This is one of the richest and most detailed interviews from this summer! We interviewed the president of Madhouse Studio, Masao Maruyama, together with writer/director Sunao Katabuchi, who is perhaps best known as the director of Black Lagoon and Mai Mai Miracle. We get into real depth about who they liked to work with, what their process is for deciding on a project, and especially what it’s like working on foreign co-productions vs working on a Japanese production. (Madhouse has collaborated several times with Marvel in recent years with anime versions of Iron Man and Wolverine, among others.)
This interview also represents something of a first for us, as it was conducted without any translator or mediator—it was done 100% in Japanese, which allowed us the time to get detailed replies. Transcript follows the break.
What was the animation industry like when you founded Madhouse Studio? (Madhouse was founded in the 1960s.)
Maruyama: When Madhouse was first established, we had no idea our anime would be watched overseas. Because of Nippon Television, we knew that anime was being shown in France, and a little bit in America — like Astro Boy — but we didn’t think things would turn out like this.
I don’t quite remember how many years passed, but when we made the movie Wicked City… Well, we thought there might have been an increase in adult anime viewers in, say, America, especially since until then anime was considered children’s entertainment overseas. I think that recently, with shows like Ghost in the Shell, there’s been more anime for adults. In my opinion, one reason for this is due to Kawajiri Yoshiaki’s Wicked City.
Madhouse has worked with great directors like Satoshi Kon and Mamoru Hosada. Are there any young, up-and-coming directors we should be on the lookout for from your studio?
Maruyama: There are talented directors like Hosoda and the late Kon, and just like them—but also different from them—there’s a variety of talented directors in Japan. I think with movies, and television too, directors hold about 50% of the power. I want to make movies with many different kinds of directors.
Katabuchi: Because there’s so many of them, we put a lot of effort into looking for directors. Even if it’s someone who’s been working on the fringes of the anime industry, we’ll pick them up.
Maruyama: But this time we’re working with someone young. You know, I’m getting old so we’re working with someone younger, so I’m happy to depend on the younger generation to help us make something. Among young directors…there’s Araki Tetsuro, who did Death Note. I’d like to work with him again.
Do you want to focus more on children’s anime or adult-oriented anime?
Maruyama: I personally don’t try to distinguish between anime for children and anime for adults. But it is a fact that it was the more adult-oriented shows that gained an audience overseas, so anime for adults is extremely significant in that sense. However, we don’t aim for that. As long as it’s interesting or beautiful as an anime, we’ll do it. We’re pretty greedy.
What are some of the greatest challenges facing you in the industry today?
Maruyama: Hm.. What was the most difficult….Commercialism?
Katabuchi: Let’s see… We can come up with a lot of stuff, but I think there’s a lot of difficulty in trying to convey what we want to communicate to the audience. We want to directly express things, to make the distance between us and the viewers to zero if possible.
[An example] One time I was on Twitter and told everyone to “come see Mai Mai Miracle (Mai Mai Shinko to Sennen no Mahou) at this theater!” People came from all over to come see it, and when I went to that theater to talk in front of everyone—see, until now, as a distributor, I’ve done a bunch of stuff, and I think the audience knows best what the value of our shows are. At the theater, I felt like the distance between us was gone.
What about the challenges in working with overseas creative people?
Maruyama: It’s not limited to just overseas.
Katabuchi: There’s a lot.
Maruyama: There’s a lot of people, but I actually think that some of the problems that occur when making something are sort of fun to deal with. Figuring out how to fix the problem in a way that’s acceptable to both parties is important.
What about Marvel in particular?
Maruyama: Well, Marvel has their own special characteristics. We decided to work with them after we understood just how interesting those aspects were. [For example] we’re approaching Supernatural with the thoughts of the original makers in mind, as much as we can understand them—when we can’t, we have meetings, listen to their opinions and give our own.
I don’t think this is very different from making an anime in Japan. In Japan, I’m not just making any anime I want, but I go about by asking the opinions of the directors and many others: “Let’s do this show like this,” or “Let’s do this one like this.”
When it comes to overseas productions, even before we’ve laid out plans, there are negotiations. For example, it’s possible we think: “what about that person?” or “we’re not sure about that.” But once we’re at the meeting table, then be it domestic or overseas work, it’s the same.
Describe the process for how you decide which projects to take on.
Maruyama: It really does vary significantly. There’s a lot of different cases. For example… Sometimes the original creator wants us to directly adapt the manga, but sometimes the sponsors don’t think that will sell so they won’t go along with it. Occassionally we suggest things because we want it done absolutely in some way. There’s just so many cases, but no matter which one, first we gather the funds since there are times when we can’t fulfill a request. Such as when a specific director is requested but that person is too busy. In other words, it varies, and depending on the show things are done differently.
Katabuchi: Although the process is different and varied, prioritizing a project we want to do because we think it’s interesting is also something important.
Which person or people have the most influence in the process?
Maruyama: You see, it depends on the person. Sometimes it’s the director, at others it’s the sponsors who want something done. The original creator themselves may also request something. There’s no set process for this. Sometimes there’s a bunch of old stuff that we do, sometimes we work on something that just recently started. It changes.