Prominent J-Rock band Porno Graffitti performed their many anime songs and others live at Anime Expo 2013 this year. Both Monsieur LaMoe and Shizuka were on hand to cover it, with Shizuka taking photos along the way. These are their joint impressions of the show.
LaMoe: So when the concert started–yes, that’s right, I’ve heard this song before, their debut piece, “Apollo.” That completely blew me away. I heard this song more than a decade ago, but it still sounds so vivid and fresh! It made me nostalgic, that speedy and powerful that I still remember so well. It’s amazing how Akihito projects his voice! I’d never heard him sing live until now, and it was incredible. He’s close to 40 years old, but still jumping and running around during the entire show. Such admirable stamina! Listening to the live performance is so much better than listening via iTunes with earbuds on.
Later they played “Saudade,” which is a song that has a Latin feel to it. The word “saudade” is the fundamental feeling behind bossa nova music, the music pioneered by Antonio Carlos Jobim. But “Saudade” did not sound like bossa nova at all, but more like Santana-like Latin music with a very J-pop sound. They told us during their press conference that the word fit their song, so the mood was still recognizable.
And then there were the recognizable anime songs, especially from Great Teacher Onizuka and Bleach, that made the crowd go wild. Yes, when I first heard “Hitori no Yoru” (the GTO opening song), instead of “Lonely, lonely,” I heard, “loli, loli.” So, I thought it was about a lolicon song, just like The Police’s “Don’t Stand So Close to Me.” Yup, Mr. Onizuka is a lolicon! “Loli loli, I want to see you~♪” Darn! But turned out that was only my soramimi (“mishearing” literally “empty ears (空耳)”). But seeing the crowd dancing to a lolicon song would’ve been so hilarious.
And that Fullmetal Alchemist opening, “Melissa,” oh, such nostalgia. Yup, this anime was from a decade ago! Reminds me… Ah, so good. Yeah, listening to the anime songs live felt so great after all.
Shizuka: Porno Graffitti delivered an incredible performance for their fans, keeping the energy high within the crowd, as they got the audience to sing along in “Century Lovers” and swing towels (which had been thrown into to the crowd) like cowboys swinging lassos during “Mugen.” But I wasn’t just impressed by Porno Graffitti’s ability to keep the crowd excited – I was equally impressed by their dedication to the music, as the lead singer of Porno Graffitti took out and played a real harmonica during “Winding Road!”
And then, “Melissa” played. My (and probably most fans’) most anticipated song, it was so much better performed live that all I could do was bask in the music. The audience’s response to this song after it was over was so strong that Porno Graffitti played this as their last song in an unexpected triple encore!
It was a give and take relationship between Porno Graffitti and the audience. With Porno Graffitti giving such an energizing performance, the audience gave an incredible show of support through their towel-swinging, “porno-porno” cheering, and frenzied hand-waving back to Porno Graffitti. I’m sure they weren’t ready for rabid American fans, as Porno Graffitti had to tell the audience to quiet down so their voices could be heard at the end of the concert… so they could announce that they would be back!
LaMoe: Between the encores everyone was screaming, “Porno, porno, porno!” That sounded really weird, but refreshing. It’s something just lost in translation in Japanese. The word porneia (πορνεία) originally meant “fornication” or “sexual immorality” in Greek. Yes, as a rock band, that’s the name it should be. The term”rock’n roll” also meant “fornication.” So, it’s a music for fornication. They provide the kind of music that gets everyone horny. Yes, sexual burst, an outlet for the daily repression of capitalism!
Apollo (Debut song)
Koyoi, Tsuki ga Miezutomo (Bleach 3rd movie ending song)
Matataku Hoshi no Shita de (Magi 2nd opening song)
Hitori no Yoru (Great Teacher Onizuka 2nd opening song)
Anime Diet was privileged to attend and take photos of J-rock band Porno Graffitti at this year’s Anime Expo! Pornograffitti is best known for anime OPs and EDs for Great Teacher Onizuka, Fullmetal Alchemist, Bleach, and most recently Magi. They named themselves after the album by Extreme (see their remarks in our liveblog of their press conference about that and more), and currently consists of Akihito Okano on vocals and guitar, and Haruichi Shindo on background vocal and guitar.
Here we present to you our best photos of the concert, taken by Shizuka. Our full review of the concert, as well as a full translated transcript of the press conference, is coming very soon as well! Stay tuned.
