In This Corner of the World: An Exclusive Interview with Director Sunao Katabuchi

NohArcoThe following interview was originally conducted by Eldur_380 from OtaCrew at the Annecy International Animation Film Festival, 2017. This interview has been translated by Twitter user @NohAcro © 2017 Wave Motion Cannon

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Have people pointed out anachronisms in the film?

Katabuchi: There are some, we’ll try and fix them when we get the opportunity. I don’t know if it’s in the foreign edition, but Fumiyo Kouno-san wrote a postscript on the last page of the second volume, asking people to tell her if they find that kind of mistake. Since she did a lot of research herself, she knows the limit of what can be found like that. There would necessarily be some mistakes, or things she forgot to look for, and she mentioned that even after the manga was finished. So, if there are mistakes, I would like to know as well, and correct them if I get the occasion to do so.

For example, Hiroshima-style yakisoba did not exist at that time, did it?

Katabuchi: Right. In Hiroshima there was something called ‘Issen Youshoku (lit. one-sen occidental food), like a little okonomiyaki with nothing in it, that you ate only with sauce, but they couldn’t make it in wartime.

So it does not appear in the movie?

Katabuchi: It doesn’t. They didn’t have flour during the war. So what they did is, they replaced that with rice bran. You know, the granular substance you get from rice’s surface, which is used for tsukemono. There was that, and also a mixture of flour and fish powder that was distributed as rations to make food. So they couldn’t even bake bread. The rice they were distributing wasn’t even white rice, so they couldn’t make mochi for new year. They remember mochi in 1945’s new year was black. As such, people’s eating habits had been completely changed during that period. They couldn’t get what they wanted to eat.

Can you tell us about the first time you met with Fumiyo Kouno-san?

Katabuchi: When I worked on Mai Mai Miracle, we had multiple fans during screenings telling us that someone who makes movies like that should definitely adapt Fumiyo Kouno’s works. So, the one I started with was In a Corner of This World, and I really felt like I had to adapt this. I got in touch with her by writing a letter, telling her that I wanted to make a feature film, and it turned out that she had watched Famous Dog Lassie, which I worked on back in 1996. Apparently, she got some influence from there, so I feel like we worked on similar materials, with a similar goal, and I’m very glad that I could meet someone like that in my career.

There are two producers who worked on this movie, is there a particular reason to that?

Katabuchi: No, I think it’s not that strange, there can be even more producers on one title.

Maki: This time Maruyama-san was more on the production side and I, Maki, was in charge of business. Of course there are producers who can do both.

How did you meet with Maruyama-san?

Katabuchi: There was another movie telling the story of a girl during WW2, and how she lives after having lost her parents, called Who’s Left Behind? . So, I didn’t direct that one but was in charge of all the layouts in the film. And apparently, Maruyama-san wanted to figure out why this movie was so different from other animated features, and read all the end credits. There he found my name, and contacted me in order to work together. That was in 1996, if I remember well.

Did you get inspiration from Who’s Left Behind in making In a Corner of This World?

Katabuchi: I don’t think we can call that influence but… We tried to put people’s everyday life during that period into images, but there were things we couldn’t research about. Specifically, Who’s Left Behind talks about the bombing of Tokyo, which took place between 9th and 10th September 1945. The major part of Tokyo was burned, killing 200 000 people. When we tried to picture that, we couldn’t know what kind of flame it was, how strong the wind was for example. Apparently it was very strong, which contributed to expand fire even faster, but even then we didn’t know if it was cold wind from the North or warm wind from the South. So, we realized in making the movie that we were trying to put that period into image without even knowing it well, and we thought next time we were doing something like that, we had to pay more effort into gathering information about said period, which we did for In a Corner.

The film itself was a big hit, but it felt like it was overshadowed by Your Name, what is your impression?

Katabuchi: Well, animation is not a genre but a technique in my mind, a mean to represent things and make movies, and I think In a Corner and Your Name are not the same kind of movie. So even if there are some similarities, I feel like most of it is quite different, hence I think the audience is not the same either. But the fact that different kind of movies emerge like this is a good thing for Japanese animation in my mind.

Is a broadcast of the film scheduled on Japanese TV?

Katabuchi: We don’t know yet.

In This Corner of the World Interview with Director Sunao Katabuchi

Since it is a historical film, it could be screened for educational purposes in schools or museums, couldn’t it?

