Mamoru Oshii & Masaki Yamada: Discussing Innocence (Animage, October 2003)

The following interview was originally published in the October issue of Animage, 2003.  The interview has been translated by Twitter user @NohAcro © 2017 Wave Motion Cannon

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Half a year before the release of Innocence, we are starting a spinoff novel series from this issue. This was the opportunity for director Mamoru Oshii and novelist Masaki Yamada (who handles the spinoff) to meet again, for the first time in many years. A discussion was organized in Tokyo. Even for a great name in the world of SF & mystery novels like Yamada, Oshii’s works are always intriguing ‘films’, and Oshii himself is a big fan of many Yamada’s works. The man himself is the author he admires the most. What will come out of such a collaboration!?

Making entertainment, it’s difficult yet interesting…

Masaki YamadaMasaki Yamada: Born in 1950. Made his debut as a novelist when he was 24 years old, with Kamigari on SF Magazine. Won many times the Seiun Award, as well as the Honkaku Mystery Award and the Nihon SF Taisho Award. Has a very broad activity as a writer in the world of entertainment. Wrote the source material for the anime Kishin Corps.

Mamoru OshiiMamoru Oshii: Born in 1951. Started his career at Tatsunoko Pro as an episode director. He then created many much-discussed films both live and animated. Yamada’s work he recommends the most to our readers is Kunlun Yuugekitai, an adventure novel set in the Chinese continent’s inlands.

Feelings are there, but the object is missing ?

Editor: (To Oshii) Your next film Innocence will be your first animation work in a while.

Oshii: Indeed… Now I’m having fun making it, and I’m quite confident about it. The only thing is, the title Innocence was decided afterwards, so it still feels a little bit odd. When I did Ghost in the Shell, there already were offers for a sequel, but unless there were a major reason, I didn’t want to do it, since I felt like I had put a conclusion. It was over for me. Besides I thought it would be difficult to set up a drama for a sequel to a film depicting at length how the protagonist leaves. But I was pushed to the wall so to speak, the studio had its reasons and they made me understand that I could be dismissed if I didn’t work on a big title.  So I presented a project, but it was flatly refused (laugh). There were about 4 other ideas, and the one that got adopted was Innocence. Personally I hadn’t done anime in a while, the last one I did was GiTS so there was about a 5 years gap. I thought I had to return to the studio, or else they wouldn’t offer me to work on anime anymore (laugh). That’s how I got to work on the film.

Yamada: What was the reason for that 5 years hiatus?

Oshii: To put it simply, I was tired of animation. I didn’t want to make it anymore, or at least for a while. That’s why I tried to bring about a live movie project called G.R.M, but in the end it collapsed. That took 3 years. I could have returned to animation at that moment, but I thought I had to take responsibilities. If I had dissolved the team then, the only thing remaining would have been a sense of defeat, so I asked the studio for a postponement of 2 years, and I made Avalon. That’s why I was missing for 5 years.

Editor: Innocence will be released next spring, so it will be 9 years for the audience.

Oshii: Indeed. I’ve been working on it for 3 years.

Yamada: Was the main structure of the plot decided from the beginning?

Oshii: The project was decided suddenly, so I had to think about the content in a hurry. I returned to Atami for some time, where I spent most of my days idling, walking the dog and stuff. But when it came to the script, I wrote it in one breath. I think it took me about two weeks.

Editor: When the Ghost in the Shell VHS came out in the US, it scored first on Billboard charts, right? What were the reactions abroad when they learned about the sequel?

Oshii: Their reaction was extremely good. At the beginning of the project, there even were talks about making it with capital from overseas, but negotiations collapsed after a year.

Yamada: Why is that?

Oshii: There was no problem with the project, but they expressed disapproval over the script. And I had absolutely no intention to change it.

Yamada: What were the concrete problems for them?

Oshii: In short, they said it was too complicated. Also they asked me to turn it into a love story, but I had already written such (laugh). It seems they couldn’t see it that way. Besides if this is difficult I want to ask what the previous one was.

Yamada: Where are you right now production wise?

Oshii: We’re finally able to get an idea of the end result. Sometimes it happens that I understand what kind of movie it will be once we have more than a certain amount of drawings done. I see it progressively, and right now we’re in that phase.

Editor: You just showed us a 5 minutes demo movie, and pictures were quite high quality. Did you make it after you got that global view?

Oshii: The demo itself is a test case we did to get some ideas. But there were also prospects we were able to get from it.

Yamada: The impression I got from both the script and the demo was that you were even more focused on making a “film” than the first one. We’ve already talked about it during a meeting, but the first thing that came to my mind was director Robert Altman’s The Long Goodbye. The source material is a hardboiled masterpiece everyone knows, but the adaptation goes even more in the way of a love story. Feelings are there but the loved one is missing. There is a scene where Philip Marlowe, played by Elliott Gould keeps running after a woman driving a car, but she doesn’t notice him and the music starts playing. It’s a very romantic scene and in a nutshell, I thought it was like it. Feelings are there, but the loved one doesn’t notice them, or perhaps she’s missing. That was my general idea about the film.

