it's wistful and goes straight to the heart, but manages to be cute.
BD: Do you have a favorite moment?
HY: I love the scene in the forest when Anna cries and tells Marnie how she truly feels, and Marnie in turn holds her gently.
BD: How has Marnie made you a better director and filmmaker?
HY: I don’t know if I've become a better director, but with Arrietty, I do think we all identified ourselves with the protagonists too much. This time around, we gave ourselves a bit more distance from the characters and made the film from the standpoint of how we wanted Anna to be. I think that aligns us closer to how the audience feels.
BD: Do you know what you will work on next?
HY: I left Studio Ghibli late last year, so I'm no longer a Ghibli employee. I'm a freelancer. But Nishimura (the producer) and I have spoken about how we'd like to make another film together, so we've been developing a new project. We're now at the plotting stage, and once the film is finished, I think it'll be a fantasy film that should excite both children and adults alike.