Hayao Miyazaki’s misplaced film: Before Studio Ghibli, there was Rowlf

Hayao Miyazaki’s lost movie: Before Studio Ghibli, there was Rowlf

May 25-30 is Studio Ghibli Week at Polygon. To have a good time the arrival of the Japanese animation home’s library on digital and streaming companies, we’re surveying the studio’s historical past, affect, and largest themes. Follow alongside by way of our Ghibli Week web page.

Hayao Miyazaki doesn’t all the time make films with youngsters in thoughts. His most up-to-date movie, The Wind Rises, is stuffed with difficult grownup themes, and the extraordinary violence of Princess Mononoke was sufficient for Disney to distribute the movie in America via Miramax, its adult-oriented model within the late ’90s. But even his most grownup fare wouldn’t come near a film he virtually made: Rowlf.

Rowlf is an American comedian written by Richard Corben. As with a few of Corben’s different work, Rowlf is an exploitation-style comedian stuffed with over-the-top violence and nudity. The comedian was initially printed in a small newspaper earlier than it made its solution to the pages of Heavy Metal Magazine, the place Corben gained a lot of his notoriety and fame.

The major character of the comedian is a princess’ canine companion named Rowlf. When the princess is kidnapped by demons, an evil wizard who believes that Rowlf killed the princess tries to remodel him into a person so he can admit his crimes. However, the spell fails and transforms Rowlf right into a half-human half-dog hybrid. After his transformation, Rowlf units off to seek out his princess and rescue her in a demon-killing spree. In 1980, Hayao Miyazaki wished to adapt it right into a film.

The cover of the second printing of Rowlf by Richard Corben

Image: Rip Off Press by way of Heavymetal.com

Miyazaki expressed his curiosity in adapting Rowlf in a proposal written to Corben himself, the place he acknowledged that the subject material may be slightly unusual for Japanese audiences, however that he thought it will be successful in America. Miyazaki apparently deliberate to vary the story barely by making Rowlf remodel right into a half-man, half-dog due to his love for the princess and need to guard her, moderately than due to a spell.

Along with the brand new story concepts, Miyazaki additionally included some concept art for his model of the film. True to Studio Ghibli’s different diversifications, moderately than adapt his fashion to be extra like Corbyn’s darkish, gritty, closely shaded work of Corben, he was going to reinterpret the unique in his personal custom.

Artwork from Rowlf by Richard Corben

Corben’s Voice of Comicdom cowl for Rowlf
Image: Richard Corben/Adventures in Comicdom

The princess is extra childlike and has similar features to some of Miyazaki’s earlier work like Lupin the third. Rowlf himself looks cuter, softer, and move love-able — at the same time as he brandishes an assault rifle.

Corben rejected the proposal, however it’s clear he wasn’t in opposition to the concept of animation. A 12 months later, Corben’s Heavy Metal Magazine comedian, Den, could be tailored as one of many segments within the animated film, Heavy Metal, which stayed a lot nearer in fashion to his personal unique artwork.

Despite the rejection, Miyazaki didn’t neglect about Rowlf fully. In reality, it’s straightforward to see how Miyazaki was impressed by Corben’s work in Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, which got here out simply 4 years after he wrote his proposal to the creator. Rowlf’s setting is Canisland, which pushes collectively parts of medieval castles and fantasy with trendy expertise. The demons within the story use machine weapons and tanks, however attack castles and kidnap princesses.

While Miyazaki’s movies typically contain mechanical applied sciences in fantasy worlds, Nausicaä feels particularly knowledgeable by this misplaced challenge, with its mechanical flying machines and tanks. In Miyazaki’s concept art for Rowlf you may already see the beginnings of the vehicles that would later show up in the film.

Another piece of Miyazaki’s proposal for a Rowlf animated characteristic included a bigger position for the princess’ father. While the king is basically absent from Corben’s unique story, Miyazaki’s wished to make him an ineffectual ruler who let his kingdom waste away as a consequence of neglect. This plot line, in its entirety, appears to make its method straight from Miyazaki’s rejected proposal to Nausicaa, the place the princess’ father additionally fails his kingdom via poor rule.

It’s troublesome to see the place a narrative a couple of bipedal canine who blows up demons with a tank would match into the secure of Miyazaki classics at this level. However, trying again, it’s laborious to not really feel cheated out of seeing one of the crucial necessary animators ever, work on a very totally different form of story than he’s explored earlier than. But perhaps it’s sufficient to know that Miyazaki’s seeming fascination with Richard Corben and Heavy Metal Magazine-style comics helped give us an underrated gem like Nausicaä, and to marvel the place a Rowlf film would have taken Miyazaki if he had made it.

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