Gintama – Looking Back and Thanks: Director Chizuru Miyawaki Interview (Animage, July, 2017)

HughThis interview was originally published in the July issue of Animage, 2017.  The interview was translated by Twitter user @HwpMatthews © 2017 Wave Motion Cannon

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Animage: Director Miyawaki, This month is the 39th anniversary of Animage’s first publication.

Miyawaki: I’ve been reading Animage! I don’t tend to hold on to the magazines as you might expect, but I do recall reading something from issue 2 or 3 (of this year) about where Animage is produced and other related material; there was quite a lot of it. It’s something I’m very deeply interested in. I’ve tried to give you a nice answer but should that be satisfactory for now?

Animage: Thank you very much for the kind words (laughs). It seems you’ve only recently been one of Gintama’s supporting pillars in its ten years, but you’ve been participating as part of the animation staff since the first season haven’t you? Are there any nice memories or such you have of it?

Miyawaki: Well, there haven’t been any especially great or simple days. This is what it feels like when you realize more than 10 years has passed, you just think of it as really normal.

Animage: As an animation director participating in the production, to then being promoted to director, did it come as a shock?

Miyawaki: If I talk about my personal history, it tends to get some sort of reaction out of people although I don’t personally get it (laughs). At the time, I would have frozen up trying to complete a given task in front of me. Nowadays, it’s more like if something comes up that I don’t quite understand, I try to grasp and fix the problem calmly, then I kind of don’t. If there are any bad memories, it would have to be during the Gintama Movie: Benizakura Arc New Translation closing party, when I drank myself silly. By the end of it, I was so drunk I took a tankobon (manga volume) with (Hideaki) Sorachi’s autograph.

Animage: Well that was a mess (laughs)

Miyawaki: It was a mess (sarcastic laugh). Back then, I really did think to myself, “this is probably the last time I’ll be involved with Gintama”. I had various personal reasons for this; since whether or not I could continue looking for jobs from that point onward, part of me was unsettled; “This is the end, huh? What am I going to do in my next job?” I felt that quite strongly. As a result, it made me think instinctively, “It’s over!!” It naturally brought back left over memories of graduation. Then I really depended on having a carefree attitude. (Sarcastic laugh)

Animage: As you seem to be implying, is Benizakura Arc New Translation a film you have a strong emotional attachment to?

Miyawaki: For sure. It really had a mounting atmosphere to it at the time. I was thinking to myself “This is the first time I’ve seen (Shinji) Takamatsu produce such retakes,” Director Takamatsu was giving it his all, and we felt like we could help push the animation to its limit, but nonetheless time was considerably limited (laughs)

Animage: Moving on, are there any memories you have from the TV series?

Miyawaki: There was one episode I did as animation director in the first season; it was the one with Eromesu, episode 34 “Love doesn’t require a manual”. Since I was working on different titles simultaneously at the time, I had done many halves of episodes as an animation director. It had been a long time since I did a full episode as animation director and along with (Yoichi) Fujita, who did the storyboards and was the episode director; we went at it with all we had (That’s how I honestly remember it). Gintama is really difficult, “It’s a gag anime, so it can be drawn quickly” is what I was subtly feeling as I started to work on it. But in reality, there were good reactions, there was good acting, we were getting fun camera angles, even when we were getting a little off track, or when the atmosphere had completely dulled down. Since all of the cast were so effective, our sketches could be completely inferior.  This is why at any rate, I think having Daisuke Sakaguchi as Shinpachi on board with his unbeatable straight man act was a great help. All of the animation staff had begun to do whatever they felt like. There are other stories that go like “ah, that person’s come up with something. Right, in the manuscript!!” that kinda thing (laughs). This sort of synergy from the first season is the foundation of the Gintama anime.

Animage: Looking back now, with the “time slot transfer” at end of the second cour came the “hotpot episode”, episode 25 “A Shared Soup Pot Is a Microcosm of Life” which is a one-shot and a turning point for the show which started the tradition of just talking back and forth.

Miyawaki: We had just moved from prime-time to the evening slot, so that might have been the time when it felt like all of our pencils were working as one. As we were transferring time slots, the breadth of what we could do was wider? So since we knew for sure it was happening “if we’re going to do this anyway, we should go all out and make something cool” was the direction we headed in, I think it lead to the anime becoming fun from that point onward. The “hotpot episode” might just be an episode that has a clear consensus on it.

Animage: It’s that sort of approach that gradually started the drive towards the anime’s current state; fans from back then now think you were lucky

Miyawaki: Right now on Yorinuke! Gintama-san we’ll be reminiscing on past episodes that will really bring some memories from back then…. Now, now there should be some fancy looking retakes in there (laughing hard). I guess in a way, we caused quite a commotion.

Chizuru Miyawaki’s Thank You

When I became director, I was thinking “up until this point, people would think I’m a corpse since I just sit on a chair without break”. So I splurged and I bought myself an ergo-human chair. I pulled the reclining thingy to take a nap, and I was thinking with this I could be in the studio for days on end! But likewise if you spend tens of hours just sitting on a chair, your butt will hurt and you’ll also have to go home (laughs)

A Shared Soup Pot Is a Microcosm of Life

It was the first episode after the time slot transfer, it just bursted with this completely desperate(?) energy! I did half of this episode as animation director but while I was doing Gintama I had a DEATH NOTE volume in one hand while putting in animation corrections.  During all this, I was thinking, “isn’t that weird!” (laughs)

Love doesn’t require a manual

The cat-eared beauty Eromesu tempts Shinpachi…. Will he be able to become a man? As 2 people who would later become directors, Fujita and I were all over the place just barely getting this famous first season episode done. Fujita who was responsible as episode director was frequently making phone calls exchanging conversation like “here’s the cat, is it ok to do it like this?” and so on.

Benizakura arc new translation

Using the TV version of Benizakura as a base, we also added in some new cuts. Laughter, emotion and action… It’s the first movie that crammed all of what Gintama is. Given that I thought this would be the last time I would get to go all-out on animation before transferring to directing, it’s a movie that means a lot to me.

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