Matt Wells says:
Back from Edinburgh, and I had fun. Before they screened the Pailsen Files, movie, Takahashi himself came up on stage to give us an introduction. Also with him was a Sunrise producer who’s name sadly escapes me, though he mentioned working with Takahashi on both the OVA release and movie cut of PF. Takahashi was very nice in person, a bit like that kindly old pensioner everyone has on their street. He made a point of mentioning that he often recieves invitations to foreign screenings, but due to small audiences he usually turns them down. He showed up for THIS one however because he loves golf, and he couldn’t resist the oppertunity to play the green on Saint Andrews!
Interviewer and giant of the Anime translation business Jonathan Clements joked that he tried to get into the spirit of things by wearing his Scottish University tie. He was therefore a bit put out when it turned out every single item Takahashi wore was made of Scottish Tartan or wool… purchased in Tokyo. He then gave a brief potted summary of VOTOMS: real robots, story of a war weary soldier becoming human again etc. By the sound of the audience I was one of only five people who had even seen VOTOMS before this screening, the others were mostly Japanese students and Sottish weeaboos who came ’cause it was anime. Takahashi drily apologised that we might not like his film due to the complete absence of cute schoolgirls, at which the older proportion of the audience actually cheered. He finished off by showing us his backswing and yelling “FOUR!”. We were informed that we were the first to be shown the film in Europe, and the second outside of Japan (apparently Takahashi showed it in Singapore).
The film itself was a basic compilation movie. No new animation as far as I could tell except for an AWESOME pre-credits sequence with Pailsen reviewing his Red Shoulder battalion before the Melkian military police come to arrest him. You can see it on Youtube here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ny0Z0timcAQ&feature=related They condensed most of the story from the 12 episode series into a scant two hours, hough they left behind a lot of basic character development and a few action sequences. All the stuff with the battle of wits between Pailsen and Wockam was retained, though as I’ve yet to see any of the prequel OVAs of the TV series, a lot of continuity references went over my head. There was some cool stuff with Wiseman in the last half hour that completely went over the heads of the casual audience, but they also confirmed a few details of Chirico’s backstory and showed that one of the main character’s was a prototype for the Perfect Soldier program. A few unexplained plot holes but it still gave the franchise some more depth.
The movie was good but stick with the full series for the best experience. The subtitles we had were customed made for our screening, and thus were a little stiff in places. Stuff like “Oh No! Seems we I have accidentaly snapped neck his!” had the audeince on the floor laughing. After that there was a short break where the theater showed us the video trailers for the three most recent VOTOMS OVAs: Finder, Case: Irvine and Alone Again, the latter of which was the only one Takahashi had a hand in. An unexpected treat, though they didn’t mention anything about Phantom Arc. We had a very brief Q and A after that where he talked a bit about the background to VOTOMS. He said Sunrise put him in charge of the project after the enormous success of Dougram, giving the public the original, non-manga based robot shows they were clamouring for. He says their designs were very consciously different to Gundam and Dougram; scaled them back from 18 metres to 4, and emphasised their mobility and speed to make the action scenes more dynamic.
Making them smaller made it easier to integrate battles into the foreground, and the enhanced manuverability made the action sequences much more varied. Not like Mobile Suit battles with robots standing in place and taking pot shots at each other. The rollerskate treads were part of this, not just there to reduce the cost of animating them walking as Clements asked, though that certainly helped. He repeated the old story about a female crew member of the animators being a slalom fan, using her idea of having scopedogs strafe across battlefields. Takahashi said his original idea for VOTOMS combat was the robots dashing only in straight lines on their skates for about 40 metres, then stopping. He mentioned the influence of other sci-fi works on VOTOMS, particuarly Blade Runnder on Uuodo and 2001′s HAL 9000 on Wiseman.
Clements then said Takakhashi is widely known as the father of real robot anime (the bearded guy in a Zaku II shirt behind me muttered that it was actually Tomino who invented real robot anime, but I saw the point he meant. Takahashi was the first to cut out all Super Robot stuff in Dougram). Takahashi then described what real robots were for all the newbies in the audience who wouldn’t know a Mazinger from a Marasai. He also noted that Pailsen Files was his first attempt at mixing cel animation with CG robots, and he rather thought the results stood up well. He said the realtive cheapness and speed of using CG allowed them to show far greater numbers of robots in the battle scenes, like the Saving Private Ryan and The Longest Day influenced beach head landing at the start of the film. Using cel animation for these scenes would have been prohibitively expensive, hence why the franchise has used CG scopedogs ever since.
