Ghibli Museum Short Films - Koro's Big Day Out (2003)
Let's take a look at one of Hayao Miyazaki's most interesting phases of his long career: the six short films created exclusively for the Ghibli Museum in Mitaka, Japan.
When the Ghibli Museum was created, a small movie theater was designed where children could watch animated short films created by the studio, usually around 15-20 minutes in length. These films would be exclusive to the museum, never to be seen anywhere else, and never to released commercially. These treasures would stay underground, in the charming Saturn Theater, free from the grip of materialism and commercialism.
To date, six short films have been produced by Studio Ghibli; all of them directed by Hayao Miyazaki. The first three were created in 2003: Koro's Big Day Out, The Whale Hunt, and Mei and the Kittenbus. The second three were created in 2006: The Day I Harvested a Star, House Hunting, and Monmon the Water Spider. Let's take a look at the first movie, Koro's Big Day Out.
These photos come from the official movie book, which is on sale in Japan, and can be found on Ebay for about $25 USD. For most of us, this is the closest we will come to seeing these great movies. These are just like the official art books that are released for Ghibli's feature films, with spectacular artwork and illustrations, as well as commentary on the production.
Koro's Big Day Out is a story of a small puppy who runs loose from his owner, a young girl in a Tokyo suburb. Koro explores the city, meets various people who kindly take him in, including a young woman on a bicycle, a neighboring family and their old dog, and delivery driver in his moving van. At the end of the day, Koro reaches his home, and runs into the arms of the little girl who was been searching for him.
This is a marvelous little story, perfect for its format, perfect for its audience. There's a simplicity that Miyazaki is comfortable with. Compare this to his lavish, epic movie spectaculars, and you see a careful restraint. Here is a skilled storyteller who doesn't feel the need to prove anything to himself or to others. He already has his outlet in features like Mononoke, Spirited Away, Howl's Moving Castle.
In a sense, I think Koro's Big Day Out evokes the smaller canvases of Ghibli's earlier films. It's a small story, based on a simple idea from everyday life. It's about experience and discovery and not about plot or exposition. These qualities connect much more with children, I believe. They can relate to the perky puppy in the big city. Compare this to Disney's 2009 feature, Bolt, and you'll spark some insightful discussions.
Judging from the artbook, the look of this movie is spectacular. It fits in perfectly with Ghibli's animated shorts of this decade, which moved further away from the classical style of the earlier features, more towards the style of children's storybook illustrations. Isao Takahata's My Neighbors the Yamadas was the breatkthrough for this movement, and this direction towards a new art style grew and developed among the Ghibli shorts for many years. Today, we finally see this unique, colorful hand-drawn style in Miyazaki's Ponyo.
I don't think many Westerners are aware just how firmly grounded in real life Ghibli's films are. We tend to look upon Miyazaki's films as Disney-esque fantasy, interpreting through the old American paradigms. But Ghibli is all about finding "magic" and mystery in our modern, everyday world. These are works that inspire the imagination; you want to run outside in the sunshine and wander around the city, explore the countryside, and embrace the mystery of the world.