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Talk About RahXephon: In Search of Fantasy and Details

Oshii criticizes RahXephon and compares it to Neon Genesis Evangelion.

Transcript prepared from pages 44–51 of RahXephon: The Motion Picture booklet, 2004 ADV release. Discussion between Mamoru Oshii & Yutaka Izubuchi.

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Advice from Director Oshii When Starting the TV Series?

—In this conversation, we would like to focus on Mr. Oshii’s impressions of the theatrical RahXephon: Pluralitas Concentio, which he watched for this conversation. Originally, when the TV series first started, Mr. Oshii’s words of encouragement1 to Director Izubuchi were very memorable, so let’s start from there.

Oshii: Man, that’s exactly right. It’s turned into something terrible, just like I said, hasn’t it? (laughs)

Izubuchi: What are you calling terrible? (laughs)

O: When I returned to the studio scene two years ago, I was surprised that it’d become pretty rough. So, I thought that making a [TV] series would be tough in such times, and I made that comment out of a sense of grandmotherly solicitude. It would be absolutely impossible to make something of the quality But-chan [nickname for Director Izubuchi] would want, so I figured he would probably agonize over the disparity between his ideals and what would actually get made.

I: That’s true, but I kind of thought that it would be “subtract” even before I started.

O: I guess maybe it’s a matter of whether you can bear that or not.

I: It was more bearable than I’d thought.

O: Uahaha (laughs)

I: Was that funny? (laughs) I knew the general situation anyway. I figured it might fundamentally become a losing battle, but even before I began working, I’d accepted within myself that this would be about how to make it seem like you were winning.

Recently, you often see this pattern, where they make a really elaborate first episode because that’s the only episode they get time to work on, setting a high bar for themselves and ruining the overall balance. And I knew I wanted to avoid falling into that trap. I’d decided up to a certain point that I would calculate the number of cels and number of calories and plan out the total distance we’d have to run, and then just leave it up as much as possible to the excellent staff and take a hands-off approach. But of course, the fact that BONES’ staff is excellent played a large part in allowing me to do that.

O: In the end, there just aren’t any designers. Right now, in anime, there’s a real shortage of designers who do artistic designs, which are absolutely necessary to work in the details. When a room like this is shown, it’s really just a box and there’s nothing to it. You don’t feel anything from the room, and it’s just a backdrop. The story part and the world part are completely separate.

When you do that, the sentiments just run idle, and the story that you’re supposed to be telling loses its edge and becomes empty. With both movies and animated works, there’s a lot in them that you have to reinforce with visuals, which is even truer for sci-fi, where you need vast amounts of details and situations. It’s a lot of work even under normal circumstances, but now, there aren’t enough people. With Eva [Neon Genesis Evangelion], it was like all the people involved were designers, from the director to the animators, so they managed to hang in there until the end, but aside from unique studios like that, if you look at how well today’s studios can cope with the amount of details that a story requires, it’s hopeless.

I: In terms of design, I’m a designer myself and I can draw designs, but I decided it would be bad for me to do it. About the only person who can do it properly is Mr. [Hayao] Miyazaki anyway, so I aimed to take the tack of assigning the right people to the right jobs. The absolute number of designers is small, but that doesn’t mean the solution is to gather as many of them together as you can. Creators, myself included, are fundamentally selfish creatures, so if everyone started doing whatever they pleased, the designs that embody the show and the world fall apart. So, rather than drawing it yourself, you have to adroitly control the process from above. And for the sake of keeping the series rolling, I took the methodology of using artistic design for a limited number of locations and restricting material resources. All so I could reduce the load on backgrounds and designs. But in exchange, I made sure to do a solid job on design-related matters by working with the people I could trust out of the few there.

A Show That Substantiates a Young Boy’s Wish

Oshii: The story is set in Tokyo, but because it’s where the characters are, the town itself has to be a character, or rather, it needs to come to the foreground as unified presentation.

For the longest time, backgrounds in animation were nothing more than something to fill the space behind the characters. Inside the house, there are walls and tatami mats on the floor, and if you go outside, if there are drainpipes, it would be an open lot. That was all there was to it. But in my projects, that’s not how it works. The background and the characters have to be even. You have to take it as far as making the character a part of the background, or you’re not really depicting a world. But-chan’s worked with me, so he understands that, and I think he also knows how much work that is.

Izubuchi: Yes, I do know.

O: And yet, just a while ago, you went and made something like Thirteen [WXIII Mobile Police Patlabor] (laughs).

I: Well, I did that one knowingly. I don’t want to hear that from you, Mr. Oshii (laughs). If you’re keeping a TV series rolling and you begin requiring a level of work that’s difficult to pull off unless you’re working on a movie, it would all collapse.

O: The strategy for working on a TV series is to limit your locations, build solid designs for the locations you’ll be using repeatedly, and then to pick a point to splurge in each episode. For example, in Patlabor, we fundamentally did the whole thing on a reclaimed area, and it worked because the story was basically about daily life.

But this is the mainstay of sci-fi, not to mention a battlefield. It’s how you fill that in. If you have an armored car, where is the street corner that the armored car is located at? Is it Tsukudajima or Setagaya? If you don’t take a look at that, it just becomes a conceptual battlefield.

