Film Talk with Masaaki Yuasa at Japan Media Arts Festival Dortmund
Dortmunder U, September 11, 2011
Part I: Masaaki Yuasa at Japan Media Arts Festival Dortmund
Part IV: Morimoto, Mind Game and more
Noiseman Sound Insect (音響生命体ノイズマン, Kōji Morimoto, 1998)
This 16-minute animated short was the first time that Masaaki Yuasa collaborated with Kōji Morimoto whom Yuasa calls a “free thinking director.” He was called by Morimoto himself – which shocked Yuasa because he is such a star in the animation world [having worked on such animated classics as Tomorrow’s Joe 2 (あしたのジョー2, Toshio Takeuchi, 1980-81) and Katsuhiro Otomo’s Akira (アキラ, 1988) before directing his own films].
Morimoto told Yuasa that he wanted to work with him. Yuasa laughingly said that Morimoto later realized that he had had something quite different in mind than what Yuasa ended up giving him – though that was not necessarily bad thing. It was during the making of Noiseman that Morimoto showed Yuasa Robin Nishi’s manga Mind Game. Yuasa said that through working together Morimoto and Yuasa realized that they are very different from each other. He again laughed and said that it really wasn’t until they went out drinking together that they realized that they had a few things in common. Though they may have artistic differences, Yuasa spoke earnestly of his deep admiration for Morimoto.
It took a long time to complete Mind Game. The storyboards themselves took at least 8 months and animating it took about 2 years. The project started off small with only 3 to 4 people involved. Yuasa did all the storyboards himself. As production for the film got under way, more and more people joined the team.
The beginning and ending of Mind Game appear to be very similar, but the viewer should notice small differences. If they do, then Yuasa feels that he has succeeded as a director. Many criticized the film for not having a clear story, but he disagrees with this view. In contrast to TV series, which have certain story constraints, everything is allowed in films.
On commercial pressures:
Especially for TV, there is a lot of pressure for the characters to be kawaii and for the story to be easily understood. He has been criticized by financial backers for having difficult to understand storylines. At one point while making Tatami Galaxy, the financial backers wanted him to change everything and Yuasa said that he refused. When asked what effect his refusal had, he replied that they just stopped bothering him after that and they didn't fire him.
Yuasa has noticed that he often does the opposite of what others expect of him. When people ask him for something soft, he gives them something hard. When they say something should be complicated, he makes it simple. He likes for people to see his work on a big screen – they should enjoy it like a trip to Disneyland. The story should be simple but powerful.
Does Yuasa see himself as an artist?
“I am an anime person,” responded Yuasa, “I don’t really know what art is, but I find it interesting.”
TV Series vs. Films
As a kid he loved TV series, but film is different. There is more attention to detail. You watch it in the dark on the big screen. A lot of talented people come together to make an anime series and this is something Yuasa enjoys. He thinks that most people enjoy working freely and on their own. He would like to make another film at some point because he thinks he can go deeper into subject matter and be more individualistic in that medium.
As a freelancer, where does he like to do his storyboards? At the studio or at home?
Yuasa likes to go into the studio so that he can feel like he’s going to work. That being said, he actually draws everywhere: on the train, on the shinkansen, in cafés.
Is he still considered a freelancer?
He is still a freelancer and has never been anything else. There are not many permanent jobs in the anime industry; most people are freelancing from job to job. Yuasa enjoys the freedom that freelancing allows him.
What are Yuasa’s future plans?
He wants to make another film. He’s seen some scripts but he would really like to do his own original idea. Failing that, he’s quite happy to do an advertising campaign or music videos until the right project comes along.
How did the March 11th earthquake affect Yuasa and did he notice any effects on the animation industry in Tokyo?
The severity of the quake was such a shock and Yuasa thought that it would mean the studio he was working at would have to close for a short time – but all the meetings went on as usual as if nothing had happened. His producer said to him: “Even if there has been a disaster, our deadline hasn’t changed”
This event was recorded on video by a Japanese crew, so there is the possibility of it turning up online at some point. This is not a transcript of the Film Talk with Masaaki Yuasa but a writing-up of the notes that I took during the event. There are a few points that I know I missed because occasionally the simultaneous translation from Japanese into German occasionally caused my brain to go into melt down. As the conversation between Stefan Riekeles and Masaaaki Yuasa did not follow a chronological order, I have for clarity’s sake assembled my notes on Yuasa’s responses in thematically.