The studio’s founder and first director explain how they built a company from scratch to take Japanese animation back to Ghibli’s early days
When manufacturer Yoshiaki Nishimura first spoke to director Hiromasa Yonebayashi about the job that would become the animated attribute Mary and the Witch’s Flower, Yonebayashi had bookings. “I hesitated a little bit,” he tells The Verge,”since I thought it may be contrasted to Kiki’s Delivery Service, directed by Hayao Miyazaki, which was about a witch.”
It is a legitimate concern. The film’s protagonist, Mary, is a strong redhead who is quite different from the polite, dark-haired Kiki in Miyazaki’s film. However, both films are children’s dreams about broom-riding little women with black cat familiars. And Mary and the Witch’s Flower, according to Mary Stewart’s The Little Broomstick, feels and looks exactly like a project from Studio Ghibli, the famed Japanese animation studio Miyazaki and his spouse Isao Takahata situated in 1985.
But that is no crash, and Nishimura and Yonebayashi came by that legacy . They are both longtime Ghibli veterans who jumped out in their own when Takahata and Miyazaki announced their retirement, and the studio transferred from feature animation. Nishimura and Yonebayashi attracted the Ghibli home visual design and storytelling sensibility into their new venture, Studio Ponoc, which started with Mary and the Witch’s Flower. For Ghibli fans, it’s a relief to see the sensibility and ability of that the studio continuing, with many of its founders moving to continue their work.
However there were lots of financial and aesthetic risks. Yonebayashi compares their journey to the arc faced from the new movie’s protagonist, a young woman who profits and then loses magic powers, and decides to soldier on with her individual abilities rather. “This felt like what we were facing in leaving the magical universe of Studio Ghibli and beginning as individuals to make a new film at Studio Ponoc,” he says. “I thought that was really meaningful as the first film we’d make.” Through a translator, I talked with the theme that connects all of the movies of Yonebayashi, and also men about the studio’s heritage, making them similar to and distinct from Studio Ghibli.
What was the process like of earning Studio Ponoc together?
Yoshiaki Nishimura: This proved to be a very difficult, demanding few decades for us. We had been at Studio Ghibli. And then two and a half years later, we needed to complete a feature film, starting from zero. Along with the two main difficulties were that we did not possess the Studio Ghibli new name, because our studio wasn’t known and so trying to accumulate the funding was difficult. We had to operate with a budget that is low. And at Studio Ghibli, there were 150 to 200 creators with the environment, with hardware, software, computers, servers set up in the production studio . Whereas we had to start from zero, and build up that surroundings and equipment for our production.
We began with just two to three people. But by the end, we were 450 creative people. Within these limitations, we needed to target for the quality and meaningful content very similar to films Studio Ghibli had made. This was a tough pub for us to achieve.
Why this particular story? What was the draw?
YN: In order to create this very first film for the studio, we thought it’d be best to make a film that has been quite the opposite from When Marnie Was There, the last film director Yonebayashi created at Studio Ghibli. When Marnie Was There is all about a silent woman in interior struggle. It is a movie. Nevertheless, the special talent manager Yonebayashi has, that he gained at Studio Ghibli from director Hayao Miyazaki, is currently drawing action that is lively . So the idea was to have a girl moving around in a fantastic way at a fantasy world. So was a witch.
I read many children’s books and young adult books to look for projects. Many of those — if difficulty is faced by a witch character — they use magic to solve the problem. The Little Broomstick was the only story I watched in which the heroine rejects magic at a crucial stage, at the most difficult point. The quotation in the book is something like,”I’m not planning to use magic to open this particular door. I’m going to use my own powers. However long it could take, I am going to get it done on my own.” I believed that would be fantastic for the very first notion of the movie, since we’ve left the magic umbrella of Studio Ghibli, and now we have to walk with our own power and strength. So this matches the situation that manager Yonebayashi and I as manufacturer and other former Studio Ghibli creators faced too.
What kind of opportunities did you get from beginning over, in term of building your company, or earning new cartoon technologies or approaches?
YN: There were certain things we could and could not perform at Studio Ghibli. Basically, the two directors, Isao Takahata and Hayao Miyazaki determined on all of the jobs. They developed jobs assigned them. I was not dissatisfied with this, or with operating in the studio. But now we are on our own, we must start jobs in the start, from zero. It gives us a opportunity to work on matters from the bottom level.