Today’s studios don’t have the ability to fill in those areas. I think the ‘intent’ is probably different. So, the moment I saw 5–6 minutes of the TV series, I thought, ‘This is in bad shape’ (laughs). After that, I didn’t watch it at all, so it’s like I watched it for the first time with the theatrical version. When the series was running, quite a few of the animators around me in the studio were watching it, so I would ask, ‘How is it?’ since I was still somewhat curious. And I got the reply, ‘I can’t understand it at all.’ And I thought, it figures.

Now, it’s extremely difficult to properly show the stage and depict things through the main character, so to a certain extent, it becomes about how you show things through mosaics. The issue is what gets depicted in the end, and I figured I could find that out by watching the theatrical version. So, to state my conclusion…

I: Here it comes, here it comes (laughs). I better brace myself, just in case.

O: I thought, ‘I haven’t seen this in a long time.’ I felt like I remembered seeing movies like this two or three times in the past.

One was Eva, of course. Going even further than that, it would be another 17–18 years ago. Shou Kawamori’s [Shoji] theatrical version of Macross [Super Dimensional Fortress Macross: Do You Remember Love?] What they have in common, basically, is ‘fantasy’.

Movies have a drama separate from the story. The drama is ‘how a certain person changes’. The story is ‘there’s a villain, and there are those wo oppose him, and how that develops’.

When you look at that drama part, all three of them have something in common. In other words, it’s ‘the story of a vivid desire’ of a young boy. Ultimately, in a word…

I: That’s what you say, but you’ve never summed it up in a word (laughs).

O: In other words, it’s the desire to see a girlfriend the same age as him accept everything, or that he wants to be reunited with her when he’s become an ‘older woman’, who will protect him.

I: I don’t actually have any real desires like that, but if that’s how you feel, I get the feeling you desire a bit of something along those lines (laughs).

O: No, no. The reason why is because modern young boys find girls their own age hard to deal with. They can’t keep up with the girls’ needs, and they can’t hold up. So, the desire on the part of the boy is ‘to be reunited with his girlfriend when she’s grown older than him’. I think it can be summed up that way.

By introducing a sci-fi Urashima effect, you try to create a chronological gap; you warp the world for that desire. In order to realize the fantasy, you create this grand story. I think that’s what they have in common.

I: Well… that’s true enough. I’m aware of that.

O: If you sum up Eva, it’s ‘the aimless wandering of the soul of an introverted boy’. Macross is a movie that can be summed up as ‘wanting to date an older girl on Earth after a nuclear war’. And for that, they have a war in space and a nuclear attack on Earth. It’s about how forcefully you warp the world to realize one ambition. I think this is the most correct form of what sci-fi primarily should be.

The issue is how brilliant the method is that is used for warping the world. In the case of Macross, they brought out giant carriers and robots. Eva was a little more evolved and created organizations and cities, trying to build a sense of the world.

At any rate, those methods are the meat of the movie and the backbone or the nerves is turned towards the ambition. A fantasy holds meaning only when it possesses the details to convince people of it. Without that, it just becomes gibberish. If you can flesh out the fantasy, warp the world and force it to come together into one movie, it has a tendency to turn into something great, and it can’t help but become something great because the source material is so simple.

Considering the problem of this ‘method’ and on whether it’s inept or skilled, or whether it was able to mobilize those materials… RahXephon is clearly lacking. It’s absolutely short on details. I won’t be convinced by something like this. Those details come before such things as artistic design and mecha designs. It’s about creating depth in the world by looking at how wars are fought, the necessity of armies, and what kind of characters appear and how all of those supplement one another to make such a world possible. People are details too, in that you have to assign them skillfully.

In the case of RahXephon, there’s this mysterious organization that even employs carriers, but you don’t have a clue as to what kind of organization it is or where it’s getting its money. I just can’t help but look at those things. There are several requirements for justifying the existence of a military. But you don’t see that at all. The details are shown, but they don’t function, so you see pieces, but to the very end, you never saw the complete picture that those pieces formed.

I: We called it a theatrical version, but it’s fundamentally a compilation, so please give me a little slack here. It’s like we tried to make the Macross “Do You Remember Love” through a compilation (laugh). The work we did was to take the pieces of the TV series and use them like pieces of a puzzle to rebuild it within the length limitations of a theatrical film. Besides, Mr. Oshii, you haven’t watched the TV series (laughs).

The Love and Hate Hidden in Director Oshii’s “Essay on Yutaka Izubuchi”

Oshii: I’ve written lots about But-chan as a person in columns and essays, and everyone around thinks I’m badmouthing him (laughs). But that’s not it, I wrote those things because I’ve assessed his merits.

In short, my ‘Essay on Yutaka Izubuchi’ is ‘But-chan is the man who turned mecha into characters’. Or rather, all mecha and robots in animation were always characters. He’s the man who unconsciously pursued that to the extremes, so I haven to assess him as much as possible.

Izubuchi: Was it unconsciously? (laughs) Well, it is basically as you say.

O: In that sense, he’s a man who represents Japan’s animation. Though, he’s also the man who agitated Japan’s animation. That’s why he’s still working. He’s a man who can be eternally on the side of the fans. And it’s the fans who demanded that. To them, robots were characters. He’s one of the few, or rather, pretty much the one and only man who’s given form to that sort of thing.

