This 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: You seem to have been connected to the Gintama anime since the first season
Higuchi: My start was actually on the 2005 Jump-Festa anime tour. Around the same time, Mikihiro Iwata (who is now affiliated with A1-pictures and one of the producers on Anohana: The Flower We Saw That Day) was a producer at Sunrise Studio 5 and I was on Production desk. While I was having discussions with Iwata, I was gathering up staff. We had already appointed Takamatsu as director and Akatsuki Yamatoya for series composition, and from there I had various discussions with Iwata about who would do character design. I wanted to give (Shinji) Takeuchi the chance to work together on this very distinct series. I received the OK from Sorachi as well as Shueisha, since they were thinking “that’ll work”, and I was allowed to request Takeuchi. Before the TV series started, Iwata substituted himself for Sunrise’s (Ryuta) Wakanabe who became one of the producers.
Animage: Did Sorachi initially take a stance of “I’ll leave the anime to the anime”?
Higuchi: That was the case. That guy only seems to operate at either 0 or 100. If he had been involved with the anime, there would be no excuse for him to not be involved until the very bitter end, he himself understood that much…… a few days ago I unexpectedly had a meeting with Sorachi, and since he said something like “Don’t I seem like a detestable interfering author?” I answered with, “ah well, I guess you do” (laughs). When he decided he wouldn’t get “involved” he was already like “I’ll leave it to you guys”. I’m not affected by this, but if the staff and the original creator enjoy making Gintama, well then that’s a good attitude to have right from the start. In contrast, when he was involved in the Final Chapter, he drew almost all of the storyboards just for the occasion. Since he’s a mangaka, I think that fundamentally in his head he wants to see this through until the end. For that reason you might say the Final Chapter was…… difficult (laughs).
Animage: You became a producer of the TV series in its third year, but looking back, when was the most difficult period for you?
Higuchi: It was when we tasked the studio with making the 2 movies “Gintama: The Movie: Benizakura arc new translation and “Gintama: The Movie: The Final chapter: Be Forever Odd-Jobs, keeping the production of the TV series going in parallel was difficult. Since we wanted movie-goers to visit the cinema while leaving the value of the TV series intact, we didn’t want to leave a gap between the TV series and the movie. Saying that, the TV series is with a different group of staff, and since there was separate staff creating the movie, I thought that it wasn’t even like the Gintama anime. Therefore, as the show seemed to be ending temporarily, I was going to see the movie, but although we were doing it in a way that tried to not widen the gap so much, that’s what happened. However, nevertheless the show’s endgame and the creation of the movie overlapped with each other. It was something that we’ll never do again. If anything, those normal days when we were barely meeting the deadlines have a charm to them. Because whether it was making the necessary preparations beforehand or fixing things up, we rose to the challenge every single time. First we start off judging by whether “we can do it, or not”, and when we get down to work, making the necessary preparations beforehand and fixing things up to name a few is essential, if we don’t do it, then we don’t do it, which then means having to share that with the original author. It’s exhausting every time this happens.
Animage: Since these longer serious arcs have been continuing as of late, there seems to have been comparatively less cases of barely getting the work done.
Higuchi: It sure has, since the Shogun Assassination arc, rather than just barely getting the work done, we placed emphasis on adjusting the balance of quality checking….. but since Sorachi’s manga had in any case become “The manga with the most mobs in Japan” (laughs). It was giving Miyawaki a head-ache putting it into anime form for every episode (laughs).
Animage: As someone who got to have a close look at Takamatsu, Fujita and Miyawaki each take on the big job of director, how do their respective personalities feel to you?
Higuchi: I think a thing those three share in common is the realization that Gintama = Hideaki Sorachi. Naturally, they have their own respective personalities, despite holding the same grand aim of “Presenting Gintama should also in effect be like presenting Hideaki Sorachi”, which means they definitely have differences in their approach to presentation. If I look at it from my perspective, the impression I get of Takamatsu is purely of “An adult who didn’t forget his wicked playfulness”. He has had a career forged through much adversity, and since I was applying that wicked playfulness in my own attitude when approaching Gintama, I feel that the Takamatsu era is fully loaded with that wicked playfulness. On the other hand, while Fujita also has a wicked playful side, he has a strong sense of film speed/tempo. In the episodes where he was episode director under Takamatsu, to the episodes he was in charge of as director, you couldn’t change the channel; I thought that he had a power to not let the viewers lose interest. And then in addition to Takamatsu’s wicked playful side, his exceptional “technical proficiency” and seemingly rebellious spirit are traits Fujita also has. Takamatsu and Fujita as directors both have the same creative origin; on the other hand Miyawaki is a director who has a unique origin as an animator and also as a female personality. In the Takamatsu and Fujita eras, she took on the role of animation director and episode director in some cases, and since she absorbed plenty of the two’s distinct characteristics, I feel there’s a charm to her sketches from her days as an animator. From the Shogun Assassination arc onwards, it started a series of long serious arcs which showed with the action, facial expressions and in the power of the sketches, what I think is a demonstration of Miyawaki’s allure.
