New Ghibli film releases today in Japan – now will we finally know what the hell it’s about?

Ghibli’s enigmatic new project will finally be revealed.

Miyazaki’s latest, and apparently final, feature film is being released in Japan today. How Do You Live? will be available to watch in IMAX, a first in Studio Ghibli’s accomplished history. But that’s not the most remarkable thing about this new release – that would be the fact that the film has deliberately not been promoted in any way, shape or form, leaving its contents a near-complete mystery. No trailer, no cast, nada.

This decision was made by hit-maker Toshio Suzuki, Studio Ghibli producer and general manager, who introduced a policy that only allowed for one poster and the name of the film to be shared publicly.

Upcoming Ghibli film, How Do You Live?
The film’s poster, featuring a bird of an unknown species. Personally, I think it’s a human wearing a bird-shaped mask – or is that just an eyeball in its beak?

Suzuki is known in the industry for introducing the “production committee method”, working with television stations and advertising agencies to launch wide-scale advertisements through multiple channels. This set the standard for film production everywhere, making the marketing strategy for How Do You Live? an especially bold one.

According to an interview by NHK News, Suzuki stated he wanted to “try gambling for the first time in [his] life” with Ghibli’s upcoming feature in the hopes that the limited information will ignite the imaginations of the audience, encouraging them to make the trip to the cinema. Programs will not be available to purchase at movie theatres, though (often a standard practice in Japan), ostensibly to prevent significant leaks of the film’s contents.

Toshio Suzuki of Studio Ghibli
Our man with a plan (or lack thereof), Toshio Suzuki.

From another interview by Unseen Japan, Suzuki explains that “it’s an issue of over-supply. From the perspective of the viewer, it’s like they’re taking away all the interesting parts.” It seems that Ghibli wishes to provide its audience with a spoiler-free experience, where the magic of cinema is confined (for now) to the big screen, and not chopped up into portions to be distributed on Twitter. A noble, if risky, cause.

Precious few other details have emerged about the film since the title announcement in October 2017. We do know that it is named after the 1937 novel by Genzaburo Yoshina, a favourite from Miyazaki’s childhood. The novel follows a 15-year-old boy and his uncle as they both come to terms with the human condition; while the film will not be an adaptation of this work, Suzuki has commented that Miyazaki wants this project to “provide the audience with the impact he received when he read it as a child”.

To the left is the novel’s cover art, and to the right is the 2018 manga adaptation (the best-selling book of that year).

The money that would have contributed to the marketing campaign, it seems, has been redirected to ensuring the quality of the film itself. Miyazaki’s major contribution to this project is storyboarding, as opposed to directing, and was adamant that every frame was to be hand-drawn. In a media landscape currently teeming with overly-manufactured reboots, sequels and prequels, it’s touching to see how much care this film is being handled with.

I have no doubt that moviegoers will immediately take to social media to unveil the mysteries of the film. A camrip or two, maybe. I’m as desperate as anyone to find out, but nonetheless I will be trying my best to dodge the spoilers. They’re called that for a reason – being exposed to important moments in a film or TV show can often put audiences off the entire affair, on the basis that they will not be able to organically enjoy the story.

Kiki's Delivery Service from Studio Ghibli
Ghibli is known for producing films with subtle or episodic plots, resisting the three-act structure favoured by big-budget productions to focus on the poignant details of everyday life.

Ghibli is imploring us to take a risk, just as they’re taking a risk, to engage with a film we’re not entirely sure is up our alley. But maybe it will be – maybe it’ll be a film you’d never dream of seeing otherwise, and it’ll open your eyes to a whole new genre to explore and enjoy. Or maybe not! That’s for you to find out.

So go and see the film if and when you can – just don’t tell me anything about it!

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