With mecha, primarily speaking, it becomes a completely different world the moment they become independent. Labors are a transitional existence, and they were both characters and a sort of gimmick at the same time. I was thinking of making them clear-cut gimmicks. But I ended up being hampered by But-chan’s design (laughs), and it didn’t work out that way.

I: But if we’d turned them into the gimmicks that you were thinking of, Patlabor wouldn’t be what it is today. And you wouldn’t be what you are today, either (laughs).

O: Nope, it wouldn’t. I do truly think that, if that ’98 model hadn’t been a character that fans favored, this [?] would have been over with the first 6 volumes. There wouldn’t have been any movies, no TV series, and of course, Patlabor 2 wouldn’t have existed either. Though, it’s something that I feel ambivalent about.

I: Those things are always related.

O: I, myself, keep wanting to get past that and yet, I continue to work, shouldering that sort of thing. With But-chan, personally, we got into a huge fight during Patlabor 2, saying, ‘I don’t want to work with someone like you, I don’t even want to have to see your face!’

I: That’s the one we had over the phone, right? You were mad that the designs weren’t getting done and said, ‘In other words, you and Masami Yuuki want to do something where Labors fight it out in space, don’t you‽’ And I ended up losing it over that. That fight (laughs).

O: Quite a few months and years have passed since then, and my anger has calmed. And by writing about But-chan, I’ve gained quite a bit of understanding about what kind of presence he has, and I’ve been able to get it straightened out in my head. He’s clearly pointed in a direction different from what I’ve struck out to do, but there’s no doubt that he’s a part of the work that I’ve done. So, even in this movie, I can see that he’s done a great job of creating a gigantic character instead of a robot.

I: But the general public often groups you and me together in the military genre. I like military things, too, but it’s a little different from the things Mr. Oshii thinks of. For example, the Helldiver [an airborne robot that appears in Patlabor] is very popular among military fans, but Mr. Oshii thinks, ‘That’s not right’, right? After all, logically speaking, a vehicle that tall walking around is, in and of itself, already wrong as a weapon (laughs). I do understand Mr. Oshii’s logic. But with Patlabor, I acted as the opposing influence and did it that way in part to balance things out, because I felt the show would work better if it had a little manga-like flavor to it. Because at that point in time, it wouldn’t sell unless you took it in that direction. You know that, Mr. Oshii…

O: I also know that was why I had to fight such an opposing influence, and that show came into existence as a result of it, so my feelings of love and hate are just that much deeper (laughs). I keep planning to sever my ties with that extremely mysterious and unique domain that Japanese animation holds, but I never manage to extricate myself, and my mind always ends up charging in that direction. It’s like the Japanese ‘family’. You can run away from home, but ultimately, that doesn’t resolve any of the family problems.

That’s exactly why I’m probably in the position to speak most accurately about the world of such patterns, the world of animation, the world of design, the kinds of things that the man, Yutaka Izubuchi, represents.

I: That may actually be true.

O: …And with that intention in mind, I’ve badmouthed But-chan in my writings all over the place these past couple years (laughs).

I: I—I feel like that might be an unwelcome favor… (laughs wryly).

The Quad Cannon of Stressing the Visual

Oshii: Even now, I believe that whether it’s with mecha or military things, you should try to have a single unifying logic behind them. Without that, mechanical design can never contribute to the sense of the world. You can’t construct the world as a background after all. It will always inevitably appear as a character. And in this movie, there are carriers and fighters and anti-air tank-like things… There are all sorts of problems with that anti-air tank too…

Izubuchi: In the beginning, it had two main cannons. But I made a request to Michiaki [Sato] saying, ‘I’m sorry, I want you to give it four main cannons…’ I said, ‘Well, I want to do the Wirbelwind [Nazi Germany Panzer IV anti-air tank], so please do it with a “soulful quad cannon”.’ And Michiaki understood and said, ‘All right!’ (laughs).

O: So, it’s back to that quad cannon thing.

I: But you don’t hate it, right?

O: I don’t hate it. But you know, when you actually think about the problem, a quad cannon is meaningless. It’s much more meaningful to increase the caliber. But in the end, that’s But-chan for you, turning it into a quad cannon at the last minute in spite of that (laughs).

I: I do understand the logical side of it too. But during Avalon, if there was a Shilka side-by-side with a Wirbelwind, I think I would have used the latter without hesitation (laughs). Well, I’m aware of the problems the same as Mr. Oshii. It’s probably just that I don’t hesitate to choose the visual over it. But even though you say that, you said ‘Use horseback riding trousers for this and the exact same helmet as the German military. I want to make it look like the Nazi SS’, when you were requesting the design for the Kerberos defensive wear. I kind of questioned that (laughs). So, I think that it’s likely that there’s an ambivalent part inside you that wavers between logic and fetish.

O: There is. There is, definitely. There’s no way you can build it solely on logic, so in the end, it always comes down to my own fetishes.

