Otakon 2011: Japanese Directors panel

Yoshida Toshifumi assisted with the interpretertation for Ishiguro Noboru-san and Murata Kazuya-san while another staff interptered for Shinkai Makoto-san. Yoshida began by introducing the panel itself, with the comment that “But none of the producers actually want to come up so it’ll be a directors panel.” One of the staff noted that since Yoshida himself was a producer for both US and Japanese, he should be a panelist to which Yoshida replied, “No, I’m not a panelist. I don’t work for the company that I work for.”

The staff joked with Yoshida about Pokemon since he is currently the producer of Pokemon: Black and White. The jokes precipitated throughout the panel which kept things light and amusing. XD Yoshida introduced the guests on the stage and each spoke.

    Ishiguro: Good morning. I am Ishiguro Noboru. In two years, I’ll have been in this industry for 50 years. I find myself thinking, “In 50 years, I haven’t done that much.” Time passes so quickly. Titles that I have worked on are Space Battleship Yamato, Super Dimension Fortress Macross and Legend of the Galactic Heroes. Last year, I directed a tv anime for the first time in 13 years and boy was it a flop! Along with that flop of last year, in the 50 years that I’ve done animation, there have been alot of flops, but I don’t think about them. One of the reasons that I find myself at a loss sometimes in the recent years is because anime has become more and more digital and me being an animator, I just don’t know how to do it anymore. Of course with the changing times, the mentality and sensibilities of the animators that I am working with have change with the times and I find myself running full throttle on neutral trying to get people to understand what I’m trying to do. But I don’t want my career to end like this so I’m trying new things, trying something different because it is upsetting to end like this. So I will keep on going. *audience applauds*

    Murata: Good morning. I’m Murata Kazuya. I came here as the director of the new movie, Fullmetal Alchemist: Sacred Star of Milos. *audience applauds* Another show that I have done was Planetes, Eureka Seven and as secondary subdirector, I was on Code Geass. I also director for the Pokemon movie, Jirachi.
    Interpreter Yoshida: Not to throw anymore Pokemon references in here whatsoever. I don’t work for the company…no.
    Murata: Finding myself between two of my favorite directors, Shinkai-san and Ishiguro-san, I can’t help but feel really honored to be here.

    Shinkai *in English* Hello, everyone. I’m Shinkai Makoto. Sorry for my bad English, let me speak in English. I made Voices of a Distant Star, it was my debut. Then I made Place Promised in my Early Days and then 5 Centimeters Per Second. Now, I am showing, Children Who Chase Lost Voices but I’m not sure about this title. I did screening yesterday. My career is only 9 years so I’m so nervous because I’m in front of such great directors. *gesturing to Ishiguro-san and Murata-san* I don’t know what should I do?

    Q: Your debut, Voices of Distant Star, you created entirely by yourself. What was it like to make the transition from a movie that you controled totally to a project with many staff and animators under you?
    Shinkai: When I did my first movie, I had no choice but to do it alone. At the time, I was working at a game company and working on the opening animations. I never directed or created animation before. I had no choice, I did the voices, I did everything. Now with the staff, I have to say that I don’t feel lonely anymore. Being cheered on by an encouraging staff always make the work flow easier. Also, when you work alone, you’re limited by what you can come up with. But with a staff, there is always people saying “How about we do it this way?” And there are no boundaries on what you can produce. So that would be biggest difference between the two.

    Q: In 2010, you look at the top selling Blu-ray discs, the number of these are very concentrated. The top 3 were all vol. of Bakemonogatari. The next 5 are all vol. of K-on season 2. After that are shows from previous years like 4 vol. of K-on season 1 from the previous year, Suzumiya Haruhi from the previous year. What is your opinion that given the large number of tv series that air each year, why is the list of high selling titles on discs so concentrated? What does it take to get a show into the top sale frame?
    Murata: My feeling with the higher cost of Blu-rays and with the still limited number of people who own Blu-ray machines, these high selling ones are usually something the fans will treasure for what it contains or what it has. It may not be because it was an enjoyable show. *audience laughs*
    Ishiguro: In 10 years, Blu-ray will get replaced by something better anyway.
    Interpreter: *to Yoshida* How are Blu-ray sales for Pokemon by the way?
    Yoshida: Is Pokemon on Blu-ray? I just make the stuff. Ask Viz! They got the video rights.

