This is what the 1989(1992) movie could have been…
I got the link from AICN, which incorrectly claimed that Miyazaki worked on it. Not true! But utterly amazing nonetheless.
Read the whole post that goes over the tortured history of the project here at CartoonBrew:
And particularly this comment by Daniel Thomas MacInnes. I hope he doesn’t mind that I quoted it in its entirety, but it’s the most informative post in the comments section on CartoonBrew and I can’t figure out how to deep-link to it.
Great job on bringing up Nemo. I actually wrote about the 1984 Nemo pilot on the Ghibli blog, and showed the entire four-minute short. You can read my post by clcking on the website link above.
The 1984 Nemo pilot was created by Yoshifumi Kondo (director), Kazuhide Tomonaga (animation director/e-konte/key animator), Nobuo Tomizawa (key animation), Kyoto Tanaka (key animation), and Nizo Yamamoto (art director).
Tomonaga is one of the great action men of the period. You’ve seen his work before and likely didn’t realize it. For instance, he animated the car chase from Castle of Cagliostro; the destruction of the floating city in Castle in the Sky; numerous action scenes from Sherlock Hound; and any number of Studio Ghibli movies. Tomonaga also worked on several WB cartoons in the early ’90s, including Animaniacs and Batman – he animated the original opening to Batman, actually.
I think the Nemo pilot is one of the great highlights of Japanese animation. It’s a thrilling example of what makes anime great. There’s that kinetic action, the wide cinematic sweep, the brilliant sense of imagination, and a terrific sense of polish. Anime at its best always defined “cool” animation. Of course, you have to dig deeper than naked chicks and giant robots to discover this.
If you’re a Ghibli freak and a very careful observer, you’ll spot some cuts that were later quoted in My Neighbor Totoro and Porco Rosso. Parts also point back to Sherlock Hound, which in turn pointed back to Toei’s 1971 movie Animal Treasure Island (another essential cartoon classic, especially for Miyazaki fans).
As this was a “pilot” film, there was no attempt to dig any deeper than the thrilling, freewheeling action setpiece. But it’s a perfect example of where Kondo and his team would have gone, if everything didn’t fall apart. To me, this sequence is far closer to Windsor McKay’s original vision than the watered-down Disneyesque version that was finally made. That movie was much more of an embarrassment, if only because it was so blandly lifeless, forced into the Disney paradigm as so much American animation was. Why Westerners could never grasp any other paradigms for the medium puzzles me.
Kondo was more of a veteran than most Westerners realize, however; his career dates back to the original Lupin III tv series (1971-72), where he met Takahata and Miyazaki, who were directors. He was later involved in the two Panda Kopanda films shortly after. He worked on Miyazaki’s Future Boy Conan in 1978, and was Animation Director for Sherlock Hound. His most important collaboration was with Isao Takahata for Anne of Green Gables in 1979, where he served as the Character Designer. His more naturalist style of drawing was exactly what Takahata wanted, in pursuit of his own documentary/neorealist/Ozu fueled work. At Ghibli, Kondo became Takahata’s right-hand man, as seen with Grave of the Fireflies, Omohide Poro Poro and Pom Poko. Kondo, of course, was a big player at Ghibli and certainly set to sit alongside Takahata and Miyazaki as the studio directors, if not for his 1997 death.
It’s always a bit of a problem that Americans know so little of Japanese animation. But there’s little interest or desire to notice anything before Ghibli, or to be aware of any name other than Miyazaki. Anything from Japan that’s good is dimly dubbed as a “Miyazaki” anime, which often is not the case. This just reinforces the notion of Americans as not very bright, as people who can’t retain more than one foreign name at a time.
Ahem. Not to become cranky on the subject. We’re all doing the best we can. There’s still only a small handful of resources to turn to for a history of Japanese anime. Ben Ettinger’s Anipages is the gold standard. I’ve tried to follow suit with Conversations on Ghibli.