But for a show like this, I thought the gadgets were unexpectedly weak. It’s a tendency I’ve seen in recent mecha. It looks serious, but it’s actually not. The more details are drawn, the more it becomes clear that there’s no logic running through it, and in fact, things have regressed. Because in the old days, if it had wings, it was determined that it would fly, but now, for all the increase in details, I think some of the things would be impossible to fly. It means they aren’t created out of necessity.

I: I think you’re probably referring to the fighter called the Shinsei equipped with the T.D.D. That was done on purpose, or rather, it was necessary to get past the Absolute Barrier, and I actually didn’t want the silhouette to look like a man-made mecha. It was because I wanted the audience, for story purposes, to be under the illusion that it belonged to the Invaders.

The Main House Made a Main-House-Like Movie

Oshii: At the very beginning, it starts out in the classroom, and another girl comes in, then quavers and runs away, and that goes on and on, right? I was thinking, ‘When’s the war going to start?’ (laughs). Because I had it in my head that it was a war story. When the fighting finally began, an anti-air tank shows up and gets blown to pieces, and that’s it. I thought, ‘Oh, maybe this is a different kind of movie’, and I resettled myself in at that point.

But see, when the older lady shows up after the kid has run into the subway station, I knew right away. ‘Oh, that’s that girl from the classroom.’ Later, when I asked an animator who’d watched the series, he said, ‘No, I didn’t see that at all. But in the movie, it’s immediately obvious.’

If you get back to a normal everyday sense of things, if it’s a girl you really, really, really, really loved, you’d normally realize who she is, even if she’s changed some. If you don’t realize it, then it just goes to show how unimportant it really was, right?

Izubuchi: Well, so, in the TV version, there’s a real reason or explanation for why he doesn’t realize. The movie is structured to make it easy to get into by deconstructing their relationship from the start. But in actuality, anime has a tendency to pass things off as being normal, when it would seem weird if you only thought about it a little, doesn’t it?

O: We advance the story by making it a rule that something is incomprehensible, even though it would be comprehensible with a little rational thought. That’s the kind of drama we depict. Over half of it is a world built on words. In other words, it’s a ‘fantasy story’, and there’s absolutely no need to brandish the word ‘realism’ in situations like that… And being mindful of that, I resettled myself again. Thinking, ‘That’s probably the direction it’s going to go in.’

But then, it didn’t go anywhere from there (laughs).

By anywhere, I mean that when the girl says ‘I’m so-and-so’, and her identity becomes known, and when the main character confirms it, saying ‘You’re so-and-so, aren’t you?’ is when the story is supposed to end. A drama that can exist without that is actually no drama at all. Conflicts that develop due to the main character being immature can’t be called drama. The majority of the drama in Japanese animation is that sort of ‘unnecessary drama’. Drama that materializes because just one thing remains unsaid. Or dramas that materializes because the main character is immature.

Like Eva is a drama that would end the instant he [Shinji] says ‘I’m going to take responsibility!’ Everything converges on that point. And how long you can stretch that out for determines how many episodes the series will last.

I: Oh, I think we might have dragged it out in the series.

O: I dislike that sort of thing. I dislike it.

Why I dislike stories based on trauma is because the drama ends when the main character is told the true nature of the trauma and he understands it. Because the drama is planned from the beginning to converge on that point, it’s not like any of the people have changed or anything. In other words, it’s not dialectic.

As a movie, this doesn’t work at all. It’s an enormously easy way out that works only in Japanese animation, which provides details to feed the audience’s appetite.

I think substantiating fantasy is probably our fundamental job for those of us working in animation or sci-fi or special effects movies. That’s why it’s undoubtedly the easy way. Endlessly, we start from that point and return to that point. This film is a product of that great trend and unmistakably takes that easy path.

But with me, my theme is on how you can escape from that easy path. That’s why I can’t help but be conscious of it. And as for why it particularly caught my attention with RahXephon, side from the fact that I personally know But-chan, is that it hadn’t been done recently.

After Eva ended, there were a mountain of shows similar to it, but all they did was trace the details. But none of them identified the true nature of it and tried to make a grand world out of the incredibly simple motive of ‘wanting to substantiate desire as a fantasy’. That was done here for the first time in a while, so I got to see something nostalgic somehow (laughs). And it even has a punch line at the end.

I: The punch line, or rather, the epilogue, is different than in the TV series, though.

O: So, my impression is that ‘For the first time in a while, the main house has made a main-house-like film’. Even though it’s a little warped (laughs). Even though I feel it’s a little lacking in density and the colors are a little faded. It’s a little crooked and the shortcut work is conspicuous in various places, but you did a reasonable job of it.

I: Is that praise? (laughs)

The Act of Providing Details for the Fantasy

Oshii: In my position, I want things like that to exist. I’d be in trouble otherwise. Because I’m merely a subsidiary, or a branch of the main house. Without the main house, the branch can’t exist. Mr. Miya [director Hayao Miyazaki] is essentially like that too, but those kinds of things… can’t be allowed to become mainstream. Because that would be unfortunate for the both of us.

Because this kind of thing is most definitely in demand in the world. In every era, young kids coming up on puberty are at the mercy of their own desires and live their days solely on the impulse of wanting to flesh out their desires with details, even without really understand it themselves. That’s why they seek out stories from the outside from things like games and anime and comics. Fundamentally speaking, our most honest work is to provide that. I don’t think it’s a bad job, because there are definitely some kids out there who can’t survive without.

