Otakon 2014 – Katabuchi Sunao Q&A

The host introduced Katabuchi-san of the fame Mai Mai Miracle which garnered a full English BD/DVD release via support on Kickstarter. (Note, beside the pledges with gifts from wallpapers to collectors editions, there was even a $10,000 prize pledge which included airfare to Japan, 3 days hotel, a day tour of the sites featured in the film with Katabuchi-san and staff. Unfortunately, no one took them up on that special once in a lifetime tour.)

    Katabuchi: This is my first time at Otakon. I have been to several other American anime conventions, but this is my first time here. I usually come for titles such as Black Lagoon, but this time, I’m actually working on a new film at this moment and I would like share a little bit of the film with you guys before it is even released. *audience applauds*

Katabuchi-san polled the audience for what we’ve seen, beginning Black Lagoon. *fan cheers* The moderator noted that this is probably one of Katabuchi-san’s more popular works in the States. The moderator asked if anyone seen or particapated in the Kickstarter campaign of Mai Mai Miracle which produced a few cheers and applause.

    Katabuchi: Thank you!

    Mod: We did the Kickstarter campaign for his last film, Mai Mai Miracle which opened in 2009 but everyone in Japan thought that this wasn’t feasible. But fans gathered together on Kickstarter and made it possible to make a US release. There will be a DVD/Bluray release by an English company but Andrew Partridge is the producer for it and you should be getting the film later on this year or next year. But we do have Mai Mai Miracle today at 1:30-3:30 in Video Room 1.

    Katabuchi: I’m working on the posters for the Kickstarter campaigns right now so for those that were in the Kickstarter campaign, you can be looking forward to that poster. Some of you must be waiting for the sequel to Black Lagoon, but I actually already covered everything from the manga, so until we get a bit more from the mangaka, Hiroe-sensei, I don’t think we’ll have another series.

    Katabuchi: What you see on the screen is actually Black Lagoon backgrounds which we used for the tv series. There are lots of promotional materials that I made for Black Lagoon, but unfortunately I only have pieces of art such as these. Because when I left Madhouse, I left most of the material there so there are lots of material left behind at Madhouse.

    What you see right now are layouts which gives you the diagram of the whole animation sequence for that shot. For this layout, I actually drew this myself. Most of these farshots are establishing shots of the city or town. I usually try to draw the layouts by myself.

    Black Lagoon was from the original manga by Hiroe-sensei. When we were working on the animation, Hiroe-sensei and I worked together to develope the city, Roanapur in Black Lagoon. We based it on Hong Kong and Vietnam.

    These are some of the props used in Black Lagoon. For example, here is the U boat that is in Black Lagoon. We only actually only used reference pictures when were doing the prop design for the anime. I went to Anime Central after doing Black Lagoon and in Chicago there is this U Boat exhibit. I went there after doing the anime and when I went in there, I realized we did a really good job for with depicting how the actual U boat structure. As soon as I stepped in, I knew exactly where all the things were. *laughs*

    Katabuchi: *pulls up pic of Maruyama Masao* Maruyama-san had to go to a recording so he couldn’t be here today. He will be here tomorrow. Maruyama-san and I left Madhouse because Madhouse was bought by a new parent company and they changed their business style. Both of us believed that with the new Madhouse, we won’t be able to make films that we would like to. That’s why we left together and Maruyama made a new studio called MAPPA [Maruyama Animation Produce Project Association]. The funny thing is that MAPPA has more work than Madhouse right now. *audience laughs* Maruyama-san claims that MAPPA stands for several things. In Italian, ‘mappa’ means ‘map’. But in Japanese, ‘mappa’ means ‘naked’. *audience laughs* When Maruyama-san left Madhouse, he was 70 years old. To him, creating a new company is like being reborn again, like a naked baby which is why he named it MAPPA. When we started MAPPA, the first thing I started working on was Kono Sekai no Katasumi.

    Katabuchi: *holds up manga* This was the original manga it was based on. There is a French version of it, but there is no English version of it, so there was no English title. When we found out that we were coming to Otakon, we had to decide the English title as soon as possible. Sitting down with the publishers, we came up with a title, In this Corner of the World. The manga is still no released in English, but when it is released, it will use the same title. I would love to have the people read the original manga in english. In many articles when this title was being announced, many titles were used, but from now, people would know this title as In this Corner of the World. We bought layouts for this film and displayed it in the artist alley. So please stop by and check it out to see what kind of film this will be. I’ve been doing the same exhibit in Japan as well but people called me crazy. You can probably see why people called me crazy when you see the layouts. *audience laughs*

Since Katabuchi-san knew that fans were “dying to ask questions”, the floor opened up for the Q&A.

