The Japanese Ministry of Education (文部科学省) awarded Katsuhiro Otomo this 2013 autumn with the Medal of Honor with Purple Ribbon. He received the honor for "his unparalleled skills in illustration, composition, storytelling and acute visual sense that went into the many excellent works he produced as a manga artist and animation film director over a long period of time, which resulted in garnering international attention and contributing to development of our country's fine arts and culture."
The Medal with Purple Ribbon that was given to 16 individuals in 2013 usually goes to individuals who have contributed to traditional arts, crafts and performing arts. Previously, the medal was given to only three animation artists: Yoji Kuri (久里 洋二), Taku Furukawa
and Isao Takahata (高畑 勲). The composer Joe Hisaishi (久石 譲), who collaborated with Otomo in the Robot Carnival Soundtrack
was awarded with this medal back in 2009. Katsuhiro Otomo together with the other recipients had an audience with the Japanese Emperor in the Imperial Palace. This is the second time an anime film director receives the award after Isao Takahata (高畑 勲) in 1998
TRANSCRIPTION OF THE INTERVIEW
I am Katsuhiro Otomo
Q1: Please give your thoughts on receiving the Purple Medal
I am very surprised and don't feel I deserve this. It's a
bit confusing, as I'm not that old and yet, feel old at the same time.
Q2: how have the people around you reacted to this?
Everyone was happy for me. It's very hard to tell if your
own work is good or not. When I'm alone, I'm always confused if what I'm doing
is ok. I guess that's what has been recognized in this award. I'm happy, it's
like I've been told that I can continue on proceeding with my work.
Q3: Among your cartoons and animated/live action films, hat
is your most memorable work?
I should say AKIRA. It was my first long-term serial
publication, and I also directed the animated film adaptation. The
international version was released with the collaboration of US Marvel Comics.
AKIRA was probably the first Japanese cartoon released overseas. There were
many aspects, which made AKIRA very memorable, such as the translation, and
creating western comic books which open up totally opposite, from right to
Q4: What message are you trying to convey though your work?
It really depends on each piece such as the era in which the
story takes place, and on how old I was when I wrote it. I search for themes to
project in the story and the characters by getting hints from events occurring
in society and my thoughts at the time. I'm always searching to arrive
somewhere though my work. More than having a theme and writing for the sake of
the theme. I try to arrive at that place using various methods.
Q5: What kind of place did you arrive at in your work AKIRA?
AKIRA first started with a very small issue, which rapidly
evolved into unimaginable directions. Such phenomenon is human culture,
technology and the way humanity develops. The theme AKIRA explores the gap between
humans and development. I thought isn’t there something to lessen the gap
between humans and their creations.
Q6: AKIRA predicts the
2020 Tokyo Olympics.
I totally forgot about this. A bar owner told me that I was
in the news. Don’t worry, since it was just by mere coincidence.
Q7: Where does your
drive to create come from?
It goes back to
cartoons and novels I read when I was a child. I loved these books and still
do. I still think about how a story should develop. I just love writing
stories. I’m not exactly sure where this desire comes from. But I have been
immersed in such stories ever since my childhood.
Q8: Many of your works
surprise people. Where do your ideas come from?
It must be from going outside. Although there is a point in
time when I create stories in my head, the initial idea comes from going
outside, whether it be a bookstore, a CD shop, or a bar, and to just go out
people-watching. That’s where I get my inspiration from. A city can really
change when you don’t visit it for a while. These are sources of inspiration.
Like how a city suddenly changes without you realizing it. I was in shock when
I recently visited Shinjuku. Places you haven’t been to for a while become
totally different. I’m inspired by a certain period of time and myself being in
Q9: What kind of works
do you wish to make in the future?
There are some already in the planning stages. Production
may start soon if the budge is secured. In this sense, there are currently up
to three works in the planning stages. But is also depends on if people like
the movie or not. There are still other stories I want to make, so we must try
planning each work one by one. This is a difficult process, but I will work
Q10: After your work
AKIRA, Japanese cartoons and animated films became highly regarded worldwide.
How do you feel about this?
I have been
watching US and French films ever since I was a child. We create art by viewing
the works of our predecessors. We exist on top of this, and then the next
generation succeeds. So I feel stories continue on in this way. So I must
further devote myself to my work, to be able to have a positive influence on
those succeeding me.
Q11: Specifically what
kind of impact do you wish to have in the future?
Although I do have thoughts about how I wish to create a
piece, the end product is a totally different matter compared to mere thoughts
which just in your head. So it’s difficult to know what I am having an
influence on… Perhaps people’s sense of the world.
Q12: How do you think
Japanese culture should be disseminated?
There are some
strange forms of dissemination now. For example, I do feel the otaku culture is
a little twisted. I hope to correct this image a little more. I won’t say its
bad, but I do feel this aspect has gone slightly out of control. It would be
nice if we can transmit something a little more calmer. This is something we
Q13: Do you plan to
develop your current work overseas?
This is undecided. We may possibly work with someone
overseas. There may be issue of how to attain funding. It’s still up in the
Q14: You’ve been
active in various fields. What are the differences between Japan and overseas?
I’ve known that it’s tough working in the movie-related
industry in the US. For publishing, it’s easier to work in Europe than in the
US. I would love to go. I did try to a long time ago, but always end up not
going from being too busy with work. It would be pointless to go for a short
term period of just one month. I did seriously consider it once, but never had
Q15: Please give a
message for young people aiming to become a cartoonist and director like you.
If you want to make a piece, I think it’s important to know
the vastness of the world. The world is vast. You should expose yourself to novels,
culture and art. Try to see and read as much as you can to be able to store
this information in yourself. Although this requires effort, it’s very
difficult to reach an individual form of expression if you don’t do this. So
please work hard.