Otakon 2011: Ishiguro Noboru panel

Ishiguro Noboru is best known as a director, with some of his notable titles including Space Battleship Yamato, Macross, Megazone 23, Astro Boy (1980), Legend of the Galactic Heroes, and Tytania. Ishiguro drafted the story for Megazone 23 based on his personal views of government, having seen his own mislead with lies and obfuscation to lead the people to war. Ishiguro also founded his own studio, Artland, in 1978. He currently remains a part of the studio as Chairman, while also pursuing his love of directing. Fans meeting Ishiguro at Otakon will also have the chance to his new directorial project: Angel ScandyS! ~Otakon guest info

    Ishiguro: As Maruyama Masao was saying in his previous panel, the history of shows on Japanese tv will mark it’s 50th Annivesary 2 years from now. I started in the anime industry in 1963, the year television started broadcasting anime. That will be mark my 50 year career in the anime industry. Back then, the public was not aware of the medium. There was no anime or animation, they were more familiar with the terms ‘manga on film’. It does feel like we were cutting out a pathway in a forest and 50 years later, it seems like the pathway has turned into a major highway that the entire world recognizes. Not because of that, but we tend to highly respect the first ones to make the attempt because we’ve seen how hard it was to be the first ones to try out. For example, one of our role models was Walt Disney. He worked on something that back then was considered impossible to make. A feature of animation that was made long before I was born, perhaps by 50 years so that was before my time. Because back then, animated films were only short reels like Mickey Mouse that were shown before the actual feature in the theater and I heard that those animated features were popular. But he wanted to come up with an animated feature that would stand to a test of an audience by itself. But people around him said he was crazy to show one hour of animation to an audience. It would be impossible, but Disney sought financing and went ahead and made ‘Snow White’. I read that he did run out of budget in the middle of production, so he had to take the dailies to the bank and show it to the execs there to get more loans to complete the film. If ‘Snow White’ was a commercial failure, it would’ve been no Disney since then. But ‘Snow White’ opened on Christmas Eve and there was an audience that wrapped around the block. Frankly he had something that led to today’s success in animation. I hear that the original Disney studio that Disney had made had no corners. Between the walls and the floors, it was all rounded. Apparently it was so that there would be no dust collected in the corners. He was planning on selling the studio as a hospital if his venture failed.

    I hear about stories like this and I realize that there are alot of hardships but there are alot of endeavors that they overcome. Let me tell you another example of how it is like. I have a friend, a man by the name of Miura Toru the president and founder of AIC studios. This was over 20 years ago, one day he suddenly showed up and said, “I have a new film to show you. Can you take a look?” We were actually using film back then, so we got the film up on the projector. This was the very first independent production that they made at AIC. It was a title called, Cream Lemon. *audience laughs* Back then, something like Cream Lemon was unprecedented as an animated work and AIC was trying to come up with something new. So that was the new genre of anime that they tried. When Miura went to his animators and asked them to draw, alot of animators didn’t want to do his request. In desperation, he had to go not the key animators, but the inbetween animators, the younger ones and asked them to do it. Since they inbetweens, they jumped at the chance to do key animation. Since they were very young animators who were inexperienced with the content, they had to study lots of books. If you look at Cream Lemon, you can see they did alot of research. *audience laughs* You can tell they worked hard to do alot of research, but the actual animation is not so fluid. You can’t tell if there is any sense of tenderness so there won’t be much a libido watching it. The film that Miura bought was still in it’s uncensored form so all the details were in there as well. Despite being explicit, it still didn’t invoke any action in the libido department. Just because the effort really shown and despite their failed results, I could tell they really worked hard on it and that got to me and I really liked the film for that. It was back then so all the production was done by cels and all cels have painting. Since most cel paintings are young women, most of them turned down the job. He went around asking retired cel painters, those who got married and are raising families to come back to work. They were the ones who said yes and became the cel painters for the job. Apparently, it feels weird to be working on something like that for the first 3 days, but after that, you get used to it and it just turns into work. As you know, titles like Cream Lemon features characters that are mostly naked so there aren’t any costumes that you have worry about. The painting job is actually pretty easy, you just have skin tones and shadows. Once they realize how easy it was to paint these cels, they wanted more of it. This was the very first Cream Lemon that was made. It was actually commercially successful so they made more of it, part 2 and part 3. When you see that the success, the first animators and people who turn down the initial offers for work came back and asked to be a part of it as well. That’s a fairly typical reaction of what happens when work seems to be successful. Today, alot of the adult animation, 18+ dvds are pretty common. But I do recommend that buyers look at the very first work that was the starting piece of the genre.

