Centuries-old designs brought to life by Japan’s most celebrated animation house.
Close to two years have passed since the Japanese release of When Marnie Was There, the last anime film from Studio Ghibli. But producer and Ghibli co-founder Toshio Suzuki has made multiple comments to the effect that while Ghibli may be taking longer breaks between projects and may or may not ever again craft a completely in-house developed theatrical feature, the company still exists, even as it takes on projects of a different nature from those it did in the past.
Good news for Ghibli admirers came in December when it was revealed that the studio is involved in the production of European director Michael Dudok de Wit’s The Red Turtle. But while that film won’t be screening until sometime later this year, there is a brand new piece of short Ghibli animation that you can watch right now.
Many of Ghibli’s biggest hits, including Kiki’s Delivery Service, Whisper of the Heart, and Howl’s Moving Castle are adaptations of other creators’ original works, and art history buffs might recognize the source material for this Ghibli-animated video as being particularly classic. The designs, coloring, and situations are based on the picture scrolls called the Choju Jinbutsu Giga, or Scrolls of Frolicking Animals. Created in the 12th and 13th centuries, they’re widely considered to be the earliest examples of manga in Japanese history.
Given their age, the Choju Jinbutsu Giga were obviously never meant to be animated, but Ghibli’s artists bring the artwork, which feels at once both detailed and abstract, to expressive life. Even though they’re working with designs from hundreds of years ago, the video clearly shows the studio’s distinctive sense of character momentum, weight, and connection to their environment.
But Ghibli didn’t make the video strictly because of an appreciation of historical artwork. The video was produced at the behest of energy company Marubeni Shin Denryoku, which is touting its shift towards low-pollution, renewable wind, water, and solar-based energy production. The Choju Jinbutsu Giga was chosen as a symbol of the natural beauty of pre-industrial era Japan.
Such sentiments reverberate with eco-conscious Studio Ghibli, as does Marubeni Shin Denryoku’s Plan G, which donates a portion of customers’ energy payments to conservation efforts. As part of the two companies’ continuing collaboration, Ghibli’s Suzuki and Marubeni Shin Denryoku Executive Director Satoshi Fukuda will be meeting for a discussion about ecological issues, which is scheduled to then be released in video format.
Some may be surprised to see the proud Studio Ghibli making what is, in essence, a commercial, but this isn’t the first time the company has been involved in the production of advertising. And even if it is an ad, when it’s one with a heart, plus such beautiful artwork, we think most people would say it’s well worth watching.