Yoshiyuki Tomino Press Conference
Q&A

Sep 14th 2009

Q&A with Yoshiyuki Tomino

I'd like to ask you kind of a nuts and bolts question about the animation industry. A lot of animation has been outsourced to Korea and China, outside Japan. Do you believe the golden age of Japanese animation has ended, and in the future, animation from China or Korea or other countries will eclipse Japanese animation? Do you think that the industry, in a sense, is going to disappear?

I must begin with an apology. I hardly watch any anime myself, so it's very difficult for me to tell you what the current situation is. However, the situation you described… I kind of feel it's probably true, but I don't know in detail. All I can say is that the creative process in Japan is obviously showing a decline. Having said that, however, I don't think that this declining tendency will continue forever. There will be a stop to it eventually.

The last few years, I have been working as one of the judges for a media arts festival. I am very involved in seeing the works of students, so I have an idea what the current generation is doing in regards to the animation world.

I don't know if this is going to be an answer to your question, but I think that the medium of anime is entering the Danger zone. What I mean by that is when I take a look at young people, I see there is a great tendency to abandon group work to focus their energies on creating individual projects and to work just on their own. I believe that, fundamentally, the process of making a film, whether an anime film or anything else, is basically a group effort. There is a tendency now among young people to discard or disregard the works of studios and that is not a good trend.

In regards to your comment on China and South Korea, I see that these industries are getting tremendous support from their respective governments. We see a burst of creativity as a result. In other words, we are seeing it put in a new environment. We're seeing the growth of new talent. We're seeing great interest being poured into new genres. We are seeing these kinds of considerable results, and as result, from the point of view of Japan, we're facing a tremendous threat from these countries.

Fundamentally, in regard to these traditions, there is one difficult challenge they are facing. It is a technological issue. I think there is an overreliance or over-dependence on digital work on computer graphics, for example. I believe the heart of filmmaking really comes from group work and studio work, and because there is so much reliance on technology and not on this group human effort, the kind of results that you see don't have the rich visual contents that might be possible, and I think this is something these nations have to deal with.

In regards to digital technology, I would like to make one other comment. Many of you will agree with me that when you look at the major hits coming from Hollywood, they tend to be not so interesting. And the reason for that is there is an overreliance and an over-convenience of digital technology.

When we look at South Korea, China, Hong Kong or Taiwan, because their film industry was developed later than the United States, they've just suddenly began to incorporate additional technology. They are absolutely overwhelmed by it, and are absolutely lost in it and in the most positive way, they are enjoying it tremendously. But as a result of being drunk on digital technology, they've kind of forgotten the most fundamental rules or concepts behind film making. As a result, I believe over time, their works are going to be less interesting from a film point of view. But this is not a criticism of these nations, because Hollywood has already fallen into this trap. Japan has already fallen into this trap. I think there are inherent dangers of over-relying on digital technology.

Actually, I could go on and on about this for some time, but I don't know how deeply aware you are of these issues. However, because I'm limited in my time I will just end my comments here.

You mentioned the dangers of totalitarianism. I wonder how concerned you are at the moment that studios are only conscious of budgets, that they are only willing to make hit franchises, whether it's Transformers, whether it's X-Men, whether it's Gundam, and they are not willing to take risks, be more creative and give chances to up-and-coming anime artists and storyline writers.

This is a tremendous problem for us. We don't have an answer. I don't have an answer. If any of us had an answer, we would not be struggling like this, day after day. In fact, if we had an answer, we would probably give up and draw for the rest of lives without struggling. If there is some way to change the current system, I would actually like to have your advice.

But the reason I mentioned totalitarianism today, and I'm sure it was a little surprising to hear that word mentioned in my talk, is that I feel very strongly about going by majority opinion, which is perhaps the negative aspect of democracy. In other words, just because the majority goes a certain way, doesn't considerably mean they are right. There is a difference between numbers and correctness. I think we need to focus on ways to create an environment that would allow for the creation of great art, and I believe very strongly that art will never come from majority opinion. In other words, going back to totalitarianism, I feel very strongly that individual talents must be nurtured. Uniqueness must be nurtured. Another way of saying that is that totalitarianism destroys individual talents. Having said all these critical things, however, you need to understand that if you are running a business or a studio, you will have no choice but to create Toy Story after Toy Story. I understand that, but how can we balance that reality with the ideals I also wish to see realized? There is no perfect answer. You just have to keep on struggling until you find an answer.

