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Postcards from Japan - Jake Cunningham, from the Ghibliotheque podcast

Producer, writer, broadcaster and podcaster, Jake Cunningham

Producer and writer, Jake Cunningham’s first experience with Japan was through football back in 2002 with FIFA World Cup being hosted in Japan and South Korea. This branched out to Japanese cinema as he got older and his interest in film grew, but it wasn’t until starting the Ghibliotheque podcast with co-host, Michael Leader that he finally dived into the world of Studio Ghibli and really got to know the country on a deeper level! We talk to Jake about the Ghibliotheque’s second book and his journey on the podcast, including favourite moments his trip to Japan!

Jake (left) and Michael (right) at a book signing event with their two books, the first being 'Ghibliotheque: The Unofficial Guide to the Movies of Studio Ghibli'

Hi Jake, thanks for joining us today. To kick things off, could you tell us a bit about yourself? 
Lovely to be here! I’m a producer, writer and broadcaster mostly working within film, although I do dabble with the occasional bit of TV and commercial work too. I’ve analysed cinema through video essays for the BBC, Prime Video and Little White Lies and have written about film for Empire Magazine, The I, NME and others. In 2021, an animated short film I wrote and produced called Blue Bottle premiered at the BFI London Film Festival. 

The Ghibliotheque team in the recording studio

The Ghibliotheque podcast recently released its much-awaited second book in October, after the huge success of the first - please tell us about the books and the journeys behind them.
The books have been a real adventure. The idea of the first one was to adapt the podcast I host, with former Postcards from Japan guest Michael Leader, into a book. We’d take all of Studio Ghibli’s films, and just like the podcast, Michael would reveal the history and context behind each release and then I’d offer up my review, approaching the films from a fresh, accessible angle. There was so much interest in the first book that before it was released, we were planning the second one, which is out now, and brings readers a selection of Japanese animated features beyond the works of Studio Ghibli that we think are well worth seeking out. 

A close-up of the Ghibliotheque podcast's second book, 'The Ghibliotheque Anime Movie Guide' by Jake Cunningham and Michael Leader, featuring artwork of 'Akira' by Katsuhiro Otomo
Were you a Japan fan before the podcast, and how have your impressions changed since diving into the world of Ghibli?
Well, like many people my age, especially football fans, my first experience of Japan was the 2002 FIFA World Cup. I remember seeing the passion from the fans, the exhilarating segments that would travel into the heart of Tokyo or out into the countryside, and of course being on the other side of the world, I fondly remember a lot of early mornings to catch the games that started before school. So for a long time my perception of the country was that of busy, neon-lit city streets, serene rolling hills and insatiable football fans! As I got older and became more interested in film, I gradually learned more and more about Japan’s cinema, but Ghibli was a huge blind-spot for me and was something that the podcast allowed me to finally explore. Since then I’ve had the pleasure of learning so much more about the country, from spirituality, to economics, to food, and so much more. And I feel like I’ve still only just scratched the surface, there’s still so much for me to learn, which is an extremely exciting position to be in. 

Jake and Michael outside the Studio Ghibli Corporate Office in Koganei, Tokyo
What is your favourite Studio Ghibli film and why?
It has to be My Neighbour Totoro. I wasn’t totally locked on a favourite until the pandemic happened. During moments of uncertainty and anxiety, we gravitate towards the things that give us comfort and direction, and that’s what Totoro did for me. It’s the film I watched most during that time, the music, the colours, the atmosphere, the way the little Totoros scoot across the grass, it all seemed to help bring me a sense of balance. Perhaps it’s because we couldn’t go outside, but seeing nature and humanity commune and support each other was a balm. Since then I’ve had more fondness for the film than I had before and it’s been firmly sat at the top of the pile. 

Michael and Jake taking a photo with the sculpture of the iron giant from the film, 'Laputa: Castle in the Sky' at the Ghibli Museum, Tokyo
What was the most surprising thing you learnt from the podcast so far? (It can be about Japan, the culture, Ghibli or the animation industry in general)
I think the biggest surprise for me has been the breadth of the stories and styles of films that Ghibli make. Because Hayao Miyazaki’s films are the most widely known worldwide, I was familiar with the look and fantastical elements of his works, before I had even started the podcast. The people I didn’t know about were the likes of Isao Takahata, Yoshifumi Kondō or Hiromasa Yonebayashi, and all the wonderful films that they’ve made. Only Yesterday, Whisper of the Heart and When Marnie Was There might not be vast, fantasy adventures, but they're entirely magical in their own right. 
The NI-Tele Really BIG Clock, also known unofficially as the Ghibli Clock, outside Nittele Tower in Shiodome, Tokyo

What was your first visit to Japan like? What were your favourite moments from that trip?
My first trip was wonderful and intense! We had a jam-packed itinerary to fit in everything we could that was Ghibli related. We of course visited the Ghibli museum, but we had to check out some lesser known Ghibli pilgrimages too, like the Hayao Miyazaki designed NI-Tele Really BIG Clock, Shiro-hige’s Cream Puff Factory and their Totoro shaped treats, and Seiseki Sakuragaoka station where the adventure begins in Whisper of the Heart.

Michael and Jake holding Shiro-hige’s Cream Puff Factory's adorable Totoro-shaped pastries

Now that you’ve been, what piece of advice would you give to a friend who is visiting Japan for the first time?
On our trip I had my own side-quest, which was to find a Japanese language poster for Isao Takahata’s film Only Yesterday, one of my favourites. Everywhere we went that had Ghibli merchandise, or posters, I’d dig and dig and dig trying to find one, but never could. Then, just as all hope had faded, we visited Nakano Broadway, and in a tiny shop a few floors up there was an enormous stack of posters and amongst the hundreds of others I finally found it. So, if you’re looking for some niche film posters, get to Nakano Broadway! 

Jake beaming with his rare find of a Japanese film poster of Isao Takahata's 'Only Yesterday'

What is one thing you would import into the UK from Japan, if you could? (It can be an item, a custom, a tradition etc.)
I’m a big whisky fan, and my Dad lives in Scotland, so I was raised to believe that Scottish whisky was the one and only whisky to care about. Nowadays, I know that’s entirely untrue, as Japanese whisky is among some of the very best I’ve ever had. Sadly only a small selection of Japanese whisky makes it to the UK, so if I could get a regular import of Japanese single malts I would be thrilled! 

Michael and Jake recreating a scene from Makoto Shinkai's 'Your Name' on the stairs to Suga Shrine, Tokyo

What’s next for you and the Ghibliotheque team?
Well, now that the Ghibli park is open and there’s a new Hayao MIyazaki film being released next July, the next priority is getting the Ghibliotheque team back to Japan! 


Michael and Jake's second book, 'The Ghibliotheque Anime Movie Guide' is out now. Click here to see where it is available.

Stay up-to-date with Jake's adventures through Instagram or Twitter and check out all he's worked on through his website

And, of course, make sure to follow the Ghibliotheque podcast on Instagram and Twitter, and click here to listen to the next episode! You can also read Michael's interview with us, here


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