This is a full, translated transcript of the band Porno Graffitti’s press conference at Anime Expo 2013. Porno Graffitti, best known for doing songs for Bleach, Fullmetal Alchemist, and recently Magi, consists of two members: Akihito Okano (lead vocals), and Haruichi Shindo (guitar). They both answered questions.
Are your anime songs written before being associated with that show, or are they written specifically to complement the anime?
Akihito: Yes, usually, we get the offer to do an anime theme song first…so we often write songs with the feel and taste of that anime in mind. For example, when we were making a theme song for Bleach, which has a lot of very samurai-like characters in it, those characters make us think of the Japanese concept of wa (harmony). So we wrote a melody that sounded Japanese. And when writing lyrics, that’s a different process, so Haruichi [can explain]…
Haruichi: To pick a recent example, Magi, I come in with a general understanding of the show’s basic worldview and then write the lyrics. Then once we receive the opening sequence of the anime, I watch it and make adjustments to the lyrics to make it even closer to the anime’s worldview. It’s like a back and forth process, and that is what’s special about collaborating with the production team to work on an anime together.
(Us): You did a song called “Saudade,” a concept borrowed from Brazil and associated with bossa nova music. Are you influenced at all by bossa nova or Brazilian music?
Haruichi: I also like bossa nova, so I listen to it a lot and then I caught the word “saudade” in the lyrics without understanding its meaning. So I got interested and looked it up in the dictionary, and then thought, “Oh, that’s what it means,” and I thought this concept would fit that song, so I used it.
What does your popularity overseas say not just about your music but the spread of anime/manga/Japanese pop culture overall?
Akihito: Well, we’re proud of the fact that our music is breaking through to so many cultures overseas, to America, because Japan is hugely influenced by America and we all admire America. That’s what’s our background is, so I’m happy that our culture is in a way going back to America. Well, I could go on, but if the historical ties between Japan and the US could become deep, where Japanese and Americans get along, or people around the world can get along…if we can play a part in that, I think that will make us happy.
What do you want to do next?
Haruichi: Since we debuted as major artists 15 years ago, even in Japan we are starting to be seen as more like an adult/mature group. How we can play rock music as a more “grown-up” band will be the next big challenge for us. So, if we can do more “mature music,” that will be great.
Any influence from foreign artists or Japanese artists?
Akihito: Well, yes, if you going back to our roots, rather than being influenced by one artist or another, we are influenced by all kinds and types…after all, North America has a myriad of different styles of musicians. Different aspects of different artists have influenced us, so we can choose from a lot of sounds. For next time, we want to continue to explore many more types of sounds.
Was there a particular anime that you enjoyed working on the most?
Akihito: As I mentioned before, when we wrote a song for the theatrical version of Bleach, Tite Kubo really liked our song, and he even wrote a comment that praises our song. So we have a lot of good memories working with that anime, and it leaves a good impression when you get positive feedback, and when the collaboration between author and musicians really works.
What kind of anime did you watch growing up?
Haruichi: I could probably bring up an endless number of titles, and I could go on and on… Yes, we are probably the first “Gundam generation,” and Weekly Shonen Jump was very big, so we were all reading that, and we saw the anime that was made from those manga, like Kinniku-man, Dragonball, Hokuto no Ken (Fist of the North Star). I could go on and maybe many people at AX could say they’ve seen similar titles. And there were also the programs that aired during weekday nights, like Tom and Jerry, Road Runner; we were watching both Japanese anime and American cartoons.
Akihito: Probably, all kids all over the world are like that. And probably, you watch an anime and try to remember its song and sing it with full energy…that might have been the starting point for me to become a singer. Like when I was a child, I tried hard to remember the theme songs of Gundam, Saint Seiya. Actually if you make me sing the Seiya theme song, I can still sing it really well. Pegasus Fantasy!
What do you say to your fans in Latin America? Will you consider touring there one day?
Akihito: Yes, as we mentioned before, we’ve been influenced by Latin music so we use its sounds sometimes. It is true that Japan and Latin America are far apart geographically, but from now on, we will be more aware of fans in Latin America as we make our music. Having met you here in LA, I’d be happy to reach out to you where you are, and if we ever have another chance, we want to visit Latin America too. So please invite us.
Did y0u ever watch an anime where you felt, “we have to do the song for that!”?
Haruichi: Before we became a professional band, we never had the idea of specifically writing anime songs, in coordination with the anime’s production team. But after our professional debut, then we had an opportunity to do just that, and that gave us the ability to expand our audience beyond our usual rock one. It’s even helped us break some generational barriers. And now, if we can work on a good anime, we will when the time is right.
