Scotland Loves Anime 2017 - Day 1

An interview with Masao Maruyama

Except it’s not even really day one of the Edinburgh part of the festival which started several days before with a packed screening of the English dub of Your Name and followed by the two Resident Evil CG films and an education day. Day one for me then.

Starting with the first film in the Eureka Seven: Hi Evolution reboot series, from the off it was clear this was not a well regarded film. I had expected the cinema to be packed yet a third of the seats remained empty, and during Jonathan Clements opening remarks, the film was described as being “unfortunately” in competition for a judges’ award.

So despite loving the TV series, forgetting Pocket Full of Rainbows and desperately trying to like AO, the scorn for Hi Evolution is justified. It’s a difficult film to like or take seriously and doesn’t endear itself to the hardcore fans or newbie watchers alike. Not a great start then.

Tokyo Godfathers though would change all that. Coming from the late, great Satoshi Kon meant its quality was assured, but with the producer and co-founder of Madhouse (and MAPPA) Masao Maruyama attending, it was sure to be an extra special event, reflected in the packed crowd that had ventured out for a fourteen year old film.

An admission then that before now, I had never seen Tokyo Godfathers. Despite being a huge fan of Satoshi Kon’s works, it’s a film that I never seemed to watch. I know for many it is the quintessential Christmas movie and having now seen it, I can see why. The Q and A after the film applied some context to the film, and to Satoshi Kon himself, that I don’t think I would have gotten any other way.

The final film of the day was Masaaki Yuasa’s The Night Is Short, So Walk On Girl that was an absolute barnstormer in audience reaction and just out-and-out fun. A perfect way to round of a brilliant first(ish) day, even if the revelation that the animation had, apparently, been done in Flash quailed my stomach.

Masao Maruyama

An unassuming figure despite emblazoned with an Astro Boy t-shirt, Maruyama speaks with the kind of weight and knowledge of anime and fifty years in the animation industry that few could ever hope to match. That he’s also so upbeat is perhaps testament to his love of the work. Flanked by interviewer Jonathan Clements and translator Bethan Jones, the post film Q & A started first with a question about how Tokyo Godfathers was received in Japan.

The unfortunate answer was “mixed”. While some liked it, for others it didn’t go down well which saddened Maruyama and though he was glad the film was made, he reflected that perhaps the advertising wasn’t right. He then turned the question back to the audience and asked us what we thought.

The response was immediate and rapturous. When the film’s credits had rolled the applause was enthusiastic, now though, despite the lessened crowd, it was twice as fierce.

When asked how the movie had come about, Maruyama explained how even though Kon had made Perfect Blue and Millennium Actress - both of which were animation masterpieces but not box office successes - Maruyama just wanted Kon to have a hit and asked for entertainment and comedy rather than horror, or arthouse. His love for Kon’s films still evident as he talked about how his first two films were ahead of their time, and if they were released now, with animation better regarded as a medium, perhaps they would be hits.

And that desire for entertainment of course lead to a film about three tramps and a baby? Well it’s a story about the value of life and even though the characters have problems, they’re great right?

Jonathan Clements then revealed that it was the first time he had seen the film in a cinema and the audience reaction, especially to the taxi driver who was voiced by Koichi Yamadera who also voiced Spike Spiegel in Cowboy Bebop. The question then, how did the casting of the three leads - Gin, Hana and Miyuki - come about?

The surly Gin was played by Toru Emori who was originally a stage actor; Hana was played by Yoshiaki Umegaki who was a comedy actor; and Miyuki by complete newbie Aya Okamoto. When asked about his favourite voice actors though, Maruyama revealed that yes, the taxi driver was also a favourite, but also the Okaa-san from Hana’s bar who was played by the late Seizo Katou, well known for his deep, masculine voice and somewhat miffed to be picked for such an effeminate character.

With time running on, the last question from interviewer Jonathan Clements was about something that had cropped up during the education day and Maruyama’s positive attitude and how Tom and Jerry fitted into that philosophy. Thankfully the answer didn’t involve a frying pan to the face, but did involve fighting. Specifically the idea that you can’t do anime on your own, and as a team you need to be able to fight amicably because even though fighting means you don’t get on, knocking heads makes the end result better as long as you can keep working together.

Opened up to audience questions then, the first was an easy low-ball: what film does Maruyama watch when he’s feeling down? Apparently the same film he watches when feeling happy: Roman Holiday.

A more involved second question then and asked to give some insight into Kon’s unfinished work, Dream Machine, and the process in trying to complete it. Here, Maruyama’s relationship with Kon threatened to peek through, but the simple answer is that Dream Machine may never be finished because Kon himself isn’t around. If he were, then maybe.

Next, a question about Tokyo Godfather’s inspirations, and whether the 1948 John Ford western, Three Godfathers was perhaps more popular in Japan? No, not more popular, but the story of three people bringing up a baby is a common archetype with films like Three Men and a Baby. During production they did toy with maybe using four or two people, but apparently three is just right, and even then, the number doesn’t matter because it’s a story about people, in this case minorities, coming together and bringing up a baby.

When asked about the design influences behind the facial animations, Maruyama seemed to think for a moment before revealing that both him and Kon had done videos as reference material, with Kon himself playing Hana, scarf swishing and all. Fundamentally though they wanted to think of anime as film, which meant a lot of detail and thinking of the characters as actors.

A quick interjection by Jonathan Clements revealed for the eagle eyed that one of the photos on the background political campaign posters did appear to be Maruyama. Sorry! And no he didn’t win.

A tough penultimate question then on what his favourite memory of working with Kon was? Again, a telling pause before mentioning that it isn’t something he wants to talk about, and though he wouldn’t be specific he would say he will always remember the films and working on them and is so proud that they were made.

And with time pressing on, the final question was about Beethoven’s 9th Symphony and its meaning in Japan versus the rest of the world. Well it’s an ode to joy isn’t it? It’s about life and babies being born and even though it’s performed every Christmas eve in Japan, it’s also about the baby’s name, Kiyoko and that connection to that day.

And with that, Maruyama bowed neatly and left the stage. A huge thanks of course to Jonathan Clements for interviewing, Bethan Jones for translating and of course SLA for providing such a unique opportunity to gain some insight from such a figure.