Always count on the excellent GhibliWorld to keep us up-to-date on all the important news from Japan. If you're a Ghibli fan by any degree (and if not...what are you doing here?), then you should have the website bookmarked.
This month, just in time for Christmas, we're tipped off about the DVD release of a very obscure work in the Miyazaki canon. The title is "Sougen no Ko Tenguri," or Tenguri, Boy of the Plains. Created in 1977, it was a 22-minute short film that also served as a promotion for Snow Brand Dairy Products. The film was the first effort from Shinei Animation, which was an offshoot of Topcraft (TMS).
This discovery was a surprise to me at first. It's not something I'm familiar with; apparantly, Tenguri has never been seen outside of the company for ages. With a little digging around, however, I immediately recognized one of its images. I've seen a very short clip, unnamed and unknown aside from the fact of Miyazaki's involvement. The video clip runs only 10 or 20 seconds, and looks strikingly similar to Heidi, Girl of the Alps. I had assumed that it came from a similar time, and perhaps was an earlier project that fell through. Now we know the source.
Hmm...I'm surprised I haven't uploaded that to YouTube, but I'm sure it's there, and easily found online if you dig around.
So, anyway, back to Tenguri. The short film has just been released on DVD in Japan. The story is adapted from Osamu Tezuka, and its director is none other than our beloved Yasuo Otsuka. This is striking, since Otsuka famously shunned directing (whatever ambitions he may have once held were burned away during the production of Horus) in favor of animation. I think he did direct one animation project at least, but that was near the end of his famous career, when he retired a quarter century ago to become and equally great teacher at Telecom.
Miyazaki's presence was greatly felt, as always. Also on board were Yoichi Kotabe (his style is apparant in the character designs), Yoshifumi Kondo, and the musical composer Yoshio Mamiya, who scored four Takahata films (Horus, Gauche the Cellist, Yanagawa Waterways, and Grave of the Fireflies).
Tenguri is pretty obviously patterned after Heidi. This should be perfect for all those spot-the-riffs Ghibli drinking games. The character designs alone feel like Heidi outtakes, but there must have been something there, that spark of quality, to win endorsements from Japan's Ministry of Education, the Central Children's Welfare Council, and the Distinguished World's Cinema Introduction.
The story involves a boy who is befriends a cow and is taught how to make dairy products, sparking a confrontation against his villagers who want to hunt the cows for meat. Ahem. Yes, it's really a dairy commercial, though hopefully without the shameless corporate propaganda that winds up in those brutal Simpson's parodies.
So this is clearly one for the completists and the fans. Which pretty much describes each and every one of us. As luck would have it, I'm itching to score some more DVD's this next month, so Tenguri, Boy of the Plains is a must buy. The Pioneer DVD includes 35 minutes of bonus material in addition, retailing for 3990 yen. Hopefully I can grab one before the dollar collapses.