Wednesday, December 23, 2009

REVIEW: Panda! Go, Panda! (1972)

You have to rear-vision yourself way back to 1972 to see where it all really began, 27 years ago with the anime crafted by a young Hayao Miyazaki (then aged 31) and his mentor, director Isao Takahata.

Thirteen years later the duo would found Studio Ghibli (just after releasing their landmark epic, Kaze no Tani no Naushika, or Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, in 1984), and later still change the way we perceive animation with the release of Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi (Spirited Away) in 2001.

But if you really want to look at the heritage behind the most recent Studio Ghibli offering Gake no Ue no Ponyo (Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea, which has finally hit the Western world through its English dub) along with next year's Karigurashi no Arrietty (The Borrower Arrietty, directed by Ghibli animator Hiromasa Yonebayashi), you need to channel your attentions back beyond Spirited Away and further in time to the early '70s, back to a little show called Panda! Go Panda! and then wonder... Is this the most insane anime ever made?

Well, perhaps not; there was a sequel (Panda! Go Panda!: Rainy Day Circus), released the following year. And, really, you have to watch them both back-to-back for the real lunacy to sink in.

The original press release from distributors Toho was clue enough. “Mimiko lives with her grandmother beside a bamboo grove,” it reported in suitably stilted English. “One day Mimiko's grandmother goes away for a while, leaving Mimiko to herself. A baby panda appears in the garden along with its father, Papa Panda. Mimiko asks if Mr. Panda could be her father too, and he agrees.”

And that’s it. No further warning. Nothing.

In truth, after one viewing you’ll come away convinced that Mimiko is better described as Pippi Longstocking after having sucked up too much caffeine, while Papa Panda is a psychotic prototype-critter for Miyazaki’s later cherished title character from Tonari no Totoro (My Neighbour Totoro, 1988).

Even so, it’s also absolutely brilliant.

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