yoshiaki nishimura interview

An underwater fantasy epic. A slice-of-life drama about a kid suffering from an egg allergy. An invisible man who becomes an unlikely hero. All three of these stories are segments from Studio Ponoc‘s Modest Heroes, an anthology film following up the animation studio’s highly anticipated inaugural feature film, Mary and the Witch’s Flower.

Modest Heroes comes to the U.S. (in theaters January 10 and January 12) amidst a sea of buzz, much like last year’s Mary and the Witch’s Flower, an enchanting and serene fantasy adventure directed by the director of The Secret World of Arrietty. Why so much buzz around a rookie animation studio? Because it’s made up of chiefly Studio Ghibli alumni.

It’s no surprise that Studio Ponoc is being informally positioned as the successor to Studio Ghibli in the wake of legendary anime director Hayao Miyazaki‘s retirement (and subsequent return). The fledgling studio was founded by Yoshiaki Nishimura, the Oscar-nominated producer behind Isao Takahata’s The Tale of Princess Kaguya, and is staffed by the 150 Ghibli employees who were left without a workplace after Ghibli’s film division shuttered in 2014. But though many rising companies would shrink at the prospect of being compared to one of the greatest animation studios to ever exist, Nishimura is embracing it.

“At Studio Ponoc it was really our intention to carry on the Ghibli spirit,” Nishimura told /Film in an interview via translator. “That was our biggest personal challenge to meet that high bar.”

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mary and the witch's flower trailer

Studio Ghibli may have closed its doors (for now), but Studio Ponoc is here to try to live up to its mantle as the premiere animated studio outside of Disney and Pixar.

Ponoc already has a lot going for it — the studio was founded by Hiromasa Yonebayashi, an animator on Spirited Away, and the director of acclaimed late-era Ghibli fare like The Secret World of Arrietty and When Marnie Was There. And Ponoc’s first official film, Mary and the Witch’s Flower, seems to be animated in the house style of Ghibli as well, making it an easy transition for any hardcore Ghibli fans. Let’s see if the film holds up to that daunting reputation.

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