Prolific Screenwriter Mari Okada Writes Autobiography
posted on by Eric Stimson
Mari Okada is well-known for the many anime scripts she has written — anohana: The Flower We Saw That Day, Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans, Hanasaku Iroha - Blossoms for Tomorrow, A Lull in the Sea, and The Anthem of the Heart, among others. What is less well-known is how much of her own experiences she has put into her work. The full extent of that will now become clear, as she has written an autobiography, Gakkō e Ikenakatta Watashi ga anohana KokoSake wo Kaku Made ("How I Went from Not Going to School to Writing anohana and The Anthem of the Heart").
The book's table of contents, with excerpts from the chapters included, gives some idea of Okada's life:
Prologue: My Heart Wanted to Cry Out. (Note: This is based on the Japanese name of The Anthem of the Heart, "My Heart Wants to Cry Out")
The Anthem of the Heart is set in my hometown, Chichibu. There was a preview screening there. When the screening paused due to mechanical difficulties, I panicked and came to realize that I hadn't changed since then.
Chapter 1: A Place in School
Since I was young, I couldn't say what I was thinking. When I entered elementary school, I was bullied. In the background of the bullied girl, the mountains of Chichibu loomed, jet-black in the setting sun. They looked like a giant cage.
Chapter 2: I Didn't Know Whom to Greet
Even though Yōko was as dumb as me, everyone liked her. She was as selfless as a Kenji Miyazawa poem. I had to be that kind of character. When I made an effort one morning in class, I didn't know whom to greet.
Chapter 3: The Days Disappear, One by One
Since I couldn't go to school, my life became about eating, sleeping, playing games and reading books. My mother was ashamed of me. There is a word in Shiga Naoya's A Dark Night's Passing: "diminishing sun." That was me.
Chapter 4: Preparatory Exercises for an Event
There's a scene in the anime anohana where Jintan, who's always been skipping school, is about to go outside. In front of the door, he hears voices from the neighborhood and hesitates. This was based on X Day, when I went outside for a school event for the first time in a long time.
Chapter 5: Mom, You're Doing Horrible Things
My father was caught having an affair and was divorced by my grandfather. My newly single mother, called the "Atsuko Asano [an actress] of Chichibu," went from one boyfriend to another. Once there was a fight and I was commanded by one of her boyfriends to draw him boobs.
Chapter 6: Chichibu, the Cage of Fate
Even as I skipped school, I turned in essay homework. This received a prize from a newspaper. A nice female Japanese teacher told me, "You don't have to come to school. Let's apply for newspaper prizes together."
Chapter 7: Teacher Shimotani and Grandpa
I managed to get into high school, but soon afterward I stopped going again. My homeroom teacher, Shimotani, requested that I do a literary correspondence. I was shocked to see "From a girl called Mari" in the corrections.
Chapter 8: Emerging from a Tunnel to Tokyo
Shimotani's wife told me to go to a commune for people struggling to get by after I graduated. "If you go out into the world, you'll be hurt more." Those words hit me hard. "There's something I want to do: go to a game school."
Chapter 9: I Want to be a Scriptwriter
As I walked the streets of Shibuya at dawn with my new friend, I wondered how I had gotten there. It was a miracle for someone for whom the little trivialities of everyday life were always unobtainable. That's when the dreams of my future began to take shape.
Chapter 10: From Direct-to-Video to Anime
As I worked in the direct-to-video field, my determination to write scripts led me to choose to work in anime. "So you want to be a scriptwriter? Try writing one." A pore within me opened.
Chapter 11: The Scenario "The Outside World"
That's what the director told me: write a screenplay that shows me what kind of person you are. If I was to write about myself, I should write about that room in Chichibu I was holed up in.
Chapter 12: Making the Protagonist the Mother I Always Wanted
Writing an original story? I was a 30-year-old who never fulfilled her puberty thanks to ditching school and who had lost track of where she was going. I wrote a script about the mother I had always wanted. It was the birth of Hanasaku Iroha.
Chapter 13: anohana: The Flower We Saw That Day
I resolved to write an original work for a competition. It was a story about a boy who couldn't go to school. In the beauty of the anime, there really was a dash of reality. Jintan's anohana is written.
Chapter 14: The Anthem of the Heart
Goodbye to my voice. Everyone rejoiced when my voice vanished. The formerly mute heroine, Jun Naruse, sings "My Voice" at the climax. This was also my suppressed voice.
Epilogue: Something I Had Submitted Took Shape
My mother contacted me shortly after The Anthem of the Heart's premiere. "I once used to say things like you do." It's a line from Jun's mom. "You hate me that much?" "I'm already tired."
Okada's candid memoir will be published on April 12 by Bungeishunjū; it will be 264 pages long and costs 1,512 yen ($13.45). Its cover illustration is by Masayoshi Tanaka (character designer for both anohana and The Anthem of the Heart). ANN writer Lauren Orsini has written about how Okada's style influenced Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans.
this article has been modified since it was originally posted; see change history