14 September 2011

Masaaki Yuasa at Japan Media Arts Festival Dortmund, Part II

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

Read  Part I: Masaaki Yuasa at Japan Media Arts Festival Dortmund

Part II: Masaaka Yuasa’s Early Career in Animation

Immediately upon graduation, Masaaki Yuasa 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. He was not paid an hourly rate but by the drawing and was expected to complete about 20 drawings a day. Freelance animators just starting out get paid rather poorly for long hours of tedious work and his parents were concerned about his low income. Yuasa was undeterred however, and he moved up the ranks at Asia-dō fairly quickly and he felt that they treated him rather well.

During the talk, Yuasa heaped praise upon Mitsuru Hongo, director of the Crayon Shin-chan TV series – the second series that Yuasa worked on after Chibi Maruko-chan – for his generosity in allowing Yuasa to draw want he wanted. Yuasa spoke very critically of his own work during these early years. He just never felt that his work was good enough. The speed at which he was expected to work meant that did not have the time to produce his best quality work. He found it very stressful at times and wished that he had more time at his disposal in order to produce higher quality work.

At some point, Hongo asked Yuasa if he wanted to try his hand at drawing backgrounds. This gave Yuasa a great deal more satisfaction with his work. He enjoyed researching the landscapes and architecture needed for each scene. This work allowed him to experiment with different techniques and he found that his education in oil painting helped him a lot in designing the backgrounds.

When Hongo gave him the opportunity to do storyboards, Yuasa had a real “a-ha moment”. During this part of the interview with Stefan Riekeles, Yuasa became very animated when he described the pleasure he got from drawing storyboards. His excitement and passion for his craft was really palpable and he talked about how “sugoku tanoshii” (super-fun) the experience of drawing storyboards was for him. For the first time as an animator, he was really enjoying himself and others were sharing in his enthusiasm. He got to do storyboards for episodes of Crayon Shin-chan. In addition, he started drawing designs and storyboards in his spare time, but this was just for his own fun and not really with the intention of becoming a director himself.

Yuasa often mentioned in the discussion how lucky he had been in his career to have people like Hongo as his mentors.  Hongo gave him the unique opportunity to try out many hats in their animation studios. Traditionally in the Japanese anime industry people stay in one role – as a background designer, key animator, inbetweener, etc. – for a really long time or throughout the entirety of their career. Not all studios were willing to let freelancers do storyboards, but as he was not tied down to any one studio, Yuasa could pick and choose work and he began to seek out jobs where the studio would let him do storyboards.

Eventually he was allowed to make shorts and storyboards for a pilot project. In making the designs he would have to make much more than was really necessary in order to try out new ideas. Eventually, Masao Maruyama of Madhouse approached him about directing a project and that was the moment that started him on the path to directing Mind Game and a part of Genius Party for Studio 4°C and Kemonozume, Kaiba, and Tatami Galaxy for Madhouse.

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

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