Hayao Miyazaki Short Films: Koro's Big Day Out (2003)

Hayao Miyazaki Short Films: Koro's Big Day Out
Hayao Miyazaki Short Films: Koro's Big Day Out
Hayao Miyazaki Short Films: Koro's Big Day Out
Hayao Miyazaki Short Films: Koro's Big Day Out
Hayao Miyazaki Short Films: Koro's Big Day Out
Hayao Miyazaki Short Films: Koro's Big Day Out

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.


Chris said...

Since I moved to Tokyo last year, I've made it my mission to watch all of the Ghibli Museum shorts. They are all wonderful experiences that a lucky few Western Ghibli fans have had the chance to see.

My two cents:

1. Koro's Big Day Out. This is a nice, sweet film whose entire story is about a dog who gets lost one day and finds his way back home the next. It has some wonderful scenes, especially the train crossing.

2. Mei and Kittenbus. This is probably the biggest draw for Ghibli fans as it is a direct mini-sequel to Totoro. Mei meets Kittenbus one afternoon and that night while Satsuki is sleeping, Kittenbus takes Mei on a wonderful adventure. This is by far my favorite of the Ghibli shorts.

3. The Day I Harvested A Star. This is the film I'd most like to understand, but seeing as how it is the talkiest Ghibli short and I don't speak Japanese very well and there are no subtitles, I can only enjoy the fantastic Ibilard visuals. It's something about a girl who gets a seed from these two strange animal/human creatures and after she plants it, it grows into a tiny planet with its own ecosystem. It looks wonderful, but until I learn more Japanese . . .

4.The Whale Hunt. This is my least favorite. It is the one Miyazaki film that is most geared toward very young children. It takes place in an elementary school where a group of boys are building a ship out of blocks and then after they are finished water fills the room and soon they are sailing on the ocean hunting this whale that seems playfully delighted to be hunted. There is also a lot of talking in this one, so I can't really tell you more. The visuals are very simplified.

5. Monmo the Water Spider. This is absolutely the most accessible Ghibli short to a non-Japanese speaking audience. There's no spoken dialogue at all. This one follows the strange relationship that develops between a spider that lives under water in a pond and a very Kiki-esque spider that walks on the surface of the pond. The animation is spectacular as Miyazaki and his team really capture a realistic look at life in this pond. This is really something to see and probably the most visually stunning of all the Ghibli shorts (although The Day I Harvested A Star is a close contender).

6. House Hunting. I haven't seen this one yet, but May's the month it is playing, so I'll soon see it and finally finish my mission.

Daniel Thomas MacInnes said...

Thanks for sharing your thoughts on the Ghibli Museum short films. I'm going to be writing essays on all six of them, for the sake of documenting everything, but I am clearly limited by not having seen any of them.

A lengthy vacation in Japan is clearly in order. Hopefully, I'll be able to travel there one of these days.

Chris said...

If you ever make it to Tokyo, let me know!

asuka said...

so many things yet to see - which is a good thing, of course!
you're so right about the magic of the everyday. for my money, mimi -o sumaseba is the best example of this in that the realistic sequences always strike me as being more magical than the fairytale bits!

Cory Gross said...

Wait, how are these "free from the grip of materialism and commercialism" when they're admission draws to the museum and the only way you can take them home is by buying expensive books in the gift shop? ^_~

That said, I'm heading to Japan in November and praying that Mei and the Kittenbus is the one playing. I'd settle for The Day I Harvested a Star too... Wait, "settle"?! I'd be happy with whatever I saw!

Unknown said...

My friend and I saw 'Koro's Big Day Out' at the Ghibli museum in 2008 and we were delighted by it. It's the equal of many full length Ghibli films in quality. The museum is truly marvellous, especially Miyazaki's studio/office (recreated in perfect detail) and the incredible mechanical 3D animation demonstration (3D as in really there not as in an illusion).

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