Interview: Mars Red Original Story Creator Bun-O Fujisawaby Lynzee Loveridge,
MARS RED is an anime that tells the story of vampires living in Tokyo in the Taisho era. It is based on a stage reading play by the accomplished theater director and writer Bun-O Fujisawa. ANN reached out to Fujisawa to learn more about his background as an artist and creator, as well as his insight on the original story and setting.
©Bun-o Fujisawa/SIGNAL.MD/ MARS RED Production Committee
You have had a very exciting career thus far, having previously studied and performed theater in London. Can you tell us about what first attracted you to the world of theater and what led you to study in Europe?
I got interested in theater because of the influence of my grandfather Takeo Fujisawa, who was one of the founders of Honda. His interest wasn't just limited to kabuki and Noh theater; he also brought me along to opera and musicals. The last present he gave me before he passed away was a ticket to see the Boris Godunov opera.
As for the reason I chose to study in Europe, it's because I had a house in Paris, and because London's theater scene was the center of the universe, just like New York's at the time. Another reason was because Goldsmiths, University of London, which was where I graduated from, was extremely liberal.
Your profile states that you were the first Japanese person to perform "Hypnagogia" at the King's Head theater in London. Can you tell us about that performance and your feelings about the experience?
There are a lot of Japanese people who feel that when it comes to being Japanese, living internationally are fetters to one's identity. I live in a way to affirm that this isn't true. I think of my performance as one of the ways to prove that.
Can you elaborate on the differences of a "recitation drama" versus a traditional theater performance and how does "“FUJISAWA READING THEATER” build on it?
To begin with, recitation dramas weren't building any momentum in Japan. When it comes to recitations and so forth in overseas countries, they often happen even in places like bookstores, right? In Japan, that kind of culture didn't exist at the time. So I did performances almost exactly like a regular theater show with the flashy live band performances and the outfits; the only difference is that the actors remain stationary.
Not moving is a feature; by having the actors act out the script in one place without taking a single step, we could install special effects like lights, fire, and explosions that would normally be too dangerous to install in those locations. Live performances, gaudy costumes, and flashy special effects – if that's all you're hearing about, you might think that the focus is all on the visual effects, but by having the actors stand still and perform only with their voices, all of the essence stimulates the audience's imagination, allowing each audience member to take home an imaginary theater space.
MARS RED's storytelling is unique to anime thanks to its subtlety. Was this a conscious decision? (Example: Maeda's prosthetic, fiancee)
MARS RED depicts vampires not as conventionally powerful monsters, but as vulnerable people in society. There's a theme that humans and vampires alike possess both strengths and weaknesses, so I think that essence is very important to the anime.
©Bun-o Fujisawa/SIGNAL.MD/ MARS RED Production Committee
For international fans, is there anything they should know about the Taisho era and what it invokes for Japanese audiences?
The Taisho era is a little similar to England's industrial revolution. When I say “a little,” I have to qualify that by saying that although the English were inventing all sorts of things and modernizing, Japan was importing it all very suddenly. So you could say that it was a hybrid era born through the abrupt mashing of western and Japanese cultures. Japanese culture still has a unique beauty, so there's something that we refer to as the “Taisho romance.” However, it's imperative to be cautious about the wholesale importation of culture. Taken to its extreme, you get the Great Kanto Earthquake. The Ryōunkaku was a 12-floor skyscraper built without any consideration for earthquake resistance. Although it was a western construction made to symbolize the Taisho romance, it was destroyed in the Great Earthquake. Then, three years later, the Taisho era itself ended.
What do you think continues to draw audiences to vampire stories?
There are plenty of monsters like Frankenstein, werewolves, vampires, and so on, but don't you think that among those ranks, vampires are the standout in terms of the strengths of their powers and the number of weaknesses they have?
Don't you think that the appeal of vampires is that they possess two contrasting elements: superhuman powers and weaknesses? In MARS RED, there's even more of a focus on their “weaknesses” compared to your conventional vampire. They are weak to sunlight, can't swim, and need blood. Because of their heightened senses, the stench and noise pollution of industrial Japan can only cause them pain. In this story, vampires are born within the paradox that is the modern science of the industrial revolution: it supports them in their weaknesses. Even then, science can't do anything about the problems of their heart that they face in eternal life. I hope you can enjoy this new tale about vampires.
Are there other theatrical works that you think would lend themselves to anime adaptations? Are there works you feel are always best seen on the stage?
I think that things like Onmyо̄ji, which can be called Japan's wizard story, and Nobunaga no Inu (Japan's first military dog story), which won a prize at the Seiyū Awards, could quickly be made into anime. I've performed in 31 original stories, but I'm often told that ghost stories don't do well with the public when they're turned into anime. In that sense, then 29 of the theater works could be made into anime.
Thanks to Kim Morrissy for translation.
MARS RED is available on Funimation
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