Filed under Film

A few adaptation ideas for Studio Ghibli…

[THIS IS A RE-POST OF SOMETHING WRITTEN IN 2011]

studio-ghibliStudio Ghibli, while being thoroughly Japanese, have taken inspiration for a number of their recent films from Western literature. There is nothing odd about that, merely interesting. From 2004 to 2010, Studio Ghibli had a run of such projects back to back.

Starting with Howl’s Moving Castle (2004) – a story adapted from British author Diana Wynne Jones’s novel of the same name – they then made; Tales of Earthsea (2006), an adaptation of some of the broader themes from Ursula Le Guin’s Earthsea novels; Ponyo (2008), a film that follows the thematic ebb and flow of Danish author Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid; and finally The Borrower Arrietty (2010), a film based upon The Borrowers, by English writer Mary Norton.

As a Western viewer this shift in narrative influence was not a bad thing. Don’t get me wrong, I love the more traditional (for want of a better word) Ghibli movies such as Princess Mononoke or The Cat Returns, but there is an awesome quality to be mined from the mixture of Western and Eastern themes and ideas. I love the tonal shift that the aforementioned Western properties underwent when filtered through the mind of someone to whom such stories are not the norm. I loved The Borrowers when I was younger and I have very fond memories of Ian Holm playing Pod in the BBC television series. But I’m also excited to see it re-interpreted, especially by an animation studio like Studio Ghibli.

There is a pervasive quality to Ghibli, an overall unified style that remains in tact despite their movies ranging from the earth-shatteringly bleak (Grave of the Fireflies) to the fantastically bizarre (My Neighbour Totoro). Imagining that same ‘Ghibli-ness’ applied to Western stories yields some awesome results (to me at least).

To that end, I’d like to run down a few ideas for Western stories that would be really interesting if re-made under the Studio Ghibli banner. I know that post The Borrower Arrietty Studio Ghibli is moving away from adaptations of foreign narratives but hey, a guy can dream can’t he?

Five Children & It

Ok, first up is Five Children and It, a book written by Edith Nesbit in 1902. For me, at any rate, the story was best encapsulated by the 1991 BBC six-part series. Anyone familiar with either the book or the charming television outing will know that the story follows a group of five children who encounter a sand-fairy called the Psammead. He’s a grumpy little chap who is found in a gravel pit and who often begrudgingly grants one wish to the children each day – with the effects of that wish wearing out by sunset.

Everything from the group of children to the bizarre and grumpy sand-fairy (and the wishes that inevitably go awry), is perfect for the fertile imaginations at Studio Ghibli to adapt. Nothing could be a better fit. In fact, the story is not even one that is strange to the Japanese. Between 1985 and 1986 there was a 78 episode anime made based on Nesbit’s story. It was titled Onegai! Samia Don or, Please! Psammea-don in English.

It’s got enough charm mixed alongside the ‘otherness’ to make it an ideal Ghibli project. I’ll keep my fingers crossed.

Who at Studio Ghibli to direct?

This would have to be Hayao Miyazaki. The story blends the fantastical with the mundane and a deft hand like Miyazaki’s would be perfect. Plus, to see his take on the Psammead would be really something!

The Railway Children

We’re sticking with the work of Edith Nesbit again for this next one. Apparently she’s a perfect fit for the types of story I reckon would suit the Ghibli style. Again, my familiarity with this work comes from live-action adaptations – the 1968 television series, courtesy of the BBC once again, and the 1970 film (staring several of the same actors) to be precise. The story follows a family who move to a house by a railway after their father is wrongly imprisoned. There they find solace and amusement with the coming and going of the trains and the local passengers. Many a fellow man is helped out and their father’s innocence proven. It’s wonderfully light, vivid and colourful and a perfect fit for animation. The haze of youth set to a backdrop of early 1900’s England, why it hasn’t been animated thus far is a mystery.

Who at Studio Ghibli to direct?

At first I was all set and ready to put Yoshifumi Kondō forward. His work Whisper of the Heart is outstanding and a perfect fit for the themes and pace of The Railway Children. Sadly, Yoshifumi Kondō passed away aged 47. So in his stead, Tomomi Mochizuki who directed Ocean Waves would be the next best fit. Ocean Waves has been cited as being both ‘graceful’ and ‘mature’, exactly what a production of Nesbit’s The Railway Children needs.

The Lord of the Flies

This is a little darker than an outing such as The Railway Children, however it is a good fit for animation and Studio Ghibli has proven itself when it comes to tackling difficult themes with films like Grave of the Fireflies.

The Lord of the Flies is a novel written by William Golding and published in 1954. It charts the exploits of some British school boys who find themselves deserted on an island after the plane they’re on crashes. The children, isolated and without adult supervision, form a rudimentary social structure and attempt to govern themselves. They descend into an allegorical conflict between rules and harmony and dominance and power.

There is some striking imagery in the book that is perfect for animation. The animated image has a scope for poignancy that few other mediums can match. Couple this with Studio Ghibli’s consistently high attention to detail and expert showcase of human characteristics and you’re set for a film that will pack one hell of an emotional punch.

Who at Studio Ghibli to direct?

The helm, in this instance, would have to be given to Isao Takahata. His list of credentials is vast and his skill as an animator is unprecedented. He was the director of Grave of the Fireflies, a film that can often be hard to watch but is never less than a vital experience. He has shown his ability to handle the darker facets of human behaviour with sensitivity and he would be an ideal match for Golding’s tale of social pitfalls and innocence lost.

James & the Giant Peach

While I will put forward James and the Giant Peach for a Studio Ghibli adapt, I would also like to say that pretty much anything by Roald Dahl would suffice. The work of author Roald Dahl is so impressively wacky, while maintaining a glorious childlike cohesion, that it not only suits animation down to the ground, but I am positive that Studio Ghibli could synthesise something extraordinary out of Dahl’s ideas and their unique take on them.

Anyway, James and the Giant Peach, then. The story follows James who, through a series of ill events, loses his parents, gets imprisoned and abused by his two evil aunts, inadvertently grows a magical giant peach and escapes the awfulness of his life with a ragtag bunch of talking insects. There are so many incredible images and feats of imagination going on that it would be a disservice to the book if I attempted to pay them their due here.

Anyone familiar with James and the Giant Peach or indeed the wider works or Roald Dahl will know the magnificence of the types of ideas on display. Now filter those through the minds behind Spirited Away, Castle in the Sky or My Neighbour Totoro. They would be a fine match indeed.

Who at Studio Ghibli to direct?

The director’s chair would have to go to Hayao Miyazaki once again. His imagination is a match for Roald Dahl’s himself and together the two could craft something really rather epic.

The Wizard of Oz

Ok, this one is a little less serious. I’m not even sure it needs defining. The Wizard of Oz has been adapted countless times and one more is probably redundant. That said, take any of the more outlandish creature designs from Miyazaki’s movies and start working them around with the themes and overall feel of The Wizard of Oz’s narrative – awesome, right? Miyazaki is the man for the job (again!) in this instance.

Someone out there, whoever you are, make it happen.