Animage: Due to the recent change of directors, do you have any insider stories?
Higuchi: I don’t have any what you might call insider stories (laughs) but in Takamatsu’s time as director he would say a lot that, “It’s incredible how Sorachi continues to draw gags week in, week out”. I also have the same feeling about the anime. I would say directing a gag anime week in, week out is hard……. In the beginning when we started broadcasting in prime-time for 2 cours, in all honesty, the show hadn’t really racked up a figure yet. Although once we overcame that point, Takamatsu was pumping out various ideas at a considerable rate, and leading the studio. During the time when we were finishing production on the anime’s second year, I might have thought that Takamatsu was “fully in charge of presenting the show”. Then, when we were in talks about what we were going to do about the next director, I had Fujita’s name as a candidate in my head. This is despite the fact it still would have been Fujita’s first time as a director. Takamatsu was handing over the cornerstone that he had built up and refined, but having a guy by your side who you can have creative discussions with is a good thing. So with that being the case, Takamatsu would be supervisor and Fujita would give birth to his directorial style. And then before Miyawaki would take on the director role from Fujita, we were suggesting the same set-up, and Fujita and Miyawaki both gave the OK. When I think about the course of such events, I get the impression that 10 years have passed in the blink of an eye.
Animage: For now, I have the impression that the Gintama anime is definitely “still going”, but when the show was talking about the “it’s ending, it’s ending scam”, it really got my heart pumping (laughs)
Higuchi: Actually, it’s because we really were planning to end the show. For example, during the period when the show’s fourth year finished and Benizakura arc: New Translation got released. As we continued to run through the fourth year, the studio was becoming hugely fatigued, and we seemed to be facing the anime adaptation fate of “either save up or not save up manga material”. Nevertheless, massively increasing the amount of anime original episodes wouldn’t have been true to the earlier aim of Gintama = Hideaki Sorachi. Therefore during that period, while we were going to put a stop to the series anyway, the movie became somewhat of a hit and I wanted to get on with the next series, but we were heading towards the end. However, when the Final Chapter was out, and I say this now, but we really did plan to end completely (laughs), because I had the feeling we had done everything we could.
Animage: However, as a result, the current structure of director Miyawaki was able to get a start
Higuchi: To be able to truly continue now makes me feel relieved. It’s due to everyone’s help. I’m utterly grateful! To them (laughs).
Animage: On that note, Yorinuke! is currently broadcasting, but is there anything else…..?
Higuchi: Uh…… first of all, please do look forward to Yorinuke! In summer, the live-action movie will also be released; we are very thankful for the ever increasing support of Gintama.
Hiromitsu Higuchi’s Thank you:
The director and screenplay writer among many others in the Gintama studio are like “I’m shy, but I like sake”. Which is why we always gather everyone round to come and go drinking, and even though we engage in dumb banter when we get the chance to drink, the ideas that come out of it are funny. I think it’s extremely important to talk about work stories whenever there’s a chance to drink, so I’m always grateful to the power of sake! (laughs)
There are 3 fundamental aspects to Gintama that made me pick it up, that first thing is its uncompromising action! Pouring passionate imagination and creativity into the action of each episode is one of Gintama’s big appeals. For example the action of the Jiraiya arc (Episodes 177-181), was Yasuhiro Minami‘s idea (episode director for episode 180) which she brought to life.
Since having this aspect is crucial to Gintama! Coming up with laughs that will liven up the day has become our speciality! The Madao observation journal Episode 188 “An Observation Journal should be seen through to the Very End”, among other episodes with Madao (Taizo Hasegawa) have me laughing myself silly. This also goes for the Shogun (Shigeshige Tokugawa) as well. In the episodes where the shogun went skiing (Episode 237) “Please take me skiing” and (Episode 238) “A vacation in disorientation”, the moment when everyone was pushing the Shogun’s lower half back and forth to each other had me dying from laughter (laughs)
The clumsy group’s desperate condition pierces the heart. Drunkenness and bitterness are a deep part of Gintama’s flavour, and the allure of “tears” is important as well! The Kabuki district four devas arc episodes 210-214 was the last set of episodes that TV Tokyo producer Fukashi Azuma produced. I remember me and Fukashi both crying together when those 5 episodes were airing (laughs)