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Interview: Devilman Crybaby Director Masaaki Yuasa

by Richard Eisenbeis,

Masaaki Yuasa is the director of numerous critically acclaimed anime series and films. From The Tatami Galaxy and Night is Short, Walk On Girl to Lu over the wall and DEVILMAN crybaby Yuasa's unique animation style and directorial vision make his work stand apart from the vast majority of modern anime. I was able to sat down with Yuasa to talk with him about his new theatrical project, the problem of overworking in the anime industry, and the prospects of a sequel to DEVILMAN crybaby.

Yuasa's newest project is anime film Kimi to, Nami ni Noretara (tentatively titled in English "Riding a Wave with You"). An original story, Riding a Wave with You follows the relationship between a college-aged surfer and a firefighter. Yet, when I asked him what it was about, his response was a bit different: “It's a pure love story about a couple that really like each other.” However, even this is only the tip of the iceberg.

To know what the film is really about, you need to go right back to its very inception--when Yuasa was viewing his previous theatrical work Lu over the wall after its release. “My response when watching the film was: 'Maybe it would have been better if I'd done this. Maybe it would have been better if I had done that.” This lack of confidence in his own work formed the core of what would become Riding a Wave with You. “I feel that there a lot of people out there that lack self-confidence like me,” Yuasa continued. “And this is the story of two protagonists that lack self-confidence.”

Like with Lu over the wall before it, water is important to the story--one protagonist is a surfer and the other a firefighter, after all. “It expresses--it suits--many things,” Yuasa said about water. “Like the characters' chance meeting or the film's scenery.”

Yuasa likes water on an artistic level: “Water has no set shape. It's fun to draw but it feels like it has a destructive personality, you know?”

But more than just the visual, water serves as the metaphorical key to the entire film. “It's a story about our instincts with regards to water,” Yuasa told me. “While it's a movie about surfing, the main theme is really ‘riding the waves’--the waves of life.”

“There are those who say they don't like waves, but if you don't try and ride the waves, you'll never understand.” Yuasa continued. “Some people are afraid of the waves. Some worry about failure. But you'll never know if you don't try. It's fine if you fail […] And it's really fun to ride the waves well.”

Passing this message on to his viewers is why Yuasa is making Riding a Wave with You: “I want to support those that try to 'ride the waves.' That's the feeling that built inside of me. And that was the theme I wanted to continue following after making Lu.”

After talking about his new project, the conversation shifted to the making of anime in general. In his official Tokyo International Film Festival interview, Yuasa referenced the notoriously tough working conditions of traditional anime studios in Japan. As Yuasa has both worked in traditional anime studios and formed his own studio Science SARU, I asked him if he would flesh out his views on the problem of overworking in the Japanese anime industry.

“It's become a problem in the anime industry--well, it's also been a problem for a long time,” Yuasa noted, pulling no punches. While now the founder of his own studio, Yuasa hasn't forgotten what it was like in the trenches: “As for what I remember it being like, you did what you could for your company, tried not to overdo it, and thought about how to best do your job. […] Everyone channeled their power and did their best as workers. [...] At its worst, it was hard and grueling.”

Yuasa places the blame for overworking in the industry at the feet of the Japanese work culture rather than the studios themselves. “I think the studios that force impossible work hours are few,” he said giving his insight on the mindset of a studio employee. “Instead, as a worker you think 'even if it's cheap or poorly written, I want to create the best thing possible.' So you try your hardest. I understand [the feeling] but it's probably not so good to do that.”

At his own studio, Yuasa has tried to follow a more Western inspired model: “We rest regularly. Days off really are days off. We don't work into all hours of the night.” He added, “It's a company rule.”

For now, Yuasa believes that the overwork culture in anime studios can and should be reformed--for the sake of anime on the world market if nothing else. “I think there is a lot of hope [for Japan's anime industry],” Yuasa explained. “But even saying that, because selling a hit anime worldwide is different than selling one in Japan, for the work itself to sell worldwide, we need a better work environment.”

In closing, I asked Yuasa if he would ever do a sequel to DEVILMAN crybaby--as the original manga has several potential sequels to choose from. “If I had the chance, I would,” he quickly replied before expounding a bit. “Because there are lots of different settings and ways of telling the story, if I had the time--if I got the chance--I'd like to give it a try.”

But a Devilman sequel isn't the only one of Gō Nagai's work Yuasa would like to try his hand at. “I love Mazinger Z and Cutey Honey--that one has a lot of lewd bits,” he smiled. “I understand its lewdness and see the fun in it.”

Riding a Wave with You is scheduled for a Japanese theatrical release in Summer 2019. There is no word yet on a Western release. For more information about Riding a Wave with You, check out our announcement report here.

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