The film is directed by Yoshiyuki Momose, who directed the Life Ain’t Gonna Lose segment in Ponoc’s anthology film Modest Heroes, as well as the studio’s official Olympics short Tomorrow’s Leaves. A veteran of Studio Ghibli, Momose storyboarded and animated on films such as Grave of the Fireflies, Princess Mononoke, and Spirited Away.
Ponoc founder Yoshiaki Nishimura is producing The Imaginary, as he did the studio’s previous films. Nishimura too cut his teeth at Ghibli, where he produced The Tale of the Princess Kaguya and When Marnie Was There.
With Mary and the Witch’s Flower, Ponoc pitched itself as a kind of successor to Ghibli, which was on hiatus when Ponoc was founded. Several artists moved from the venerable studio to work on Mary, which channeled many visual and narrative elements from Ghibli films. But Ponoc then shook things up with Modest Heroes, an unconventional package of three stylistically disparate shorts.
There is a Ghibliesque feel to The Imaginary, not least due to the choice to adapt an English fantasy novel. But the teaser reveals little. Momose is a very accomplished artist. This, the second feature he has helmed, will give us a better sense of whether he has the directorial vision to match.
Correction: This article incorrectly stated that “The Imaginary” is Momose’s feature directorial debut. It is not. He also directed NiNoKuni, released in 2019.