Interview: Studio MAPPA's Masao Maruyama

by Gabriella Ekens,

Anime industry giant Masao Maruyama is one of the founders of Madhouse, the legendary anime studio responsible for an ocean of incredible films and TV series, ranging from the high art of Satoshi Kon to pop spectaculars like Trigun and Card Captor Sakura. In 2011 Maruyama founded MAPPA, a studio that has grown its own renown in the last half-decade thanks to beautifully executed series like GARO, Rage of Bahamut and more. He's shown up at Otakon as a friend of the show for years and years, but this year was special – Maruyama was in attendance to introduce In This Corner of the World, MAPPA's critically-acclaimed, deeply touching World War II drama about a family of survivors near Hiroshima who live through one of the most terrifying events of the 20th century. We had a few moments during the rush of Otakon 2017 to ask him about what this film means to him – and what a struggle it was to get it made in the first place.

ANN: One of the things I've been wondering is, it's a very impactful film about World War 2, and I'm wondering why make this film now? In other words, what do you think about a film about these events means to today's audience?

MASAO MARUYAMA: I consider this to be an eternal theme for all of us, about living through the worst of conditions. In the case of Hiroshima, there was a nuclear bomb that was dropped and there were many people who perished. But there were other survivors and also those who were injured who were still compelled to live on. Also most recently Japan in 2011, March 11th, there was the great eastern earthquake and tsunami. Whole villages perished, and yet we had survivors who must carry on and live on. What happens In This Corner of the World is not just a historical event but something that's current and on-going and these kinds of tales of survival are something that must be told and retold. So, this is not something that just takes place in Japan, but any corner of the world. So literally I do believe that this is a universal theme that is meaningful all the time.

At the panel yesterday, you mentioned that the film staff wanted to recreate Hiroshima visually in order to give survivors a glimpse of the old town. This makes me wonder: how did you want the film to affect audiences overall, particularly both older and younger viewers who weren't there to see the aftermath firsthand.

What's lost cannot be recreated. In fact, there are not many reference photos that are surviving that could aid in the recreation. Director Katabuchi went through a whole lot of meticulous research. He talked to people, he talked to all the surviving people, and got their testimony and went through a lot of effort to visually recreate what once was. I would hope that the young people today would understand and know what kind of a platform they were born to and live on today. That's pretty much the whole intent.

You've been involved in the production of several other war films. For example: Barefoot Gen. There have also been a number of other well-known films about the war, both animated and not. With this in mind, was there something you feel hadn't been expressed by these films to necessitate the creation of In This Corner of the World?

That's exactly the point. When you look at past movies such as Barefoot Gen, these have strong messages, an appeal that they want to make. This is not so in In This Corner of the World. This is exactly about the story of an ordinary girl who survives through hardship, but it's about the slice of life of what it was like. Even during all the hardships, the sky is still blue, and it's still beautiful. The flowers still blossom, and they're pretty. There's still humor. They may not have all the food that they needed, yet there were ways to creatively get through. It is exactly the slice of daily life. The original manga had it all in it, so our task was to faithfully translate that into animation.

How did you arrive at the decision to make this material into a film? Were you searching for something to adapt along these lines, or did you encounter the manga and decide that you had to make this story into a film?

I had a general desire to go into that direction. When I worked on Barefoot Gen, when I was much younger—that was over twenty years ago—that was my best idea to materialize the concept I had. But what I found in In This Corner of the World was a faithful rendition of ordinary slice of life. This didn't really have to be a story that took place under war, but you have my protagonist, who goes through hardship, but there's still a love affair. She ends up losing her hand, but she still wants to continue drawing. There are so many tales of survival, and that's the important part. It didn't have to be about war but the material was just so perfect.

At your Otakon panel you mentioned difficulties in this production. Were they primarily just getting funding or were there other difficulties? Or were their other ways in which this production stands out to you?

It really does boil doing to funding. The concept behind In This Corner of the World is nothing that's flashy, it's not even a tearjerker. And so, it really is about an understated, faithful rendition of slice of life. There's nothing flashy, there's nothing over the top. It was really convincing people to have faith in the concept and to invest in it. So it took over six years, nearly seven years, but there was a surprising number of people who understood the idea and had faith in it. So I think I was rewarded.

Thanks to Masao Maruyama and Otakon for this opportunity.


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