But it’s an incredibly tough job. Because you have to do it properly. Because you have to maintain for a year something that those boys can be thrilled and excited about. That’s why everyone throws mysteries in there in an attempt to drag it out. They can’t maintain it with details, so they purposefully build it like a mosaic to make it harder to understand.

Izubuchi: The correct way is to maintain it through details, but with a TV series, it was something I had no choice but to give up on within myself. So, I get the details down where I need to, but if you try to show everything properly, the harder you try the larger the chance that it will end up something laughable.

O: Right, Right. There are a lot of them if you turn on the TV late at night (laughs).

I: Do you think that’s going well?

O: Nope, not at all.

I: That’s why my answer to Mr. Oshii’s initial warning was to resign myself to knowing that if I don’t get enough firepower and the only thing I could produce were to be unreliable visuals, it would turn into a game of subtraction. Fortunately, we weren’t so short on firepower that Mr. Oshii was disappointed by it. So, if even one missile fired could be gin to show the relationships in this world, then put it in. But firing them like crazy would just be a waste, and I must not let the show fall apart because of something done just for my self-satisfaction. That was my stance on it.

O: But there’s always some crucial point. When I was working on a series, there were times when doing something like that resulted in damage, where 5–6 episodes couldn’t be recovered, but the attitude was let’s use 8,000 even 10,000 cels for that one episode and that we had no choice but to give it our all for that one episode.

I: But there are a lot of shows these days that throw in lots of firepower at the beginning and the rest of them end up being weak. So, I tried to include a story once every five episodes or so that would be memorable, even without a lot of animation cels. That is to say, include things with a mysterious atmosphere, or something that seems just slightly off kilter, or also somewhat bitter stories that seem against the rules. Things like that which are highly memorable. That’s how I figured on maintaining and balancing the tension for the viewers for the entire 26 episodes.

O: But you know, you need a catharsis somewhere. I figured that this robot was probably it. So, at the end, I thought, ‘Hey, it’s finally in motion’. But it doesn’t really make sense (laughs).

What I found most incomprehensible was the phrase ‘tuning the world’. I had high expectations, thinking, ‘I see, that’s a nice phrase. I wonder how it’s going to be visualized? Will there be a cataclysm? Will all the humans’ memories jump?’ But you just have robots grappling with each other and crying out. I don’t think that can really be called a catharsis.

I: That’s where we tried to depict sex with giant robots.

O: There’s that scene where they’re having a conversation in a family restaurant-style place. You have the camera cutting back and forth. I thought the ‘tuning of the world’ was going to happen there. What you would need there is well-constructed dialogue and an appropriate layout that would especially evoke thoughts of premonition. But that’s not how it is. The layout is too weak.

With the dialogue, the nuance of the axis of time and memories change subtly. Every time the camera cuts back, the layout alters subtly. The tuning of the world is the image of the world being renewed and repaired, right?

I just happen to be a director, so I can understand, because I’m always looking out for what the director is aiming to do. But the audience… wouldn’t see that (laughs).

And why a still Shakujii Park [stone god well park]? I used to live near Shakujii Park for the longest time, so I’m thinking aren’t there a lot more locations that are better than that?

I: That’s also a part that’s been recycled from the TV series—but I picked that place partly because of its name when we were making the series, because RahXephon is a stone god. The subway station was also planned to be Manseibashi [ten thousand world bridge] for the meaning that now ‘you can choose from ten thousand worlds’.

O: That kind of intent just doesn’t come alive in the layout. The first show to skillfully use the impact and power of words and visualized it was Eva. That was a methodology for moving the drama along.

In that sense, this is definitely a different era from that of Yamato and Gundam. All sorts of film-like culture is being mobilized and being attempted. But things aren’t being substantiated in the studio so that But-chan’s intent comes across accurately.

When I make a film, I don’t look at the key animation or the animation, but I always look at the layout. I convey my intent to the studio through the layout. At the minimum, 70% of my intent will make it accurately to the screen that way. It’s fine for the other 30% to be done by the studio, incorporating the studio’s sensibilities. Speaking in terms of a director, I think it could have worked out a little better if you’d done it that way.

That’s one way of setting up strategy. Everyone has a tendency of making things difficult by working on depicting the drama properly. You can skip over stuff more. You can rely on the power of animation and instead of all the dialogue, you can also use the power of words. I think combining those things and making things easier could have attained a more precise expression.

That’s why it’s a waste, or rather, clumsy. Basically, get better at it.

The Charm of the Format Called a Reedited Movie

Oshii: I felt the style of reediting a TV series into a movie hadn’t been done in a while, and I thought it was nostalgic. I also once made a reedited movie version of Gosenzosama Ban-banzai, but I like that kind of work where you chop apart a series and paste it back together with a bit of new material into a different work.

Izubuchi: I can understand that. In this film, the atmosphere in it is pretty fundamentally different from the TV version because we changed all the dialogue and stuff. Also, since we still had data from the TV series left over, we changed the characters around in the layout and things to turn them into something different.