    Q: What is the basis of your inspiration for Mai Mai Miracle?
    Katabuchi: At that time, Madhouse brought this book to me and the book was about children’s life in the 1950’s in the Yamaguchi prefecture, the west of Japan. It was about kids that lived before my age, but I felt a bit of my childhood so I wanted to work on Mai Mai Miracle.

    Q: I read that you worked on the American cartoon of Street Fighter. Is this true? What was that experience like making a cartoon for an American audience versus making anime for a Japanese audience?
    Katabuchi: It’s an old 1990’s series. It was so long ago, that I can’t really remember, but I think I recall drawing Chun Li in storyboard. *audience laughs* I worked on several animation, but I can’t remember exactly which ones. I know that it was going to be worldwide and not only in Japan, so I tried to keep in mind that it was eventually going to make it out of Japan. I remember that I worked on Street Fighter 2, but I was only asked to do a part of it. At the time, I was thinking ‘You should make me do all of this.’ *audience laughs*

    Q: You spoke alot about layouts during the panel. You also do storyboard as well. Can you describe some of the differences between working between those two roles?
    Katabuchi: Storyboard is more drawing drawing out the whole episode or part of the series. You’re making a timeline for it. For layouts, you’re laying out the structure of the storyboard.

    Q: Who would you say is the inspiration for you whether it is a writer or director?
    Katabuchi: I mostly watch tv dramas these days. *audience laughs* There is actually a drama that plays every morning in channel on NHK channel. It has excellent scriptwriters for these kinds of shows so I’m inspired by the scriptwriters. There are good late night dramas too but since I’m getting old, so I get sleepy at night so I wake up to watch these morning dramas. Some of these dramas are sometimes even more thrilling than movies some times so it is a very good inspiration.

    Q: From your experiences, what are the differences between fan culture in Japan and abroad? What is a good drama I should check out?
    Katabuchi: Something I realized from the Mai Mai Miracle, I believe that the English community is trying to build their own culture and for the Japanese fan culture, I feel that the Japanese are behind. They’re so used to being fed and told what they’re suppose to watch. Japanese are catching up to English fans right now. The NHK drama called Ama-chan, Chiritotechin and Carnation. I would recommend those three. Chiritotechin is about people who are training in rakugo [type of comedian] in Japan. I felt sympathy for them in the drama. *audience laughs*

    Q: Given the tonal differences between the works you handle like Black Lagoon and Mai Mai Miracle. Could you describe the way you adapt, some of the tools you use or techniques to suit each individual project?
    Katabuchi: It’s kind of a mental thing: when you eat sweet stuff, you want to eat salty or sour stuff too, which is why I want to do different things. Miyazaki Hayao-san actually likes novels like Black Lagoon, but in his case, he is not allowed to make some thing like that. *audience laughs* I’m more fortunate than him.

    Q: What are some directorial techniques you use to differentiate your works?
    Katabuchi: It’s not exactly a difference. Each project has a different face in itself. I try to grasp the face.

    Q: Can you describe your experience with Studio Ghibli?
    Katabuchi: Working at Ghibli was actually an extended experience from working with Telecom studios. Miyazaki-san and I were both working with Telecom studios first. What they really tried to do was to make sure everyone grasped the basics of animation. When I moved to Ghibli to work with Miyazaki-san once again, it was basically the same thing as Telecom. There were staff who dropped off from Telecom work or didn’t get in at all, but got to work at Ghibli and eventually became an animation director.

    Q: What did you do to adapt the manga of your new film, Kono Sekai?
    Katabuchi: I touched upon it a bit when I talked about Mai Mai Miracle. It took place in the 1950’s Yamaguchi prefecture which is like my childhood. After working on Mai Mai, I was wondering if I could create something that is not based off of my childhood. For example, if I go 10 years before my childhood in a different era, would I be able to depict a story from that era that I never experienced before. In Mai Mai Miracle, there was a Shinko’s mother who married her husband at 18 years old. I was thinking that I might do a story of her instead. If I worked on such a film, I think that I would be able to imagine something I never experienced before. When I talked to Mai Mai Miracle fans in Japan, they were also fans of Kono Fumiyo-sensei. They all said that instead of doing that, I should work on this manga [Kono Sekai no Katsumi ni]. I actually wrote a letter to Kono-sensei asking her if I would be able to animate her manga. I sent a video of Mai Mai Miracle to her. She didn’t know my name but in her return letter, she asked if I was the director who worked on Lassie since she really loved the animation.

