Just as we get close to this year's Academy Awards and wonder which nominee might win the Oscar for Best Animated Feature (as much as I love "Rango" I think I'd like "Kung Fu Panda 2" to win), a new movie partly spawned from the mind of Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki is about to hit cinemas. "The Secret World of Arietti" is based on Mary Norton's novel "The Borrowers" and is the directorial debut of Studio Ghibli animator Hiromasa Yonebayashi (with help from Pixar director Gary Rydstrom for the U.S. version). Miyazaki co-adapted the novel with Keiko Niwa, while the U.S. translation was handled by Karey Kirkpatrick ("Chicken Run"; "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy"). I wouldn't be surprised if it's one of the Oscar nominees next year.
If so it would be the first nomination for the studio not directed by Miyazaki, who won in 2002 for "Spirited Away" and was nominated again in 2006 for "Howl's Moving Castle." Surprisingly, Studio Ghibli has never been nominated in the animated short category, though it's probably not often that they qualify. While a few do make their way to the U.S. and some can be found on hard-to-get DVD collections, shorts by Miyazaki, Yoshiyuki Momose, Kazuo Oga and Naohisa Inoue can be seen at the Ghibli Museum just outside Tokyo. Some of them, such as the "My Neighbor Totoro" sequel "Mei and the Kittenbus," are currently exclusive to this site. And before the 2000s, Miyazaki at least was really only involved with three shorts, one of which is technically a music video.
The video is for the 1995 song "On Your Mark" by Japanese rock duo Chage and Aska and was written and directed by Miyazaki at their request. Functioning fine as a short film on its own (and with either "On the Mark" or the duo's English-language alternate version, "Castles in the Sky"), it did get a theatrical release in Japan as an accompaniment to Yoshifumi Kondou's "Whisper of the Heart." The basic plot involves a futuristic domed city where two policemen, drawn to resemble Chage and Aska, save a winged girl (an angel?) during a raid on a cult and return her to the radiation-infected world above ground. Given last year's nuclear crisis following the major earthquake and tsunami disaster, the Chernobyl-inspired video now seems scarier, more potentially prophetic. Watch it via Vimeo below:
You can read an interview with Miyazaki about that video on Nausicaa.net.
Now for the two other shorts he worked on earlier, much earlier, back in the 1970s. The two films are the adorable "Panda! Go Panda!" (1972) and its sequel, "Panda Kopanda Rainy Day Circus" (1973). Both were conceived and scripted by Miyazaki and directed by Isao Takahata, more than a decade before the two would co-found Studio Ghibli. Miyazaki had previously been an animator on Takahata's 1968 feature "The Little Norse Prince." He is also credited as art/screen designer, key animator and layout artist for these two "Panda" films. About a little girl (modeled after "Pippi Longstocking") living by herself while her grandmother is away who befriends a panda daddy and baby (and in the sequel a tiger baby), the shorts fit perfectly into the Japanese culture of cute known as kawaii and they aesthetically and narratively somewhat anticipate the now classic 1988 Miyazaki feature "My Neighbor Totoro." Watch the two films together below via Hulu:
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