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Interview: Kunihiko Ikuhara

by Justin Sevakis,

Interview with Utena creator Kunihiko Ikuhara

interviewer: Justin Sevakis, translator: Noriko Furuhata

ANN: We're here in New York City with Kunihiko Ikuhara, the creator of the hit anime "Revolutionary Girl Utena" and director of the internationally popular Sailor Moon TV series. Mr. Ikuhara is in New York to supervise the English dub of the Utena movie, which will be released in the States this October.

So, how are you enjoying New York City, Mr. Ikuhara?

IKUHARA: I like it here.

ANN: Let's talk about the film which is the reason you're here, Revolutionary Girl Utena: The Movie (a.k.a. Adolescence Mokushiroku). How did Japanese fans react to this film?

IKUHARA: They were very surprised. I think everyone was very surprised when Utena turns into a car. *laughs*

ANN: Indeed... The theme of the Utena movie is adolescence, and the abandonment of one's attachment to the past so that one can move on with life. Was this an expression of your own past?

IKUHARA: Well, of course, detachment from the past is key to that period in a person's life, and Utena and Anthy are, after all, teenagers. So, when creating this, I tried to think back to my own memories as a teenager, and write those characters from that point of view. Of course, the present entered into it as well.

ANN: Roses have become the symbol of the series and the movie. What is behind that... why roses?

IKUHARA: I don't know. I really didn't think about that.

ANN: What do you think of the English dub cast?

IKUHARA: They're all pretty good.

ANN: Now, the character of Himemiya Anthy is very different in the movie from her TV personna - she's more willful, more overtly sexual. Which Anthy do you like better?

IKUHARA: Mmm... I like them both. I can't decide.

ANN: But Utena? In the TV series she symbolized both strength and innocence. What about Movie Utena?

IKUHARA: She's still the same Utena.

ANN: Nanami Kiiryu plays a pretty big role in the TV series, but only appears in the movie in bovine form. Was it a conscious decision to leave her out, or did she simply not fit into the storyline?

IKUHARA: Well, it was a conscious decision of course. You know, I really like cows. (points to numerous cow portraits on the wall of the hotel lounge) I think these guys do too! *laughs*

ANN: Speaking of animals, what IS Chu-Chu exactly?

IKUHARA: I don't know either! That's kind of a mystery. It's funny, really.

ANN: He has a new animal friend in the movie too... Sort of a weird red "alligator thingy".

IKUHARA: Yeah, he's a new creature. His name is "Keroppon".

ANN: Ohtori Academy must be a really hard place to get around in. It's so big, and none of the staircases join each other. What kind of place is it?

IKUHARA: I don't know. I haven't thought about it.

ANN: You seem to be influenced by the French "Nouvelle Vague" movement, as does your contemporary, Mr. Hideaki Anno (creator/director, Neon Genesis Evangelion).

IKUHARA: I wouldn't really call it an influence. The visual techniques can be adapted very easily, and so we might borrow from it occasionally, but it's not an influence.

ANN: Speaking of Anno, the two of you were interviewed together a few years back by Newtype Magazine, who called the two of you part of the "New Wave" of avant-garde anime directors.

IKUHARA: Hideaki Anno is a good friend of mine.

ANN: Are you going to work on an anime together?

IKUHARA: We have no plans right now to collaborate on an anime project, although we will be publishing a book together...

ANN: Both he and Mamoru Oshii (director, Ghost in the Shell) have been trying their hands at live-action projects lately. Do you have any plans in that area?

IKUHARA: Not at the moment. It's a possibility?

ANN: You recently published two volumes of Schell Bullet with Mamoru Nagano (Five Star Stories). What was that like?

IKUHARA: It was a lot of fun working with Nagano. I've had a few offers to make it into an anime, but I have other things I'm working on right now that I want to concentrate on.

ANN: So, what ARE you working on right now?

IKUHARA: I'm working on a new project... a manga that will be written by Be-PaPas and drawn by Chiho Saitō.

ANN: Really! Does it have a name yet?

IKUHARA: "The World of S&M!" (laughs)

ANN: What is your creative process like?

IKUHARA: I just do a lot of thinking. There are never really any sudden spells of inspiration.

ANN: Moving on... We've been hearing some rumors lately about a new Sailor Moon series in the works. Anything you can share with us?

IKUHARA: Yes, I've heard those rumors too. It's top secret right now, and it'll probably be a long time before something can be announced officially. It's going to be pretty difficult.

ANN: Are you still friendly with the people at Toei Animation?

IKUHARA: They're always asking me to take on some new projects, and I keep turning them down. I'm still good friends with the producer of Sailor Moon. We keep in touch, and whenever he has a new project underway he wants me to do something on it. I always turn it down for various other reasons.

ANN: Watch any American animation?

IKUHARA: No. Not really. A Japanese magazine asked me to comment on Powerpuff Girls, and so I saw a little bit of that. The first time I saw it was on a billboard in Times Square, and I thought it was Japanese and was thinking, "that's really strange, seeing that there!" Then I heard how much it costs to produce that show and I was really surprised. I wondered, "why did it look like THAT if it cost THAT much money to produce?" But I really can't make a fair judgement, having seen so little of it.

ANN: You directed something a long time ago called "Goldfish Warning!". Are you disappointed that show hasn't found an American audience?

IKUHARA: Not really. I was never too fond of that project really. It's along the same lines as Powerpuff Girls. The shape of the characters too.

ANN: You mention that one of your major influences growing up were the musicals of Shuji Teriyama, and for Utena you got his collaborator J.A. Seazer, to compose the music. What was it like working with him?

IKUHARA: It was wonderful. That was the happiest part of making Utena.

ANN: You're listed as singing in the chorus... Is that a hobby of yours?

IKUHARA: No, no... I was just having fun. I don't really seriously pursue music.

ANN: What are your hobbies, then?

IKUHARA: Hmm. I really don't have any. Although recently I've really been enjoying relaxing in my Jacuzzi... (laughs)

ANN: Do you cosplay?

IKUHARA: What about you? Do you cosplay?

ANN: Umm... No... Maybe someday.

*uncomfortable silence*

ANN: Okay, moving on... What are your creative influences? I mean, what American film makers do you like?

IKUHARA: I like David Lynch... Stanley Kubrick...

ANN: Who would you like to work with in the future?

IKUHARA: I think I would like to work with David Lynch.

ANN: Finally, what message do you have for your American fans?

IKUHARA: I hope you enjoy my work, and while I'm living here in the States, maybe I'll find some fans that would like to work with me. If you're into it, go ahead and challenge me!

Disclosure: Justin Sevakis is the former editor in chief and founder of Anime News Network. He is also an employee of Central Park Manga, the company that distributes Utena in North America and made this interview possible.

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