Katsuhiro Otomo made his first public appearance in North America in 15 years at the California Institute of the Arts' downtown center for the contemporary arts, a section of the famous Walt Disney Concert Hall known as REDCAT. He was awarded with the first ever Platform Lifetime Achievement Award.
After the screening of Combustible, Otomo sat with the animation historian Jerry Beck along with an interpreter for an interview. Here a some fragments from the interview from the original article by Justin Sevakis.
●On where did it start for him, in terms of influences.
"I used to love manga as a kid, and wanted to become a manga artist, and when I was in high school I got into movies as well. But being a director was quite a lofty goal, so I decided to become a manga artist instead. The world of manga, as created by Osamu Tezuka ① in Japan, had its methods rooted in filmmaking, so the two weren't so different. He was able to move onto making films from that point, as well."
●On thematic pattern in his work, of tradition versus new technologies.
"I've tried to present both sides. I like new things -- movies, music, technology and such, but there's value in the past as well, so I try to be even-handed."
●On Combustible ②, is this the sort of image he had of old Japan.
"I really wanted to describe the Edo period in a movie for a long time, but it's not easy to bring the Edo period to a feature film. Hence, this short project."
●On what he said in an earlier conversation that it'd be easy for him to get funding for a new Sci-fi film, but that really isn't what he's interested in.
"Well, sure, but it's not like it'd be easy to get funding to make Sci-fi either. Recently it's become very difficult to make sci-fi films as well. The biggest challenge is that, 20 years ago, no sci-fi had people using cell phones, and now everyone has one. Something so basic to our everyday lives, and we got it wrong. Trying to imagine the future is really tough."
●On what were his influences in making The Order to Stop Construction③.
"It's a long story. It was from a novel originally. It was the first thing I directed, and the project also involved Rintaro ④ and Yoshiaki Kawajiri's ⑤ work as well. At the beginning we discussed picking up the stories from short novels, but the other two ended up changing their minds, so I was the only one left adapting fiction."
●On Akira, if it was an immediate demand to bring it to theaters, even before he were done with the manga.
"Yes, I was asked to make it, because at the time there was a huge animation production boom. During the manga writing of Akira ⑥, I was asked to make it."
●On if it was it given a bigger budget, or was it special in any other way as a production at the time.
"We had a huge budget. I don't remember how I got so much to work with. (laughs)".
●On of it was it a big hit in Japan as well.
"It wasn't a huge hit, really. That's my opinion, but I don't think it was such a huge hit."
●On what happened afterwards if he had lots of producers knocking on his door.
"I had quite a few offers, but I had my own list of things I wanted to do. I wanted to make a live action film, and someone asked me to direct one, so I did. And then someone asked me to make Akira 2, which I didn't want to do. And then Steamboy ⑦ came a long. And that took many years."
●On if he was familiar with the Hollywood remake of Akira that 's in produciton.
"Huh? Nope. I work on manga, and I work on animation. There's no need for me to be involved in that."
●On his opinion on Looper ⑧:
"I was really floored by it.
●On Freedom if the project was born out of any substantial interest in space exploration in Japan at the time.
"Actually, I wasn't the director of Freedom ⑨, that was Mr. Morita. So I have no idea."
●On if he would say that there's anything missing from animation today and what would he like to see more of.
"There's a lot to be desired in Japanese animation right now. We have a ton of animation, but it's not easy to come out with something original in that world."
●On the work of French comic artist Mœbius:
"Oh yes, I love Mœbius ⑩. There was a time when we discussed working together on something, but unfortunately, that opportunity disappeared."
●On what was it like to work on the script for the feature film version of Tezuka's Metropolis.
"When I worked on the scenario for Metropolis ⑪, I was very mindful that it was one of his very early works, so he always regarded the layout and the work in general as incomplete. So I wanted to fill in the cracks and bring it up to date."
●On the inspirations behind Akira in Gigantor ⑫.
"I read it a lot as a kid. But you really can't tell that from the resulting work, can you?"
●On why is it hard to tell historical stories.
"We've been watching a lot of period films since the early days of Japanese film and TV. So when I go to research the Edo period, most of the the material is from other directors. Avoiding all of that and coming up with new imagery is very hard."
●On if there is any fundamental question he tries to answer with his work.
"That I want to enjoy life. But I don't have that much time left for that."
●On his current manga project:
"I don't want to tell you about the story yet, but it takes place in the Meiji era."
●On his characters, which does he personally identify with the most.
"It's very hard to say, because they're all part of me."
●On any words of advice for any of the artists here.
"Please do your best, because being an animator is one of the best jobs in the world. When I was a kid, my father asked what the hell I was doing in animation, because it wasn't a great job. But it is a great job, so please do your best at it."
●On what makes Japanese-made anime so special.
"What I believe is that, Miyazaki ⑬ and Oshii ⑭ for example, both have created their own personal worlds within their animation. I guess you could say that I have too. I don't think we could get a job in the United States, because we don't listen to other people."