    Q: So you Nabeshin [Watanabe Shinichiro] who is also working at MAPPA. Would you ever consider working on a project with him?
    Katabuchi: MAPPA has a couple of studios now. Most of the work goes on in the first studio and second studio where we’re at. I think we’re completely isolated. Nabeshin has actually left the second studio for awhile so I haven’t seen him in some time.

    Q: One of your earlier works was Meitantei Holmes. What was it like working on the production?
    Katabuchi: I don’t think there was any production issues, it was more like people issues. We began working on it when the contract closed. At one point, they completely shut us down. So we discussed about the lower budget. By that time, Miyazaki-san wasn’t really working on it either, when Miyazaki was working on it, he wrote the storyboards so as a staff, we really wanted to work on them.

    Q: There seems to be some problems adapting works like Kono Sekai in English. Are you experiencing similar issues?
    Katabuchi: If you look at the title closely, it is In this Corner of the World so it’s a huge world, but the story is focused on a corner of the world. In making the film, I have to think of what the director role is. But in making the film, it is about one normal girl’s perspective. I really tried to keep that in mind while making this. This film is about this one person and how she sees the world. This can also mean how much limited information can be seen from a single person’s perspective. How much realism will be brought. For example, if you have the chance to see other Kono Fumiya-sensei’s works, most of the time, she doesn’t always explain what happens. For example, ‘why is a yo-yo here?’ On another page, there is a yo-yo and an explanation of why it is there. And right before this time, in January 1930, that was when the major yo-yo trend hit Japan. This illustration here shows that this girl is interested in yo-yo’s because of the trend. But the entire world’s trend is not part of the story. This work is strictly based on the perspective of this one girl. I think this perspective is very critical as it shows how much this one person can establish. There are many clues and hints in how the world is around her. It is up the viewer to see what is the world around her. The manga has a lot of hints and explanations so you can enjoy looking. This is also the reference material that I gathered for the film, In This Corner of the World.

    Katabuchi: *points to photo* Even with this much reference materials, this still doesn’t describe all the material that is in the manga. It was really hard gathering all these books. *audience laughs* I’m running out of space to put shelves. This is a lesson that everyone should have a bookshelf in their apartment. *audience laughs*

    Q: Last year at Otakon, I saw a short animation called Hana wa Saku. I tried looking for it online in the usual places as youtube, niconico, NHK website. Is there a reason why this is so hard to find?
    Katabuchi: This was from a dvd that was made to be sold only sold in Japan. It was a charity dvd for the people who got hit by the tsunami from the earthquake in 3/11. All the royalties from the dvd go to charity so it’s not meant to be watched freely. If you guys are interested, you can purchase one. ‘Hana wa Saku’ has the cd with the dvd.

    Q: Thank you for working on Kiki’s Delivery Service. My grandmother showed it to me when I was younger and so it’s been in my childhood for a long time and now I have my two year old niece hooked on it. In your bio, it said that you were writing for Miyazaki in college. How did that opportunity arise?
    Katabuchi: Miyazaki-san and I were both under the same teacher, Ikeda Hiroshi-san who directed anime like The Flying Ghost Ship and Treasure Island. There was this event posted by Miyazaki who said let’s gather everyone who like this stuff. It was suppose to include other people, but it ended up being with just Miyazaki. At that time I was just in film school and Miyazaki-san was already a professional working on Sherlock Hound. He said that he wanted to work with a student. This was a drawing that I did when I was 21 years old for Hound.

    Q: Have you met Kono Fumiya-sensei in person?
    Katabuchi: I met her many times. She is 8 years younger than me and very thoughtful.

The mod announced that Katabuchi-san will be heading to the Opening Ceremonies. He reminded fans that the Mai Mai Miracle screening will be at 1:30pm which is also where Katabuchi-san will be making an appearance to talk about the film. Autographs with Matsubara-san will be at 4:30-5:30pm in Autograph 1. On Saturday, Katabuchi-san and Matsubara-san will have an autograph signing at 11:30am. Katabuchi-san will be having a Kono Sekai panel at 4:30pm at panel 1 which Katabuchi-san recommends checking out the artist alley before attending since he’ll be discussing how the film is being made. *audience applauds*