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Animation studio led by Japanese man aims to be Bangladesh's 'Studio Ghibli'

Studio Padma staff teach each other how to edit videos. (Photo courtesy of Shunsuke Mizutani)

A 32-year-old native of Kashiba, Nara Prefecture, is looking to make a difference in the lives of children in Bangladesh -- through starting an anime studio in the Bangladeshi capital of Dhaka.

    Currently, Studio Padma, run by Shunsuke Mizutani, handles subcontracted animation work from Japan, creating English learning materials and editing wedding videos, but the studio's goal is to become Bangladesh's Studio Ghibli -- telling uniquely Bangladeshi stories in a country where animation in children's native language doesn't exist.

    Tigers that walk through the night, countryside scenery often used in traditional crafts, the story of a man working in a city full of people -- the short animated works created by Studio Padma reflect the natural wonders and lively cities of Bangladesh using bright colors reminiscent of local ethnic clothing.

    In the studio located in Mizutani's residence in a traditional downtown of Dhaka, six locals in their 20s work together and polish their skills. Among the staff, there are some who have never even studied art, so each day is an intensive training session in video editing.

    "As long as the interest is there, one can learn to do the work to a certain extent," Mizutani said. He concentrates his efforts on guiding his staff, who all share the goal of making an animated film set in Bangladesh.

    The staff of Studio Padma practices drawing. (Photo courtesy of Shunsuke Mizutani)

    Mizutani created the studio in May 2014. After finishing a graduate program, he did freelance video editing work, but ultimately decided to move to Bangladesh, a country that had stolen his heart during his student years.

    He first visited Bangladesh on a study tour in 2007 to learn about providing support for those in poverty. It was his very first trip abroad, but Mizutani remembers, "I was struck by everyone's hospitality. I immediately thought 'I want to live here.'" He moved onto graduate school, and returned to Bangladesh for a one-year internship from August 2009 with Ekmattra Society, a local NGO for the advancement of unprivileged children.

    While teaching his graphic design skills to children as part of the program, he was struck by the question "How do you make animation?" Mizutani realized that through animation, he could make use of both his own graphic technical skills and his ability to compose music, something he loves doing since childhood. He decided that he would start his own studio to make creations like those of Studio Ghibli that he had watched over and over again, but for the children of Bangladesh.

    Japanese animation is quite popular in the country, but had caused problems in the past. In 2005, the popular anime "Doraemon" was dubbed in Hindi for an Indian audience, but was also broadcast in neighboring Bangladesh. Many of the country's television programs originate in India, and even though Doraemon was dubbed in Hindi and not Bengali, it became a huge hit. Due to its popularity, children in Bangladesh started mixing Hindi in their language to have conversations with their friends. Thus, the Bangladeshi government judged the program to be detrimental to the learning of the children's native tongue, and outlawed the broadcast of Doraemon in 2013.

    While there is plenty of interest in Japanese animation in Bangladesh, there are still obstacles standing in the way of making the country's first original creation, Mizutani said. "Simply broadcasting older animations from Japan costs much less money, and are very popular," he laments. "It's hard to get a hold of enough money to produce an original work from scratch." But that only fuels Mizutani's determination to make a locally produced animation.

    Shunsuke Mizutani (Mainichi)

    "For Japanese people, it's a given that familiar scenery like that of their hometown appears in animations. In Bangladesh, there are only animations from foreign countries with foreign scenery, so it would make so much difference to Bangladeshi children to see something familiar like a rickshaw appear in an animation," Mizutani said. "Those around me say 'We need a Bangladeshi hero. Do your best,' and I can feel their hope for us to succeed."

    In July 2016, Dhaka was hit by a terrorist attack that took the lives of 20 people, including seven Japanese citizens. One year after the attack, life has returned to normal, but not without a remaining sense of high alert. In the middle of all of this, Mizutani hopes that the creation of an original animation could be a chance for the country to restore its image.

    "Creating an animation isn't a task that can be accomplished by one studio alone," he said. "We have to collaborate with other studios, increase our staff, and turn animation into an industry. 'Let's all build something together' is true to the Bangladeshi spirit, after all."

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