Are there any specific songs or artists that have inspired you as musicians?
Akihito: One of our first influences was Guns and Roses, who are right here from LA, and after seeing them on TV, we wanted to be a cool band like them. That’s how we started, and there’s been others who’ve influenced us. Haruichi for instance is a guitarist, so he was influenced by Eric Clapton in particular.
What ties do you have to Los Angeles? Why did you choose here as your overseas debut?
Haruichi: Well, when we were in middle school or high school, there was the “L.A. metal boom.” That was our first exposure to Western music, and so our image of Western music was a long blond haired guy rocking wildly with tight pants playing metal music. Our image of Los Angeles/the West Coast is like that.
Akihito: We’ve been more influenced by Los Angeles than we ever were consciously aware of. Like with the movie Terminator 2, when we landed at LAX, the scenery from that movie was implanted in my memory already and so I said, “oh, this is the place they used in that scene!” Then I realized that so many aspects of how we felt about America–of course, there’s also New York, other big metropolitan cities too–were mostly or entirely influenced by Los Angeles.
This is July 4th weekend for Americans. What do you think of all the festivities?
Haruichi: Well, coming back from a video/photo shoot in Santa Monica, we got stuck in a traffic jam. That was a pretty good sign of the festivities going on!
(Us) Can you confirm that you named yourself after the album by Extreme? Also, tell us a bit about your beginnings as a band, and whether you expected to get as far as you did.
Haruichi: Just like you said, we borrowed our name “Porno Graffitti” from Extreme’s second album. When we were an amateur band, we wanted a very memorable name and one that would leave a strong impression, so we borrowed it from that album, which we’d been listening to in high school. We didn’t take it seriously back then, but then we got a major label debut under that name. And that was when we found out that adults, unexpectedly, didn’t really like the word “porno.” And by the time that the Japanese got used to the name “Porno Graffitti,” we end up coming to Los Angeles and found out that English speaking people are even more surprised and offended by the word “porno.” So we do feel a little bit of regret…if we had known we’d play overseas one day, or be on national TV in Japan, we would have chosen a different name.
In a follow up to our 2012 interview, we were lucky enough to talk to the amazing Yaya Han again this year at Anime Expo 2013!
Wearing her strikingly beautiful Chun-Li costume, Yaya discussed with us not only some fun tidbits about her history with costuming, but also her thoughts on some of the recent cosplay controversies that have popped up over the past couple years, including harassment, appropriate boundaries, and respect for women.
So what are you waiting for? You can check out our exclusive Anime Diet interview right here!
As an East Coast member of Anime Diet, the largest anime convention I’d ever been to was Otakon 2012. That’s in the past tense, because in late June, I found myself somehow able to consider going to Anime Expo 2013. In many ways, these two conventions are opposites: West coast vs. East coast, Industry-focused vs. Fan-focused, Four-day con vs. Three-day con. So in a rather financially questionable decision, I decided to figure out what’s so special about Anime Expo this year!
As I arrived at the Los Angeles Convention Center for the first time, it became clear what “industry focused” meant – a big *tank* was sitting in front of the LACC, promoting the Sentai Filmworks show “Girls und Panzer,” a show about girls who were practicing “the way of the tank.” The industry connection extended to a Danny Choo booth prominently located in the middle of the LACC South Lobby, as well as a huge section of the Exhibit Hall (called the Dealer’s Room at many other conventions) reserved for industry representatives. In fact, it was the diversity of the industry booths that surprised me: not just anime licensors, but also gaming companies like NIS America and Nexon, as well as figure companies (Good Smile Company) were on the floor.
Of course, I was at Anime Expo for the guests too. Huke (Black Rock Shooter character designer) and Makoto Shinkai (premiered “The Garden of Worlds” at this Anime Expo; director of “Voices of a Distant Star”) were the top priority for me this year. As for musical guests, who could overlook PORNOGRAFFITTI? I added the Visual Kei and PORNOGRAFFITTI concert to my list of things to attend.
I was lucky enough to get a reasonably good spot in the Huke / Good Smile Company panel line, thanks to awesome line-squatting friends. During the panel, Huke spent most of his time drawing a “Black Rock Shooter-inspired character” live on screen, which was awe-inspiring… and at times funny, as he would make his new character make funny faces at the audience!
