Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Katsuhiro Otomo at Platform International Animation Festival

Originally posted by Justin Sevakis, Oct 31st 2012 @

California Institute of the Arts’ downtown center for the contemporary arts, a section of the famous Walt Disney Concert Hall known as REDCAT, was the setting for a sold-out evening with manga artist and director Katsuhiro Otomo, as part of a new annual animation and art festival entitled Platform. The night would be his first public appearance in North America in 15 years, and the school would be presenting Otomo with the first ever Platform Lifetime Achievement Award.

The crowd, made up mostly of animation students and CalArts alumni, cheered loudly for Otomo, who was brought out briefly for an introduction before his new short film was screened: a 12-minute short entitled “Combustible (Hi no Yōjin),” which will be released later as part of an omnibus feature film entitled “Short Peace”.


After the screening, animation historian Jerry Beck introduced a clip reel of Otomo’s work. Referring to Otomo as one of the “very few game changers in the history of animation,” he credited Akira as having changed the entire perception of the art-form worldwide. The clips presented included several from Akira, the Cannon Fodder segment of Memories, Neo-Tokyo (namely his segment The Order to Stop Construction) and Steamboy.

Otomo was then presented to a round of applause. Along with an interpreter, he sat down with Beck for an interview. The first question was, where did it start for him, in terms of influences?

“I used to love manga as a kid, and wanted to become a manga artist, and when I was in high school I got into movies as well. But being a director was quite a lofty goal, so I decided to become a manga artist instead. The world of manga, as created by Osamu Tezuka in Japan, had its methods rooted in filmmaking, so the two weren’t so different. He was able to move onto making films from that point, as well.”

Beck noticed a thematic pattern in Otomo’s work, of tradition versus new technologies. “I’ve tried to present both sides. I like new things — movies, music, technology and such, but there’s value in the past as well, so I try to be even-handed.”

As for the new film, Combustible, is this the sort of image he had of old Japan? “I really wanted to describe the Edo period in a movie for a long time, but it’s not easy to bring the Edo period to a feature film. Hence, this short project.”

Beck mentioned an earlier conversation with Otomo, where he said it’d be easy for him to get funding for a new Sci-fi film, but that really isn’t what he’s interested in. “Well, sure,” Otomo replied, “but it’s not like it’d be easy to get funding to make Sci-fi either. Recently it’s become very difficult to make sci-fi films as well.” Reflecting on his past sci-fi work, he quipped, “the biggest challenge is that, 20 years ago, no sci-fi had people using cell phones, and now everyone has one. Something so basic to our everyday lives, and we got it wrong. Trying to imagine the future is really tough.”


What were his influences in making The Order to Stop Construction? “It’s a long story. It was from a novel originally. It was the first thing I directed, and the project also involved Rintaro and Yoshiaki Kawajiri’s work as well. At the beginning we discussed picking up the stories from short novels, but the other two ended up changing their minds, so I was the only one left adapting fiction.”

As for Akira, was there an immediate demand to bring it to theaters, even before he were done with the manga? “Yes, I was asked to make it, because at the time there was a huge animation production boom. During the manga writing of Akira, I was asked to make it.” Was it given a bigger budget, or was it special in any other way as a production at the time? “We had a huge budget. I don’t remember how I got so much to work with,” he laughed. Was it a big hit in Japan as well? “It wasn’t a huge hit, really. That’s my opinion, but I don’t think it was such a huge hit,” he said with a grin.

What happened afterwards? Did he have lots of producers knocking on his door? “I had quite a few offers, but I had my own list of things I wanted to do. I wanted to make a live action film, and someone asked me to direct one, so I did. And then someone asked me to make Akira 2, which I didn’t want to do. And then Steamboy came a long. And that took many years.”

Was he familiar with the Hollywood remake of Akira that ’s in produciton? “Huh?” he mimed, to the audience’s amusement. “Nope. I work on manga, and I work on animation. There’s no need for me to be involved in that.”

The floor was opened up for audience questions. The first one, after a few false startts, ended up asking his opinion of Looper: “I was really floored by it.” When informed that the director of Looper, Rian Johnson, is a fan of Otomo’s, he said he’d like to meet him. “Is he here?” Beck asked the audience, but there was no response.

Read the rest at http://www.animenews … l-animation-festival