Sakuracon 2012 - Yoshiaki Kawajiri Q & A

Madhouse' s Yoshiaki Kawajiri, Director of such works as Ninja Scroll and X TV, answers questions from a half-full panel room early Friday afternoon at Sakuracon 2012.

Q: What were some of your major influences?

A: One of my big influences are American TV westerns such as Rawhide.

Q: For the Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust movie, how much did you work with the original creator?

A: The original creator gave me free reign on the movie because he enjoyed the work I did with Wicked City when we worked together previously, he pretty much said "do as you wish."

Q: How was it to work with Yoshitaka Amano?

A: I didn't work directly with Amano but the biggest challenge was adapting his art into animation. Credit for this goes to animation director Minowa, it was really his work.

Q: What was it like to go from animation such as BioHunter to live-action?

A: The live-action film Azumi II had the same producer as Vampire Hunter D. He just asked if I'd like to write a screenplay for live-action, but only after the staff hit a wall for the script and he asked me for ideas. I don't really take into consideration whether it is live-action or animation. I come with ideas and write what comes to me.

Q: In the commentary track for Cyber City Oedo you stated: “Tough middle-age characters don't sell tickets.” Can you explain why that is in Japan?

A: Looking back at Cyber City Oedo, it had three main characters and one was a rare case for animation as a main character. I wanted to take on the challenge of making a middle-age male character, it was something that I thought would be appropriate. I was told it would not be a hot-selling ticket but it was something I wanted to do.

Q: At Madhouse, you've worked in a lot of different roles. Which role did you find the most creatively fulfilling?

A: All roles are fun to do, but when you're writing the script it's a very solitary process and the most stressful, most painful. I feel that doing key animation is the most fun and liberating, I'm at the top of my mental and physical health doing key animation.

Q: How was doing key animation for Redline?

A: Doing key animation is fun but Redline had a lot of difficult art, so that was a tough challenge.

Q: You often work on animation based on international projects such as Highlander, Animatrix and Marvel animation projects. Do you find this a way to build an international fanbase?

A: I didn't have such big intentions, I just took what jobs I needed or ones I thought I could fulfill, but when I'm directing I do have an international audience in mind.

Q: Do you have a favorite work?

A: Ninja Scroll and Wicked City.

Q: Are you able to discuss the second Ninja Scroll movie?

A: Ninja Scroll is my own original story so I'm always interested in continued development on it, so that's what I'd like to do.

Q: You've worked directly with American and Japanese producers. Can you compare the strengths and differences between the two?

A: I don't have too many experiences working with western producers so it's hard to come up with a general statement. However, I tend to be difficult to work with if I'm not given my freedom regardless if the producer is Japanese or American.

Q: How do you pitch an original project like Ninja Scroll?

A: Well, Ninja Scroll was something I always wanted to do ever since I became interested in ninja as a child. I had the idea for it after I finished Wicked City. The idea itself came from Madhouse. At that time, I didn't know if this would be suitable as a business project but I just wanted the audience to enjoy a ninja movie. So it was completely separated from a money-making proposition.

Q: In the Ninja Scroll movie and television series there's a rape scene that is different from most animation. Is it difficult to discuss such scenes or does it just flow with the violent nature of the series?

A: As for the rape scene, I thought it was an essential element in a violent ninja story. I thought it would be something suitable for a mature audience, however I had no involvement with the TV series.

Q: How did you feel about the change from hand-drawn animation to digital as an animator and director?

A: I would say that going digital has allowed a wider breadth of expression but that's for my own work. I haven't felt much difference because I keep doing hand-drawn work. Whether you're working in hand-drawn or digital, if you're working on something boring you'll end up with a boring product. But the best part of digital production is you don't have to draw the same old thing over and over again.

Q: Are there any DC proprieties you'd like to work on in the near future?

A: (laughs) I didn't have a specific fondness for Marvel titles, Madhouse was just working on Marvel properties and I was just helping out. If they were working on DC properties, I would have worked on those as well.

Q: What series was the most fun to work on?

A: All of them.

Q: What things do you keep in mind while, what kind of adjustments do you make, working on a project?

A: Things I keep in mind, for example, Ninja Scroll is a Japanese period piece; elements of it may not be familiar for non-Japanese people so I made it accessible for those people. The character Jubei is similar to a CIA agent fighting terrorists.

Q: Did you work on the Madhouse segment for Gotham Knight, “Deadshot”?

A: Yes.

Q: When it comes to working on projects that you aren't necessarily familiar with such as the Marvel projects that Madhouse did, does that give you a particlar creative advantage that you aren't just having to restict yourself to whats been already created?

A: I do think its more ideal if you are familiar with the source material, but there are restraints with production, I can't really say which turns out to be better?

Q: Since Ninja Scroll is an homage to Futari Yamada's work, would you be interested in doing a direct anime adaptation of one of his novels?

A: A Futari Yamada story would be the kind of ninja anime I'd like to do but his novels aren't completely accessible to a modern audience. You'd need to make changes to make it accessible. I'd rather make an original work but I have respect for Yamada's work.

Q: A lot of Kawajiri's work is dark and edgy. Have you ever been involved in any light, fluffy and cute projects or would you be interested in working in a project like that?

A: I consider that someone else is more interested or more capable in something that is light and cute. There are many other creators who are skilled at that genre so I defer that work to them. However, dark and edgy work isn't as popular with other creators so I will keep doing that.

Q: Do you find key animation is more tedious for series or movie work?

A: Neither is actually tedious and I'm not really fond of drawing still work. The fun of drawing is giving art movement and emotion. I originally wanted to become a manga artist but once I studied animation things I thought were impossible became possible. It's quite addicting so I've been at it ever since.

Q: In Vampire Hunter D novel the Layla character was in love with D and was darker and edgier. Why did you decide to change her character to a comrade in arms with D instead of a love interest?

A: I think I subdued the expression in the film but I think Layla did have affection for D. The image of the character might be different between us but I think I was pretty faithful to the original characterization of Layla.

Q: What was the best experience you've had working on animation?

A: I was able to discover my style with Wicked City, so that was a good experience.

Q: Do you still have the book used to draw and write manga and are you still considering dabbling in manga?

A: I no longer have an interest in writing manga because once you discover you can add movement and sound to your drawings it's quite cinematic and addictive. Even if I had the opportunity to make manga there are far better artists than I around so I'll let them do the art and I'll do the story.

Q: Are there any particular directors that were an influence on you and your work?

A: I can't say anyone specific.

Q: Would you do a western in the future?

A: I do not find the idea of doing an American made samurai movie enticing so a Japanese made western is not something I find enticing myself (laughs). I don't know if there'd be an audience for that.

Q: In the Unico 2 movie there's a scene where the people are turned into building blocks for a castle. Were you involved in any way with this scene?

A: In Unico 2 I did not do storyboards but I did layout and key animation, so for layout you compose the entire scene, which was a lot of challenging work.

Q: Is there any anime you watch you aren't involved in the production of and if so, do you have any favorites?

A: I don't have too many opportunities to watch animation but I do check the animation shows that are made by Madhouse. I tend to watch more live-action than adaptation because if you start following Lost there is very little time for animation.