As for the man himself… if only he wasn’t wearing a camouflage outfit complete with mask! I’m sure he wore it to protect his identity, so I guess we can only assume he is a incredibly talented character designing ninja! Unfortunately, the Huke panel started late, giving him very little time to talk about how he created the characters for Black Rock Shooter before jumping to Q&A. However, some of the questions at Q&A were quite memorable:
Q: How do you add texture to your character designs?
A: Huke collects pictures of ‘textured’ objects, sometimes taking pictures of the most mundane but textured objects, like walls. Huke opens up a folder full of photos on his computer, inserts one into the Photoshop file that he’s been working on with the BRS-inspired character, and applies the texture to the character. Just awesome.
Q: Why did you want to become an illustrator?
A: Well, I was terrible with my studies, so I had to be successful at illustrating!
Q: What inspired you to have Black Rock Shooter carry a huge gun instead of something else?
A: Well, isn’t it really cool to have a girl hold a REALLY BIG weapon?
In addition to the GSC/Huke panel, I attended our exclusive Makoto Shinkai interview and the PORNOGRAFFITTI concert (articles to be published). The last two events stand out as the best experiences I’ve ever had at an anime convention.
With an attendance of over 61,000 people this year, Anime Expo nearly doubled Otakon’s 2012 attendance. This amazing number was surprisingly hard to feel due to Anime Expo’s good use of the LACC’s layout. Cosplayers took full advantage of the LACC South Lobby to showcase their work, the exhibit hall was off to one side of the convention, and the panels and concerts were located on the LACC’s West side.
Speaking of the LACC’s South Lobby, I was impressed with the location: well lit, spacious, indoors, and air conditioned. It was no surprise that the best costumes and cosplayers could be found here, and with enough space, it was possible for the most hardcore cosplayers to show off truly extreme costumes that would be impossible to find elsewhere.
While Anime Expo and Otakon are pretty different, the one thing I did notice was that big cons have their drawbacks too. It was very packed on Saturday, and the description of Anime Expo as line-con matched my experience with Otakon’s events too. After lining up for Huke’s panel, I realized I wouldn’t get to experience Anime Expo if I continued to spend my time lining up. Autographs for very popular guests were very hit or miss, but with a well designed system of vouchers and standby tickets, it seemed more fair than the usual first-come-first-serve system.
There is one very memorable event that stands out as unique to Anime Expo. I cosplayed a character from Bodacious Space Pirates (a Sentai Filmworks license), and as I was walking by the LACC, one of the Sentai Filmworks “Girls und Panzer” cosplayers by the Tank called out to me, urging me to go to the Sentai Filmworks booth in the exhibit hall. Eventually, I made my way there, and discovered professional cosplayer Jessica Nigri cosplaying my character’s companion to perfection! Exchanging pictures and compliments, I left with a cherished memory.
There seems to be a hole in my wallet… reserved for some financial irresponsibility next year! I really enjoyed Anime Expo and can’t wait to see who their guests will be next year!
If you are of the geek/otaku persuasion, July is a busy month here in Southern California. The beginning of the month brings along Anime Expo, the biggest anime convention this side of the pacific, and it is quickly followed by the granddaddy of all cons, San Diego Comic Con. Each event has their own individual perks and problems, the least of which are the logistics of actually attending.
Let’s begin with Anime Expo. As the biggest Anime Con in the US, it easily takes up nearly all the Los Angeles convention center. From the sales floor, to the (cosplay-filled) lobby, to the jam-packed panels and events, to the gaming area, you would be hard-pressed not to find something to like about the convention. Even people who’s only anime experience is watching an episode of Sailor Moon 15 years ago, can attend and enjoy a tutorial on origami, take pictures of outrageous costumes, or learn about new video games. The main issues stem from actually trying to do those things. If you don’t line up more than an hour before your My Little Pony: Origami is Magic panel, chances are you won’t get in. And it doesn’t help that the panel is in a room that fits 200 people, while there are nearly 400 people in pony ears waiting in line. That’s a lot of pissed off Bronies.
However, in a way, that’s a good thing for the growth of the con. When different fandoms can share the same space and all attending are able to find something to enjoy, it opens up new experiences and cultures to learn about. If the big cheeses then say, “Hey, we put the Skullgirls panel in this teeny tiny theater that holds 150, but the turnout was 500… next year we need to put them in one of the bigger spaces,” then that is a win of sorts. Maybe it will also help them think and examine what the current hot commodity is before room assignments are dished out. Research, then assign, people. Also, letting their staffers know when to cut off a line could help too. It’s a thankless job for those poor red vest workers, having angry fans in blue hair giving them the stink eye, but you would feel the same way after waiting in line 30 minutes, just to find out you can’t get into the panel.