Editor: What do you think about Yamada-san’s interpretation, director Oshii?

Oshii: (laugh) Yamada-san and I are from the same generation, so maybe we have a lot in common when it comes to things we watched or listened.

Editor: Are you about the same age?

Yamada: Isn’t there one year of difference?

Oshii: Yamada-san is one year older than me. To say the truth I wanted to be an SF writer when I was in middle school, so when Yamada-san made his debut with Kamigari (1974), I was genuinely shocked. I as well had a dream of starting my career while I was at school, so I was discouraged by the fact that someone about my age was writing such great novels. I had also planned on submitting one of my works to a contest, but I didn’t have enough guts to finish any (laugh). He went ahead in the blink of an eye, and I thought I could never catch up. So you previously said the word “missing”, and we’re suddenly entering a core subject here (laugh), but almost all I’ve done are stories about absence. I’ve been said that was the basis of my work. It can be a missing counterpart for instance, and the only sure thing is that there systematically is a feeling the character cannot be sure about. That’s something my producer always tells me, that there is no middle. That it is problematic as a commercial film. But I have a strong feeling that if I go further it would all turn into a lie. The works I’ve done for the most part take place in another world, nothing which look like live movies so to speak, since stories themselves are huge lies. Since the premise is a lie, I cannot do the same for representation or characters’ settings, I can only do what I am sure is possible. I need to build lies on that basis, or else the work itself turns into a huge lie. That’s a difficulty I kept struggling with when it came to filmmaking, but I think I got some kind of hint at a point. There was a time when I thought I couldn’t find my place in the world of entertainment, but now I find it interesting.

Yaada: If cinema is a genre pandering to audiences, I think you’re an exception. On one side there is the capitalistic logic and the film industry standing on that basis, and then we need to add authorship to the equation. Most film authors struggle in the middle of all this, and they eventually get exhausted, but I think we can say that you’re one of the few artists who managed to polish themselves in such an environment. Novelists are lonelier, and we have less responsibility to rally the general public around our works. Yet on the other hand, it’s true that there’s more and more a dichotomy between authors who sell and those who don’t. In that sense your works and your own way of life gives a clear indication about all of this. How to both let your authorship untouched and live on in the industry, how to pass your work to future generations. You might be someone like a survival guidebook (laugh).

Oshii: But I think books are more likely to remain. For example I have Kamigari, Miroku Sensou as well as Houseki Dorobou you wrote in my bookshelf.

Yamada: Wow, I don’t even have them (laugh).

Oshii: But now, it is very likely that some movies will disappear because of hardware conversions. There have been VHS or laser disks in the past, and fortunately my works had a DVD release, but nothing guarantees that they would remain until the next step, or the one after. If there is no adapted hardware, any software will be as good as trash. I myself just threw all my laser disks the other day.

I just wanted to create a story, whatever it was.

Interview with Mamoru Oshii and Japanese science fiction author Masaki Yamada

Yamada: Do you have a concrete theme for Innocence?

Oshii: Well, quite clearly, the theme here is “puppets”. It is both the theme of the story as well as the theme of the production. Animated films, as opposed to live films are very time-consuming. We’re working on the same thing for several years, so the production itself requires a theme, and it is better if both are the same. And when I think about it, “puppets” have grown more important as a theme than I expected. I made a very difficult requirement to people working for me: not to put their soul in it, not to draw human beings. They have ordinary forms but they should not be drawn as human beings. The issue was how to represent something like that. In anime, there is no actual flesh and blood human being involved, characters are all puppets. Until then creators had put all their efforts into breathing soul into these puppets, by making them act, giving them a voice and so on. The audience is accustomed to anime as such, so no one wonders about it. To put it simply, anime is puppet show, but this time the goal was to overpass that idea. On the other side, I asked them to give a presence to characters who are not puppets, in order to give them human traits. Like for Batou, Togusa or the old man, I required an acting which gives them presence. I just banned typical anime acting. I think animators really didn’t like that constraint, and they’re probably still struggling with it. The way people act is unconscious for about 90%, isn’t it? That’s what makes the difference between natural acting we see in live films and amateur acting. I let you guess what happens when you require such a thing in anime (laugh). But on the other side it happens that an actor who can act naturally onscreen cannot do it anymore in a play, right? The opposite is also true, a play actor cannot necessarily act naturally as required once on a movie set. It’s that difference which describes what’s “natural”. Logically, one cannot act unconsciously. I asked them to do it even if it’s impossible in theory (laugh). In the end we’re getting something out of it, with practice. It’s not something I suddenly started this time, it was also experimenting things like this when I was working on Patlabor. Stuff like “Don’t make the character move, don’t make him move but hold this cut for 50 seconds” or “Don’t make him blink all the time”. In anime, character blink every 5 or 6 seconds, and that’s because we can’t bear pauses. But if we do so, key frames would never be ready on time. Everyone’s struggling, and I understood that very well this time. They’re all doing their best but they cannot be confident about their work and present it, they’re not sure if the acting they made is good enough. In the end it’s about aura. It’s about if the character’s aura is convincing enough.

