How No Country for Old Men inspired the scariest anime villain of 2024

After a six-year hiatus, Studio Ponoc has finally released their latest feature film, The Imaginary, which was definitely worth the wait.

The Imaginary, a stunning and magical anime film, follows the story of Amanda and her imaginary friend Rudger. It explores the themes of innocence, empathy, and imagination in the midst of challenges in life. The movie is adapted from A.F. Harrold’s novel and effectively showcases the influence of animation.

Studio Ponoc founder Yoshiaki Nishimura produced and supplied the screenplay, while Yoshiyuki Momose served as director. With experience as a former Studio Ghibli producer, Yoshiaki brings a touch of Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata’s enchantment and charm to the project.

Not just in Studio Ghibli’s shadow

The Imaginary is not simply a tribute act, it encompasses more than that. Despite its stunning visuals, there are also profound existential themes present. Yoshiaki shared with us the process of merging these concepts together, and even some unexpected sources of inspiration.

The quality of filmmaking from Studio Ponoc is a crucial aspect of what makes The Imaginary so captivating. Throughout the Netflix movie, viewers are treated to stunning set pieces, including a mesmerizing light show in a library filled with Imaginaries (the term used within the movie’s universe for imaginary friends). This scene is particularly impressive and adds to the overall immersive experience.

The Imaginary

The Imaginary is overflowing with creativity

We encounter a myriad of individuals, both large and petite, who have each been a close companion to someone at some stage. They avoid disappearing by uniting and harnessing their unbridled imaginative vigor.

Yoshiaki delved deeply into this mythology, resulting in a first draft that was twice the length of what was ultimately shown on screen. The backstory alone was estimated to be ten times longer than what was seen and heard from the Imaginaries, but the film required more than just a detailed history.

The speaker explains that their main focus was not on creating a visually logical piece. They wanted to infuse a sense of whimsical nonsense in the characters, resulting in a playful and imaginative appearance.

The Imaginary

A Villain Stephen King Would Love

Mr Bunting is far from amusing. He is a disconcerting fiend who devours Imaginaries. He takes the form of a middle-aged man and is always accompanied by a child-like imaginary phantom. His presence is unsettling and everything about him makes one squirm, especially when he attempts to consume Rudger.

He reminded me of Pennywise the Clown, the terrifying, shapeshifting creature that feasts on children in Stephen King’s It. The filmmakers had another, equally unsettling reference in mind.

“According to Yoshiaki, Director Yoshiyuki Momose was influenced by the illustrations in the book and used them as a starting point for his own ideas. The characterizations were also inspired by Javier Bardem’s role in the film No Country for Old Men, with the sense of being constantly pursued and having no means of escape. This was a deliberate choice to create a sense of creepiness in the film.”

Similar to the character No Face in Spirited Away and the intense war in Howl’s Moving Castle, these acts of villainy ultimately lead to a positive outcome. They remind us of our strength, intelligence, creativity, and capacity for love and kindness.

Rudger in The Imaginary

Empathy is its own artistic pursuit

As we age and become consumed with the responsibilities of adulthood, these things tend to lose their significance. Yoshiaki’s message is to demonstrate that the act of maneuvering through life can be just as valuable as engaging in imaginary battles or creating finger-paint masterpieces.

“Although imagination is often associated with grand creations, such as those depicted in The Imaginary where a single person can create an entire world, I believe it is not limited to this form,”he reflects.

“I firmly believe that empathy is a type of imagination. It is the ability to truly comprehend the experiences of the person beside you. It also involves being able to empathize with someone in a refugee camp in a different country and understand the hardships faced by those children.”

The loss of imagination in today’s world is a growing concern. It is crucial for us to recognize and appreciate the chances we have to utilize our imagination. In fact, this ability may hold even greater significance than the power to create.

The Imaginary is currently available for streaming on Netflix.

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