In This Corner of the World Director Sunao Katabuchi Claims He Was Misrepresented in Recent Interview
posted on by Kim Morrissy
In This Corner of the World director Sunao Katabuchi was recently interviewed by the Asahi Shimbun Globe+ online news outlet, where he discussed the current state of the Japanese anime industry. The interview trended on Japanese Twitter last Thursday and Friday due to, among other things, Katabuchi's provocative claims that "the Japanese animation industry is out of touch with the rest of the world" and "children's anime is dead."
In the article, Katabuchi commented on how Japanese animation performs relatively poorly at world animation festivals. He is quoted as saying that it is "unhealthy" for the Japanese animation industry to only make anime aimed at niche audiences. He brings up Detective Conan as an example of a series that began with children as a target audience, but which has now become part of the animation landscape full of titles aimed at niche interests. He then claims that children's anime is "dead" and that the franchises which remain are the ones that have been around for many years, such as Doraemon and Anpanman.
He also argues that anime has succumbed to the Galápagos syndrome, a term of Japanese origin which refers to products created in isolation from the global market which are difficult to export overseas. This is particularly noticeable at world animation festivals, where the judges tend to react awkwardly whenever an anime comes up. They tend to say, "Another one of these?" Even Okko's Inn apparently drew this reaction, which surprised Katabuchi.
On Twitter, Katabuchi said that he was not able to able to check the article before it was published. He clarified that he was referring specifically to the disappearance of the time slot for children's anime after 7pm, rather than the death of children's anime in general. He claimed that the journalist who interviewed him "cherry-picked" his words.
"I humbly ask that those involved with the creation of the kind of article address the issue," he tweeted.
Katabuchi initially tweeted about the issue on Friday, one day after the article's publication. He quote-retweeted someone suggesting that the interviewer's knowledge was shallow, and wrote: "A person with that level of knowledge came to do the interview and said outlandish things, and all I did was respond to what they said in a candid way."
A user brought up the claim attributed to Katabuchi in the article that it was problematic for the anime industry to be out of step with the trends of the rest of the world, and said, "Isn't it the uniqueness that makes Japanese anime great? I think there's a bigger concern regarding Japan slavishly following the trends from overseas." Katabuchi responded: "Indeed. The interviewer had only a simplistic way of looking at it, so I told them, 'But no matter how great [Japanese anime] is, won't the balance be affected negatively if they don't have anything else? There's a hole in this area.' I wasn't able to check with the newspaper beforehand regarding how they summarized the argument, so the article reflects the writer's opinion."
On Wednesday, Katabuchi elaborated further in a series of tweets: "The journalist came to me with mistaken information, wanting to write a story about how Japanese anime is the greatest in the world, so I said things specifically to the journalist to inform them and correct their perspective. The article would have been weird otherwise. Then it got published without specifying that this was the premise. The context became different from what I intended."
He wrote out the flow of the conversation between himself and the journalist as follows:
Journalist: "I love anime, and I'm going to write about how Japanese anime is the greatest in the world! Japanese anime is the greatest, and it's for children..."
Katabuchi: "It's not for children."
"What! Isn't In This Corner of the World for children? Am I mistaken?"
"Detective Conan is for kids, right?"
"Don't you know about Amuro's popularity [among adult women] lately and other things like that? Have you been watching the show properly?"
(Our publicity manager who is listening beside us nods repeatedly)
Katabuchi tweeted that he explained his position as an industry insider, and asked firmly for this context to be included in the article, but this was not the case. He said that because he still had his doubts about the journalist's attitude, he asked through the publicity manager if he could check the article before publication, but the news outlet never bothered to contact him, let alone show him the article draft, and in the end it was published online.
The extended version of In This Corner of the World opened in Japan on December 20. Katabuchi (Black Lagoon, Mai Mai Miracle) planned the title with manga creator Fumiyo Kouno's approval. The film originally debuted in 2016.