Matt Wells says:
October 18, 2011 at 11:09 pm (Edit)
Sorry for the delay, here’s the rest. The morning after the screening of Pailsen Files, there was an hour long Q and A with Takahashi on his entire career, with some questions open to the audience. Though a free event, it was ticket only attendance, so I almost missed out on it due to my stupidity with event booking. Getting up at 7′o clock payed off when I was granted a ticket 30 minutes before the interview commenced; I almost squealed out of joy. The audience was a bit less varied than the screening of the film; the occasional obvious Mecha nerd (like the fat guy in the Zaku II shirt), Japanese students, and hardcore anime fans who actually knew what the fuck Mushi Productions was, and why it was cool to hear about them.
A fantastic experience, let down only by the fact that half of our once-in-a-lifetime interview was taken up by a screening of the first episode of Flag. FLAG. Nothing against Flag, its an excellent series. BUT. But we can watch it anytime we want, its one of the few Takahashi series that have been fully subbed and widely distributed in the English fan community. We could watch it anytime we liked, we could hardly have a convivial chat with the Defining Director of Real Robot Anime as the mood struck us. Bleh.
Anyway, Flag went down far smoother than VOTOMS did, and gave the audience more inclined to artsy stuff a good introduction to Takahashi’s oevure, or at least better than a sequel to a 30 year old TV series. Right after that, they screened a few TV promos for Takahashi’s recent-ish 26 episode TV show, the nigh unpronounceable Bakumatsu Kikansetsu Irohanihoheto bleh. A name so difficult, even Jonathan Clements just gave up trying to enunciate it. A round of polite applause followed this, and the formal interview began. We were warned that though the candid interview allowed any questions to be answered, legal restrictions meant that we couldn’t record or film it in any way. Note taking was fine though! Please bear in mind I’m going on my own recollections, notes, and what Takhashi’s lovely translator told us he said. Responses may not be wholly accurate, or sensibly phrased.
Questions for 20 minutes were fired off by Clements, the resident anime industry insider and genral expert, fro his own compiled list. A streak of snark a mile wide in his interview style too!
What was the sum total of his involvement in Flag? – Flag was a show he shopped around for ten years, trying to convince Sunrise top brass to fund. The question was asked due to the story credited to himself and “Team Flag”. Takahashi told us Team Flag was a placename for the myriad legions of people who supported him during this time. The narrative structure and emphasised style of photography was always intended from the begining. Not that he said this, but this confirmed that my own observation that both Gasaraki and Flag were works he’d been trying to make for years, and were only okayed to tie in with current trends. With Gasaraki it was post-Eva robot anime, with Flag it was the recent spate of Docudrama style “shakycam” pictures, like Cloverfield.
What was his first ever exposure to TV animation? – As a post-war child, did the style of Kamibaishi performers ultimately influence his directorial style? (think a mixture betwen narrated manga, paper latern shows, and travelling circuses. Google it!) – From what he remembered, animation was always on Japanese television from the 50′s onwards, though they were dubbed American imports like Disney or Hannah Barbera Tom and Jerry cartoons. His first real exposure to Japanese animation came with a series of yearly animated specials by Toei circa 1958. He rembered watching Kamibaishi shows with the other village children, the distance of two metres between the performer and the audience lead him to ultimately strive for immediacy in his work, drawing his audience into the screen with the characters.
When exactly did he decide to go into animation? – He said with a huge grin the exact date he decided: Autumn 1963. This got a tremendous response from the audience; as Mr. Clements helpfully reminded us, this was the broadcast date for the original black and white series of Tetsuwan Atom, known in the US as Astro Boy. If you know your history, then you know Tezuka’s cheap little commercial to his own manga revolutionised the Japanese model of TV animation, setting the ground for cost-cutting measures, tie-in promotion, rushed production schedules and underpaid animators that we know and love today! In the wake of Atom there was a huge boom in applicants to the feldgling industry, and Takahashi was but one of many hungry yougsters wanting in on that sweet animation money.