    Q: How has the tragedy [Tohaku Earthquake/Daiichi], affected you personally. Has it given you any ideas for future anime?
    Ishiguro: First of all, in Japan there are alot of earthquakes. The most recent one was off the scale. The Japanese people are still in shock and still in a state of recovery. One of the producers that I worked with on Macross was taken by the tsunami in an instant. Then there was the incident at the Fukushima powerplant. The person who was actually there, a translator who is not in the room right now, you can see him-
    Interpreter: He has three arms now.
    Yoshida: Yes, he has a ukelele and a little beard. He was in the building across the street from the no. 1 reactor.
    Ishiguro: Tokyo itself was very much affected. One of the things was the limited use of electricity that is happening everywhere. Train stations are darker, trains run without lights inside. Air conditioning is limited if at all. Esclators don’t move so you have to use the stairs. Coming from an age where that was normal, it’s still hard. I knew about it, but younger people are still struggling with the changes. Honestly, I don’t think too many people in Japan are thinking seriously about it. On the work front, most of the clients, the producers are on a ‘wait and see’ posture. Hiding their heads, waiting for this to pass. No one is even attempting to try to create something new or different. I don’t know how long this will last. I have wonder if it is even possible to go back to the way it used to be.
    Murata: There is series called Tokyo Magnitude 8.0 was a work that I had worked on that show the dangers of what would happen in an earthquake. But to have something even greater happen in real life was a tremendous shock to me. I guess the reality of it all is that the Japanese has to accept what it is that happened. In my view, some of the themes underlying some of the upcoming titles mainly may be one of two things: one, the kind of work that makes you think what it is to live, seriously think about what it is to live on. Another theme may be that even in the darkest times, there is a possibility of a bright future and move towards it. *audience applauds*
    Shinkai: I think that in Japan, anime, manga and entertainment is starting to be like an initiation into adulthood. With alot of the young people in Japan these days, they’re unable to experience the pains of life, the pain of growing up. Instead, they’re vicariously experience the pain of life through watching anime and reading manga. I myself was one that was initiated into adulthood through manga and anime. Now, we’re facing this earthquake where the reality is stranger than fiction. For someone who grew up watching manga and anime, we know that we have to face this adversity and become stronger through it. But it’s made me realize that reality and fiction are two totally different things. I know what must be done but facing in this harsh reality, I find myself having a hard time in taking the first step. >Another way to take it is that we can take from this harsh reality and reflect the lessons learned through animation because animation has often served as a proxy for real life. To be able to take from this real life experience, but at this point, I’m not sure how to do it.

    Q: What are the challenges of bringing a new story to a familiar world like Fullmetal Alchemist?
    Murata: To put a side story into an existing story, to put an event that happens in the middle of it is what the Sacred Star of Milos is about. With the characters in the movie, they will have their own emotional growth, but it has to be to the extent that it doesn’t break the continuity of the storyline. I wanted to feel like, this actually happened during the events of the season, but you just didn’t get to see it until now. We tried carefully to construct this movie so that the events in this movie will actually tie in with the events of the last episode [of ep. 20 where this movie is suppose to take place] so it would make more sense, without interfering with what was in the original broadcast.

    Q: In your first work, Voices of Distant Star, you did everything on it. I assume you designed the mecha in it as well. Do you enjoy mecha, who are your influences?
    Shinkai: I don’t very much experience with mecha designs. To be quite honest, I’m not a big fan of mecha designs. But in creating Voices of a Distant Star, I wanted to take on the technical challenge of taking a 3D image of a mecha design and making it look 2D. So took on the challenge and did the design and take on the challenge myself. A work that I referenced was Gundam. I went and bought the dvds and pretty much copied it while creating Voices of a Distant Star. Later, I met Izubuchi Yutaka who did the mecha designs for Gundam and he said, “Hey, your work looks alot like mine!” To which I had no choice but to say, “I’m sorry, I copied your work.” *bows head*

    Q: Who is your favorite To Heart character and why?
    Murata: The class representative, Tomoko. Her position in the story was very similiar to my position in junior high. I felt a sense of connection with that character.

    Q: Can you pick a handful anime series or films that everyone should watch, other that what you created? No need for a top 5.
    Ishiguro: I haven’t watched anything recently. *audience laughs* All the things that come to mind are not commercially available. Things that come to mind is Czechoslovakian puppet shows and the works of Norman McLaren. There is a Chinese series called ‘Muteki’, which was done with sumi art. The way the ink flows from frame to frame is amazing and beautiful. This was made in the 1950s or so but we were amazed by the techniques being used in this. When we found out how it was being done, we though “Boy, these Chinese were pretty smart.”
    Murata: One of the animation titles that really led me to want to become an animation director was Miyazaki Hayao’s Future Boy Conan and if you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend you seek it out and watch it.
    Shinkai: I swear it’s just a coincidence, but a dvd that I recently purchased was Ishiguro-san’s Legend of the Galactic Heroes dvd. *audience applauds* It’s really long and I watch it while having dinner, playing 1 or 2 episodes. Because it’s so long, it’s really expensive. But I must say that this show is definitely worth the money and very much fun to watch. I started producing anime in the digital age, so I have feelings of nostalgia towards the analog way of making anime. While watching Legends of the Galactic Heroes, I would go, “Hey, this effect is really cool!” Digital works with anime doesn’t have the same handmade quality that you sometimes see with analog anime so I very much enjoy that.