This is the 30th anniversary of the Gundam series; what do you attribute the longevity too? And if I may follow up on one thing mentioned earlier, you said you appreciate the technologies of the early Disney animations, but the storylines were a little bit simplistic. Can you explain how someone might view the Gundam storyline as more advanced?

In regard to your first question as to why I think Gundam has been popular for 30 years, if I knew the answer, I wouldn't be struggling everyday. If I knew the answer, I would already be working on my next work, which would be released next year. It's because I don't know the answer to that that I'm searching and questioning and asking and struggling and trying to find the answer. I just take each day as it comes. I try to go with the flow of things. I don't have that perfect answer.

But if I may sort of toot my own horn for a moment, when I started out in this field, the field that centered around giant robots or robots that looked like humans, they tended to be kind of ridiculed. They were considered characters, not real people, and they were not taken seriously. In my only display of brilliance and talent is that I took this concept and I really didn't talk about robots, or human-like robots. I talked about “Mobile Suits.” I think that is where the secret of our success lay.

In other words, by creating this new new phrase, “Mobile Suit,” I think we were able to give the Gundam series a completely different aspect that differentiated it from the robot stories that seemed to be only for children. I believe we were able to develop a fan base that viewed these mobile suit robots as very different from what had come before. In fact, in Japan, when we look at the Gundam series, we don't look at them as robot stories, but as real robot stories that are considered a slightly different subgenre.

I mentioned earlier in my comments that I thought the Disney stories were too simplistic. Having said that, however, I would also like to point out that if you are telling a story, it has to fundamentally be very simple.

But one thing I think is very unique to the Gundam series is that you have heroes and you have enemies, but they are both viewed as people with concerns. They are both viewed equally. Before I started working in this genre, any enemies were always foreign agents. The fact that for the first time, we introduced human beings as both heroes and villains, meant that over time, as the storyline progressed, sometimes people would change sides. You can see this was a completely radical approach for this genre. In fact, it brought these stories into the realm of regular human dramas and I think that's a step even the Disney films, despite their great technology, were not able to enter.

So I don't think that we started out trying to create a simple storyline simply because it was for children. That's not the approach that we took at all. What we were trying to do was tell the story of a war. As a result, these were the kind of characters that appeared. The fact that these characters were slightly different from actual people, and that they involved these suits, was just sort of a side effect. The original story was about human beings.

I come from a cinematic background. I have a simple belief in regard to films. That is that these are moving pictures. Moving pictures should be used to tell stories, and it doesn't really matter whether the end audience is going to be people of a certain age, or children, adults, etc. I think fundamentally, if you have a story to tell, you should just tell your story.

If anyone views me as being successful simply because I was able to enter the right genre, I would consider my work a failure.

Perhaps starting with Gundam, but certainly series since such as Evangelion and Macross and many other series, the lead characters tend to be in their early teens, thrown into the middle of a war, stuck in a giant robot and suddenly they figure it out. What were the cultural reasons behind this kind of character being so popular?

Because the sponsors are toy manufacturers. You all laugh because you thought I was making a joke, but that is actually more than 50 percent the truth of the matter.

We did have these constraints upon us. We had to do something to please these toy manufacturer sponsors so we had to create a storyline that would be able to use these robots these toy manufacturers want to sell. Think about it—if on one hand, you had these 18 meter, 20 meter tall robots that can be operated and look like human beings, you cannot expect to be able to move these robots in a world like Earth where there is too much gravity. So by process of elimination, you had to operate in space where you didn't have the gravitational problems. We had to have the battles in space.

We also had another constraint, which was that the toy manufacturers wanted to be able to issue toy after toy after toy, which meant that each week, you had to be able to introduce a new mobile suit and new weapons. This meant that in the concept of a story, you had to have a great deal of financial power to pay for these things, which meant governments had to be involved, which meant that huge governments would be involved in a huge space battle.

And as I mentioned, we could not have these robots operating on the earth because of gravity. Even on the moon, there is a great deal of gravity, so we wanted to somehow use the space between the Earth and the moon. And then the question was raised, “can we create some kind of government that would exist in this space?”, and of course the answer came to us—build a space colony.

And of course, regarding these children who have no training, how are they suddenly able to operate these huge complex pieces of equipment, whether they are robots or tanks or weaponry? It's because we had to come up with some kind of explanation. The explanation we came up with was that they have some kind of extra sensory perception.

