With his most recent work 009 RE:CYBORG premiering in Australia and New Zealand in the REEL ANIME 2013 program, Madman sat down to chat with renowned director and screenwriter, Kenji Kamiyama.
First up, Kamiyama-san, how would you best define or explain away your particular approach to making anime?
“To begin with, I set up your point of arrival for the whole story. After that, I start constructing the world-view and our characters, the first of these being the villain. And then I create a problem, one I’m unable to solve, in order that I put myself in the protagonist’s shoes and try to find a solution. This is a method I learned from [Mamoru] Oshii’s first Patlabor movie.”
How did you begin making anime, and what were your inspirations? — I note you had early experience doing background art on Katsuhiro Otomo’s Akira (1988) and Hayao Miyazaki’s Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989)…
“Actually, I think everything started when I watched Star Wars as a kid and I decided that was what I wanted to do in my life.
However, there was no way a live-action movie of that scale and quality could be made in Japan. Then, the following year there was this new show on the telly called Mobile Suit Gundam. In terms of story and world setting it was as compelling as Star Wars, so I felt that animation could give me the opportunity to do what I wanted.
The reason I initially joined the art department is that I thought it was the best way to understand the role of layout in animation, since it can be probably be compared with what the director of photography does in live action movies. But I was studying scriptwriting and direction every second of my spare time. Then I started drafting my own plots and projects, and I submitted them to various production houses — until I became a director.”
Production I.G has a fantastic cinematic resume — everything from the Ghost in the Shell franchise to Blood, Eden of the East, Drawer Hobs, and the animated sequence in Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill: Vol. 1, along with directors such as Mamoru Oshii and Hiroyuki Okiura. How do you fit in with this elite crowd, and what is your relationship with I.G really like?
“Production I.G is where I became what I am now. It’s my home — and my playing field.”
Tell us about your experience developing and creating 009 RE:CYBORG. What were the major challenges, and how closely do you want to refer to Shotaro Ishinomori’s original work?
“Cyborg 009is a classic here in Japan. It is hugely popular, and the age demographic it covers is incredibly wide. Those who read the original comic book back in the day are now over 60, while those who came across the title through one of its anime adaptations are younger. And of course we could not ignore the series’ strong and utterly demanding female fan base, which sees their favourite characters very differently from their male counterparts. So the very first dilemma we had was about the kind of audience we were supposed to make this film for.
Eventually we decided to target the younger audiences, taking in account that some old-time fans would be disappointed by the makeover we undertook on their beloved characters.
On top of that, although we’d decided to make a stereoscopic 3D movie, we wanted to keep the distinctive look of Japanese animation so we faced a few creative and technical challenges in search of a CG treatment that could give us cel animation-looking, yet fully computer-generated characters.”
How would you compare making 009 RE:CYBORG with making the Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex series?
“At the time we were making Ghost in the Shell: S.A.C., the technology depicted in that world had to be one or two steps ahead of our world’s. One of my most ambitious purposes was to create a world that nobody had ever seen before.
In direct opposite, the original Cyborg 009 world setting is pure retro-future if seen from today’s standpoint, so we had to decide how to relocate these characters into present-day society in a convincing way and with a certain degree of realism.
We did introduce political issues and science-fiction gadgets, but this is not what the movie is about. In fact, I would say it takes exactly the opposite direction.
Looking back at 009 RE:CYBORG now, several months after its release in Japan, I feel confident we did a pretty decent job on the technical side. However, for my next project, I somehow felt I should focus less on technique and go back to a more emotionally passionate movie-making, as in the days of Ghost in the Shell: S.A.C.”
Who’s your favourite Ghost in the Shell character?
“Motoko Kusanagi — perhaps because she’s a character who never stops being philosophical about her world, and never gives up or runs away from her commitments. I could say she’s a sort of demiurgic and at the same time messianic presence. I kind of like lead characters who bear a greater destiny on their shoulders.
“Ghost in the Shell [the 1995 movie] is the magnum opus of my master Mamoru Oshii… it should be regarded as a monument in the whole sci-fi genre,” you said in deferential fashion when I asked you for your favourite 15 anime outings in 2008. Do you still feel such overwhelming respect for Oshii-san (and that first GitS movie) five years later?
“My opinion has not changed. Ghost in the Shell remains a milestone, a forerunner that enlightened the generations to come.
The only observation here and now is that, since the movie was made almost 20 years ago, it can be said that technology as depicted in that movie looks a bit outdated.”
In that 2008 Top 15, alongside Ghost in the Shell, you nominated the first series of Mobile Suit Gundam, Hayao Miyazaki’s Lupin III outing The Castle of Cagliostro along with Nausicaä, Wings of Honneamise, Future Boy Conan, Gunbuster, Heidi, 3000 Leagues in Search of Mother, Ashita no Jo, Aim for the Ace!, Patlabor 2, Gamba no Bōken and Galaxy Express 999. Would this list be the same in 2013 — or has it changed to include anime made since 2008?
“It has not changed.”
You are now 47 years of age — just one year older than Satoshi Kon (Paprika, Millennium Actress) when he passed away in 2010 at 46. How did you feel about his untimely death, and how much did the anime industry lose?
“What a cruel twist of fate. Yes, we were almost the same age, and he was definitely among the directors I had the highest respect for. It was indeed the most shocking news.
I’m sure he had many things he wanted to do, many stories he wanted to tell, and that he was keeping wonderful ideas somewhere deep inside himself — just waiting for the right opportunity, as all creators do. His sudden disappearance when he was still only halfway through his journey ended all this. I feel utmost grief when I try to imagine his sadness and frustration at this.”
What’s up next for you?
“Anime fandom is ageing, and the next generation seems to be less interested in anime. I’d like to make something targeting to a younger audience — compared what I’ve been doing thus far, I mean. The idea of making something similar to the kind of shows I used to watch as a kid, and that were so influential and inspirational for all of us.”
Finally, what’s your favourite nourishment to consume while creating anime?
“I tend to drink way too many energy drinks — but I learned how to control myself regarding snacks!”
Interview by Andrez Bergen in August, 2013.
Special thanks to Francesco Prandoni @ I.G on organizational chores and translation.