Isao Takahata is a fascinating man.
Let’s be real, when you think of Studio Ghibli, you think of Hayao Miyazaki and his many, many memorable works like Castle in the Sky, My Neighbor Totoro, Spirited Away, Ponyo, and more.
But there is another – the man who co-founded the studio with Miyazaki – Isao Takahata, who is just as great in his own right. Mr. Takahata didn’t start as an artist – far from it. He went to Tokyo University studying French Literature, and somehow found his way to working at Miyazaki at Toei Animation (the studio that would make the Dragon Ball shows, One Piece, and Digimon, if anyone remembers that one). He normally doesn’t draw – so he has to communicate to the artists working at the studio through words. He relies upon the imagination’s visualization.
It was by this method that he started The Tale of the Princess Kaguya, in which development began in 2005 (the movie wouldn’t come out until 2013 in Japan – it would be 14 years after his last movie, My Neighbors the Yamadas). There had not been a single drawing, concept art, or storyboard for this movie in the beginning. It began with a script of Mr. Takahata’s adaptation of the original Japanese folktale. After that, the voice actors came in to voice the characters. This is unusual, as voice acting usually comes AFTER storyboards (or even the actual film) would be developed (at least from watching the behind the scenes from other works) – even the documentary where I watched the behind the scenes, Isao Takahata and his Tale of the Princess Kaguya, had noted this oddity.
If you watch the behind the scenes, you see that Mr. Takahata has a different way of developing this movie. He starts with the voices instead of storyboarding in order to rely upon the actor’s imagination to give life to the scene in which the art will be built upon. He forgoes cel animation that Studio Ghibli is so well-known for, opting for a more sketchy style that Kaguya features (he made the same move with My Neighbors the Yamadas, as it seems that he was tired of cel animation). Whereas films tend to have tight planning to plot out how the budget is used and what needs to be done before the release date, Mr. Takahata goes about the film in a very trial-and-error fashion, and in turn the film is delayed twice. There are over 1400 cuts in the movie, which Takahata and the fellow developers behind the film would spend up to 6 hours going over. Although a specific amount of time wasn’t state, 1400 cuts multiplied by 6 is 8400 – up to 8400 hours spent poring over these scenes. To provide perspective, in the 365 days of the year, there are 8760 hours. Also considering that the regular work-week is 40 hours, that’s only 2000 hours in 52 weeks (also a year). It’s a lot of time, and a lot of effort. The artists that worked on the movie, all very talented and veterans of their field, had to adapt to the different style of the film that Mr. Takahata was going for, in which they would do things that they had never done before.
In the beginning of the movie, Mr. Takahata is asked what his thoughts were for making Kaguya the way it was. He says that he never considered making a true statement behind what would be his last movie – he thought his previous movie would be his last, anyway. He just let the movie become what it was.
There’s really not enough about the behind the scenes I could say without simply recommending the documentary behind the film – it’s easier to explain if you watch it yourself. It comes with the DVD/Blu-Ray release of the movie, and is a fascinating 80+ minutes into the mind of the other visionary behind Studio Ghibli.
P.S. Since we’re already a week into October, I’m going to have to postpone any other Ghibli movies so that October doesn’t end! I’ll be releasing a more detailed blog post soon about my plans for October!