    Q: You commented on having characters that communicate through non verbal dialogue and still make it through to the audience so that they can understand what is being communicated there. What are the challenges in doing those kinds of scenes?
    Ishiguro: Frankly speaking, I don’t watch a whole lot, but I find what I do see is that the creators start to ignore the opportunities for non verbal communication. Everything is being spelled out, spoken out, explained to you fully. I don’t think that is a good trend. I think we should go back to eye-to-eye communication where characters are being depicted. When I was in film school way back when, one of the projects that I had to do was to a certain type of scenario. The project that we had to do was to take any two characters, either male or female and it can be set anywhere. But in the least amount of lines, we had to express that they meet periodically. That they get together on occasion. I wasn’t the one that came up with it, but it was about a man and woman meeting at corner late at night. One character hands the other character a suitcase and saids, “Till the next time.” And leaves the scene. I mean to pull off a scene like that as a creator is a beautiful thing, but it’s so much easier to that as a live action. To ask animators to do something like that may be too much to ask for.
    Murata: For characters that communicate without words, they could be depicted and drawn depending how it is shot angle-wise. In terms of the shots, for example you can have characters look eye to eye, and then avert the eyes. Or not show the face at all and show hands fidgeting. I think these are ways you can show emotions and feelings between the characters without actually speaking. We compose a shot of a fullon of the face, side profile or focusing on the mouth and not the eyes, showing the back of the character can be used to show the emotional background behind the scene. Since there are so many ways to do it, there are no correct ways to compose such a scene.
    Shinkai: I never formally studied how to portray scenes like this. I taught myself how to depict acting in my works so I’m not very good at expressing emotions in my characters with this method. But listening to these directors speak is a great learning experience to me.
    Murata: But I think you do this very well!
    Shinkai: Thank you very much!

    Q: Earlier in this panel, you talked about not just digital animation, but working with digital animators. Both Murata-san and Shinkai-san has experience working with digital. What are your thoughts or advice you can give to Ishiguro-san for working with the younger generation of animators?
    Interpreter: I’m not touching that one! *audience laughs due to the polite aspects of ‘giving advice’ from a junior to a senior*
    Ishiguro: I want hear the answer now! Since they’re working with new technology, I’m sure they’ve been through the same hardships that I have experienced. It’s just that know more about the technology then I do. So yes, I am curious to the information they can provide.
    Murata: For me, I experienced both the cel animation and digital animation. Having felt the hardships with every cel having to be placed properly with the backgrounds behind it and photographed and moving on to the next cel and doing the same thing. Once it’s on film, it’s permanent. No changing. Once the digital animation came in to the process, everything’s layered. And it can be changed afterwards for minor adjustments or even make outright changes. After feeling the freedom, freed from the confines of cel animation, I find myself seeing a wider horizon in front of me.
    Shinkai: I’m the opposite because I started learning about the animation in the digital age. But even today, animators still take a sheet of paper and draw on the paper. And then, the picture gets scanned and becomes digital from that point on. I think there are alot that digital animators can learn about analog. I’ve been working with analog animators now and there are many things that I don’t understand about the process. For example, the measurements. Let’s say that you’re moving a character across the screen. The analog animators, millimeters per frame. Because I started out as digital animator so I don’t understand that. I need them to tell me pixels per frame. I need to convert the millimeters into pixels, but then I can’t just tell the analog animators that because the end product is going to be digital product and they need to express it in millimeters. In fact, I think that the digital animation staff needs to learn from the anaglog animation staff on how to take the anaglog pictures and express in digital. As long as there is drawing with a pen and pencil on paper, there is going to be an analog base to animation. As far as advice to Ishiguro-san, I think he should just tell the digital animators to learn how to animate anaglog. *audience applauds*
    Ishiguro: Having done millimeters per frame for so long and being told that we have to use pixels now…I was like what? When I was doing Yamato, Yamato [the battleship] flying through space was always 3 frames 1 millimeter. That was a set thing. In fact, that had to be a set thing because the machine couldn’t handle anything smaller than that. Figuring out how many pixels that would have to be…. *turns to the other two*
    Shinkai: It depends on the resolution of the scans. *audience laughs* Its kind of complicated.
    Ishiguro: I guess I need to learn this or else they think me a fool.

The end of the panel was announced and everyone gave them a standing ovation.