Lost Anime: Anchor

It’s hard to dig up any details on Anchor. I can’t find any production sketches or promotional art from the film, and I’ve never seen so much as a sentence about its storyline. That’s understandable, since it never ventured past the planning stages in the depths of Studio Ghibli.

So why is Anchor notable? Because it involved three of the anime industry’s most intriguing directors: Mamoru Oshii, Hayao Miyazaki, and Isao Takahata. In 1985, Oshii went to work on a project at Studio Ghibli, which Miyazaki and Takahata had recently established. The three of them planned to assemble a film called Anchor, which saw Oshii directing while the Ghibli founders produced.

The whole thing fell apart in record time. According to Oshii, the three of them scarcely worked out a plotline before arguing and going their separate ways. Nausicaa.net has Oshii’s take on his whole Ghibli experience, with opinions both fascinating and bizarre. He doesn’t say exactly what broke up the project, though. Perhaps Miyazaki mentioned that he “never liked Basset Hounds very much.”

Anchor remains fascinating for the same reasons that likely killed it: Oshii’s style is often markedly at odds with the Ghibli aesthetic. He’s crafted enjoyable TV comedies like Urusei Yatsura and a good chunk of Patlabor, but his more personal projects tend toward the dense poltical flavor of the second Patlabor film and the moody lament of Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence. Miyazaki tends to make happier, brighter, family-oriented movies, and Takahata’s work explores much the same ground. Anchor was conceived just after Oshii directed the ornate, mystifying Angel’s Egg (left) and Miyazaki completed the spirited adventure film Castle in the Sky (right). Combining the two would make an interesting mess, if nothing else.

Neither Oshii nor the Ghibli leaders mourned Anchor that much. Miyazaki and Takahata soon crafted Only Yesterday, Porco Rosso, and numerous other films that would make Ghibli the biggest name in Japan’s animation world. Oshii went on to direct the second Twilight Q episode in 1987, and the coming years would launch him into Patlabor and Ghost in the Shell. Even so, his recollections of working at Ghibli are particularly relevant in the light of the studio's present condition. Ghibli goes through new directors at a rapid pace, and rumors of the company's draconian leadership fit right into Oshii’s tale of the short-lived Anchor. Maybe one day he’ll tell us more about what the movie could have become.