Studio Ghibli has now made it official - Isao Takahata is Back!
The news was revealed on the studio's official blog yesterday, September 29. Takahata's newest movie, as widely expected, is titled "Taketori Monogatari," or "The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter." This is an adaptation of Japan's oldest surviving folk tale, Kaguya Hime no Monogatari, from the 10th Century.
This folk tale was actually quoted in My Neighbors the Yamadas, in the scene depicting Nonoko's birth inside a bamboo stalk. Takahata has become a master scholar of Japan's rich cultural heritage, with his works becoming ever more densely layered over time. The Story of Yanagawa Waterways, Pom Poko, and My Neighbors the Yamadas are excellent examples.
Another brilliant example is Takahata's short in the 2003 anthology film Winter Days, in which teams of animators around the world realize an epic Basho poem. Winter Days was his last work as director; I certainly don't need to remind everyone how loud we've been shouting for the grand master of anime to make his return.
What sort of movie will Taketori Monogatari become? We can expect a stunning attention to detail and documentary realism, emotionally-charged human drama, and Takahata's patented style of logic and precision. His adaptations are more logical and calculated than Miyazaki's instinctive, almost impulsive style. He doesn't scrap the original source material as Miyazaki-san always does (Conan, Kiki, Howl). Instead, Takahata gets to the core of the story, fleshing it out, adding depth and color and bringing them to life. As always, the World Masterpiece Theater trilogy of the 1970s stands tall - Heidi Marco Anne.
It's important to remember that Pom Poko remains his one original screenplay. All of his other works have been adaptations, from Horus, Prince of the Sun to Yamada-kun and Winter Days. This is the realm he is most comfortable navigating.
I expect that we will see the first trailers by the end of the year, at least the teaser trailers. These will be eagerly awaited, and rest assured that I'll have my hands on them as quickly as possible.
There is one major question on the horizon, however, and that's the question of box office. Yamada-kun rather famously bombed at the box office in 1999, as Japanese audiences thought Jar Jar Binks and Pokeman was a better way to spend their time. No doubt many moviegoers would like to have that moment back. But there's no question that this will be a concern for Ghibli. It's a foregone conclusion that Isao Takahata will not have a blockbuster success on the level of Hayao Miyazaki, who continues to be staggeringly successful. Yet Takahata remains beloved, the Grand Master of Anime who gave the world Horus and Heidi and Grave of the Fireflies.
I would expect Taketori Monogatari to become a success at the box office, enough to ensure Studio Ghibli's place as the top domestic grosser of 2010. How successful it will be remains a question. And how successful it will be around the world remains a question, too. It should do well in Europe, especially France. The United States? Would Disney and John Lasseter consider a US theatrical run, like Ponyo? What are the odds of that? Slim? None? I honestly don't know, but at this point I wouldn't expect more than a token presence at the art-film circuit, with eventual release on DVD and Blu-Ray.
In any event, we are guaranteed a masterful experience by the world's greatest living film director. We won't have many more opportunities like this, so enjoy the moment while you can.