    One of our shows, Space Battleship Yamato was also somewhat of a first since it was the first animated sci-fi show. Since I also had a love for science fiction, I was happy to join the team that was going to make it. Sci-fi is full of tall tales. The most important parts of making the sci-fi is make it realistic. And since the medium is animation, we wanted to make something that looked very new. I put in every single idea that I was keeping or came up with into the production of Yamato. Initially, Space Battleship Yamato was suppose to be 100% science fiction. However, later in the series, it starts to change in nature and became a ‘love conquerers all’ themed story. The producer of Yamato was very keen on catching on to that trend so he inccorporated that into the features. It seems to be a common trend now in many other features so you seem to getting overwhelmed by that today. I know having worked right next to him that this producer did not have a full love for humanity. The only love that I known him to have was love for the fairer sex. I know that he wasn’t being very truthful.

    Before I became a director, I was an animator. I was fond was doing special effects animation. What I specialized in as an animator wasn’t key frame animation, but the effects. I put alot of my knowledge of effects into the production of Yamato. So explosions in space was something that I put alot of thought into and had a fondness for while doing it. Subsequently in Macross, the animator, Itano Ichiro took over the role and he invented alot animated acrobatics that today known as the ‘Itano Circus’. There was another animator working on Macross, later on he went on to direct Evangelion and you can see the kind of animation that he invented for Evangelion in his robot actions. Since then, there have been alot of young animators, but today, alot of the effects are done by CGI. I think there haven’t been that much room for individual talent to shine so I feel a little sad about that. I think that future trend will be closer to Hollywood style where there would be an image artist and a cgi operator collaborating on the work to come up with general effects. Sometimes I reminiscent on the days working on Yamato where everything was handdrawn, one sheet at a time.

    The producer for Yamato passed away last fall. Alot of us oldtimers who worked on Yamato were saying that perhaps we should get together this fall as a one year memorial. There is a place in Shinjuku called Plus One which is a lounge for that. We were talking about getting together for the memorial, but one of the chief animators passed away last week. Another member of the team has become someone that we can’t see anymore, but I guess that it’s inevitable since it’s been 50 years in the anime industry. Myself as well, I’ve been worndering how long I can keep on coming here myself.

    I hear that there is a charity auction specifically going to be for Japan relief. I brought alot of stuff from my studio, toys and memorabilia displayed there right now. You can go there, check things out and make a bid and it will make everyone happy. I didn’t want to get too somber. Alot of people asked me what I’ve been doing recently. Actually, I haven’t been doing much and that gets boring as well. I wanted to get started with a new project. I brought the voice actors of the new project today and I’ll introduce them to you later.

Thus started the Q&A session.

    Q: In many of your earlier works, I noticed that the concept being ‘only fools rush into war’ is used in the stories told in the future to teach people about the lessons in the past. Why was that so important to you? Do you think that message got across?
    A: One of my own experiences is Tokyo wrecked and burned to a crisp by American carpet bombing. I was born and raised in Tokyo so I have seen it go from the bombing to what it is today. It has been my life long experience that war is nothing for good. About two, three years ago, there was a television documentary about how Japan started the war in the Pacific and the testimonials of the politians and military back then show that it was a hazardous process. It only convinced me that if you heed what politians, things will only get worse. It was really thanks to America that militaristic Japan was defeated. Thanks to that, I get to enjoy what I can today. To that, I have an appreciation for American culture.