●On what kind of stories do you want to tell in animation and manga these days.
"I have lots of ideas and lots of projects that I want to work on, but we haven't decided which ones yet."
●On how much is he aware of how influential his work has been to American filmmakers and animators.
"I have no words to answer your questions. I watch a lot of American movies, and all of my films reference them, so it's all just one big conversation, I guess."
●On if there is anything that's difficult to translate from manga to anime.
"The basics are the same, but what's difficult bringing manga to anime is the time limitation. Cramming everything into 2 hours is the hardest part."
●On making an epic like Akira over many years, if does his intention with the work change over the time it's being made.
"It doesn't change much, because at the beginning I storyboard everything out in advance."
●On if he would ever want to make a Samurai movie set in the future.
(He doesn't answer this one, but rather joins the audience in giggling at the question)
●On the style of art in Combustible.
"we researched a lot about the history of Japanese art, namely the emakimono ⑮ tradition. How we pass the image in front of the screen is all coming from that research."
●On how long did it take to make Combustible and what was his favorite part.
"About one year. When you see the fire, in the eyes of Owaka, is my favorite part."
●On what is his favorite stage in making a film.
"Maybe the planning stage, before development."
●On the progression of computers in animation, and he availability of new techniques.
"Memories ⑯ was the first time computers were used in Japanese animation."
●On how many animators worked on Combustible.
"There were 5-7 key animators."
●A long question about aspects of humanity portrayed in his work got an amusing but non-sequitur response:
"Uh, no. I don't have a driver's license."
●On his work been about the destruction wrought by technology, if he is scared of technology in some way or a traumatic experience in his life, perhaps.
"You might think so from my stories, but no, I'm not scared of technology."
●On what living Japanese animators does he admire most.
"My favorites are all the old ones, from back in the 1950s."
Notes by ChronOtomo:
① Osamu Tezuka (手塚 治虫, born 手塚 治) (Nov. 1928 – 9 February 1989) was a Japanese cartoonist, manga writer/artist, animator, producer, activist, and medical doctor, who never practiced medicine
②Combustible, is an animation short film directed by Katsuhiro Otomo as part of the SHORT PEACE movie released on July 2013. www.shortpeace-movie.com
③The Order to Stop Construction (Kōji Chūshi Meirei - 工事中止命令) is a 1987 animation short directed by Katsuhiro Otomo that formed part of the film Meikyū Monogatari (迷宮物語) available in Japan on DVD: http://amzn.to/YnjQXe. The film is known in the US as Neo Tokyo and is available on DVD: http://amzn.to/10URWPS
④Rintaro (りんたろう) Born January 22, 1941 in Tokyo, Japan is the pseudonym of Shigeyuki Hayashi (林 重行 )a well-known anime director.
⑤Yoshiaki Kawajiri (川尻 善昭) born November 18, 1950 is a critically acclaimed writer and director of Japanese animation. He is the creator of titles such as Wicked City, Ninja Scroll, and Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust.
⑥Akira. The seminal manga an Animation movie by Katsuhiro otomo
⑦Steamboy is a animation movie directed by katsuhiro Otomo reelased in 2004.
⑧Looper is a live action movie directed by Rian Jhonson released in 2012.
⑨Freedom is an Original Video animation in wich Otomo colaborated as Character and mechanical designer.
⑩Moebius. Jean Henri Gaston Giraud (8 May 1938 – 10 March 2012) was a French artist, cartoonist, and writer, who worked in the Franco-Belgian bandes dessinées tradition.
⑪Metropolis, Is a 2001 released animation movie directed by Rintaro, based on a manga by Osamu Tezuka an in which Otomo collaborated writing the screenplay.
⑫Gigantor. is the American name given to Tetsujin 28 (鉄人28号) by Mitsuteru Yokoyama (横山 光輝). A manga published in Kobunsha's Shōnen Magazine from July 1956 to May 1966 and was later adapted to various anime series in the 60’s, 80’s and the last one in 2004 as well a live action film in 2005. Diverse availability: http://amzn.to/YmHaVd
⑬Hayao Miyazaki (宮崎 駿) born on January 5, 1941, is a Japanese film director, animator, manga artist, illustrator, producer, and screenwriter.
⑭Mamoru Oshii (押井 守) born August 8, 1951 in Tokyo) is a Japanese filmmaker, television director, and writer.
⑮Emakimono (絵巻物) literally 'picture scroll' often simply called emaki (絵巻), is a horizontal, illustrated narrative form created during the 11th to 16th centuries in Japan. Emaki-mono combines both text and pictures, and is drawn, painted, or stamped on a handscroll. They depict battles, romance, religion, folk tales, and stories of the supernatural world.
⑯Memories. Is three part animation film released in 1995 featuring three stories by Katsuhiro Otomo. Directed by Koji Morimoto, Tensay Okamura and Otomo himself.