×

Tonko House Shares Exclusive Episode of Annecy Cristal-Winning Series ‘PIG: Dam Keeper Poems’

A singular blend of Eastern and Western sensibilities towards animation has this kid’s series resonating with fans of the art form around the world

Fresh of their win for best animated series at June’s Annecy Animation Festival, Tonko House has granted Variety access to a full episode of the series adaptation of their Oscar-nominated short film “The Dam Keeper.” The episode has not been seen previously outside of Japan.

In addition to the attention from the Academy, the short film also earned nominations at Berlin, Toronto and the Annies.

“PIG: The Dam Keeper Poems,” directed by Eric Oh, is a short format, dialogue-free series available on Hulu in Japan. The series follows a much younger Pig than does the short, which is available for purchase on iTunes and Amazon worldwide.

In the series, little Pig’s father builds him a small house on a hill and a dam and windmill to keep a sinister black cloud at bay before heading off to find a more permanent solution. Pig interacts with the other animals that live in his community and together they protect their home. All the while, Pig is torn between his responsibility to protect the hill, and a desire to find his father.

Tonko House has partnered with Hulu in Japan on production for the series, and will be releasing the second in a trilogy of graphic novels featuring the characters on July 10. The first book was nominated for an Eisner Award, one of the most prestigious prizes a graphic novel can receive.

In the episode Tonko House shared with Variety, we meet Pig and a few of his friends, as well as a pair of easily-offended anthropomorphic fruits. Eventually Pig runs into a dark cloud version of himself, and is forced to figure out the link between the apparition and the new aggressiveness of the larger cloud.

Tonko House’s Daisuke “Dice” Tsutsumi talked with Variety about the origins of the company, the importance of an Oscar nomination and some of their plans for the future, including a Dam Keeper feature.

Beyond pride and sense of achievement, what did the Oscar nomination mean for Tonko House?

It was a great honor and surprise. Through this nomination, we were able to meet so many incredible individuals in the industry and it humbled us to be welcomed as a part of the larger filmmaking community shortly after we had taken the leap in leaving Pixar to found our brand-new studio.  The awards, and the doors they opened, brought out a certain awareness of how much we want — and need — to grow as filmmakers truly belonging to this group.

“The Dam Keeper” was never quite a conventional animated film and the groundswell of enthusiasm signaled to us in our earliest days of Tonko House that perhaps the industry and audiences around the world do have a thirst for projects that break the mold.

What were the major challenges and fears you faced in starting your own studio?

We are a self-financed independent studio. We began in a position where we needed to learn everything ourselves, not just in making great films but also in getting our projects financed and building our business strategy.  We even learned to make the studio’s furniture ourselves, literally DIY, and to this day, clean our office and participate in daily exercises as a team, amongst other things that we do together.  Simply put, we call ourselves a DIY animation studio.

It’s been four years since we started out and we have been through some major ups and downs on this journey. That experience has been absolutely priceless. We feel we have learned a lot of things on our own that we would not have if we had stayed within our comfort zones working in the big studios.

Can you describe the Tonko House style, if in fact there is one?

Our mission is “to balance entertainment and awareness.” Our stories need to be entertaining yet at the same time we need to push our limits to achieve a deep awareness of where each of these stories comes from and how they can affect the world.

We love stories that resonate with and grow in the heart of their audiences long past the runtime of a film. We are fans of Hayao Miyazaki’s films and classic Pixar movies. The best of these stay with you forever.

At the same time, we aren’t trying to be like one or the other; we strive to tap into our own unique voice and brand of storytelling that will have that lasting effect, we hope, with new audiences and generations.

With the rise of new platforms and a growing international market, the traditional Hollywood model may not be the only tried-and-true way to create successful animated films and franchises.  We believe these changes may be beneficial to creators like us.

What’s next for Pig and his companions?

The world of “The Dam Keeper” is a deepening universe with more characters, places and storylines that have yet to be shared. What we have shared, and what you have seen thus far, is just the tip of the iceberg. We are currently working on a slate of projects, many of which have exciting partners from different fields of entertainment attached, and with each of these unique projects, we continue to strive for new ways to tell and make our stories.

We are also currently in development on “The Dam Keeper” feature, which would be geared toward a wide release and combine both our strong Western and Eastern sensibilities. Thus we also believe the film will be unlike other stories saturating the market right now. To make this project successful requires strong vision and perseverance from everyone involved but we are up for the challenge. At heart we are fans of animation and committed to making the kind of content we ourselves are hungry for: New stories and original worlds that don’t treat animation as a defined genre.

More Film

  • 'Patrick Melrose' TV show premiere

    Benedict Cumberbatch, Claire Foy to Star in 'Louis Wain'

    Benedict Cumberbatch (“Avengers: Endgame”) and Claire Foy (“The Crown”) are set to star in “Louis Wain,” a biopic of the prolific English artist who rose to prominence at the end of the 19th century. “Louis Wain” will start shooting on Aug. 10 with BAFTA-nominated Will Sharpe (“Flowers”) directing the film, which was written by Sharpe [...]

  • Production Resumes on 'Fast & Furious

    'Fast & Furious 9' Production Resumes, Investigation Into Stuntman Injury Under Way

    Production resumed Tuesday on “Fast & Furious 9,” a day after an accident at Warner Bros. Studios Leavesden, near London, left a stuntman in hospital. The U.K. agency responsible for workplace safety confirmed that it is now investigating the accident. The stuntman, Joe Watts, was working on a second unit when he sustained head injuries [...]

  • mother

    Director Lemohang Jeremiah Mosese: Africa Is ‘In the Process of Becoming’

    DURBAN–From the arresting opening sequence, in which the reflection of a woman carrying a giant wooden cross shimmers across the surface of a lake, Lemohang Jeremiah Mosese’s “Mother, I Am Suffocating. This is My Last Film About You” embarks on a poetic journey across an unnamed African landscape. Described by the filmmaker as a “lament,” [...]

  • Promise at Dawn Calcoa

    Colcoa French Film Festival Moves to the Fall With Revamped Format

    Colcoa, the Los Angeles-based French film festival, will be hosting its 23rd edition in September, right before the start of the awards season. Created by the Franco-American Cultural Fund, Colcoa will also be showcasing a more contained lineup focused on film and TV at the Directors Guild of America’s newly-renovated venue. The festival was previously [...]

  • Bruce Springsteen FYSEE Opening Night with

    Bruce Springsteen-Codirected 'Western Stars' Film Will Premiere in Toronto

    “Western Stars,” the film that Bruce Springsteen has made to accompany his recent album of the same name, will have its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival, it was announced Tuesday. The feature is being listed as a co-directing project between Springsteen and his longtime filmic collaborator, Thom Zimny, who just picked up [...]

  • Sylvester Stallone and Braden Aftergood Balboa

    Sylvester Stallone's Production Company Wants to Be the Blumhouse of Action Films

    “I don’t believe Sylvester Stallone carries around a wallet,” says Braden Aftergood, the executive in charge of scripted development at the movie star’s content company Balboa Prods. It’s not that Sly, as he’s known to friends and fans alike, is trying to duck out on a dinner bill. He never seems to have his license [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content