We’re just about a month away from the 87th Academy Awards presentation, and if you’re a general cinema fan, odds are you’ve been looking forward to the event. However, if the only thing that can make you take a trip to the theater is a screening of a Studio Ghibli anime, you might not have been expecting too much from the gala to be held at Los Angeles’ Dolby Theater.
Ghibli’s newest film, When Marnie Was There, hasn’t been getting the sort of rave reviews of a Spirited Away or Princess Mononoke. Six months after its Japanese release, Marnie is mostly forgotten in its home country and still unreleased in North America, making it ineligible for this year’s Oscar race.
Thanks to the time lag caused by international distribution, though, Ghibli does have one film eligible for the upcoming academy awards, and it just cleared the first hurdle with the Academy announcing The Tale of Princess Kaguya as a nominee in the Best Animated Feature Category.
Although Kaguya premiered in Japanese theatres in late 2013, it wasn’t until the following year that it arrived in North America. Helmed by Isao Takahata, the director best known for heart-rending Word War II tragedy Grave of the Fireflies, Kaguya is based on the Japanese folktale often referred to in English as The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter.
Many of Kaguya’s elements will be familiar to viewers who’ve read or know the basic structure of the 10th century literary classic it draws from. Its visual style, though, is unprecedented, composed of subdued colors and vaguely sketched outlines that are in stark contrast to the ultra-polished look of most other Studio Ghibli films.
Also nominated for Best Animated Feature are Big Hero 6, The Boxtrolls, How to Train Your Dragon 2, and Song of the Sea. Unlike Ghibli’s last shot at winning an Oscar, when Hayao Miyazaki’s swansong The Wind Rises got steamrolled by Frozen in 2014, none of Kaguya’s competitors completely set the world on fire (despite our growing infatuation with Big Hero 6’s Baymax). As such, what’s assumed by many to be Takahata’s final film has a fighting chance, although it will still have to overcome what seems to be a growing distaste in North America for non-CG animation.
▼ Since the establishment of the Best Animated Feature in 2001, Miyazaki’s Spirited Away is the sole hand-drawn film to win the award, and one of only two winners that weren’t computer animated.
With Hayao Miyazaki retired from theatrical animation and having already received an honorary Oscar for his body of work, Marnie’s lukewarm reception, and the possible disbanding of Studio Ghibli as we know it, this may be the last opportunity for Japan’s most respected animation house to bring home the Academy’s highest honor. We’ll find out whether or not it did at the awards ceremony on February 22.