Netflix announced on Thursday that it has signed an exclusive multi-film distribution deal with Studio Ponoc, the Japanese animation house billed as the heir to Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata’s famed Studio Ghibli. That deal means Netflix plans to distribute Ponoc’s upcoming anime movie The Imaginary around the world later this year, after the film’s exclusive Japanese premiere.
Founded by Ghibli vet Yoshiaki Nishimura shortly after Studio Ghibli announced an impending shutdown in 2014, Studio Ponoc makes animated films and shorts in a visual and narrative style very similar to Ghibli’s. Its first feature, 2017’s Mary and the Witch’s Flower, is about as close to a Miyazaki movie as anyone has managed without being Miyazaki himself. Ponoc’s follow-up, the 2018 shorts compilation Modest Heroes, was more experimental, conveying the sense of a studio searching for its own distinct identity.
Since then, Studio Ponoc has mostly been quiet, apart from producing the lovely Olympics-inspired animated short “Tomorrow’s Leaves” and popping up with animation assistance credits on various anime features, including Mamoru Hosoda’s hit Mirai and Miyazaki’s own feature The Boy and the Heron.
Netflix’s press release says that the platform will become “the exclusive streaming home of upcoming Studio Ponoc films.” That deal does not currently include Mary and the Witch’s Flower or Modest Heroes, which both previously streamed on Netflix, and are now available for digital rental through a variety of services.
Studio Ponoc’s film The Imaginary, based on a 2014 novel by British author A.F. Harrold, is an adventure about a young girl and her imaginary friend, and about the world and life cycles of imaginary friends. It is directed by Yoshiyuki Momose, who helmed “Tomorrow’s Leaves” and the “Life Ain’t Gonna Lose” short in Modest Heroes. Here’s Netflix’s description:
Studio Ponoc’s The Imaginary portrays the depths of humanity and creativity through the eyes of young Amanda and her imaginary companion, Rudger. Their fantastical adventures, launched from her attic, lead them to discover a magical world of creatures and places never before seen until a sinister force threatens to destroy their imaginary world and the friendship within it. Directed by renowned animator Yoshiyuki Momose (Spirited Away), The Imaginary is an unforgettable adventure of love, loss, and the healing power of imagination.
The Imaginary is currently set for Japanese release on Dec. 15.