Director of When Marnie Was There crafts first original story for film that’s explicitly not trying to be like a Marvel movie.
In the U.S., summer is the time for movie studios to release their action blockbusters. In Japan, though, summer is when prestige theatrical anime premier. Especially for big-budget animated films that are hoping to reach beyond hard-core otaku audiences, a summer release is seen as a must.
Studio Ponoc, largely composed of artists who were with Studio Ghibli until it went into extended stasis following the release of When Marnie Was There in 2014, chose last July for the debut of its first anime, Mary and the Witch’s Flower. Now Ponoc has announced that it’ll be back in theaters again in the summer of 2018 with its second animated feature, titled Modest Heroes -Kani, Tamago, and the Invisible Man-, which will hit theaters on August 24.
— スタジオポノック (@StudioPonoc) March 27, 2018
The reason for the lengthy title is that Modest Heroes -Kani Tamago, and the Invisible Man- is actually an anthology film consisting of three parts, each with a different director. Hiromasa Yonebayashi, director of both Mary and Marnie, is helming the fantasy adventure “Kanini and Kanino,” which will be his first time directing a story he created himself, as opposed to an adaptation of a preexisting novel.
Holding the reins for the film’s middle section, “Samurai Egg,” is Yoshiyuki Momose, whose Ghibli resume includes storyboarding, key animation, and/or visual design for Spirited Away, Only Yesterday, and Grave of the Fireflies. “Samurai Egg” is based on the story of a real boy Momose knows who has a severe, potentially deadly egg allergy, and the short shows his courage and loving relationship with his mother.
Finally, Akihiko Yamashita, character designer for Howl’s Moving Castle and Mary and the Witch’s Flower, occupies the director’s chair for “The Invisible Man,” which tells a story of the lonely struggles of a man who can’t be seen by anyone else.
Studio Ponoc CEO Yoshiaki Nishimura explained the decision to craft three shorts was inspired by the works of Ghibli directors Isao Takahata and Hayao Miyazaki, who have always pushed themselves to try new things, as well as the innovative spirits of Pixar and Disney. That doesn’t mean the new work will be derivative, though, he asserts. “Are we to sit idly on the foundation others have made as we make our films? No. We have to create a new area where the rich artistic qualities of animation can be discovered, and I believe short animation is somewhere we can do that.” Though Nishimura made no explicit mention of such, there’s probably also a bit of a practical concern, as securing the funds for lavish full-length anime movies two years in a row might be a tall order for the still-young Ponoc.
Nishimura was also clear on who Studio Ponoc is not drawing inspiration from: Marvel.“We don’t want to tell superhero stories like Marvel,” he said while expanding on the Modest Heroes title. “When we asked ourselves what we can give to the children of the world, we thought that maybe we can give them hope and courage…Even if people aren’t seen as very important by others, they might still be doing their best every day, and making good things happen. This summer, through our anime, we’d like to send the message that those people really are big heroes.”
The idea of small things having a big impact is applicable to the ambitions of the film itself, too. Each segment of the film is scheduled to clock in at roughly 15 minutes, with an additional five minutes of animation total for the opening and closing. That would give Modest Heroes a total running time of less than an hour, which is remarkably short even compared to other anime movies, which are generally shorter than their live-action counterparts.