O: I see, you did some complicated work. Now, there’s data left over, so you can just replace the layers. Oh, I’d like to do work like that (everyone bursts out laughing). For example, if I were to be asked to reconstruct and edit RahXephon

I: Well, that’s over already (laughs). But anyway, it was that kind of reconstruction work, so we also took apart the sequence of things and restructured it. There’s some psychological attacks going on in the Eleventh Movement, but this episode is very independent in nature, and I thought maybe that story couldn’t be used, but when we changed the perspective, it actually came in handy to connect some other pieces.

O: My mentor, Mr. Tori [Director Hisayuki Toriumi] was once asked to make a reedited movie for Ashi Pro’s Space Warrior Baldios. I was a little mystified as to why Mr. Tori would take such a job. But Mr. Tori said, ‘I wanted to work on a theatrical project since it’d been a while. I feel a real zest in the work as a director in cutting and pasting together a single movie out of a series that someone else made.’

And the very first thing you have to do is set the bar on quality. You have to select the images you can use and cut and toss aside the parts you can’t use. No matter how important the scene is, you throw it all away if the art is weak. Instead, you insert narration to change the composition or change perspectives. There are various methodologies, like bringing a different character to the foreground. If you don’t think about what’s possible at that point, it’ll never become a movie. It’s something you can do because it’s someone else’s work… I remember discussing something like that at work.

I thought that made sense. Because with series that you’ve worked on yourself, you tend to be rather sentimental about the selecting and discarding process.

I: Well, I agree. That’s why for this project, I left it up to someone else to a certain extent.

O: I haven’t seen the series at all, but even I got the impression that the movie was made in a pretty straightforward manner. I was able to understand it pretty well, even jumping into it then. Or rather, it was almost too easy to understand.

I: That’s something we aimed to do. Our approach to the TV series and the film were completely different. With the TV series, we interspersed various icons to drag it out and maintain interest to a certain extent. With the movie. since it is over once you get in the theater and the 2 hours are up, we didn’t need that sort of thing.

My assistant director on the TV series, [Tomoki] Kyoda, acted as director for the theatrical film. We wanted it to leave a different impression than the TV series had. If we changed the main character and changed the point of view, we thought that might be possible. And we decided not to think too much about the sequential order of things when working on this. We discussed those kinds of things at the very beginning.

Kyoda came to like the show while working on it, so I think he had some pent up stuff about various things he wanted to do, which I’d told him not to do because that wasn’t how it was supposed to be. That kind of person should have the best idea of what he wants to do, so he was probably perfect for the job.

If I had to do it, I probably would’ve gotten stuck just at the selecting and discarding process, but I thought it might be winnable if he did it. I left the work entirely in his hands, and I think that worked out well.

I thought it would be good if the raw art material from the TV series could be used in a different way to make a different impression. After all, that’s what raw material is for. The audience who watched the TV series might feel a bit of incongruence because of the completely different dialogue, but I thought that was okay.

O: I can really understand that. So, the series was basically a piece of the mosaic per episode, right?

I: Yes, because we constructed it so that the effort of putting it all together was left up to the audience.

O: I think that’s definitely how it’s going to be from now on. If the audience is finding it hard to wait even with one episode per week, then what should you do? You have no choice but to say, ‘This is a piece. At the end, it will come together in a giant picture’. But the audience won’t necessarily think that and stay with you for half a year or a year.

And the instant no brilliant picture materializes, the audience will be mad. The studio has to steadily keep making the show, prepared for that. Prepared for the fact that in ‘one, two, and three, there!’ when the last cel is done, the studio group will have disbanded and fled (laughs).

In that sense, there’s already a strain on telling this kind of story in a series. In the old days, you could have a bad robot show up every episode and say, okay, that’s it for this week. And in a year or two, the characters would have changed gradually. Making stories like that is impossible now. Some shows even end in not even 26 episodes, but 13 episodes. In that case, if you don’t think strategically about how you’re going to construct the world and the story, it’s impossible.

I think it’s unlikely that I’ll ever do another series. I, of course, don’t have the energy for it, nor do I have the confidence. And I feel strongly about not wanting to see images that can’t be laid out. Come on, I’ve been doing this for 25 years, give me a break already (laughs). In other words, I’m thinking, let me pick something that would work out as a piece and make that.

You don’t get to work hard at choosing and polishing a piece, hammering it into shape and creating it by fitting it in somehow and working through all the difficulties (laughs).

I: (laughs) You’ve spent 25 years at it and you say this, but this was my first time (laughs). You tell me that’s how it is from the start, but I couldn’t hope for it even if I wanted to.

O: Your career in the industry isn’t all that different (laughs). You’ve been doing it since you were in high school. But it’s true that everybody suddenly becomes an amateur their first time.

I: If I’d done it that way from the start, I think I probably would have been in the situation of ‘Don’t say I didn’t tell you so.’

O: Right. It probably would have collapsed without ever completing the final grand picture, and that’s exactly what I meant when I said that. But in this case, you were given an opportunity to show a piece in the theaters, and you were able to bring it to a conclusion, so it’s a fortunate piece of work.

I: Though, I never really had any intention of turning it into a movie.

O: Well, everyone at the studio was falling over backwards when they heard that ‘RahXephon is apparently being made into a movie’ (laughs).

