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●INTERVIEW● Justin Sevakis & Katsuhiro Otomo

Katsuhiro Otomo at Platform International Animation Festival.
Katsuhiro Otomo Interview by Justin Sevakis, Nov 5th 2012

At the Platform International Animation Festival in Los Angeles①, Anime News Network had the chance to sit down with legendary director and manga artist Katsuhiro Otomo and ask him a few questions over breakfast.

Q: I wanted to jump right in and ask about your new project that's going to be starting in Weekly Shonen Sunday②. What made you decide to do something for younger audiences?

A: Actually it's not decided yet if I'm going to go in Shonen Sunday or not. I've been targeting the younger generation since the beginning. Now it seems like as the project is getting more geared towards older audiences. So I'm still considering whether to go with Weekly Shonen Sunday or not.

Q: I see. Is there a rough plan/timeframe for when it will be launched?

A: Well, actually, it WAS planned to launch this autumn. (laughs) Please don't ask.

Q: There was one magazine that mentioned that you were actually doing everything yourself without assistance; is that true?

A: Yes.

Q: That sounds really tough.

A: Yes, that's why it's taking some time. (laughs)

Q: Moving on to older projects: many of my favorite of your works, such as Roujin Z③ and The Order to Stop Construction④, are satire, a rarity in anime and manga. I was wondering if satire was something you find yourself gravitating towards.

A: That's totally depends on the basic idea, itself. Sometimes I get inspiration from the politics, but sometimes I get into more fantasy. Not everything in current events makes for a good story -- for example, we had a big earthquake two years ago in Japan. I was very shocked, but despite everything that happened, I'm not convinced anyone will be able to make a good work of fiction out of it. Some artists have already started drawing, but they've stuck mostly to accounts of what actually happened in Japan.

Q: Lots of veteran anime creators have talked a bit about the future of anime and manga in Japan and worried about the future. Is that something you think a lot about?

A: Yeah, I think it's getting harder and harder to become a director in Japan. Maybe some of the difficulties in the business sphere are coming from the earthquake, and everything else going on there. It's not easy to get sponsors from the corporate world for creating animation these days.

Q: Is there any hope, are you finding any bright spots in the industry?

A: Well, in spite of all the difficulties, the animators in Japan are all working hard and doing their best, so there's hope in that. Beyond that, I don't pay much attention to the trendy side of the business, so I'm really not the guy to ask.

Q: So, talking about your new work, Combustible⑤, its theme is clearly two young people who are trapped in their society, and their attempts to break free from that trap. What inspired that theme?

A: The basic theme of the storyline is fairly typical of old Japanese literature, called kabuki or joruri. For example, the story of Yaoya Oshichi⑥ is, more or less, the same basic story as Combustible. I wanted to take that old theme that we used to have in Japan 300 years ago, and describe with recent technologies, in anime form.

Q: Combustible uses a lot of modern animation techniques, but are their some methods you took from the old analog days of anime as well?

A: I like to work on both sides, with both hand-drawing and computer graphics. Back a couple years ago everyone was working only with computer graphics, using LCD tablets and the like, but now people are coming back to hand-drawing style. Some parts of the process use tablets, and coloring is still done digitally. But I'm trying to bring as much classic draftsmanship back to the craft as possible.

Q: How much of it is you, drawing directly?

A: Actually I don't do much painting. (laughs) Of course, I draw the layout and the storyboard.

Q: Since your work is so often cited by other creators, do you feel any added pressure when you release a new work?

A: No, no pressure. I really doubt people are following and referencing my work like that.

Q: Conversely, is there any creative work that has really inspired you in the last few years?

A: For another project, I had a chance to go to Las Vegas and attend the Cirque du Soleil show, Kà⑦. It made a huge impression on me, I was very impressed by it -- not just by the performances, but by the balance it struck between performance and artistry.

Q: You've had a bunch of smaller projects and a few really, really huge projects over the course of your career. Do you keep souvenirs from any of them?

A: I don't own any replicas or anything like that, if that's what you mean. But I had an art show in Japan a couple months ago in Japan that showcased Akira. The replica we made of Kaneda's motorcycle is owned by a collector in Japan, and so I borrowed it from him for a while, but I had to give it back.

Q: You just got a lifetime achievement award, but you're still pretty young, at least, by anime industry standards. Are you happy with your career up to this point? Do you feel like you still have a lot to prove? What goals do you still have?

A: I feels like I'm getting older, but I've still got a lot of things that I wants to create. But recently, I've been starting to feel the years. Except when I drink, then the energy comes out. (laughs)

Q: And I have to ask, because unfortunately we've lost a lot of great anime creators in the last few years: do you smoke?

A: Oh boy. Yeah, I started smoking again recently out of stress. I was going to use this trip as an excuse to quit, because you know, 'nobody smokes in Los Angeles,' but then I had these guys with me... (motioning to his interpreter and assistant), and they're always looking for a smoking buddy.

(to the translator and assistant) So it's YOUR fault.

(they all laugh)

Q: While you're in Los Angeles is there anything you're planning to see, or do you have just go back immediately and just go back to work?

A: Yeah, we're going straight back to Japan. We have work to do.

Q: Are there any works of yours that you feel American fans didn't get a good chance to see, that you would like them to check out?

A: Most of my manga and animation is already released in the United States, so maybe this upcoming series. Because I haven't directed many movies recently, Combustible is pretty much it, really. I've been spending most of my time on the art festival we had in Japan.

Q:Was that very successful?

A: Oh yes, very successful.

Q: I'm sure your American fans would love a chance to see some of that here.

A: That would be pretty tough with my current workload. I need more help. (laughs)

Q: Any parting words for your American fans?

A: I have a lot more things that I want to give to the US people, so please look forward to it.

Notes by ChronOtomo:

①Platform International Animation Festival in Los Angeles: http://www.platformfestival.com/

②Weekly Shonen Sunday (週刊少年サンデー ) is a Manga magazine published by Shogakukan (小学館) in Japan.http://websunday.net/

③Roujin Z (老人Z) is an animated film Written by katsuhiro Otomo (大友 克洋)and directed by Hiroyuki Kitakubo (北久保 弘之). Availability: Japan http://amzn.to/14kw6vg , UShttp://amzn.to/1262Yo5, ES http://amzn.to/1262Yo5

④The 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

⑤Combustible, is an animation short film directed by Katsuhiro Otomo as part of the SHORT PEACE movie released on July 2013. www.shortpeace-movie.com

⑥Yaoya Oshichi (八百屋お七) literally "greengrocer Oshichi" was a daughter of the greengrocer Tarobei. She lived in the Hongō neighborhood of Edo at the beginning of the Edo period. She attempted to commit arson after falling in love with a boy. This story became the subject of joruri plays. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yaoya_Oshichi

⑦Cirque du Soleil, Kà. Official site: http://goo.gl/qa2K