Studio Ghibli’s Dark Forays Into Live-Action Films Are No Totoro

Studio Ghibli is not only one of the most celebrated animation studios in the world but has also produced two live-action films through its subsidiary Studio Kajino. Run by former Studio Ghibli president Toshio Suzuki, Studio Kajino's two films are a far cry from the sort of family-friendly material Studio Ghibli normally produces. Its two feature films, Shiki-Jitsu and Satorare, are both fairly obscure, lacking Western releases, and are far darker than you would expect from the company that brought you My Neighbor Totoro and Kiki's Delivery Service.

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Hideaki Anno's Shiki-Jitsu (2000)

Former Ghibli animator and Evangelion creator Hideaki Anno has directed multiple live-action films, with Cutie-Honey and Shin Godzilla being the most well-known. Shiki-Jitsu is Anno's second live-action film, following 1998's Love & Pop. Shiki-Jitsu follows an anime director who meets a woman detached from reality, who insists that tomorrow is her birthday every single day.

Much like Evangelion, Shiki-Jitsu is a mediation on depression. Unlike more crowd-pleasing features like Shin Godzilla, Shiki-Jitsu feels like a profoundly personal arthouse film for Anno. The nightmare fuel surreality of the film's second half is on-brand for the director, especially following the existential End of Evangelion, it feels like a far-cry for Ghibli.

Shiki-Jitsu is sometimes cold and detached, showing social drama in uncomfortable sequences. The closest comparison to any Ghibli film might be either Only Yesterday or When Marnie Was There in how both films tackle self-perspective and mental health, but even then, neither film really comes close to the psychological vulnerability presented in Anno's sophomore live-action effort.

Katsuyuki Motohito's Satorare (2001)

Similar to Shiki-Jitsu, Satorare is another story about psychological vulnerability. In Satorare's sci-fi setting, people's thoughts are broadcast into the world around them, exposing the inner sanctity of their minds. However, thanks to Japanese law, no one is allowed to tell these individuals their inner thoughts are exposed.

Between its two releases, it feels as though Studio Kajino decided to make adult stories centered on human vulnerability its central brand, in contrast to Ghibli's general sense of whimsy. It would be interesting to have seen more work from Studio Kajino, but it has not produced any more features since 2001. The studio wasn't even credited for its work on Satoware, its involvement only revealed via the DVD extras. Director Katsuyuki Motohito would go on to eventually enter the anime world with Psycho-Pass and the FLCL sequels.

For fans of Studio Ghibli, the two Studio Kajino films make for an interesting watch, but they're so different from the studio's animated fare that it makes sense they have yet to be officially released in the United States. Hopefully, some arthouse distributor will manage to give these dark obscure gems the official recognition they deserve.

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