Having said this however, it sounds like an old concept. It was an old concept even 30 years ago when we used this. Therefore, in the first Gundam series, the main hero Amuro is a person with these extra sensory powers, but he's considered a new type of ESP wielder. Although we called them Newtypes, it was very difficult to precisely define what “newtype” meant. It was only recently that we have been able to define this concept.

As you know, we are now involved in facing many environmental challenges. There are less energy resources available to us in the world. When we consider the dire situation in which we find ourselves, we cannot depend on the economic theories or the human histories of the past to work for us if we want to continue living off Earth for the next thousand years.

Considering that we need a new way of thinking, more and more people are understanding that we need to change our ways. And as we saw even in Japan, we have people saying that we have to develop a new type of civilization if we want to continue to survive.

30 years ago, we announced Amuro was a new type of being. However, he was not ahead of his time because we see now that it was not simply a mutation that suddenly appeared. There was a need in society for a new type of human being. And in fact, right now, in today's current society, we again see the need for a new type of thinking, a new type of human being. And because there was such a tremendous need, many people sense that it is possible a new type of person can be born. In other words, fiction has come closer and closer to fact.

Amuro had a unique skill, but his skill was basically limited to being able to operate a Gundam. However, the kinds of “newtypes” of people we need in the world today are going to surpass even Amuro's abilities, because when we consider our dwindling energy resources, how are people going to be able to survive for the next 10,000 years? I think Amuro is kind of simple for the potential that human beings can reach in the future. This is a question I've been thinking about in the last year or so. This is a concept I'd like to develop further.

So I believe that although I've not been able to express all these ideas about Gundam for the last 30 years, I believe that the people who watched it, either young people or adults, have done something with these concepts. There were great expectations about possibilities of the future for these human beings. Therefore, I believe that the foundation behind Gundam is completely different from the other works that you mentioned. So I would like to really shout at you, don't dare to compare them.

I'm sure you know that there is this huge Gundam robot that is being erected in Odaiba. When the project was first explained to me, I'm embarrassed to say I really lacked the imagination to imagine what it would be like, and I was very against the project. You'd have this large object that looked really cheap and tawdry. However, now that I've seen it, I'm really moved and I feel tremendous strength and power from this huge Odaiba robot. It really focuses on what I like to call toy-like colors. These toy-like colors don't have the color of real weapons and real tools of destruction. They're peaceful colors. Happy colors, the kinds of colors that little kids like. And they are the kinds of colors that encourage people to say, “don't give up hope. Have great expectations and have great hopes for the future of human kind. “

Children are getting a little impassioned, and the concepts represented by these peaceful toy-like colors are a completely different thing than what is being promoted by some less-than-admirable politicians and other leaders of the economy in our country. There is this idea of spending 1,170 billion yen on a huge museum for media arts and anime. I believe this is not the right way to go at all. In fact, they put all this money aside to build it, but don't have any money set aside to run the building. I believe that the kind of hope and expectations we get from looking at these happy colors are very different from the world the politicians are running. I'm very much against it. In fact, I believe that this Odaiba will serve as a kind of new Statue of Liberty, something that will stand tall and be an inspiration to people. These were not my comments actually, as I was very negative about this project when it was proposed to me A friend of mine, a rather important person, a famous person in Japan, said it will eventually become a Statue of Liberty for a new generation and he was absolutely right. I feel privileged to have someone so insightful near me. I would again like to stress that you must not compare Gundam to anything else. It is not simply a robot story. It is not simply an anime. It is much deeper and much more valuable than that. Despite the modest tone I've taken until now, it is pretty awesome.

I remember seeing Gundam many years ago when I was in high school. It's a great honor to see you and to be reminded of all these wonderful stories again. My question was about your comment about the dangers of relying on too much on computer technology. Can you tell us in a little more detail about what kind of negative effects works receive as a result of overreliance of these technologies? The reason I ask is because even in the world of journalism, we face similar challenges. I see more and more journalists not actually going out and doing research, but just doing research on the internet or through their computer and writing stories on the basis of this. In fact, I have people in my company that do similar things, and when I look at them, I see they don't want to go out and meet people. They don't actually want to interact with other people. They don't want to go out into the field, and when I see these people I sometimes get the feeling there is really no hope for them, and I'm not going to change them. What could be done to deal with the situation?

