Panda! Go, Panda!: The Rainy-Day Circus (パンダ・コパンダ 雨降りサーカスの巻)
(If you missed it, check out my essay on the first Panda! Go, Panda! film!)
In 1972, Isao Takahata and Hayao Miyazaki scored a pretty lucrative hit with the first Panda! Go, Panda! film. For Takahata, this success led A Production Studios to offer him a job as director of the animated series Suzunosuke of the Red Cuirass from the end of 1972 till the series end in 1973. But the studio also gave Takahata the go ahead to work on a sequel animation to the first Panda! Go, Panda! film.
The Panda! Go, Panda! films were short animations not suited for monetized release on television until years after theatrical release. But there was a problem with releasing the two films theatrically insofar as they are both around 30-40 minutes long each. Far too short for a feature length film. As a result, Toei played the films as opening shorts for their then-yearly Godzilla films. On December 17, 1972, Panda! Go, Panda! premiered alongside Godzilla vs. Gigan. And on the following year, Panda! Go, Panda! The Rainy-Day Circus premiered alongside Godzilla vs. Megalon.
The second film continues the adventures of Papa Panda, Pani, and Mimiko after the first film. Papa Panda and Pani still live in the local zoo, but Papa Panda now has a day job and often brings Pani to Mimiko’s house to visit. One night, they arrive back home late as a group to find a Circus Ringmaster and his employee rummaging through their home looking for something they have lost. They are scared away by the giant Papa Panda and later, Mimiko and the pandas find what their would-be burglars were searching for: A baby tiger named Tiny. Throughout these two vignettes of the burglars searching and then Pani searching, a second children’s fiction interest of Takahata and Miyazaki becomes apparent beyond that of Pippi Longstockings (whose character model Mimiko is based on): Goldilocks. Whereas Mimiko uses a regular toothbrush, Pani uses a small one and Papa Panda uses a large one. Their chairs in the kitchen and the sizes of their dinner plates are likewise aligned with their respective sizes. As Pani searches the house, he finds that his small towel was used by someone in the shower, his small french horn was played by someone and broken in the process, and Tiny is asleep in Pani’s small size bed.
Hi-jinks ensue as the gang bond with Tiny, go out on the town, visit the zoo, and eventually give Tiny back to his mother. But later, rains begin to pour down upon the city. They flood much of the valleys of the city and environs and even block access to the train tracks upon which the circus trains once traveled. The circus animals are trapped on board and it becomes the duty of Pani, Papa Panda, and Mimiko to save the day, which they do with relish.
The film is again, like the first, pretty thematically quaint and childish. But this can be forgiven because both Takahata and Miyazaki had young children at the time and wanted to create animations that their own children could enjoy with them. Nevertheless, there are again some great stylistic achievements in this installment of the Panda! Go, Panda! films. The opening night scenes of the Ringmaster and his croney invading Mimiko’s home are particularly beautifully animated with deep blues and blacks and careful attention to detail that makes the animation style closer to Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro than anything before in either Takahata’s or Miyazaki’s oeuvres. There is a really powerful scene of Mimiko and the pandas riding a bed as a raft along the waters toward town. the scene seems to take some inspiration from the phantasmagorical scenes of riding beds through the night sky envisioned by Winsor McCay more than sixty years prior in his Little Nemo in Slumberland comic series. The scene’s animator is the later- Ghibli staple and oft-times key animator Yoshifumi Kondo.
Whereas Takahata’s first animated film, Horus, five years prior was a hard-edged thematically adult tale of fantasy and revenge with stylistic violence and psychological realism that represents the 1st model of Studio Ghibli animation to come, the Panda! Go, Panda! films represent a 2nd model. A model wherein themes are less complex and more accessible to young children, but a beauty of animation is desired and the mark of mastery in animation, the pure and simple line, is achieved for the first time by these animators. With both of these keys in place, the future of Studio Ghibli animation was set into motion, but would not be called such for another 12 years. In the meantime, Takahata would develop a third stylistic innovation through his avant-garde approach in his next few films. This third approach would not carry over into the style of Miyazaki’s animation, and is as such, a uniquely Takahata phenomenon. but one that has also ultimately had a great deal of influence within Japanese animation as a whole and reveals Takahata to be potentially a more influential artist within the milieu of 20th century Japanese animation than even Miyazaki.
[Next up: Jarinko Chie, Chie the Brat]