For San Diego, it truly gives you a unique experience like no other, where you can bump elbows with your favorite movie star, get a sketch from your favorite artist, or even catch a sneak peek of the next big thing before it becomes the current big thing. That is, of course, if you can get in the front door. Due to its astounding popularity, which grows exponentially each year, it gets more difficult just to enter the hallowed halls of geek Mecca. Registration for your badge has become such a chore in itself, soon the show runners will need to resort to a Hunger Games style lottery system to determine who can attend. Picture a dystopian future where every fandom must send two representatives into a death battle royale, and the winner’s group will have first privilege to buy badges to that year’s Comic Con. Just imagine Trekkies versus Bronies, Marvel Zombies versus Johnny DCs, and Anime Otaku versus Twihards all duking it out for the right to stand in a line, to stand in another line, to wait 5 hours for a free t-shirt and then shake Seth Green’s hand.
Once you are inside, you can stare in awe at the elaborate setup of the convention floor. Many companies spare no expense just so that they can have the biggest and best booth that is able to be seen anywhere from Hall A to Hall H. Each is planned down to the smallest detail, so to be 100% accurate to whatever pop culture phenomenon they happen to be peddling. Of course, you can’t help but notice all these details and gaze at the decorative arrangements, since you won’t be able to move. People pack into the San Diego so tightly, it might just be some titan’s plot to create the perfect can of human sardines. If you wanted to eliminate 90% of the nerd population on earth, this would be good place to start.
Despite all this, once both conventions are over and done with, the realization sets in that you are going to have to wait another year for July to pop back around. You begin to forget all the bad things and focus on the good stuff. You think about that great limited edition toy you have been searching for, the one you just happened to find at a corner booth at the end of the show floor, and for a reasonable price. Or that time you shared an elevator with Neil Gaiman, but you were too terrified to talk to him and tell him what an inspiration he has been to you. And when you asked the art director for Stand Alone Complex to sketch a picture of Major Kusanagi for you, and he wrote Happy Birthday over the top just because you mentioned it was your birthday. These are all experiences that could only happen at a convention, and once it’s over you suddenly feel like something is missing from your life. Something you had for the briefest of moments, but you didn’t appreciate it at the time, then it was gone. So you sit and you wait for the next year roll around, wondering who you will meet or what rare trinket you will find. This waiting, my friends, is what we call the post-convention blues. And I got it bad right now.
George Wada, head of Studio Wit (a subsidiary of Production IG) and producer of hit anime series Attack on Titan, spoke to the press at Anime Expo 2013. This is a transcript of his remarks, directly translated from the Japanese by Rome. The first record of this is contained in the live tweet blog gendomike recorded, which was based off the on-site translator’s interpretation.
There’s been a lot of Attack on Titan cosplay at this convention. What’s your reaction to seeing so much of it?
In just this past month, after making Attack On Titan in Japan, I realized that it is so popular even here in America!
Will there be more episodes after the current run of 24 episodes ends?
We haven’t decided if we will do a second season, but I personally want to do it as soon as possible.
Will the anime’s ending be different from the manga?
Basically, we plan to make the anime as faithful to the original manga as possible, but it’ll be up to director Tetsuro Araki and what he’s thinking about.
What attracted to you to Attack on Titan as something to make into an anime?
Because, first of all, I thought Attack on Titan‘s setting, where people are surrounded by walls, is similar to the psychological setting of current teenage Japanese boys and girls.
The economic situation in Japan is getting tough, but even so, it’s about time that kids in Japan learn to go outside, to go beyond the wall, where it’s not always as peaceful or safe…so [it was easy for] Japanese kids [to] invest their emotions in Attack On Titan, and that’s why it became popular among teenagers. So, I wanted more people to know about this by making this animated.
There’s a parallel between the complacency of the people who’ve lived behind the wall [for 100 years] and the peacetime attitude that the Japanese have become accustomed to. Up until now, the Japanese people have been content to remain within their own country [and tend to their own affairs]. But since the global political climate is changing, times have changed and people now have to go outside, and I guess inside many teenagers’ hearts there have been similar longings to go out into the world. And by making that kind of story animated, I want the people in the world to know that this is the No. 1 story that Japanese teenagers have been the most moved and touched by.
Where do giants fit in this allegory?