We're talking about computers in general, but I'm thinking about computer systems when I describe computers. When I think about computer systems, I think the one way to describe a really good computer system is a highly-developed bureaucratic system. This will take way too long too talk about, but let me make just make a few comments. When a system is created, there are wonderful reasons for it. People want to create something wonderful and good, but once the system is in place and starts moving on its own, after a while, the system exists to continue itself. In other words, the system becomes more important than the original concept of the people it is supposed to serve. That's what I meant when I say that a computer system nowadays is very much like a very highly-developed bureaucracy. We've seen this kind of thing in history before when we were back in the dynasties. In China, you see that although the systems were originally launched to keep the current leadership and form of government continuing, none of them have lasted more than 300 years, because over time, people lose sight of what the system was originally created for. The people in the system are only working to keep the system alive. We've seen similar things happen in the West. They started with imperialism, then went with monarchies, then colonization. They went through all of these systems which were supposed to help the current form of governments, but none of them were able to last very long. I know it sounds rhetorical and it's a lot of empty words, but I believe very much that we are already in a system without being terribly aware of its limitations. When you do a search on the net, you are in the system, and you are limited to that system. You are just children in that system.

Another thing I'd like to point out is that it's often said that no genius has ever saved the world. Let's think about what this means. When you look back in the past, look back in your own experiences. I think you will agree with me that no geniuses ever saved the world. The only things that geniuses ever accomplish is that they've increased consumption in society.

So the question goes back to why these geniuses have never saved the world. It's because they are only thinking with their heads. This goes back to what the question was originally about. I believe human beings are fundamentally social animals. We must work together as collectives; we must work together as groups.

I believe there is only one way to solve this current problem. We have to go back again to this idea that human beings are social animals. In its most fundamental form, what does this mean? It means that if you create a child, you have to raise it, you have to actually nurture it. When I look back on my own generation, when I look back at my own life, if someone were to ask me, did you look at your child? Did you watch your child every single day? Did you really nurture your children? I would have to say no. I was a failure as a father.

So it's very difficult to raise children to become social animals when we've not taught them this in their infancy or in their childhood. In fact, I've felt this concept very strongly for many years. I deliberately used a certain phrase in the Gundam script, and that phrase is “skin-to-skin communication.” We have to find more skin-to-skin communication. Frankly, we are a species that has already discarded this kind of communication.

The only way to solve this current situation is to go back to being social animals. In other words, to raise our children more directly as families. Having said this, however, I think many people are aware of this problem and are aware of the necessity to implement this solution. However, I believe that although the answer is very simple and right there in front of our eyes, we lost the ability to implement that solution.

People always ask me to give a simple example but these examples are never really simple after all. What I mean is that I try to give an example of what we know the solution is, but it is more difficult to implement than you might actually think. An example of this is, we have many people in society who receive astronomical sums in terms of salary who are in charge of money-losing companies or organizations, yet they continue to receive these huge salaries and they feel no shame. They feel absolutely no embarrassment. I won't take any more time on this topic.

When Mr. Miyazaki was speaking to us, he said that each movie for example has some lifetime. Maybe 30 years, maybe 20 years. Gundam is already at 30 years. Do you think that Gundam has something to tell the young Japanese generation right now? I know it has told a lot to the now 40-year-olds who are robot scientists; they all say they became robot scientists because of Gundam. But do you think Gundam still has something to tell to the children right now as well? Can Gundam live on?

I talked to you earlier about my concepts about the new type of people represented in the original Gundam, and we have a need for it in society today. Of course, as I mentioned earlier, fiction has come closer to fact. It's a very sad situation, actually, that Gundam has something to say to us, and that the world has deteriorated to the point that we do need a Newtype. Therefore I believe the Gundam stories, especially those concerning the Newtype, are very timely for this current generation. Of course, there is no question that Gundam will continue to be popular for years to come.

In regards to your question, I would also like to point out that Mr. Miyazaki is talking about completed works. However, Gundam is not a finished work; it is simply a concept. Therefore, I don't think you can compare the two at all.

I mentioned earlier that the Japanese animation industry is beginning to deteriorate. But this deterioration trend will not last forever. What do you think will help revive the animation industry in Japan?

Again this goes back to the same kind of answer I had to give before. If I knew I'd be making hits all next year, I wouldn't be struggling and suffering each day. I don't know the answer to why we are struggling.

I believe that when we look at the cultural background that gives rise to new works, regardless of the age, regardless of the era, regardless of the country, people are fundamentally social animals. They can't help but be influenced by the times in which they live, whether they are good times or difficult times, or whether they are rebelling against their times, or sympathetic to their times. They cannot divorce themselves from the reality in which they live. We are experiencing a very difficult economic situation. It is said that in the next two or three years, we will see some brighter news. People who are in their 20s and 30s cannot help but be affected by that. I think you will begin to see a new bursting forth of art, and in many ways, expression by these people when the economy starts to pick up again. This is not something that is new to humanity; these bursts of creativity come in cycles of so many years. I don't want to generalize about the time spans of these cycles because there are so many types of genres.