Whether One Is Aware of Being a Copy or Not

Oshii: The other thing I thought of was about copying. Quite aptly, Anno declared himself a copy, saying, ‘I’m a copy of a copy’. But this is a ‘copy of a copy of a copy’. In the future, there will undoubtedly be ‘a copy of a copy of a copy of a copy’, and undoubtedly, this chain of copies will continue. Animation has also already entered this world, and there no longer as such things as originals.

Izubuchi: But the easy path that you mentioned earlier is a part of a world that has existed since a long time ago.

O: That’s true, but in the case of Anno, he was aware of being ‘a copy of a copy’. In other words, that’s Anno’s stance. The very existence of self-consciousness, you could say it’s the position you’re standing in when creating something. Other directors aren’t even conscious that what they’re making are copies.

Of course, I don’t mind at all if they are copies. We’ve been making movies for over 100 years, so new stories, new situations, and new scene allocations don’t exist. Everything references other things, and I’m fully aware of that. The issue is if you’re doing it intentionally and how conscious you are that what you’re making is a copy.

These days, he fact that there is no controversy concerning copying in animation and that there’s no awareness of it is a big problem. In my mind, the greatest achievement of Eva is that it was self-aware of being a copy. That was a huge change, and it was a big turning point. That’s why I pay attention to Anno. Not about what he’s going to make next but as a situation.

And that’s where RahXephon popped up. From my perspective, I thought, ‘Oh, this is definitely But-chan. He sure is working as naively as ever.’ (laughs) I keep saying this, but I’m not saying that in a negative way. Of course, speaking from my position, it’s undoubtedly an all out denial, but in terms of human nature, that was truly But-chan. And he’s the ‘king of naivety’, as it were (laughs).

In that sense, I went home feeling warm somehow (laughs). I need But-chan to keep walking down that path from now on as well. You master that ‘king of naivety’ to the very end.

I: You’re telling me to consciously master that? (laughs) But for this job, I don’t really know if it’s a copy or not, but I did feel like I wanted to try and see if that route couldn’t be followed once more. I suppose that might mean that it’s a copy of the route that’s perpetuated to this day.

O: No matter what reasons you line up now, ultimately, you’re a man who yields to his fetishes. There’s a part of me that’s like that, too, which is why I’ve been able to keep up with you, and I really understand that well. Why you just have to see that quad cannon (laughs).

An Existence That Possesses the Full Weight of Fantasy

Oshii: But it’s probably going to end with But-chan. There’s no doubt that after this, copies that aren’t aware of being copies are going to become prevalent. In the end, there isn’t much in existence that possesses the full weight of fantasy.

Izubuchi: I do definitely feel that. But with everything becoming available as information and so much content, it might be extremely difficult for such an existence to emerge.

O: No, I think it’s the opposite. The total amount of information may have increased, but the actual amount of information has decreased, as in, it’s all the same.

I: Basically, it’s too easy to obtain. In the old days, when you’d have to make an effort to see something to get something, what you won for yourself would feed on itself, and you’d feel ‘this is what I’m about after all’.

O: That’s true, in the old days, we made the maximum effort in order to see Ultra Q just one more time, right? Now, you can get it easily at a rental store. That’s why, conversely, no one tries to come in on the side of classics. Everyone chases after the movie of that era, like The Matrix, and like a gust of wind, it’ll be over.

That’s why no one becomes cultured in the way of films, nothing new gets added, and the total amount of fantasy never increases. Even with animation, there are more of them, but the variety out there is definitely decreasing. The breadth of expression itself is diminishing. So, the arrangement of information has increased, but the information itself hasn’t increased at all. In fact, it’s decreasing.

I: That’s really not something that’s limited to animation.

When I was working with you, I felt that I understood you, so I was partly consciously trying to be on the opposing axis. Mr. Shiba’s wise saying was, ‘Mr. Oshii produces a better work when he’s pressured from those around him.’ That was back before working on the first Patlabor, though.

O: There definitely was a time when our fetishes about tanks and fighters sympathized with one another. But in actuality, it was inevitable that things would change. For example, you probably still like the Messerschmitt, but I’ve long since grown sick of it. There are things like that.

I: I’m actually more of a Focke-Wulf person myself (laughs).

The Path That Director Oshii and Director Izubuchi Follow?

—I actually wanted to ask this at the beginning, but do you two not get along?

Izubuchi: What’s that supposed to mean? (laughs) Maybe I’m naive, but I try not to be conscious of that sort of thing, and I don’t feel anything of that sort. When I heard about the ‘fight over the phone’ story just now concerning Patlabor 2, I thought, ‘Oh, I see, he’s been holding that against me until just recently’, and that was about it.

Oshii: I’ve decided that I’ll never work with him again, and that hasn’t changed even now. It would go against my principles and besides, it’d be pointless. But that’s not to say I dislike Yutaka Izubuchi as a person. If anything, I feel love and hate for him as a person who’s been naively doing the things that I’ve been hung up about. Because while on one hand, I’m bothered by it, thinking, ‘What’s with this guy?’ I also know the good side of it. The kind of sentiment where you go ‘Thanks! Fighters! They’re so cool!’ is simple stuff that sticks with you until the end. Even at the stage where logically speaking, it becomes clear that ‘the Spitfire was a third-rate plane’, you still say, ‘but this wing shape is so cool, you know?’ I think it’s like that, and it remains with you to the end. I’m aware of him being that kind of thing.

