Kunihisa Sugishima

by Christopher Macdonald, Apr 24th 2005
Kunihisa Sugishima started his career as an anime director in the 80's at one of Japan's most famous anime studios and worked on their premiere title, Gundam. Since then he has gone on to direct numerous children's anime such as Yu-Gi-Oh! and Flying Burin as well as more mature titles like Gokudo and Tekken: The Motion Picture, but his current project, Speed Grapher is certainly his most mature project yet.

Sugishima sat down to talk with us about Speed Grapher, his career and anime at GDH's Shinjuku office on April 5th.

You've been working in the anime industry for over twenty years now, with your directorial debut back in the 1980s; how has the job of director changed over the years?

Obviously changes in technology have affected the director's job. In some ways it's made it more challenging. The technology changes certainly make it possible for us to do more with the animation, and it costs less.

Have the changes made the work more fun?

It's more satisfying to be able to do more things with the animation.

Speed Grapher appears to be the most mature anime that you've been involved with yet. Do you prefer working on shows geared towards older viewers, or do you find children's and family anime more appealing. What attracts you to each type?

Well, most people know me for creating anime for children, Yu Gi Oh! In particular. However I have had experience in the past, at Sunrise, working on anime geared towards older audiences, so I had no qualms about directing something more mature.

I enjoy directing anime geared towards younger audiences because I think it allows me to leave some sort of impression on the children.

Our understanding is that Speed Grapher will take place in a futuristic version of Tokyo where the divide between rich and poor is extreme. Is this merely a setting, or is there some social commentary that you and the other creators are trying to put forward?



Currently, there are numerous cases – running up to several tens of thousands - of people committing suicides occurring annually in Japan, including those related to economic concerns or worries. We've created a standard where financial fortune is equated with success and is expected to lead to happiness. When working on Speed Grapher, as it was aimed at a more mature audience, we felt that we should do something to stimulate the audience at an intellectual level.

Very little is known about Speed Grapher at this point, since it has yet to premiere on Japanese TV. Can you tell us a bit about the finer details of the show? Not so much the plot details and events, but what the show is about and what drives the various characters?

[Editor's Note: At the time of this interview (April 5th) Speed Grapher had not yet aired on Japanese TV, Speed Grapher currently airs every Thursday night at 2:40 am.]

Well, there's the system I mentioned before, and in Speed Grapher the Protagonist has turned his back on this system, he doesn't believe in it. Meanwhile the other character is a girl who is trapped by the system.

Right now we're still seeing where this will take us with the story.

Gonzo is very well known for its highly evolved use of CG, are there any scenes in Speed Grapher that stand out in your mind as a showcase of what Gonzo can do?

None actually... Because we wanted Speed Grapher to stand out because of its story, we chose not to use any special visual effects.

How was Speed Grapher animated?

The illustrations were traced by hand, and then painted by computer.

For the background too?

Yes, the foreground and the background were done this way. Very little 3DCG was used.

After Speed Grapher, what kind of show would you like to do next? Is there something that you'd really like to direct that is different from what you've done so far?

I'm very fond of Sword & Sorcery stories like Conan the Barbarian and Lord of the Rings. Given the opportunity I would very much like to do something in that genre.

Can you tell us a bit about why you chose to get into animation, what motivated and when did you know?

In school I was highly impressed by Hollywood movies. I was inspired by the art of Frank Razetta, as well as movies like Alien and Star Wars. So I wanted to create something like what was being made in Hollywood. Unfortunately at the time it wasn't possible to create that level of film making in Japan. But when I saw Gundam, I felt that anime would be the means to make that kind of film.

Looking back, do you feel that anime has provided the vehicle to produce cinema at the same level as Hollywood?

Anime has not reached that sort of technological level. We aren't able to create the kind of visuals that are created in Hollywood. But in other aspects anime is better. The large variety of genres that exist in anime give creators more freedom to create stories. There's more freedom in anime that allows for a different world view.

Do you have an all time favorite anime or manga?

I don't want to look back at what is already past. I think that what we're doing with Speed Grapher is very good, so right now Speed Grapher is my favorite show.

Have you ever been to an American anime convention?

No, I haven't had the chance to go to an American anime convention yet. I would very happy to go to one if I were invited.

Any closing words?

We've worked very hard for the production of Speed Grapher and we're very proud of the results, so please take a look at it and I hope you enjoy it.

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