What could be Ghibli’s final film, When Marnie Was There, opens in cinemas for the UK tomorrow. To commemorate this landmark production, also being the studio’s first film made without the support of co-founders Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata, The Guardian interviewed Marnie‘s director Hiromasa Yonebayashi to catch up on proceedings at the treasured production house.
As well as having plans in place to make three more short films for the Ghibli Museum, which have now been revealed as including Miyazaki’s first full CGI work, they’re contributing to the French/Japanese animated film The Red Turtle as co-producers with European studio Wild Bunch. Yoshiaki Nishimura, the Ghibli producer who accompanied Yonebayashi for the interview, said “The slim-down process has begun,” for this project directed by Dutch filmmaker Michaël Dudok de Wit. Referring to Miyazaki’s retirement from feature directing, he then continued “There is no in-house production at the moment. As for the shadow of Miyazaki, we must feel his presence, as well as that of Takahata-san, the two maestros who established Ghibli and gave not just Japan but the whole world courage. It’s not just the technique of animation – it’s the storytelling, what we tell, who we tell, and the aspiration of that film-making. That’s what we have to carry on.”
A discussion of the making of When Marnie Was There prompted the strongest reaction from readers, as Anna, the main protagonist, being a young girl who isn’t driven by romance, or even very friendly, led the conversation onto gender politics. Touching on the fact that the film was made in the wake of the earthquake and tsunami that racked Japan in 2011, The Guardian described its image of Japan as a “traditional” and “idyllic” conservative ideal. Yonebayashi responded that “So many people lost their lives and so many others lost loved ones”, drawing the comparison that “Anna loses her relatives as well.”
This raised the question of whether Anna was Japan, and after a long pause, Yonebayashi said “Could be. Anna is a lonely girl. At the moment, so many Japanese people feel lonely even though they’re connected by technology. I’m not sure if Anna and Japan itself are the same, but people in Japan should be able to understand her.” He then described her as “an androgynous character, in the transition between child to adulthood, a very sensitive age.”
When asked about choosing another female-led story after The Secret World of Arietty, which made him Ghibli’s youngest ever director, he said “I’m male myself, and if I had a central character who was male, I’d probably put too much emotion into it, and that would lead to difficulty in telling the story.” This led to the question of whether a female director would ever take the helm on a Ghibli movie, and Nishimura replied, “It depends on what kind of a film it would be. Unlike live action, with animation we have to simplify the real world. Women tend to be more realistic and manage day-to-day lives very well. Men on the other hand tend to be more idealistic – and fantasy films need that idealistic approach. I don’t think it’s a coincidence men are picked.”
In this manner of thinking, Ghibli could do with some serious shaking up if it does ever return to producing its own feature films. The studio’s virtual standstill does feel like the stepping down of the old guard, and with such a big void to fill post-Miyazaki, there’ll be plenty of room for burgeoning artists to inject the anime movie industry with fresh world bending wonder.