I’m also self-confident that I’m unmistakably the person who is in the best position to speak about the work that the person called Yutaka Izubuchi has turned out. But you know, I don’t have any desire to go karaoke with him and sing anime songs or anything (laughs).

I: (laughs) You’ve never even done that sort of thing.

O: I’m sure there’s a lot where we’ll meet and talk about various things. In the past, there were a lot of things concerning Patlabor, but that’s started to fall off recently. Until fairly recently, there was a lot I was privately ashamed of. Because I’m undoubtedly the person who reaped the greatest benefit from Patlabor, regardless of the fact that it had turned out to be something different from what I had intended. Thanks to it, I was able to make two movies to my liking after that, and I’ve been able to do what I want.

I: I can tell if I look at Mini-Patlabor (laughs). Today’s conversations have been all about ambivalence, which is rather rare for you.

O: It happens. So, every time I look at But-chan, those kinds of things come rushing back to me. Like when we just met earlier for the first time in a long while, you were naively waving your hand, but I thought, ‘Man, he hasn’t changed at all’, really (laughs). So, please stay naive to the very end.

I: I think that’s probably how it’ll be. Because I’ll probably break down if I start thinking… I may not work on anything with you ever again, but if, for example, you ask, ‘I want to do this sort of thing, but do you know anyone good?’ I’ll introduce people to you. Even when I was making RahXephon, one reason I did it was because there was no one who would make the sort of thing I wanted to watch, so I figured I had no choice but to make it myself. But in truth, I’m the kind of person who goes, ‘Someone, make something I want to watch!’

I’m personally a fan of Mr. Oshii, and I love Oshii works. If you were to ask me what I liked, I’m the kind of guy who’d say Angel’s Egg, after all (laughs). Everyone compares Ghost in the Shell to Patlabor, but I say, no, that’s wrong, it’s Angel’s Egg with combat, right?

O: Oh, so that’s it…

I: You probably don’t know this, but… Well, I’d been hiding it because I figured you wouldn’t have liked it if you found out that I’d been taking action back then, but I’ve been supporting Patlabor related stuff from behind the scenes. When Kadokawa Shoten put out the layout collection [Methods], I knew you wouldn’t like it if the cover only had Ingram 3, so I asked for a fish to be swimming in a certain spot. I drew the rough sketch and advised the editor that if you have Katoki do the rough on this and hand it to him, it’ll probably pass. With the Patlabor 2 novel, I said to bring up Kamui Fujiwara’s or Jun Suemi’s name for the visuals. Because Mr. Oshii will say okay to that. I set things up like that, while also paying heed to your preferences. It’s stuff like that, right?

O: (laughs wryly) Yeah, that’s right, yeah, that’s right. You have that kind of aspirations to be a producer. But you’re a man who never takes responsibility in the end.

I: It’s not that I don’t, but that I can’t. Because when money gets in the mix, I’m completely no good at it. That’s why I could never be a producer in the real sense. But I do act like one sometimes, and personally speaking, if it’ll make your films better, I’ll introduce people to you, so please don’t hesitate to make use of that.

O: I’m starting to get tired of animation, you know?

I: What are you talking about? (laughs)

—There is no end to this conversation, but let’s wrap it up here. Thank you very much.

(May 23, 2003 at Roppongi Hills. Interview Structure: Ryusuke Hikawa In Cooperation With: Monthly Newtype Editorial Division, Roppongi Hills, Tomohiro Matsunomoto)



    Mamoru Oshii—born 1951. Movie director. Joined Tatsunoko Production in 1977 and became an animation director. Transferred to Studio Pierrot and gained attention through the TV animation Urusei Yatsura (1981) and its theatrical film Urusei Yatsura 2: Beautiful Dreamer, which he worked on as chief director. After that, he went freelance and directed the video anime Angel’s Egg (1985), and then, together with Yutaka Izubuchi, Masami Yuuki, and Kazunori Ito, as a member of the original creators’ group Head Gear, he directed the video anime Mobile Suit Patlabor (1988). This became a huge hit and two movies were produced, directed by him. His movie Ghost in the Shell (1996) even influenced The Matrix and is now known the world over. His latest work is a movie called Avalon (2001) that was shot live on location in Poland and then digitally treated to turn it into a virtual world. Currently, he is in the middle of working on Innocence (Ghost in the Shell sequel_), due out in 20??.

    His acquaintanceship with Yutaka Izubuchi is from the live action film The Red Spectacles (1987). Izubuchi worked on the design of the armored defensive wear ‘protect gear’ in both that and its sequel, Stray Dog: Kerberos Panzer Corps.

    In the model magazine Model Graphix, Director Oshii has a series of articles called “Stray Gadget File” on mecha design. There, he wrote a harsh critique on Yutaka Izubuchi and surprised everyone involved.

  1. “You shouldn’t bother. Don’t say I didn’t tell you so.” Printed in the March 2002 issue of Kadokawa Shoten’s Newtype.↩︎

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