Yamada: When you want to make it more “natural”, is there something important other than direction?

Oshii: Layout is important. Because if layout isn’t good we cannot even make acting (laugh). If the layout is good, any kind of animation can be at least watchable. It won’t be good if when the layout is done, we cannot see how it will move. That’s not something I can explain. The director cannot do it like for a play, and show how it should move by showing the example himself.

Yamada: Have you always been someone who thinks in terms of pictures or films?

Oshii: People think I’m that kind of person because I’m making movies, but I consider myself as a person of words. I like words more than anything. I really and simply believe the power words hold. After all they even can move mountains (laugh). My works on images is more valued, but that’s really not my actual intention. I had decided quite early on to live in the world of words, but I lost touch with it. Besides I didn’t like to work in teams (laugh). Nevertheless, I joined a company named Tatsunoko Produciton, did Yatterman, and when I did some gag episodes I was told that I had a talent for gag, that I should work in that area since I’m good with it. I made animators laugh out loud during meetings, that kind of things. I enjoyed to see my gags worked. Things I had inside my own self weren’t valued by anyone, but the first things that I gave form to were valued, and I was very glad about that, even if that made me lose understanding of myself. I doubted that was actually suited to me. So as a result I ended up living in the world of films.

Editor: Talking about Innocence, we’re starting to publish the novel form this issue on Animage. What were your feelings about Yamada-san handling it?

Oshii: I was really surprised (laugh). It feels really strange. As I said before, Yamada-san’s novels always intrigued me and I had read most of them. I abandoned the idea of becoming a novelist, but I managed to make a novel of my own through an adaptation, even if it was only for the sake of adaptation. So I was just vaguely wondering who would write the Innocence novel. I really wasn’t expecting that it would be Yamada-san, even in my dreams (laugh). It’s not even about curious links between us, I was just purely surprised. That’s why during our first meeting I repeatedly asked “Are you sure you’re OK with this?”

Yamada: I don’t know if it’s because we’re from the same generation, but I’ve noticed there’s some synchronicity between us so I find this project quite interesting. In my case whether it were films or manga, I wanted to create stories. I wanted to create stories but I didn’t like group works (laugh) and I didn’t have any drawing talent, so I decided to write novels. And by keeping on writing, I also started to become anxious about the lies of the novels in some sense, and it became more and more difficult for me to write a certain genre. I don’t know why but readers tend to project the author’s inner self on his work, and it becomes really hard to write hardboiled once you’ve noticed that. Like, I don’t look like a hardboiled novel protagonist at all (laugh). I don’t believe in anything about how a man should be or that kind of stuff. So when I was told about the Innocence novelization, I thought I had my chance, that I’d be able to write hardboiled again with this. This Batou character, this protagonist is not a character I created myself. It’s a human being the original author Masamune Shirou-san gave birth to and who was arranged by Oshii-san, so even if I write hardboiled with this character as a protagonist, no one would think that Batou is me. That really was a load off my mind, and I’m grateful for that. For the first time in many years I was able to write hardboiled, the story of a man in his solitary journey, looking for an innocent soul. I was genuinely happy about that. I had also expectations that I might become freer as an author by writing this. And for that, I think you really gave me an opportunity. Even so, I don’t think I would write other novelizations after that. I think it will be the first and last novelization of my career.

Oshii: As far as I’m concerned, the sole fact that you’re doing it is enough, so please write it as you want. I’m leaving it to you.

Yamada: My novel will be a prequel to the movie. Some event will happen, and I think the structure will make so it connects to the Innocence movie just after that.

Oshii: I’m looking forward to that.

Yamada: It’s the same for me about the movie.

The conversation then went on almost endlessly, reaching from filmmakers like Akira Kurosawa, Yasujiro Ozu, Pekimper, Tarkovski, various films and novels to a discussion about dogs, but we will not be able to publish all of it due to page limitations.

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  1. A Gaunt Friend April 5, 2017 — 8:00 am

    Excellent interview, but I’d like to point out a possible typo: shouldn’t the “Pekimper” in the very last paragraph actually be “Peckinpah”? Unless there’s a famous director called Pekimper, in which I case I’ll eat my hat and shut up forever.


    • So, there is Sam Peckinpah who directed ‘The Wild Bunch’ and several other violent Westerns… but now you have me wondering, it is possible for some confusion between the names due to Japanese pronunciation?


      • A Gaunt Friend April 5, 2017 — 8:32 am

        Hi Josh. I quit my Japanese classes a good many years ago, but I’m pretty sure both “Peckinpah” and “Pekimper”, as pronounced in English, would transliterate very similarly, if not identically, into katakana (and would therefore sound the same when read aloud – sadly, I haven’t yet figured out how to type Japanese on Windows 10, other than copypasting). On the other hand, while my movie buff status is certainly debatable, the only director I know with a name similar to “Pekimper” who could be mentioned in the same breath as Ozu or Tarkovsky is, indeed, Sam Peckinpah, whose cinematic treatment of violence could reasonably pop up into any discussion of anime as dark and violent as Oshii’s tends to be.

        Liked by 1 person

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