Pippi Longstockings (That Never Saw the Light of Day), released in Japan this past October, is an artbook that details the infamous anime project helmed by Isao Takahata, Hayao Miyazaki and Yoichi Kotabe. This publication features over 100 illustrations, production designs and image boards, as well as new interviews and insights by the principle creators.
The publication of the Pippi Longstockings book was the result of thawed relations between the Studio Ghibli founders and the estate of Pipi author Astrid Lindgren. As Ghibli Freaks everywhere know, Lindgren refused to grant the rights to the anime production, scuttling a project that had taken years to develop. Lindgren's grandchildren met with Studio Ghibli in 2013, while negotiating rights for Goro Miyazaki's TV anime series, Ronia the Robber's Daughter. It seemed a fitting end to a frustrating saga that Hayao Miyazaki seemingly never forgot nor forgave.
The Pippi Longstockings project began at Toei Doga at the end of the 1960s. Isao Takahata had been demoted from feature film directing after a three-year battle against studio bosses to create the 1968 anime masterpiece, The Great Adventure of Horus, Prince of the Sun. He was sent back to television, where he would direct a number of Toei cartoon shows, but with extremely limited creative input. His wings had been clipped. When the idea of adapting Lindgren's famous children's novels was proposed, Paku-san jumped. And he turned to two of his closest associates from Horus: Hayao Miyazaki and Yoichi Kotabe.
The trio worked closely together to develop story ideas. Takahata, the director; Miyazaki, the scene designer and "idea man;" Kotabe, the animation director and character designer. In 1971, after the production of Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves, Toei Doga president and founder Hiroshi Okawa died, ceremonially marking the end of the "classic" era of Toei as "the Disney of the East." Takahata, Miyazaki, and Kotabe left the studio, joining fellow alumni and close friend Yasuo Otsuka, who left Toei in 1969 after the completion of Puss in Boots (one of the all-time anime classics), at the newly-formed A Production studio.
The proposed Pippi Longstockings series would not be a simple adaptation of the children's books, but aimed to inspire Japan's children. Takahata's production notes describe Pippi as a “ill mannered," yet "hard-core optimist." Paku-san's notes continue: “Thanks to the presence of Pippi, many adults will eventually understand the true nature of children. And I’m sure they will show greater tolerance toward children as they recall how they were when they were small.”
The political spirit of Horus would live in Pippi, although more subtly. Takahata stated his team would aim to restore traditional childhood desires, food and play and imagination, which had been discarded by a runaway corporate culture. "Children are subject to oppression coming from parents and teachers amid the ‘entrance exam hell.’ I think the most important thing is to release children from this real-life oppression and shine a bright light on their daily lives."
Pippi Longstockings remains a crucial influence on the development of Takahata, Miyazaki and Kotabe's careers. While it's true that the project was scuttled by the Lindgren estate, many of its themes and ideas, its rural sensibility and nostalgia for lost childhood, would greatly impact future anime productions: Panda Kopanda, Yuki's Sun, and most famously in Heidi, Girl of the Alps, which would become a global phenomenon.
Elements from Pippi would also be "riffed" many times over the years (it seems that Hayao Miyazaki never quite got over being snubbed). The illustration of Pippi on a giant swing appeared in Heidi's title sequence. The monkey sidekick would reappear on 3000 Leagues in Search of Mother. Pippi's comical super-strength would be realized in Future Boy Conan. An illustration of a crashed plane would be quoted during the closing credits of Porco Rosso. A mysterious glowing deer in the woods perhaps inspired the Shishigami in Princess Mononoke. And Pippi herself, and her red ponytails, would be seen in Castle in the Sky, and even Miyazaki's Ghibli Museum short film, House Hunting.
Many of these illustrations first appeared in the 1983 book, "Hayao Miyazaki Image Boards," but this new 2014 Pippi Longstockings book is the first time all available production materials have been made available. The personal insights by the three creators makes this especially important. This volume is an essential glimpse into animation history, and a famed production that, ironically, shaped the course of Japanese animation forever. An absolutely essential purchase for all fans everywhere.
A number of additional illustrations from the book appear below the jump. Feel free to share and enjoy.