While Studio Ghibli –the Japanese animation studio known as the "Disney of Japan" - may be renowned for their ability to create magical worlds that captivate children and adults alike, it looks like studio co-founder Hayao Miyazaki may have something else in the works for their next project.
In a recent interview with Japanese entertainment website Hollywood Channel, Ghibli producer Toshio Suzuki said Miyazaki's vision for the studio's next film will be more "realistic" and less geared toward fantastical universes.
While Suzuki indicated Miyazaki's next outing was not inspired by the March 11th earthquake and tsunami, he did say the director "had already predicted the current state of Japan during the planning stages of his next work."
Suzuki described the film as "not the sort of work that everyone in the audience can relax and watch."
For hardcore fans of Ghibli's work, this may come as a surprise or even sound a bit troubling. Since the studio's inception in 1985, they have focused on joyful, uplifting animated films with themes of family, love, hope and the preservation of nature.
One of the few exceptions was post-World War II film "Grave of the Fireflies," which Ghibli was hired to animate and produce. Based on Akiyuki Nosaka's semi-autobiographical novel of the same name, it's of interest to note that the author intended the book to act as an apology to his own sister, who died of malnutrition in Fukui. The novel was based loosely on Nosaka's own life events as a younger man.
This thoughtful and beautiful film from 1988 takes an unflinching look at the life of two orphan refugees, 14-year-old Seita and his 4-year-old sister Setsuko. Through a series of flashbacks, we see that the siblings survived the Kobe firebombings which took place near the end of World War II. They lose their mother in an air raid and are left to fend for themselves.
While the expression of sadness and tragedy was not entirely new to the anime medium, "Grave of the Fireflies" drove home the point that just because a film was animated did not mean it was a film intended for children. American fans of anime are often exposed to the range of the medium, and are familiar with the notion that Japan's sentiments of war and devastation differ greatly from their own.
Since the late 1980s, Ghibli has focused on mostly brighter themes, although Miyazaki has always subtly addressed the condition of nature and the preservation of the planet in the projects he has directed, especially in films like "Princess Mononoke."
Since Miyazaki is known as a cinematic visionary, most fans will likely be excited to see what direction he will go in with this new picture. Whether or not Miyazaki will take on another topic as dark as what was explored in "Grave of the Fireflies" remains to be seen.
However, it's clear that the Japanese accept seeing their history portrayed in the animated medium, even if a cartoon explores the most painful aspects of their lives.
Will Ghibli shock American audiences if they choose to explore less-than-pleasant themes in their next film?