Interview: Masayuki Yoshihara, director of The Eccentric Family

by Jacob Chapman,

Masayuki Yoshihara has been working in television animation for a long time, contributing storyboard work to classics like Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, Eden of the East and Moribito, along with a host of in-between and key animation on shows like Dragon Ball Z and legendary films like Jin-Roh - The Wolf Brigade. He took the director's chair for 2013's anime adaptation of the popular novel The Eccentric Family, which is out on bluray in the US from NISA today. We had a chance to ask Mr. Yoshihara about the production.

ANN: Before The Eccentric Family, another one of Tomihiko Morimi's books, The Tatami Galaxy, had been adapted into anime and directed by Masaaki Yuasa. Have you seen that adaptation and if so, how did it influence your approach to adapting The Eccentric Family?

YOSHIHARA: I watched The Tatami Galaxy by Director Yuasa when production for our adaptation of The Eccentric Family got greenlit. I referenced the approach taken in The Tatami Galaxy to get an idea of how the character drama created by Mr. Morimi had been adapted into animation.

The Eccentric Family has a very unique art design that really makes it stand out right from the beginning. What were your major inspirations for the simple shapes and soothing colors that make up the world of the show?

Using simple lines was a direction that I wanted to take from the get-go. I was focused on creating solid animation for the characters of The Eccentric Family, so they just naturally ended up being drawn with simple lines. The coloring came from the original concept art for the show which was done with very beautiful colors. I used these as a base to create the colors for the characters as well.

The worlds of tanuki, tengu, and humans push back and forth on one another throughout the story, even when they try to coexist peacefully. Which society and community do you personally identify most with out of the three groups?

True, there are definitely three different races in the The Eccentric Family world, but I personally felt that all of those races were representations of the entire human race. So instead of identifying with one of the groups, I saw all them as one human world.

Many anime are adapted from manga and light novels, but not as many from longer adult novels like The Eccentric Family. What is the most challenging or rewarding aspect of adapting a book like this for television animation?

One of the things I really enjoyed was being able to portray honest human emotions in dialogue. Those emotions would usually come off as too cheesy from a human, but it was possible to do by using tanuki and tengus.

Benten is definitely the most mysterious character in the story, and the one most connected to all three communities of human, tengu, and tanuki. We're only given brief glimpses into her mind, so what are your personal impressions of Benten? What do you think she really wants out of life?

Benten is a special existence who possesses the ability of a tengu while being a human. Anything is possible for her, but because she can have anything she wants, I thought maybe she was becoming bored of her life to the point where there wasn't anything she wanted. I think she's looking for some kind of excitement, and to find something that she can't ever have.

You have many years of animation and storyboarding work behind you going into directing a full series like this. What's the most valuable thing you've learned from smaller roles in past projects that helps you as a lead director?

A message that needs to be delivered by dialogue should be delivered by dialogue, and not by images or music. On the other hand, images and music should be used to deliver the messages that dialogue can't. These distinctions are what I always keep in mind while creating my work.

The Eccentric Family has a lot of things to say about how your relationship with your family can change as you grow up and you see how your family relates to the rest of the world. What moment or message in the story stuck with you most when you first read it?

The biggest thing that stuck out was the good nature of all the characters, starting with the Shimogamo brothers. Every character is considering the others in everything they do.

Fan-submitted questions:

The city of Kyoto is recreated with surprising detail in The Eccentric Family. What sort of research went into creating the background art for the series?

Of course, very thorough research was required, including going to Kyoto and actually living there for a month.  Living there and letting my creation soak in the “air” of the actual city was a big part of it.

What characters were the easiest and most difficult to bring from page to screen?

The most difficult was Yasaburo, and the easiest...was Benten.

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