    Q: How do you keep your passion to work in the field after so many years. Do you believe today’s animators with the increase of technology that they have now in their hands could make it and survive in the days when you began?
    A: If you sent today’s animators back in time, 50 years, they’ll probably all quit. *audience laughs*

    Q: I heard that before Yamato, it was difficult if not impossible to get a tv series produced set in outer space, because the sponsers and whoever made those decisions felt that the backgrounds would be too boring. Is there any truth to this story?
    A: That’s very true and something that I pushed for. Sponsers were actually saying that in space, backgrounds were only starfields so children see that, they’ll be board.

    Q: Is there any information on Legend of the Galactic Heroes? New releases or ever coming to the US?
    A: One thing is to never expect about Legend of the Galactic Heroes is any new novels. Just recently, the Legend of the Galactic Heroes was made into a stage production. That was a big success so they’ll continue this venture. If there is going to be any new production on Legend of the Galactic Heroes, that will not involve me. I have me own projects that I want to work on instead.

The next fan stood up to inform Ishiguro-san that he was actually in Japan in the 1960s (when he was 6 years old,) watching Astroboy, Tetsujin 28 and other classics on tv. He compared them to ‘Popeye’ and ‘The Flintstones’, an animation milestone that he was amazed with and reveled in. Ishiguro’s response was “I felt that ‘Popeye’ was animated much better, there was more fluid animation.”

    Q: When you were last here [Otakon 2009,] you spoke of a need to establish an anime archival system to preserve works produced in the last century and to preserve works in the future generations. Are there any new developments that we may not be aware of in the US since you were last here? How can fans in the US support anime archival efforts.
    A: There might be some progress because I heard that the Japanese government was interested in financing in the archival system. So there is minor progress.

    Q: In the Legend of the Galactic Heroes, they produced a ‘Golden Wings’ OVA series which is a strange anomaly which had a different cast and crew. What is the intended reason for this? Who were they trying to court with this very different style and direction? I’m glad that they went back to his team, [Ishiguro-san’s] to finish off the series.
    A: That was something that the publisher decided to do. Before that, Legend of the Galactic Heroes was made into manga based on the novels. I don’t know why or how they wanted to do an OVA based on the manga. That’s stands out as an unique piece. The character designs and cast was different. Apparently, it wasn’t too popular with fans, I don’t have too much information about that.

    Q: Ishiguro-san and Kawamori Shoji was both credited as directors for the Macross movie. How did you two divide the directing duties?
    A: My involvement was mostly in pre-production. The initial phase was where I helped out the most. The rest, such as mecha designs and story development were efforts by Kawamori-san and not only him, other young animators and their collaborative efforts. At that point, I wasn’t too involved in the hands-on work of the production.

    Q: *in Japanese* What is your favorite movie?
    A: There are too many to list, for science fiction there is ‘2001: Space Odyseey’. I also confess that I’m very fond of old Hollywood musicals, I have pretty much seen every one of them. There is something I never told other people but, always choreographed space battles thinking that they were musical numbers in space. *audience laughs* It’s a secret that I never confessed. That is as far as I’ll say.

    Q: What are some of the significant challenges or obstacles in bringing the Legend of the Galactic Heroes to the US?
    A: I don’t what the obstacle might be. If anyone is interested in financing the venture, I hope it does happen. I do think that it is a matter of financing and the lack of it which is part of the problem.

We applauded loudly for Ishiguro-san as he introduced two ladies in kimonos.

    Ishiguro: I bought two cute voice actresses from my current project. This is Shimogama Chiaki and Ohara Momoko. They play the principals [lead characters] in the title, Angel Scandys. Normally cast members are decided after the anime is made, but this one, we reversed the process. We started with the principal cast and the characters for the anime will fit in the image of the voice actors.

    Ohara: I’m a voice actor from Japan. I’m Ohara Momoko. I’m not really sure what is going to happen, which way the project is going to go, but I’m very excited to know that the animated character will based on me. That’s what I’m looking forward to.

    Shimogama: Good afternoon, everyone! *in English* I’m Chiaki Shimogama. *back to Japanese* I’m not so experienced as a voice actor yet. You can look me up on the internet, I have a webpage so you’ll be able to find me there.