Movie Review: Ghiblies "Episode 1" (2000)

Review: Ghiblies "Episode 1"

Review: Ghiblies "Episode 1"

Ghiblies was a 12-minute animated short that aired on NHK TV in Japan in April 8, 2000, as part of a  television special about Spirited Away, which was then in production and scheduled for release the following year. It is among the most rare pieces in the Studio Ghibli canon; it has never been released on any home video format, and only appears now and then on social media sites.

The cartoon is a spoof of Studio Ghibli, and all of the characters are based on the staff, led by the Machiavellian Toshio Suzuki, who seems to delight in tormenting his workers. One interesting character is a ghost who is actually a corporate spy sent by a rival animation studio, but chose to remain as part of the Ghibli staff. Much of the material seen in this special was later reworked in the 2002 theatrical short Ghiblies Episode 2.

The art and animation design follows the sparse watercolor approach as My Neighbors the Yamada, which, at the time, was the latest feature film by the studio. This is an interesting approach, as Yamada was a box-office bomb and the studio's biggest commercial failure (one would think Ghibli would want nothing to do with it). There may also have been a rift between the two directors, which led to Takahata's withdrawal from directing. In the 2013 documentary The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness, Miyazaki is still visibly upset about Takahata's management of Ghibli during the production of Yamada, where the studio restructured from cel animation to computers (all subsequent Ghibli movies have been created digitally).

In 2003, Takahata contributed one short scene for the anthology film Winter Days, and then returned for the 2010 Anne of Green Gables anthology movie that was given a brief theatrical run. The Tale of the Princess Kaguya would arrive three years later, receiving an Academy Awards nomination.

It's fascinating, then, to see Ghibli return to that watercolor style for a number of short film projects, including Ghiblies. It speaks well to their talents as artists that they are willing to continue the visual experimentation. Working in television also gave them an added degree of freedom, creating some of the studio's best work.

Both Ghiblies episodes were directed by Yoshiyuki Momose, who by all measures was the studio's true heir to the director's chair. He directed three Capsule music videos in 2004 and 2005, which are probably my favorite animated shorts created by Ghibli (specifically, Ghibli offshoot Studio Kajino). He developed a unique way of joining hand-drawn and computer animation that is wholly unique, and suggests an alternate future where Studio Ghibli, and anime in general, could have evolved. Why he was never given a feature film to direct remains an astonishing mystery, and an astonishing blunder.

In any case, get your hands on Ghiblies "Episode 1" by any means necessary. And tell Studio Ghibli to release it on home video, already. Shut up and take our money!

Update: Oh, look, somebody uploaded it to YouTube. It plays at double the speed, presumably to evade the copyright bots, and the subtitles are in French, but you'll be fine.

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