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Tonko House’s ‘ONI’ Series Lands Anime Screenwriter Mari Okada

Currently in production at Netflix, the project, inspired by Japanese folklore, features a unique, handcrafted style designed by studio co-founder and show creator Daisuke ‘Dice’ Tsutsumi; join production team for big reveal at today’s 9:00 pm Lightbox Expo talk, ‘Journey of Tonko House.’

Academy Award-nominated animation studio Tonko House (The Dam Keeper) has joined forces with Japanese anime writer and award-winning filmmaker Mari Okada (Maquia: When the Promised Flower Blooms, Anohana, The Anthem of the Heart, A Whisker Away) on the animated event series, ONI, now in production at Netflix.

To celebrate its 7th anniversary, Tonko House is revealing a first look at the unique, handcrafted style of the project; studio co-founders Robert Kondo and Daisuke “Dice” Tsutsumi, along with producer Sara K. Sampson, are headlining the 2021 Lightbox Expo today, September 10, 2021, at 9 p.m. PST, with their talk, “Journey of Tonko House.”

ONI is described as follows:

“In a world filled with the oddball gods and monsters of Japanese mythology, one of the creature’s free-spirited daughters, Onari, is determined to follow in the footsteps of the mighty heroes of lore, but her unique powers are yet to be revealed. Does she have what it takes to fight to protect her peaceful village from the encroaching threat of the gods' mysterious enemies, the ‘Oni’?”

Tsutsumi, who was recently honored with the 2021 June Foray Award at the 48th Annie Awards, serves as creator and directing showrunner of the series. Sampson (Emmy-nominated Glen Keane Productions and Pixar alum) serves as producer, with Kondo and Kane Lee of Tonko House serving as executive producers. Production partners under Tonko House include top Japan-based CG production studios Megalis VFX, Marza, and Anima.  

"After deep exploration into the visual style that best complemented our story, I am excited about the unique look we landed on for ONI,” Tsutsumi said. “The look offers a rich, tactile feel that honors the tradition of craftsmanship in Japan, combined with both our original take on classic Japanese folktale characters and a cinematic world where lighting, atmosphere, and mood help tell the story.”

He continued, “I never imagined we would experience such creative autonomy with a major distributor but we are fortunate to have a great working relationship with Netflix. They provide an amazingly supportive and collaborative environment, which is a dream come true for an atypical project like ONI.”

Though ONI is an English language production, Tonko House jumped at the chance to work with Okada, one of Tsutsumi’s favorite Japanese screenwriters. “Mari is an incredible talent, and I knew she would be the perfect creative partner to capture both the strength and vulnerability of our heroine, Onari,” he shared. “Out of wonderful serendipity, Mari found her own connection to this story which further fueled her entertaining yet emotionally charged approach.”

“When Dice first pitched ONI to me, I was blown away,” Okada said. “I saw a lot of myself in his deeply personal connection to the story and felt many people around the world would feel the same. I felt I had to take this opportunity even if it meant facing unusual challenges for the first time, such as writing for an English-language production.”

Originally from Japan, Tsutsumi graduated from The School of Visual Arts in New York before working as a visual development artist at Blue Sky Studios on Ice Age, Robots and Horton Hears a Who! He then joined Pixar, where his credits include Lighting Art Director for Toy Story 3 and Monsters University. After the success of Tsutsumi’s directorial debut, the Oscar-nominated short film The Dam Keeper, he left Pixar to co-found Tonko House with Kondo. Passionate about charity work, Tsutsumi spearheaded both The Totoro Forest Project and Sketchtravel.

Tonko House has been nominated for the Eisner Award for “The Dam Keeper” graphic novel trilogy, received the Grand Jury Prize for Best Television Production at the Annecy International Film Festival in 2018 for the series, PIG: The Dam Keeper Poems, and its art department won two Emmy Awards in 2021 for its work on Go! Go! Cory Carson. The studio is currently partnering with global distributors, as well as other studios, to create high quality storytelling achieving the company’s mission to inspire curiosity through entertainment and awareness.

Source: Tonko House

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Dan Sarto is Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Animation World Network.