Jarinko Chie, Chie the Brat (じゃりン子チエ)
(To check out my previous Studio Ghibli essay click HERE!)
In 1973, Isao Takahata directed the sequel to his short film Panda! Go, Panda!, The Rainy-Day Circus. During the next few years, he, Miyazaki, and their friends like Yasuo Otsuka and Yoshifumi Kondo worked on various projects. Otsuka directed the first Lupin III film in 1968, while Miyazaki directed the second (his first feature) in 1969. Takahata worked as a pick-up director on Isamu, Boy of the Wilderness in 1974; Dog of Flanders in 1975; Monarch: The Big Bear of Tallac in 1977; and both Future Boy Conan and The Story of Perrine in 1978. He was also series director for Heidi, Girl of the Alps in 1974; 3000 Leagues in Search of Mother in 1976; and Anne of Green Gables in 1979.
So, in 1981 when Toho and Tokyo Movie Shinsha offered him a role as director for a film based on the long-running Jarinko Chie manga, he jumped at the chance and enlisted many of the friends and coworkers he had worked with throughout his career, most notably Otsuka, and most noticeably absent Miyazaki and Kondo.
The story involves a young girl named Chie who works at her father Tetsu’s Yakitori and Kushiyaki (types of Japanese shish-kabobs) bar. Tetsu is a thuggish oafish type who frequents gambling joints, constantly borrows money from his parents, and likes fighting off Yakuza from local establishments. Chie’s mother and father are inexplicably separated, a mystery that makes more surface-level the narrative rather than deepening it in any way. The owner of a local gambling house has it in for Tetsu and sicks his cat Antonio on Tetsu’s cat and Chie’s friend, Kotetsu. Kotetsu beats the cat (I would say handily, but you know) and rips off his testicle in the process. This weakens Antonio and the next day, while fighting a dog, he is killed. The fight and its repercussions eventually lead Antonio’s son to seek revenge on Kotetsu.
This revenge and the reintroduction of Chie’s mother Yoshie into the family are the two main plot points that link together the many gags and slice of life elements that make up this tableau of dysfunctional Japanese life in a quasi-magical realist setting with anthropomorphic animals. The film’s opening sequences set up a landscape of hard-living criminal types co-existing alongside average people in the big city, though the city is sprawling like Kyoto rather than vertical like Tokyo. Incidental and atmospheric jazz scores play lightly behind scenes of light-hearted, though real, struggle. Chie is still in elementary school but must work her absent father’s restaurant without even any maternal support. The scenes here remind of the 70s street works of American animator Ralph Bakshi, like Heavy Traffic and Coonskin. But the feeling is almost immediately dissolved in the following scenes as things turn campy and comic.
I enjoyed the film and can see how Takahata began to become more interested in urban living through this film: an interest that would later be apparent in films he directed like Gauche the Cellist, Only Yesterday, and especially in My Neighbors the Yamadas. The film was successful enough to spur on the production company Tokyo Movie Shinsha to ask Takahata to direct a full series about Chie’s life and quirky circumstances. The result would be a full two years of work from 1981-83 on a 64-episode anime series devoted to pictorializing the manga, making it more popular and widespread, and likewise making money for the company. Takahata achieved all three of these goals, created another film in the interim, and continued working alongside Miyazaki and Kondo sporadically. The scene seemed set to explode outwards as everything Miyazaki, Kondo, Otsuka, and Takahata produced or touched turned to gold and their rise to the level of studio heads and auteurs would come in just a few more years time.
[Next up: Gauche the Cellist]