14 September 2011

Masaaki Yuasa at Japan Media Arts Festival Dortmund, Part I

Film Talk with Masaaki Yuasa at Japan Media Arts Festival Dortmund
Dortmunder U, September 11, 2011


On Sunday, September 11th, I took the train up to Dortmund to see the Proto Anime Cut and Japan Media Arts Festival exhibitions at the Dortmunder U. The Proto Anime Cut: Spaces and Visions in Japanese Animation exhibition is sponsored by the Hartware MedienKunstVerein (HMKV) and features the original artwork of Hideaki Anno, Hiromasa Ogura, Takashi Watanabe, Koji Morimoto, Haruhiko Higami, and Mamoru Oshii. I will write up a review of this exhibition and the accompanying bilingual (DE/EN) publication in the near future. The exhibition runs until October 9th.

The Japan Media Arts Festival exhibition, also sponsored by HMKV runs until October 2nd. You can read more about the programme in my earlier post. I will also be writing reviews of some of the exhibitions and short films later this month. 

The highlight of the festival was Sunday’s Film Talk with Masaaki Yuasa. It followed a screening of the first three episodes of Kaiba (2008) and was followed by a screening of Mind Game (2004). The festival will also be showing all 11 episodes of Tatami Galaxy (2010) on Sunday, September 18th. Tatami Galaxy won the Grand Prize at the Japan Media Arts Festival 2010 as did Mind Game in 2004. Kaiba received an Excellence Prize in 2008.

The film talk with Masaaki Yuasa was conducted by the event curator Stefan Riekeles with simultaneous translation through headphones by two translators in a booth. It reminded me of watching a session of the Canadian parliament. I found it all a bit awkward and prefer the more personable style of translation done at Nippon Connection. The Germans have a very strong dubbing culture and I often find English documentaries that have been dubbed on TV impossible to understand because the English track is usually left so loud that it competes with the German overdub and becomes an unintelligible jumble to me. At times during Sunday's film talk hearing German and Japanese simultaneously became overwhelming, so I may have missed out on some  of the nuances and details of the conversation. The following is my impression of the proceedings – with additional information (ie. full titles, years of release, full names, etc.) and observations.

Part I: How did Yuasa get started in animation?

Masaaki Yuasa (湯浅 政明, b. 1965) loved anime as a child. He was so wild about one particular TV series that he drew pictures of it and put them up all over the house. I did not hear him name the particular TV anime series he was referring to, but I know from past interviews with Yuasa that he was a fan of Doraemon, Obake no Q-Taro and Hana no Pyun-Pyun Maru as a child. Yuasa noticed pretty early on that drawing was his forte, but when he reached his teenage years he apparently thought that he would have to give up watching anime for more grown-up pursuits. This all changed when Space Battleship Yamato (宇宙戦艦ヤマト, Leiji Matsumoto, 1977) came to the cinemas and he noticed that adults were standing in line to see the film. This was the moment – Yuasa would have been aged 14 at the time – that he realized that anime could be for grown-ups too.

For those of you who don’t know, Space Battleship Yamato (aka Space Cruiser Yamato) was a feature film that was made by condensing Leiji Matsumoto’s 26 episode run of Space Battleship Yamato (宇宙戦艦ヤマト, Leiji Matsumoto, 1974-75) on Yomiuri TV to feature film length. The film was more successful than the TV series and in fact even beat Star Wars (George Lucas, 1977) at the Japanese box office.

In his teens, Yuasa started watching more and more anime at the cinema instead of just on TV. This got him interested in pursuing a career in the animation industry. Although I did not hear him mention it on Sunday, Yuasa has in the past often cited Hayao Miyazaki’s Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro (ルパン三世 カリオストロの城, 1979) and the TV series Golden Warrior Gold Lightan (黄金戦士ゴールド・ライタン, Koichi Mashimo, 1981-82). In particular, the work that Takashi Nakamura did on Gold Lightan – which was also to influence the work of Kōji Morimoto – was hugely impactful on Yuasa in his teenage years.

Despite his obvious interest in anime, Yuasa’s parents put pressure on him to do a university degree. In order to appease them, he took a degree in oil painting in the Department of Fine Arts of the Kyushu Sangyo University in Fukuoka. Immediately upon graduation, he sought a job drawing for Asia-dō (亜細亜堂) in Saitama because he was a great admirer of their work. In the 1980s, Asia-dō worked on a number of great series including Doraemon and Manga Nippon Mukashi-Banashi.

To see more photos from this event, see my Google Plus profile or the Nishikata Eiga Facebook page.

Order works by Masaaki Yuasa: