I briefly mentioned last week how GKIDS are swiftly establishing themselves as the first name in arthouse animation — in large part thanks to their recent haul of three Oscar nominations in three years. (Their first-ever acquisition, “The Secret of Kells,” got the nod in 2009, while “Chico and Rita” and “A Cat in Paris” both cracked the 2011 lineup.)
Arguably an even bigger coup for their reputation as an animation house, however, has been the pact they formed last year with Studio Ghibli, the Japanese giant whose films were previously distributed Stateside by Disney. Not only will GKIDS be releasing Ghibli’s latest film “From Up on Poppy Hill” — one of their four Oscar hopefuls this year — in US theaters next March, but they’ve also secured the theatrical rights to 14 titles from the Ghibli library, many of them directed by Hayao Miyazaki. Those include 2002 Oscar winner “Spirited Away,” 2005 nominee “Howl’s Moving Castle” and enduring children’s favorite “My Neighbour Totoro.”
Today, it was announced that GKIDS has added to its collection one of Ghibli’s most complex and sophisticated features: Isao Takahata’s 1988 classic “Grave of the Fireflies,” a devastating anti-war drama following two starving, orphaned children in flashback through the dying days of WWII in Kobe. It’s a remarkable film that knocked me sideways when I first saw it a few years back, not least because I watched it back-to-back with the far gentler “Totoro” — which, coincidentally enough, is how the films were first released in Japan.
Once hailed by Roger Ebert as one of the greatest war films ever made, it’s a film that could do with more exposure, and GKIDS plans to give it with a 25th-anniversary re-release next year, and a place in their travelling Studio Ghibi Retrospective, currently making its way through North American theaters. Having secured the rights to the film from a separate Japanese company, Toho, GKIDS president Eric Beckman offered this statement: “This deal finally reunites a great Isao Takahata masterwork with the rest of the Studio Ghibli films. It is a profoundly moving film and an essential part of the Ghibli legacy.”
It’s a nice build-up to the studio’s first release of a new Ghibli film — “From Up on Poppy Hill,” which was written by Hayao Miyazaki and directed by his son Goro, was Japan’s top grosser in 2011, so they’ll be hoping for solid arthouse business in the States. An Oscar nomination, of course, would be helpful in that regard, though they’re facing some stiff competition — not least from themselves.