Initially daily but now sporadic blog about anime and world animation with a specific focus on the artists behind the work. Written by Ben Ettinger.
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Friday, July 30, 2004

05:33:17 pm , 3038 words, 3101 views     Categories: Animation, Mind Game

Masaaki Yuasa interview

Mind Game Official SiteCatsuka brought to my attention two new Mind Game articles. One is the first review of the film in a language other than Japanese. It comes to us courtesy of the Japan Times, and was written by Mark Schilling, a prolific author and authority on contemporary Japanese pop culture. One warning: I suggest that you skip over his synopsis and try to remain as ignorant of the story details as you possibly can until seeing the movie to keep it all as much of a surprise as possible. Trust me, you'll enjoy it more that way. I wish reviewers didn't have this annoying habit of writing synopses!

The other is a Japanese "event report" on the 3ds max Animation Seminar: The Making of Mind Game event held at the Ochanomizu, Tokyo campus of the Digital Hollywood film school. The event was divided into three sections: (1) A discussion of how to produce 3DCG animation using 3d max; (2) an introduction to Studio 4C; and (3) a demonstration of how 3ds max was used to produce the 3DCG animation in Mind Game. Studio 4C Producer Eiko Tanaka was present, and the most interesting tidbit in the article comes from her. She relates an anecdote about how one day she had brought the film to Eirin, the Japanese censors, fully expecting it to come away with an NC-18 rating due to the graphic violence and explicit sexual content. But after seeing the film the people at Eirin were so excited by it that they decided to give it a "general audiences" rating anyway. Can you imagine?! Yes, folks, we are dealing with a phenomenon here, not a film.

And finally, one other small news item from the official site: On opening day, August 7, Masaaki Yuasa and several of the voice actors will be on location at Cine Quinto in Shibuya, and later at Paradise Square in Shinsaibashi, to say a few words for the occasion.

Oh, and Scheem Booi has opened. As I thought, it looks to be a ten ton goose. So much detail, 9 years, all that money, for what? Seems like a classic example of wrong priorities. Yippee, a sequel is in planning already. Too bad it's going to take 16 years to make.

Oh, and I just saw this: Yuichiro Sueyoshi has added his "comment" to the Staff Comment section of the Mind Game site. Here's a literal translation:

Best ever!! The first and the last!
The first Yuasa ever!
And the last Yuasa ever!
At the time, I thought it would never end...
Favorite Motto: No skill (work) without strength (health)!

I was hoping that some other people would respond to my offer, but since nobody has, I thought I'd go ahead and translate that Masaaki Yuasa interview on the official Mind Game site, as suggested by TenAJs, because it's a good, solid interview without the 3 Stooges antics of the previous one I translated, which I thought focused too much on the schtick and too little on the substance. But it's Newtype, what do you expect. Doesn't anyone have the June Animage?

=> HASSHIN!

Can you start by explaining how you came to direct Mind Game?

Producer Eiko Tanaka approached me in an official capacity with the original manga and asked if I would like to direct the film.

Was that the first time you'd read the original manga?

No. While I was working at Studio 4C on Sound Insect Noiseman, Koji Morimoto had recommended it to me, saying, "Check out this amazing manga". That was the first time I read it. It really is a very impressive manga; very out of the ordinary. His drawing style seems kind of crude and unrefined at first, but once you get used to it, it's extremely compelling and stylish, and really succeeds in getting across all his ideas. It's the kind of manga that's so good that it makes you wonder why it isn't more well known.

What made you decide to direct?

When I received the offer, I had been wanting to try my hand at directing something. But at Studio 4C first of all there was Morimoto who was a big fan, and so was Tatsuyuki Tanaka, so it didn't feel right for someone like me to horn in on their baby. But I went ahead and accepted the offer because I beleived I might be able to do a good job with the material.

Was this project planned for the theaters right from the start?

Yes, right from the start. They've got guts, right? That was my own first impression. Nobody's heard of the manga; I'd never directed a feature film before. You'd never expect a project like this to get off the ground. What's amazing about Studio 4C is that they not only got it off the ground but made it and got it distributed.

What was your approach to adapting the manga?

The manga has this incredible forward momentum to it. My question was, how can I translate that momentum onto film? The manga acheives that effect by means of rough, sketchy drawings. But the various processes involved in animation means that the drawings wind up coming out looking clean and polished, no matter what you do. The crucial thing for the film version in my opinion was that the drawings not look too polished. That they look kind of sloppy to the casual eye. Only on closer inspection do you realize that the drawings are in fact properly drawn. Hence the images reflect the content. That was my concept for the film.

