Nasu: Summer in Andalusia

There aren’t too many individuals who have worked for Studio Ghibli for the majority of their careers and also had the opportunity to direct films of their own. There are three people who directed a film for the Studio, but were never able to direct another one for one reason or other, and didn’t go on to direct much in the way of feature animations for other Studios: Tomomi Mochizuki (Ocean Waves), Hiroyuki Morita (The Cat Returns), and Yoshifumi Kondo (Whisper of the Heart). There is Hayao Miyazaki’s son Goro who has directed two features (Tales from EarthseaFrom Up On Poppy Hill) for the Studio, as well as Ghibli’s first Television series (Ronja, The Robber’s Daughter), and is currently working on his third feature, which will eschew traditional 2-D animation for CGI (which is making people a little wary about the Studio’s future).

There’s the in-house talent of Hiromasa Yonebayashi who began his career at Ghibli, directed two films for the Studio (The Secret World of ArriettyWhen Marnie Was There), and has since moved on to co-found Studio Ponoc where he has already directed a very Ghibli-esque feature in Marnie and the Witch’s Flower, and is set to release an anthology film in the Summer of 2018. Then, there are just a handful of individuals who have worked as animators on Ghibli productions and then moved onto other Studios to direct. Individuals like Sunao Katabuchi and Kitaro Kosaka.

The career of the former of these two men I’ve covered in some detail over the past month. However, Kosaka is someone I’ve just learned about myself. He began his career as an artist in 1982 as an in-between and key animator on Isao Takahata’s pre-Ghibli feature Jarinko Chie (which is based upon a manga by Hayao Miyazaki). As a key animator since, he has committed his skills to legendary anime like Angel’s Egg, Royal Space Force: The Wings of HonnemaiseAkira, and Metropolis, as well as many a Ghibli feature in the decade from 1984-1994 including Nausicaa of the Valley of the WindCastle in the SkyGrave of the Fireflies, and Pom Poko.

In 1995, Kosaka moved on from key animation to a role as animation director on Whisper of the Heart, then to supervising animation director in the following years on Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away. And in 2003, all of this experience as an artist and as a supervising director for the animators on acclaimed Ghibli productions finally paid off. Kosaka has developed a fascination with a three-volume manga by Io Kuroda called Nasu, which Hayao Miyazaki had recommended to him. He optioned the idea of making the first volume of the manga into an OVA and eventually got the green light to produce one for Studio Madhouse, which coincidentally had a long working relationship with Studio Ghibli.

Furthermore, Kosaka managed to hire many other Studio Ghibli regulars and contemporaries to work as animators on his film. But most importantly, he snagged editor Takeshi Seyama for the Nasu project: a man who has edited almost every single Ghibli film and has a lot to do with constructing the animated material into a form that is cogent, emotionally gripping, and most importantly, characteristically Ghibli. The result is a film that is taut (only 47 minutes long), well-constructed, and beautifully animated within a tradition of Ghibli animation connected most closely to the visual style of Lupin III and Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro. 

The Nasu stories are slice of life comedies in the manga, which are not connected in any rational, geographic, or characterological manner. The one Kosaka latched onto for his film was the story of a Spanish cyclist named Pepe Benengeli who has worked very hard to develop his skills and become a professional. He and his brother, Angel, held a rivalry as youths, and as a teenager, it was Pepe’s older brother who was natural cyclist of the two. But he gave up cycling for business and later became a rich industrialist in their hometown in the Iberian region of Andalusia. Pepe continued cycling, joined the military, and biked his way through his service on their cycling team. But while he was gone, his young love, Carmen, fell in love with his brother and the two became betrothed.

Years later, Pepe is a struggling cyclist on the Italian Pao Pao Beer team. They haven’t had a win in some time and look to lose all funding and sponsorship if they don’t start winning. The team can only financially function into the first few months of next year as it is and really need to fight their hardest lest each individual cyclist on the team becomes unemployable and un-sponsorable as well. The next race is the Vuelta a Espana, which passes through Pepe’s hometown, coincidentally on the same day that Carmen and Angel are getting married. Pepe wants to win in his own town to represent the region well, but more importantly, to send a message to his brother and his past lover who left him. To show that his commitment to cycling wasn’t a waste.

Early into the event, Pepe conserves his energy by staying back with his teammates in formation. But after his fellow Pao Pao Beer rider, Gilmore, crashes and injures himself, and it is apparent that the other star cyclist on the team, Ciocci, is fatigued, he realizes that he must take the lead and try to hold it. Furthermore, in the team car, his manager and sponsors accidentally leave the com interface on when discussing potentially firing Pepe for not performing at the levels they desired during the races earlier that year. This spurs on Pepe to race as hard as he can and fight to stay in the lead for the entire race if need be. Something he narrowly accomplishes, but only after almost killing himself in the process. The sacrifice ends in his team getting some much-needed points to go on being competitive and allows Pepe to keep his sponsorship, his financial freedom, and his pride in performing so well in Andalusia, his home.

Nasu: A Summer in Andalusia was extremely well-received critically and won many animation awards at festivals within Japan. It was also the first anime to ever be selected for showing at the Cannes Film Festival in France: the most prestigious film festival on the planet. And as the film is something of a product of Ghibli methods, prestige, and personnel, it showed the world the critical power of Ghibli animation as an artistic force. A few years later, Kosaka would go on to create a sequel for the film, which I will confront in more detail next week. Till then.


Cody Ward

[Next up: Nasu: A Migratory Bird with Suitcase]

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