Concerning the sorts of stories which were made at Studio Ghibli toward the ending — the 2 directors got together in years. Miyazaki has turned 76, and Takahata simply turned 82. So there, a lot of the tales toward the ending were tales of parting. Tale of the Princess Kaguya and The Wind Rises reflected the directors’ point in life, dealing with issues of life and death. Parting is resolved in by those stories. They handled different kinds of topics — lively experiences of individuals meeting when they were younger, in their 30s and 40s.
So with this particular picture, manager Yonebayashi and that I wanted to veer away from these themes of parting, which I managed as a manufacturer for The Tale of the Princess Kaguya and Marnie,and he’d directed with The Secret World of Ariettyand When Marnie Was There. We’re at precisely the age when Miyazaki and Takahata started off, and we are parents of children, we wish to have that kind of busy people-meeting-up sort of narrative.
Are you taking this as a chance to try new animation techniques?
Hiromasa Yonebayashi: I think it depends on what we would like to convey through the movie, the type of methods we use, and also the sorts of technologies we use. There are various procedures of expression. My idea is that animation is quite good at expressing characters’ feelings and moves. However, I added 3D and CG effects to enhance the experience for the viewer. This is what I heard, having an animator for 20 years in Studio Ghibli.
Back in Mary and the Witch’s Flower, I wanted Mary to be able to be very active in her movements, and show that onscreen, and that I thought the hand-drawn method worked well for that. We had staff members that were very talented at cartoon, and that I wanted to feature their strengths, although there are animation functions that use CG. I could use another technique if I try another sort of subject matter.
There Are Lots of visual elements from Mary as well as the Witch’s Flower that feel like references to Ghibli movies like Kiki’s Delivery Service, Howl’s Moving Castle, and Spirited Away. Are you along with your animators making willful homages? Is it more because you’re working with the artists that are very same?
HY: It’s not that we consciously were thinking of creating an homage to all those previous movies. At Studio Ghibli, I learned how to make things move a way of thinking about characters and animation, working under manager Miyazaki. So I am kind of steeped in that background. A number of the founders who worked on this film were people who had worked in the studio. So we all are kind of infused with the spirit of Studio Ghibli. Maybe that came out.
One of the things that most distinguishes this From a Studio Ghibli movie is the villains. This film has people with bad intentions, who do awful things, although ghibli villains usually change into characters. Can you think about the antagonists here than you would have on your previous films?
HY: In my mind, they are not necessarily Purely bad. They have their own goals in your mind, and they’re very focused on these. Mary desires to change herself from the woman who lacks confidence, wants to change herself and is dissatisfied with herself into something stronger. The antagonists want to change and transform . I think that relates to the kinds of stuff we have in our present day around us, where people are attempting to change other people.
We might be teaching or forcing Students to believe rather. As parents, we try to force matters telling them something that they did wasn’t good, and they should behave in that way. So I think changing others is something we shouldn’t be doing. We should be encouraging individuals to change themselves. Mary and Peter in this narrative want to change themselves for the better, and they come to be able to accomplish this. And that becomes a very confrontational moment. I think the audience root for the people who want to transform themselves, and possibly can get to this notion.
You’ve directed three movies at this point, all predicated on fantasy novels by Western girls. Is there a specific connection there?
HY: I hadn’t realized that all of these Authors were women, therefore it has to be a shame. But all three tales feature a young heroine who can create the following step. So my curiosity is that moment where men and women are able to not make a big transformation, but take a small step to grow a bit more, become just a bit more confident, to create the next step in their own lives. For different folks, from others’ point of view, it may not look like that big a step. However, for them, it’s a thing to be able to get this done. I like to deal with that instant where personalities are making that change. And I believe when viewers that are fighting with their lives to see this sort of story, which helps them get some courage, and it’s meaning for them.
What’s next for Studio Ponoc? Are Planning on making movies that feel and look such as Studio Ghibli? Does the studio want to branch out?
YN: One thing I learned from manager Takahata is that the content determines what sort of expression to use. It becomes a fashion, rather than a fit with the content, if you just have one form of an expression. So it depends on the kind of material we are addressing, as to what sort of fashion and expression we end up showing. Our heritage out of Studio Ghibli makes us believers in 2D cartoon. Nonetheless, it’s not that we reject 3D animation. There may be some content that could be good for a type of fusing of 3D animation and 2D.
At Studio Ponoc, we are working on four short movies right now. One has been directed by manager Yonebayashi, and there are three Directors working on another shorts. But we also are decided To continue creating film. And for us, the heroes and Heroines are the children we are currently producing the films for. We need to Continue to make films that both adults and children may enjoy watching together. That is our mission, and that is what we have brought forward From our experiences.