For example, if you look at the news surrounding Michael Jackson, you can see it has been 20 years since he had a major influence. It's only natural to expect someone else to appear very soon. These kinds of bursts of creativity do not come from the older types, such as ourselves. We are locked in our older creative thinking processes, but the new types of people will begin producing things in the next two or three years. I hope that these people will receive some kind of inspiration from the big Gundam robot in Odaiba, and because I'm Japanese, I'd hope that this kind of hope comes from the Japanese people. However, I can't help but be tied to the Internet, checking the chatter about this Gundam project. Unfortunately, I see that most of the pure positive reaction for that Gundam project comes from overseas. Japanese people have become sort of blasé. They're too used to Gundam. They don't have the ability to be surprised as much as before. I think it's very possible, sadly, that this new inspiration will come from another part of the world, not Japan.

Okay, last question.

If I understand you, you said your dream for the future is to use robots to warn about the dangers of totalitarianism. When I heard you say that, I immediately had to think of George Orwell. How do you relate your work to George Orwell? Is he your hero or how do you see yourself?

I want to begin by apologizing. I have never read George Orwell. I, of course, know of him. I've read synopses of his works and I know about him. You will probably ask why I haven't read any of his works, and the answer is that I do not have the ability to read novels, or even works of science fiction.

However, I do know things about Orwell, and my understanding is that he belonged to a particular age. And the way he used words to express ideas of socialism and totalitarianism, I don't think that if you brought the same words just as they are into today's age, that they would have the same kind of impact, or be able to make an impact on people.

When you have unique works that are so particular and so specific, they become adhered or glued to that particular age. The way that he expresses ideas was very much of that age; therefore, they would not work in modern times. Again I must apologize for my ignorance, but I only knew about Hannah Arendt last year.

When I read how she thinks, how she works through different issues, one thing I learned from reading her is that she believes in concepts or things to keep close to your heart, inside yourself. I have read through many of her works and I feel I am sympathetic to her way of thinking. I admire her tremendously. However, as I read through her works, I realize that that kind of way of expressing ideas is not going to reach a larger public. That kind of writing, if you just present it to the public, is not going to end up with her becoming a beloved author.

But one thing I especially admired about her was she looked at human history just as we should look at it, in two ways. One is, all of human history before the world war and all of human history after the world war. I think that's the Cold War. And for people of my generation like myself, until two years ago when I started reading Arendt's work, I thought history was divided into two sections, but I thought the cutting point was World War II, not the Cold War.

But, as she has pointed out, the world has changed tremendously after the Cold War. It has changed tremendously in terms of people's awareness after the Cold War. However, I'm still in the studying stage. I only learned about Hannah Arendt last year, so I'm still reading her book. I'm only halfway through the origins of totalitarianism. Because I have not read all the works yet, I cannot talk about 100% of everything she has thought. However, what I'm beginning to understand is that she has wonderful ideas, but I also think her way of writing is not something that is accessible to the general public. One way to make her thinking more accessible to the general public would be to use anime. Anime would be a convenient tool for that.

I've been thinking about this problem for some time now, and I've come to the conclusion that animation is not something that is limited to a particular age or a particular time. It is a medium, it is very versatile. It can be used. It is not bound by any age, so it can be used to tell many stories in many different ways in any time or nation.

Hannah Arendt says many interesting things. Basically, she is suggesting that terrorism is not something that is created by a particular group like Al Qaida. However, terrorism is a result of totalitarianism. I don't think everybody in this room necessarily understands what I just said. What I want to do is spend the next 30 years getting this concept across so everyone does understand.

Another phrase I like very much from Ms. Arendt describes political activities. She says that political activities are a means by which to tie people together with other people. When I look at Japanese politicians, I believe they have a very different understanding of the meaning of politics. They think of politics as simply being an activity that involves elections.

I have been fortunate enough to have lived a very long life. I am now old enough to be able to say I feel free to be able to use any means of expression available to me. I want to be able to express all these ideas I feel very strongly about. I'm not ashamed or embarrassed to use any tools at my disposal. I am eager and very full of ambition wanting to use the robot anime genre, and even cute characters. I want to use all these things that are available in this field to tell the kinds of stories that I want. I am full of ambition. This is the Tomino you see before you today.

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