After learning the basics of the biz, he applied to join Tezuka’s production company, Mushi Pro, in the Winter of 1964 (might have the date wrong). There were two parts to the application, a drawing test and a spoken interview. He passed the drawing test well enough, they just asked him to make dozens of identical copies of the same drawing. It was the interview he failed, at least to become an animator. When they asked him on whether he would mind drawing hundreds and hundreds of idetical drawings every week, he said of course he did! That was the impetus for him to become a director, because he said that way he wouldn’t have to draw so much!
And what was it like working with the God of Manga himself, Osamu Tezuka? – Takahashi gave this one some brief thought, before responding, “You know… he was a wonderful guy… 99% of the time!” He described him as a truly lovely guy, always encouraging the staff to come up with creative, new ideas and concepts. Whenever they presented them, regular as clockwork, he would say: “What is this?! GO BACK AND START AGAIN TILL YOU GET IT RIGHT!”,which was met with more uproarious laughter by the audience. As far as creative input went, he was very accomadating and open to suggestions. In those days the industry was just like a sweatshop, always working non-stop to get that week’s episode done.
They had no time to go home, so they were allowed to keep footrests underneath their desks. People fell asleep at their desks whenever time permitted. He recalls being nudged awake on occasion, and turning around to see Tezuka staring at him (he sat right next to Tezuka). Not that he meant Mr. Tezuka fancied him or anything he was quick to point out! (I think that’s what his anecdote was. He may have said that he saw Tezuka asleep at the desk, and he stared at him) He was a man who always gave it his all, constantly producing concepts and drawings non-stop. Possessed of a tremendous energy. He said he’s yet to encounter a man who knew Tezuka that didn’t like him in some way. Very personable fellow (and the pupil takes after the master in that regard).
His first ever experience as a director? – He said it was on a Mushi show called… Wonder Seven I think? The earliest thing he worked on according to ANN was a called Ora Guzura Dado, but this came first. He MIGHT have meant the series W3, the one about three space cops who take on the forms of a bunny, horse and duck, but don’t quote me on that. He said Wonder Seven, so that’s what I’m sticking to. He explained about the two tiers of directors, episode directors and chief directors, on Wonder Seven he ended up directing ten of it’s 52 episodes. One Hundred and Twenty people worked on that programme in total, himself included. Production on a single episode from idea to broadcast was roughly three months, and the schedules for episodes were always overlapping. One day they might film the climax of episode 34, the other they would finish character designs for episode 12. His first show as a chief director was at Sunrise in 1973.
So in between the well publicised collapse of Mushi Pro and his joining Sunrise, what did he do? – All sorts of odd jobs on anime here and there. Script writing, story concepts and episode direction for Tatsunoko and Toei, amongst others. He had a long spell in Europe where he was involved with Underground Japanese Theatre, if you can imagine such a thing. That came about from an old friend who worked at Mushi Pro, I think his name was Juro Kara (sorry if I’ve gotten this wrong too). He was a scenario writer on Wonder Seven who in time went on to become one of the top three giants in the field of cult, ground breaking Japanese Theatre. He was unique at Mushi for his absolute refusal to check or rewrite his scripts. Tezuka would keep politely requesting he spellcheck his scripts, and Juro would just glare at him and refuse point blank. It got so intense that Tezuka was scared of the man, so Takahashi was the one who ended up correcting his scripts!
Takhashi was just an audience member at first, watching his friends’ work and getting caught up in the world. As he got to know the cast members and playwrights, Kara encouraged him to produce content for the field. His involvement in the troop was sparked by a certain story of Kara’s. His troupe was on tour in Europe in a raunchy cabaret company, along with his wife and several various good looking young chorus dancers. Part of the show involved them being slathered in gold paint, so when it ended the entire group would jump into a huge bath tub and begin scrubbing the paint off of each other. Upon hearing this Takahashi commented he was struck with a sudden urge to become a dancer and actor! He evetually pulled out of theatre to return to animation, but he mused on how different his life would have been had he decided to commit to acting. His expereince with Japanese theatre later served as inspiration for Gasaraki.
