July 15, 2024
1 Solar System Way, Planet Earth, USA

Studio Ponoc founder is ready for his anime to change the world

When Studio Ponoc released its first animated feature film, the 2017 Maria and the witch's flowerBoth the public and critics chose Ponoc as the successor to the famous Japanese Studio Ghibli, which at that time It seemed to be on a potentially permanent hiatusWith the studio's latest film, The imaginaryPonoc aims higher. In an interview prior to the The imaginaryAt 's American debut on Netflix, Studio Ponoc founder Yoshiaki Nishimura told Polygon that he's ready for Ponoc to create its own style and legacy, and step out of Studio Ghibli's shadow.

“With (Maria and the witch's flower), I wanted to continue the conviction (of Studio Ghibli) and the legacy they created,” Nishimura said. “To The imaginary“I focused more on pure filmmaking, not something I could follow from Studio Ghibli, but on the creation of the film itself. How would I like to represent this imaginary world?”

Amanda and her imaginary friend Rudger, a boy her age, laugh as they ride together on a giant red-breasted swallow in Studio Ponoc's anime film The Imaginary.

Image: Studio Ponoc/Netflix

Based on the 2014 children's book of the same name by AF Harrold, The imaginary The story centers on Rudger, the imaginary friend of a young girl named Amanda who lives alone with her recently widowed mother, Lizzie. Rudger and Amanda are inseparable and embark on fantastical adventures in beautiful worlds created by the latter's imagination. When an accident separates them, Rudger sets out on his own journey of self-discovery as he attempts to reunite with Amanda.

The imaginary is Studio Ponoc's first film since the 2018 anime anthology Modest heroesand the studio's first feature film since Maria and the witch's flowerhis debut in 2017. Apart from The leaves of tomorrowan animated short commissioned in honor of the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, Ponoc has been silent since Modest heroesWhen asked why it took so long for Ponoc to release a new film, Nishimura was candid: the studio simply needed time to iterate before committing to a new animation style.

“We wanted to move forward and explore different styles,” Nishimura told Polygon. “To do that, we started creating shorter pieces and faced different challenges. (…) That’s one of the reasons it took us so long.” Nishimura’s death in 2018 Isao Takahata, co-founder of Studio Ghibliwith whom Nishimura worked on Takahata's last film, The Tale of Princess KaguyaIt also contributed to Nishimura's reluctance to embark on a new feature film project.

A blonde-haired, brown-eyed anime boy stares at something off-screen as a group of colorful characters, including a red-haired girl and a pink hippo, watch him from a campfire in The Imaginary.

Image: Studio Ponoc/Netflix

“This is something very personal to me,” Nishimura said. “Isao Takahata, who I worked with on creating things for about eight or ten years, passed away. I really had to take some time to think about what kind of work we should be creating. I thought deeply about the direction I should take in creating animation after his death.”

The result of that long period of experimentation and contemplation was The imaginaryDirected by Yoshiyuki Momose, a former Studio Ghibli animator who also directed The leaves of tomorrow and the animated short Life is not going to be lost as part of Modest heroesThe film largely employs the same soft, pastel- and watercolor-laced art style of those films, but is accentuated by computer animation, which is evident in the early scenes, when Amanda's imagination transforms the cramped dimensions of her home's attic into a winter wonderland of snow-covered hills and vast forests.

A colorful attic filled with books and toys at The Imaginary.

Image: Studio Ponoc/Netflix

For Nishimura, who produced and wrote the script The imaginaryAn essential piece in the creation of the film came in the form of proprietary software created by The Red Fish Moviesa French animation studio known for its work on Netflix animated film of 2019 Klaus. “When I saw this (technology), I said: “I have to use this, I need to use this,” Nishimura told Polygon. “To The imaginary“We did 130,000 drawings, so if we really wanted to control the shadows and lighting on all those drawings, it would take two or three times as long as usual. So, using this company’s technology, we were able to control the lighting and shadows digitally, where it was more efficient and we could create them faster.”

Japanese animation has significantly expanded its reach and impact over the past three decades, moving from a niche cultural export to a bona fide global phenomenon. Studio Ghibli Movies — in particular, those led by the studio's co-founder Hayao Miyazaki — have played a pivotal role in transforming anime’s reputation around the world, despite the director’s disdain for the term itself. When asked about his time at Studio Ghibli, Nishimura explained why the studio distanced itself from the word “anime” as a description and why that is no longer the case.

A brown-haired anime girl and a blonde-haired anime boy playing under a blanket in a colorful attic in The Imaginary.

Image: Studio Ponoc/Netflix

“The reason is that 20 or 30 years ago, when the Western world referred to something as ‘anime,’ it included pieces that implied something sexual or violent,” Nishimura told Polygon. “But as you know, there are so many different and diverse forms of anime now, and now that people understand anime as something very diversified, we don’t have to define or differentiate ourselves.”

As for why Studio Ponoc continues to focus primarily on creating animation for children, Nishimura says he believes it is his purpose in life.

“When I was 14, I made the decision to live for children,” Nishimura told Polygon. “That’s why I got into the animation industry. If I could give a message to children about what’s important in their childhood, if they would accept that message when they grow up in 10 or 20 years, I would tell them that I think this world will be a better place if they understand what’s very important. The reason is that this is something I would like to share as a person who had the chance to spend time with Miyazaki-san and Takahata-san. We truly believe that a movie can change someone’s life. We believe it could even change the world itself. That’s why I want to confront children. That’s the reason.”

The imaginary It's streaming on Netflix now.

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