This week’s piece goes back the 1970s and looks at one of the earliest works by two of the most influential people in anime: Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata, before the foundation of Studio Ghibli a decade later.
Panda! Go, Panda! is a short children’s film, 33 minutes long, released in 1972. Takahata directed the film while Miyazaki wrote it. It became so popular that a sequel, Panda! Go, Panda! – The Rainy-Day Circus was released in 1973. The successes of both these films help to establish both Takahata and Miyazaki, leading to their successful film directing careers in the years to come.
The first film sees a little girl named Mimiko seeing her grandmother off at a train station, meaning she is now living on her own, with no parents. However, she is a bright, confident girl who knows that she can cope just fine. Back in her house, which is in the middle of a bamboo grove, she finds a baby panda on the back doorstep, named Panny. Mimiko and Panny becomes friends, but then Mimiko receives another visitor: Panny’s father, PapaPanda. Mimiko becomes friends with him too, and the two pandas decide to live with Mimiko. Now Mimiko has a father figure, and is also mother figure to Panny. The story follows their friendship, as well as dealing with the locals who are shocked to find a panda living in the town.
In The Rainy-Day Circus, Mimiko and the pandas find a tiger cub named Tiny, who comes from a nearby circus, has snuck into the house. They then try to return Tiny to his mother, but things go bad when a big rain storm causes a massive flood and the circus ringmaster is forced to leave the animals on a flooded train. It is up to Mimiko, PapaPanda and Panny to save the day.
While the most notable aspect of these two films is the people who made it and their future careers, it is also interesting to note why it became so successful. In 1971, Miyazaki and Takahata were in a bit of trouble, when a plan to make an anime adaptation of Pippi Longstocking was rejected. Luckily, a story about pandas was a good move to make. Japan was in the middle of a panda craze, due to the Chinese practice of “panda diplomacy”. The Chinese government had given a pair of giant pandas on loan to Tokyo’s Ueno Zoo, the oldest zoo in Japan. As a result, pandas were all the rage, so a film about panda was always going to appeal to the public at the time.
Panda! Go, Panda! was later referenced in later works by Miyazaki and Takahata. Many people consider the pandas depicted to be a later influence on Totoro, the friendly beast in Studio Ghibli’s My Neighbour Totoro (No. 39), which became the mascot of the company.
There are other recurring elements too, namely the fact that although these are children’s films, at times there are moments which you feel would not appear in a western kids movie. The most notable of these is that Mimiko is very keen on doing handstands – but because Mimiko is always depicted in a skirt, her dress always falls down and you see her underpants.
Panda! Go, Panda! is an enjoyable, happy, quick burst of fun, which also help to establish greater things to come.
Panda! Go, Panda! is released on DVD by Manga Entertainment.