"Gamba & Friends" Adaptation To Put Japanese 3D Animation On The Map

In a passion project ten years in the making and straight from the vein of ‘Gamba no Boken’ itself, Shirogumi Vice-president Yoichi Ogawa, video game creator Yoshihiro Komori, and director of children’s anime Tomohiro Kawamura are working to adapt the Japanese animated cult classic, “The Adventures of Gamba.” To the tune of $16.7 million, the co-directing team hopes to launch the new film “Gamba” into the 3D animation big leagues, among American giants like Pixar, Disney, and Dream Works, and challenge the boundaries of Japanese animation.

The original book illustrations (left), and the main movie poster (right)

The original book illustrations (left), and the main movie poster (right)

Based on the popular children’s novel, “Adventurer Gamba and his 15 brave friends,” the original 1975 Gamba no Boken (The Adventures of Gamba) makes a strong case for how to make a quality cartoon under TV budgets and deadlines without sacrificing character development, storytelling, color styling, or even layouts and limited animation. Much of this success of course is attributed to the series’ chief director, Osamu Dezaki.

Dezaki was perhaps best known in America for directing “The Mighty Orbots,” a 1984 Saturday Morning series that aired on ABC. However, for the ‘70s kids of Japan, he was the prolific director whose techniques, stories, and characters would help inspire the next generation of animators.
Dezaki’s many trademarks include his use of split-screens, stark lightning, bright color stylings, cross-hatching to convey mood in animation, wide use of different camera angles in action shots, and his pastel colored freeze-frame trademark which he called, “postcard memories.” This is where the final frame of animation is frozen before fading to a painted version of the scene.
The original series begins with two city mice by the name of Gamba and Bobo. While escaping from a hungry cat, they end up in the stream, riding inside a floating tin can. Gamba aspires to go on an adventure at sea, having heard about it from his deceased father. He knows very little about it, wanting to explore the seas because they are unknown to him (as he explained to Bobo, “Why go on an adventure to something you know about?”).

They encounter Chūta, a mouse which has been injured and is seeking help. He convinces Gamba and Bōbo to assist him in defending the island Yumemishima and its inhabitants from the invading Noroi Clan. Known as some of the creepiest villains in Japanese anime (whose references can be found in various series like Muromi-san and Kill La Kill), the Noroi are revealed to be cruel and wicked. Gamba elects to sail to Yumemishima with Chūta to help defend the island, and he recruits more mice to join their cause.

After sub-par ratings forced the Nippon Television studio to cut the series from 52 episodes to 26, Dezaki and the team were forced to hastily re-plan the show’s storyline. In spite of the shortcomings, the show went on to become a cult favorite in the years that followed. The original show was presented in a cliffhanger format, with each episode leaving the story unfinished. For American TV at the time, it was still the norm for each episode to be a complete story so that the series could be shown in any order.

The new 3D epic adventure will see the little mouse Gamba and his friends join forces to confront the ruthless Noroi clan ruling the island.

While Gamba has seen a few adaptations over the years, this will be the first attempt at a 3D adaptation. Benjamin Wallfisch (V For Vendetta, Pride & Prejudice, 12 Years A Slave) is in charge of tickling your ears and stirring your soul as composer, with the talented Ryota Kosawa (Always – Sunset On Third Street, Kisaragi, Parasyte: Part 1/2) as screenwriter. Currently in post-production, the film is only set to release in Japan October 10th of this year, although with Marvel Studios co-founder Avi Arad serving as executive producer, a North American distribution looks hopeful.

2015 Gamba Teaser trailer