There are a lot of experimental touches in the film, like having the characters turn into live actors occasionally.

A long time ago people would have freaked if you put in an image done in a totally different style from the rest of the film at some point. Well, nowadays people are pretty used to that sort of thing, and they wouldn't be that shocked anymore. So that's why I inserted some live action in here, some photos there. My hope is that these scenes come across to the viewer as being kind of unplanned and impromptu.

They're just there for fun.

Exactly. Personally, at this point, I don't want to see ordinary anime anymore. What I want to see is something like those music videos where you've got little bits of animation spliced into the live action footage, something comical like that. In my thinking, Mind Game is kind of the inverse. Not like a live action film where you've got little bits of animation spliced in, but like somehow little bits of live action snuck into an animated film. At first I just wanted to use photographs because that would have been easiest to shoot, but the producer, Eiko Tanaka, suggested that we hire a live action director and have him shoot half the film in live action.

But then you wouldn't have been director, you'd be just the co-director!

Exactly. So we talked it over, and she finally suggested, "Maybe you'd better do the shooting yourself," leaving it up to me to decide on the details of how much and where to put it. It wound up being just a kind of added spice to the animation.

So you also handled the filming of the live-action parts.

We hired proffessional live-action staff, and I was there during filming to give instructions and so on. But I didn't know anything about filming live-action, so it was a real learning process for me. Doing a full-fledged proffessional live-action shoot also made it easier to hire showbiz people like Koji Imada.

In the shots where there's a live-action face talking... say, Koji Imada... that's actually Koji Imada talking, and not a different voice-actor, right?

It's the same person. I considered using a different voice-actor at first, but for various reasons, in the end I opted to stick with the same person. My choice of voice-actors was in fact influenced by the knowledge that they themselves would also have to appear in the film. I think the results turned out better than using a separate person to do the faces and the rest of the voice-acting.

Prior to this you've been known for creative anime like Crayon Shin-chan and Cat Soup. Would you say that the same creativity that made these so appealing has found its way into this new film?

And then some. (laughs)

How do you feel about the quality of the animation?

I think the animation is really interesting. It goes totally against the grain of anime these days. It's not concerned with detail, just with momentum. That's the goal of the film, not being "well crafted", but being interesting. And I think it worked out pretty well. The visuals are particularly interesting, I think. There's lots of variety, there are bouts of fantasy, and the story is very unpredictable. I honestly think the visuals are unlike anything anyone has seen before.

About the story - is it basically faithful to the original?

Yes, it's basically exactly the same as the original. The plot is quite simple, it's just the details that are a bit out there. I finessed the ending a bit, but otherwise the details are unchanged. I didn't set out to keep it so close to the original; it just turned out that way. The original manga is that well done. Especially early on in the film, the framing of the shots is pretty much exactly the same as in the manga. Without looking at the manga I drew out how I wanted the framing, and afterwards when I looked at the manga to compare, they were practically exactly the same. I was kind of disappointed by how similar they turned out.

Perhaps that suggests your style was a good match to the manga.

I suppose so. Looking at the finished product, there are some minor differences, but I think overall the film is how Robin would have wanted it to be. Robin himself, after watching the film, told me he thought the film was pretty much saying the same thing as his manga.

Going back, what do you mean when you say you "finessed" the ending?

Well, in the original, in the second half, the story just keeps on going with the same feeling of "You can do anything if you try!"

That's also one of the main themes of the film.

The original manga says, "Do it! Go for it! Don't let anything stop you! You can do anything if you try!" Well, I personally don't have the confidence to go that far, so I sort of reined in the message a bit. So it's still "You can do anything if you try!" but tempered a bit; I have him slam headlong into a wall afterwards. Even if you fail, the important thing is to try. The result isn't important. The important thing is to enjoy the process of striving.

The music in the film really sticks with you.

Isn't it great? I had this incredible underground musician do it for me, Yamamoto Seiichi. I listen to a lot of CDs, but I don't know very much about who recorded what, so Shin'ichiro Watanabe was appointed the music producer and he looked into it for me, and he suggested Seiichi Yamamoto.

What did you think of the music when you finally heard it?

I was amazed by the variety of the songs that he came up with. Yamamoto-san is quite simply a brilliant composer. He's versatile and he can write an incredible variety of music. It's unpredictable, it's groovy, it's exciting, and it's got just the right tinge of oddness. I had wanted a large variety of music right from the start, so it was handy being able to get one person to do it all. On Watanabe's introduction I also had Yoko Kanno play one song on the piano. I put a tape together with examples of various spots from several classical pieces that I wanted the song to sound like. Originally we were going to get producer Tanaka's son's piano teacher to play it, but in the end Yoko Kanno took over. I was very happy with how it turned out.

