Blu-ray Review: Modest Heroes: Ponoc Short Films Theatre



When Studio Ghibli shut down production after director Hayao Miyazaki retired in 2014, plenty of longtime animators had to find a new home. They weren’t all retiring. Producer Yoshiaki Nishimura (The Tale of Princess Kaguya & When Marnie Was There) set up Studio Ponoc and hired quite a few former co-workers. The new studio had a hit with their first feature Mary and the Witch’s Flower. The movie was directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi (When Marnie Was There). Now Studio Ponoc is back with Modest Heroes: Ponoc Short Films Theatre that features Yonebayashi along with Yoshiyuki Momose, and Akihiko Yamashita directing segments. The three films of Modest Heroes are very different in story and technique, but relate as they deal with the struggles of existence.

“Kanini & Kanino” (Yonebayashi) is about tiny magical people who live in a stream. They hunt fish using crab claw spears. The father takes care of the son and daughter, but one day things go bad when after a daring rescue, the father gets taken away by air bubbles. The kids must survive on their own as they go on a journey to find dad. It’s a pretty intense action piece especially when the kids have to deal with a trout. “Life Ain’t Gonna Lose” (Momose) follows a single mother keeping an eye out for her son. The child has an intense allergy to eggs. She seems like her fears are running out of control as she’s constantly checking things. But one day things go wrong when a food manufacturer changes the recipe. This short film really gets deep into the emotions involved with a parent raising a kid with a food allergy that can turn deadly. “Invisible” (Yamashita) is the tale of a man who nobody pays any attention so he’s become an empty suit at work and home. His ultimate quest is to find something of substance in his life before he blows away. The animation brings out the invisible man as he rides in the rain on his moped.

While it’s not quite fair to view this as a competition, “Life Ain’t Gonna Lose” is the stand out short in the pack. It packs an emotional wallop as it gets to core of dealing with the allergy and being a single parent. The other two shorts are entertaining so you can watch the entire collection without wanting to fast forward. The film wasn’t supposed to be just under an hour. Studio Ghibli co-founder Isao Takahata (Grave of the Fireflies) was going to direct the fourth segment. Sadly he passed away before he got deep into production. Who could replace him? So we have three segments.

The ultimate thing from Modest Heroes is a sense that Studio Ponoc has the talent and the vision to produce great animation in the near future. They’re not ready to retire (although neither was Miyazaki as he is making one last film at Studio Ghibli).

The video is 1.78:1 anamorphic. This high resolution shows off the detail in the artwork. The audio is DTS-HD MA 5.1. You have a choice between the Japanese and English tracks. Since the film is so short, you don’t have to choose and can listen to both. The movie is subtitled in English.

DVD with the film and bonus features.

The Modest Heroes of Studio Ponoc (21:35) has Producer Yoshiaki Nishimura discuss the importance of the short films in the development of the studio.

Film Completion Press Conference (9:43) is after the premier screening. The voice cast and the directors talk about their short films. This is where they discuss “existence” as theme to the films.

Japanese Cast Interviews (8:23) has the one cast member discuss having to talk in a crab language. They show off the vocal booth for the recording.

Art Gallery (4:52) is the background work.

Trailers and TV Spots (5:49) are various ways it was promoted in Japan and the USA.

GKIDS and Shout! Factory presents . Directed by: Hiromasa Yonebayashi, Yoshiyuki Momose & Akihiko Yamashita. Starring: Kentaro Sakaguchi, Sota Shinohara, Rio Suzuki, Min Tanaka, Fumino Kimura, Machiko Ono. Rated: Unrated. Running time: 54 minutes. Rated: Unrated. Released: June 18, 2019.

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