Sakura-Con 2012 Yoshiaki Kawajiri Q&A
by Lynzee Loveridge, Apr 6th 2012
Madhouse animator and Ninja Scroll director Yoshiaki Kawajiri opened the panel with questions from the audience.
Q: What were some of your major influences?
One of his 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?
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.
Q: How was it to work with Yoshitaka Amano?
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.
Q: What was it like to go from animation such as Biohunter to live-action?
The live-action film Azumi II had the same producer as Vampire Hunter D. He asked if I'd like to write a screenplay for live-action after the staff hit a wall for the script and asked him 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 080 you stated: “Tough middle-age characters don't sell tickets.” Can you explain why that is in Japan?
Looking back at Cyber City 080, it had three main characters and one was a rare case for animation. I wanted to take on the challenge of making a middle-age character. 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 did you find the most creatively fulfilling?
All roles are fun to do, but when you're writing the script it's a solitary process and the most stressful. I feel that doing key animation is the most fun and liberating.
Q: How was doing key animation for Redline?
Doing key animation is fun but Redline had a lot of difficult art, so that was a difficult 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?
I didn't have such big intentions, I just took what jobs I needed, but when I'm directing I do have an international audience in mind.
Q: Do you have a favorite work?
Ninja Scroll and Wicked City.
Q: Are you able to discuss the second Ninja Scroll movie?
Ninja Scroll is my own original story so I'm always interested in continued development on it.
Q: You've worked directly with American and Japanese producers. Can you compare the strengths and differences between the two?
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?
Well, Ninja Scroll was something I always wanted to do after 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?
As for the rape scene, I thought it was an essential element in a violent ninja story. I thought it would be 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?
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?
(laughs) I didn't have a specific fondness for Marvel titles, Madhouse was just working on Marvel properties. 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?
All of them.
Q: What things do you keep in mind while working on a project?
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. The character Jubei is similar to a CIA agent fighting terrorists.
Q: Did you work on the Madhouse segment for Gotham Knight, “Deadshot”?
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 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?
I consider that someone else is more interested 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?
Neither is actually tedious and I'm not really fond of drawing still work. The fun of drawing is giving art movement. 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?
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?
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?
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?
I can't say anyone specific.
Q: Would you do a western in the future?
(laughs) 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. 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?
In Unico 2 I did not do storyboards but I did layout and key animation, 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?
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.
The panel wrapped up with tickets for autographs as well as a raffle to win a drawing by Kawajiri.
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