When asked to comment on the large number of Korean in betweeners, he noted that nowadays budgets are so small that outsourcing to South Korea and the Phillipines is often the only way to get the work done. About 3000 people maketheir living in Japan as nimators by his estimate, compered to the 12000+ of the 1980′s. Clements asked him how much was the character of Pailsen based on General Douglas Macarthur, to which Takhashi chuckled “About 80% Macarthur!”. He added that his younger production staff saw him more as a German, what with the Nazi regelia and genetic engineering. Clements then began fielding questions at the producer who’s name I sadly can’t remember, who praised Takhashi’s working manner. Unlike a lot of authoritarian directors, Takahashi apparently welcomes input and ideas from even the lower ranking crew members. When asked if he saw the original series, he said he was three at the time the original aired on TV, so he went into Pailsen Files without waching it with the goal of making it accessible to first time viewers.
With that our brief Q and A ended, with the promise that we would actually get to field our own questions in the free session on Sunday. I’ll post his responses to those in a minute. One final note: during the screening Takhashi and his translation team actually sat a few seats away from me, but I bitched out of saying anything to him. For his part all he did was cough a few times, and wince at the occasional bit of ropey animation. Seemed to be a lovely guy for all the brief time he was on stage.
Matt Wells says:
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.
Matt Wells says:
Jesus, sorry about the wall of text up there. Here are the handful of questions submitted by the audience to Takahashi. There would have been twice as many if they skipped on showing us an entire episode of Gasaraki, but beggars can’t be choosers. First to get their hands up was yours truly, postulating the very question Ghost himself asked.
1. If you had the oppertunity to direct a robot series without concessions like a budget, advertising and sponsor deals, what would it be about (format, length, subject etc.)? – Takahashi said in a rather apologetic tone that he actually doesn’t even LIKE robot anime that much! He only really became so famous for making mecha anime because it was a genre he felt comfortable in, and the support for tie-in merchandising allowed him to explore the kind of stories he actually wanted to tell. Animation budgets aren’t that big a deal as they used to be, so he reckoned that he could complete a show on a failrly modest budget. He’d personally like to tell a story indulging whatever subject he wanted, though he didn’t have any ideas currently. He said he’d like it best tot tell this story over the course of a year, so it would be a 52 episode series at least.
2. (As posited by blogging contemporary and Tetsujin 28 fan, Andrew Graruru) Given the enduring popularity of VOTOMS in Japan and its myriad sequels, would he consider ever revisiting some of his older shows, making sequels to SPT Layzner or Fang of the Sun Dougram? – Takahashi personally prefers making brand new properties and series to revisiting old ones. In the case of VOTOMS and Galient, he made sequels due to both enormous fan demand for them, and for what he personally felt was room for expanding or improving upon the original story. If he thinks a sequel is necessary, he said he’ll do it.
3. Does he think that recent tends indicate that hand drawn animation in Japan will be inevitably replaced by CG animation, given his own reliance upon it in VOTOMS and Flag? – Takahashi said that the Japanese animation industry still treats CG as a shortcut above all else, not the next big thing. He thinks old style animation is too heavily ingrained upon the industry for it to ever completely die out in favour of CG animation. Bit of an old timer’s answer, but what do you expect?
4. What is the greatest difference between making a mecha show today compared to how it was in the 1980′s? – Back then it was all a matter of making the robots as unique as possible compared to theri contemporaries. The better you could make the robots, the better it would reflect on toy sales and serve to move your story forward. Today, he said robot anime has very few original concepts, characters or designs. 90% of everything is either a rehash, remake or sequel to something that already exists. He believes that if a director can come up with a truly fresh concept for his show, the Japanese public would immediately make it a hit, as they did with Gundam and VOTOMS.
5. (Last Question) About his brief time as an episode director for the Mushi version of The Moomins… – His reply was along the lines of “I WAS HUNGRY AND I NEEDED THE MONEY!!!” No, seriously. When the laughs subsided, he said he would love to see a moomin style race of creatures in Japanese culture. Alternating between his house in Tokyo and his place in the countryside, he often imagines little moomin like beings running around the mountains (sounded very Miyazaki here!). He joked that an old man like himself is much more suited to tell a story about such magical folk rather than a younger director!
With that our time was regretfully up. Takahashi and his associate politely expressed their thanks for their kind reception at the festival. Many rounds of applause for the Edinburgh Filmhouse for forking out the cash to bring him there, and for his excellent translator who was able to convey all his responses to us. I heartily apologise for being unable to remember her name. I’m glad Takahashi was able to get a few hours playing St. Andrews, if nothing else from the trip, and he thanked us all for the warm reception. One of those once in a lifetime oppertunities as an anime fan, I’m glad I even got to experience it. The only shame was that I didn’t bring anything for him to sign, and that we didn’t get to pick his brains any longer. Takahashi truly is one of the nicest guys in Japanese animation, and I’m glad I was able to confirm that in person. Here’s hoping Scotland Loves Anime is even bigger and better next year, and that they forward their prints to a Newcastle cinema like they will this month!