How long was the film in production?

Starting from the planning stage, two years and nine months. Two years exactly from when animation was started.

How many films have you directed now?

Um... one? Before now the only things I've directed were a small TV pilot and a short for a publicity event. Mind Game is my first major project, my big-time debut, if you will.

Did that have any influence on you?

I want to make movies that can be enjoyed by as many people as possible. That's been my basic stance in everything I've done up until now, and it still is. Well, okay, right before Mind Game I worked on the directing and animation for a video anime called Cat Soup, which was aimed at a very small segment, but that's the only exception. I have to admit, I had my misgivings about doing something so cultish, but I was pleased with the results and learned a lot from it that I was able to put to use in this film.

So Cat Soup was sort of a springboard for Mind Game.

Yeah. It showed me that it was OK to do certain things. In that sense, it made it a lot easier to make Mind Game.

The characers are a little different in the movie, aren't they? For example, their backgrounds.

This was the first time I'd done anything with a story to speak of, and I found that there was a need for the characters to have a background story. Which is funny, because I've always had a thing against characters with a background story. (laughs)

The old man was supposedly in the whale's belly for 30 years, but I found that I couldn't picture that long expanse of time without some sort of visual aid, so I inserted some scenes showing him as a baby and so on, to give the audience a sense of the weight of those 30 years. Also, at my age, I knew nothing about the experiences of people the age of the main character, so I asked a bunch of the younger staff members to write down their own experiences, and I threw together a timetable of the various characters' lives based on that. What one person might have experienced as a student, another person might have experienced as a child. I got them to write down their impressions on these experiences based on their perspective at that age, to show how there can be different perspectives on the same event. I threw all that together into a little montage to show at the beginning. Only the little montage grew to more than five minutes, which was too long, so I only showed a bit at the beginning and then showed the rest at the end.

People probably won't get it when they first see it at the beginning of the film, but what didn't make sense the first time will start to make sense when you see it again at the end. It kind of mirrors the way Nishi begins to see things as he undergoes various inner changes. I wanted people watching the film to be able to understand the things Nishi is feeling.

That montage gives the film a lot of added depth.

Curiously enough, there were actually people on the staff who asked me why Nishi would want to leave the whale's belly. I thought it would be natural to want to get out. But I was surprised how many people thought it would have been more fun to stay in the whale's belly.

That really got me to wondering, to think people would ask why Nishi would want to leave the whale's belly. I don't mean to preach, but... why do we want to live in the world? Because it's interesting. I have Nishi make this pretty clear in the film. Because it's wonderful to live in a world full of different people mixing and living all sorts of different lives. Through our interactions with these people, we all take part in the act of creating the world around us. It doesn't even matter if we don't play that big a part. I think it's a wonderful thing just to take part in that process. That's one of the messages I hope comes across.

A TV superhero called Time Boy shows up a few times in the flashbacks. He has the power to turn back time. He plays a relatively small role, but I think it's a fairly emblematic one, thematically.

Yes, you're right. In the original manga, only Nishi gets a chance to start over. I thought that wasn't fair. I'm not that young anymore myself, and I thought it wasn't fair for only the young to get a chance to start over. So I wanted to give all of the rest of the characters a chance to start over, too. Just to be fair; it's obviously not the way life works. It's the way you wish it did. If you make a mistake, start over again. It's not too late. That sort of thing.

Right.

I just don't think results are that important. If you do your best, and you don't get good results, then just try again from a different angle, or look for a different path altogether. There's just something beautiful about the process of trying and failing and trying again when you're truly living your life to its maximum potential.

So it's actually a very positive movie.

Absolutely!

Incredibly positive.

Of course.

It's a healthy film.

I'm just sick of all the gloomy movies coming out these days! I decided I'd had enough with dark stuff after Cat Soup. What I want to see is positive movies from now on. Enough turning inwards, people; let's turn outwards! What's important is right here on this earth. Not everybody's dreams come true, but only those who act have a chance of acheiving their dreams. All differences aside, it all boils down to one thing: The world is interesting!

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1 comment

TenAJs
TenAJs [Visitor]

Thanks!

I’ll try to get the Animage June edition. Fyi, there is a store that sells the magazine in (though not technically) Vancouver. Check out Iwase Shoten in Richmond: http://www.iwasebooks.co.jp/tempo/van.htm

07/31/04 @ 23:40