Katabuchi: The film has been screened for the past 7 months in theaters, which actually is incredible for a feature, and it’s still going on. It’s a movie, so the best I could hope for the audience is to watch it in theaters, since it’s the best for both image and sound quality, but form June we’ve already had some screenings in schools or city and town halls, and we’re also planning to screen the movie for longer by those means. So, even if it will be aired on TV, I think it won’t happen that soon. About the educational side of the movie, and that’s also something that differentiates it from Your Name we talked about just before, it’s that we have many people who directly know about the war and year 1945 who came to theaters, people in their 70s or 80s. Those people have lived the war themselves, and since it was part of their life, there are things  that were so banal to them that they didn’t even feel the need to talk about it. They certainly talked about bombings and the difficulties they’ve been through, but when it comes to everyday life, how they were eating, it was so normal that they apparently didn’t bother to talk about it. And from what I heard, some people in their 70s or 80s who have watched the film started to talk about that kind of detail to their children and grandchildren. It’s important educate children at school of course, but I think it is as important to exchange words across generations inside the family as well.

Do you like tales about ordinary people, like what directors Ozu or Naruse do?

Katabuchi: Yeah, I like Yoji Yamada for example. Actually he saw the film and liked it very much. He’s the kind of man who puts laughs even in this kind of sad story. He tells tragedies through comedy, and he appreciated In a Corner of This World, saying it really applies that correctly.

Your movies mostly have female protagonists, is there a reason for that?

Katabuchi: I guess I would tend to project myself too much if they were male protagonists. Since my films are about portraying human beings, I think having female protagonists allows me to step back a little bit and have a more objective approach.

You’re working with your wife as well, right?

Katabuchi: Yes, right.

How is it? Is it easier? More difficult?

Katabuchi: I won’t put it that way. She’s Chie Uratani, the assistant director on the movie, and I don’t really want people to see her as my wife, but as a member of the staff we’re working with, in direction of the same goal. I often say that I want this fact to be known as less as possible. I understand people’s interest, but overall, I think she’s not here as my wife but as a talented animator who I’m honored to work with.

Do you talk about work at home for example?

Katabuchi: We’re going to work by car and… yeah, I think it’s until we get in the car. After that we don’t talk about work.

And she’s not in Annecy?

Katabuchi: No, she’s not.

It feels like you can handle any kind of anime, whether it’s World Masterpiece Theater, dog fights in 3D animation, hardboiled action, European-style animated movies, Ghibli-style movies or jidaigeki, is that because you like challenge? Or because you have broad tastes?

Katabuchi: Personally, as an audience, I like all kinds of films. It could be student films, I often enjoy them. I like the medium itself so, yeah, I guess my tastes are broad. I’m really motivated by discovering new kinds of films and accepting the challenge of making something as good as that.

Do you feel like you should not do the same kind of movie twice, like director Otomo for example?

Katabuchi: I’d like to do various kinds of movies, but it also depends how it will turn out… So, please wait for it.

In This Corner of the World Exclusive Interview Director Sunao Katabuchi

I just remembered you worked with Otomo-san, but what part did you do in Memories?

Katabuchi: Otomo-san wanted to make one long film with a single cut, but he didn’t know what kind of technique to use for that. I  helped him to make that idea come true. At the time I was working on my own directorial work Princess Arete, but I thought I could still advise him for things like that, thinking that was a challenge for me as well, so I tried.

Why did you leave studio 4°C?   

Katabuchi: Well, I met Maruyama-san, who was a producer on the second episode of Memories, and since he had been giving a lot of work to me, I ended up joining his team.

Does the fact that Maruyama-san moved from Madhouse to MAPPA have to do with In a Corner of This World?

Katabuchi: A little, I think. I’d say that Maruyama-san wanted a company where he could create the projects he wanted, and I think one of them was In a Corner of This World.

So, one last thing I would like to ask you is about Kiki’s Delivery Service. Until a few years ago there was the Yaoten at Studio Ghibli, where we could see key frames, but there were only two from Kiki, why is that?

Katabuchi: I really wonder. Personally I was sent on lone to studio Ghibli as a Mushi Production employee, so I have no idea of what they did after I left.

So, would it be possible that director Miyazaki took credit for your work?

Katabuchi: I don’t know, but it was his initiative to make a film as the producer to begin with. Since he had just made Totoro, he thought he wouldn’t be able to directly return to directorial work, so he wanted to start a new project as the producer. However, for some reason he changed his mind and thought he could handle it. Maybe he regained strength. So, in any case it started as a project of his, and I was just helping on loan, so in the end I think it just depends on how director Miyazaki interprets it. And for my part I was always thinking that I had to find my own place to work on my projects, whether it’s 4°C, Madhouse, or now MAPPA.

Have you already decided on your next project?

Katabuchi: Not yet (laugh).

Alright, thank you very much.

Katabuchi: Thank you very much.


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One Comment

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  1. Great interview! In This Corner of the World is my favorite piece of animation in years, everyone should watch it. Can’t wait for the extended version.

    Thanks for the translation!

    Liked by 2 people

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