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Interview: Shoji Kawamori

by Zac Bertschy,

Shōji Kawamori scarcely needs an introduction – as the father of the hallowed Macross franchise and a legend in the field, Kawamori has racked up hits both critical and commercial throughout his entire blockbuster career.  His creations – ranging from Macross to the iconic Vision of Escaflowne – have had an almost unparalleled creative influence on his industry, having inspired scores of admirers and imitators.

His latest project, still without a title, is set to debut globally in 2017 – it's an original series with an elaborate sci-fi premise, which could mean anything coming from a creative force like Shōji Kawamori. We sat down with the man himself at Anime Expo 2016 to try and get as many details as we can.

Zac Bertschy, ANN: So your new show is an original story, and the synopsis struck me as very ethereal. I was wondering if this was “message” sci-fi, if you had something to say with this one.

 Shōji Kawamori: Well, back in the day AI appeared only in sci-fi movies, only in fantasy, but right now, in reality, a lot of AI has been used in real life. That makes me wonder, “what's really the importance of the human?” Why do we have to be here? What can we do? The evolution of AI makes me wonder about that.

You're asking “what's purpose of a human being if AI exists?”

Kawamori: Before, what humanity could do, only humanity could do – no other species can do the things we can. But these days, what humans can do can be replaced by AI and computers and machines. I'm forced to think “what can humans really do?” AI has evolved so much, it's almost like replacing human beings, taking over the roles humans play.

 That's exciting to me -  my favorite shows of yours are the ones where you really have something to say. It feels like in the last ten years or so, you've had less of a chance to make shows like that. Do you perceive it that way? Is it a little harder to get original projects like that made in this current business environment?

Kawamori: I think that the one that has the strongest message is Arjuna. It was fifteen years ago when it came out—there were a lot of criticisms as well. A lot of people say it was a great work, but also a lot of people criticized it. “It's unrealistic,” and stuff like that.

What's really funny about that work, the stuff I depicted in animation I researched by going to the actual locations —the one I really checked carefully in reality was criticized as too unrealistic. And then the one I completely made up, a total fantasy, was accepted as “well, this is real.”

 Can you share which ones?

Kawamori: I actually went to a nuclear power plant and did my research. Then I depict it in animation and later people say “oh, this is unrealistic.”

That's crazy.

Kawamori: What I said about farming in that show, people said was unrealistic. I spoke about a method that doesn't use any pesticides -  like, without using even organic stuff. In that instance also, I went to a farm and I asked a lot of people about it. I depicted it in the anime, that one also caught people as unrealistic. But on the other hand, Arjuna transforming and powering up, that's pretty much fantasy. But people accept it.

Arjuna was a really bold show, conceptually.  Anime is typically pretty apolitical, and to have a series like that where every episode had a really strong political statement in it, an undeniable point of view about something happening in the real world – that felt special.

Kawamori: Arjuna was the most challenging for me, definitely. It's really important, it's an important work for me too. That kind of animation - if I decide to make that kind of animation, sponsors don't pay.

It's tough to get made, right?

Kawamori: That's why I have to make this latest work really entertaining, even though it includes a strong message, it also has to be entertaining.

I'll look below the surface!

Kawamori: I feel the possibility that I can make something like that. A really entertaining animation that has a strong message. I thought I was making entertaining animation when I was working on Arjuna.

Arjuna was entertaining - it also had a lot to say. When you think about Arjuna now, do you still agree with the political stances you had in that show? Because a lot of them are pretty controversial!

Kawamori: Well actually, when I started working on Arjuna, I didn't set out to make something that has a strong message. Instead, I was curious what would happen if a normal high school girl had total empathy with the earth. Every sense, every feeling the earth has. As a result of all the research I did building that premise, the show wound up having a really strong message.

Currently, the anime market is exploding and globalizing a lot. How do you think that's changed the business?

Kawamori: It makes me happy that a lot of people all over the world enjoy animation. I think it's a really good thing. But on the other side, as the internet evolves a lot, I feel like a lot of cities are becoming kind of similar to each other. They are losing their own unique characteristics, the unique cultures, they become just the same. I feel it's kind of sad, I'm really sad about it. Having unique characteristics is a really good thing.

Macross Delta is wrapping up in the fall. At this point in your career, how do you feel about Macross? Do you want to keep making more, or do you feel like you're finished with the franchise?

Kawamori: Every time I make a new series, I think “oh, this is the last thing, I'm done, I'm done with it,” every time I'm making it. But as I continue to create things, I keep coming across concepts and ideas I wanted to include in Macross but didn't, so it's always like “next time, I need to depict these things”. That happens every time.

 Last question, this one is personal: have you'd seen any films lately, from anywhere, that you really liked, that you would recommend?

Kawamori: I haven't been watching movies lately, but one of the movies that really impressed me was the Indian film PK. I watched it on the way to India, in the airplane. That was a really new type of Indian film, and I was really amazed by how… not only Japanese people, people from the States, are making something new, but also people in other areas are making new culture, new entertainment.

The reason that was really impressive was: even though it's an Indian film, it dealt with religion really deeply.  And it was still entertaining…

 Awesome, I appreciate the recommendation!

Thanks to Shōji Kawamori, Satelight and Anime Expo for the opportunity.

Addendum: originally this article wrote that Macross Delta had "recently wrapped". The show will continue airing through September 25th, 2016 as of press time.

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