How did he specfically end up at Sunrise – A lot of Sunrise’s high ranking personel had been his colleagues and senpais at Mushi Pro, and they offered him a job liking his work. Their first show was a respectable hit, Sazedon (again, I might be wrong), which was the adventures of a talking fish. The director on that was someone very famous in the industry (he named no names), but he eventually left Sunrise due to creative disagreements about his methods. Their second show, a science fiction piece called Zero Tester, had been in planning before their debut, and they gave the director’s chair to Takahashi. He sadly didn’t elaborate further on his first experience as a director.
Given Sunrise’s very market savvy approach, what was the difference between working for them and Mushi Pro? – Takhashi admitted that Sunrise was a far better run comapny than Mushi. With Tezuka, he was concerned with creativity first, profits second. It was this approach that ended up bankrupting his company. Sunrise on the other hand, was very sensible about it’s fiscal policies. They made animation to make money, and creativity sometimes took a backseat to that. He defended the reputation of both companies, noting that Sunrise’s heavy use of tie-in merchandising was a policy invented by Mushi itself, they just geared their shows towards it more. He also commented that Tezuka, while wonderfully creative, could be intimidating in his sheer artistic purity, often to the detriment of his company. His own affinity with Robot anime came about when the market for Robot toys exploded with Mazinger Z, Sunrise exploited this trend for all it was worth. Hence their enduring legacy by playing to the market. He was very careful not to criticise the current Sunrise administration, given that one of their producers was sharing the interview with him, the same as Saturday.
Given the pedigree of the young creators at Sunrise and Mushi, did these future giants of the industry go around trying to intimidate each other? Were he and Tomino rivals like the Western fandom imagines? (Not sure where Clements got this idea from. Tomino and Takahashi are oranges and apples, they’re hardly competing with the other to make a “realer” robot show) – Takhashi grinned broadly at this, saying those young guys are now old contemporaries who know each other very well. He gets on fairly cordially with Tomino actually, they play Golf together sometimes, but that’s as far as their “rivalry” goes. He said with great humility that Tomino is a Shining Star of animation, he sees himself like a little street lamp. Baaaawww! You would not believe how sweet this man was in person.
Could he describe the exact influence of Japanese theatre on Gasaraki – Oh boy, this one went weird fast. Clements referenced how Takahashi’s experience informed much of Gasraki, which he also said was much better recieved in the UK than the USA! IDidNotKnowThat.jpg. Takhashi launched into a lengthy explaination that left out the influence on the ending itself, about how the entire plot has been one of misdirection and deception, just like actual Japanese theater (Which reminds me: I really need to watch Gasaraki). What he ACTUALLY told us was explaining that in robot anime, one of the biggest problems he finds that plagues a director is coming up with an explination for what powers these colossal robots. Early on they just made up terms and concepts, like Getter Rays, Photonic Energy and Choudenji Power, but as time went by series became more sophisticated, and these explainations seemed silly. Hence the need to come up with more… UNIQUE forms of energy to drive mecha.
Takahashi said that even as a native Japanses person, he finds Noh theatre to be a truly BIZARRE art form. The traditional Noh saying of “30 years in three steps” fascinated him; the idea that slow, controlled motions represents the passage of an enorous period of time. In those three steps, the human heart beats roughly 200 times, enormous potential, power and emotion focussed into a few simple movements, and all of it concentrated and repeated ad infinitum in a tiny circle on stage. The idea of concentrating energy in this singularly unusal fashion was a major influence upon Gasaraki. With this mind blowing explaination the audience members sort of had a dazed look in their eyes, and I was one of them. No wonder it took him a decade to sell the show on Sunrise, huh? With that the floor was opened up to the audience for a glorious, if brief, 15 minutes. For the ease of reading, I’ll post them seperately.