Well, perhaps, why is this story so popular? Because people may have the same feeling inside their hearts. You have yourself and then hit the wall that represents the limits of reality. And at that time, tragedy without reason suddenly attacks you unexpectedly. Those, allegorically, are like the giants.
Did you select Araki as director? What made you select him as director?
Yes, I was one of the staff that selected Araki as director.
I have two reasons. First, Araki is the director whose work [ed: includes Guilty Crown, High School of the Dead, Kurozuka, and Death Note] has been the most about the wall between ideal and reality. Second is that Araki is a world-class master of action and visual scenes. Guilty Crown proved that to me more than anything else.
The first episode was pretty gruesome, even showing Eren’s mother being eaten by a Titan. Why open with something so brutal?
In the first episode, the most possibly tragic thing happens to Eren, at the hands of a Titan. I believe that showing this was absolutely necessary and crucial. For Eren, what happened was so sudden, absurd, and unreasonable; while fleeing, he says, “This can’t be happening! Why?” And through all that, all this happened anyway, in the first episode.The world is that cruel.
Why did you decide to make Attack on Titan through the spinoff Wit Studio, not Production IG?
While we were making Guilty Crown, we thought if we didn’t change how we produced anime drastically, we would be stuck in the same place and never able to move up to the next stage. That’s why we established Wit Studio, and if we hadn’t started Wit, Attack On Titan would never have had the great quality that it achieved.
What’s the difference between Production IG and Wit in making anime?
Well, in terms of feeling, there are a lot of sub-departments and teams in Production IG’s building. Instead, Wit rented a different building and there’s only one team. The sense of unity is very different than what we had at IG.
Why depict Mikasa having such pronounced six pack abs? Is this a conscious turning away from the moe aesthetic?
In Attack on Titan, we tried to depict the severity of battle environment. And in that, Isayama-sensei [the mangaka] says that if the characters have such great physical ability to move around, her body of course naturally must be like that. And this part is a reflection of Attack of Titan’s more realistic approach.
Also, [even] with Production IG, in the first Ghost in the Shell movie there was the last scene where Maj. Motoko Kusanagi fights a tank. In that moment, she becomes super-muscular. So for me, Mikasa is a continuation of a type of female character that includes Motoko and that Production IG has naturally gravitated toward.
Did you anticipate that Attack on Titan would become such a big hit?
To be honest, in Japan, the most popular anime are the ones with moe characters, a lot of girls in it, and no cruel scenes. I thought these were the shows that would make it big, so initially I thought Attack On Titan would be a minor hit at best.
But on the contrary, because Attack On Titan doesn’t have any of these three elements (moe characters, a lot of girls, and no cruel scenes), it spread among people who normally don’t watch anime. It’s one very important element that made Attack On Titan break through as an anime.
Why did you make Attack On Titan despite being aware of the risks?
Well, in a word, a sense of duty. Araki wanted to animate Attack On Titan, I also felt I needed to animate it when I was reading the manga, and Isayama-sensei told us that he wanted us to animate it. So, I made up my mind that we had to make this anime. So, it wasn’t from some marketing impetus, about how can we make money; ultimately it was the creator’s idea.
We had the privilege of speaking with noted anime director Makoto Shinkai at Anime Expo 2013. Noted for his lush background work and wistful themes, Shinkai first came to fame with the home computer produced Voices of a Distant Star. He has gone on to make several acclaimed anime films such as The Place Promised In Our Early Days, Five Centimeters Per Second, and Children Who Chase Lost Voices From Deep Below. This year, he has released his latest work, The Garden of Words (Kotonoha no Niwa), which is perhaps his most refined statement about romantic longing (koi) yet. We decided to speak to him about that movie, its vision and the casting, as well as his artistic approaches and influences and what he thinks about his place in the anime world.
NOTE: this interview contains very mild spoilers, or at least hints, about The Garden of Words.
You seem to have a unique ability to capture the beauty of ordinary life. What things around you make you say, “Wow, I want to capture that!” in animation?
It’s not that there is always a particular moment, so, it’s hard to answer in a one word…it’s not that I’m always thinking that “oh, this scenery is beautiful so I have to cut that part out and make it to art.”
And speaking of The Garden of Words…the first thing you make is a story. Then you decide where the location of the story will be, and how the story will develop. And then, when you think how the visuals will be in this process, then you finally think about how you take something from the setting and use it, how to depict it, and how to make the setting beautiful. That’s when you begin to think that. So the story always comes first.
So the visuals come last in the process.
Yes, that’s right.
The way you use lighting is a distinguishing feature of your work. How do you approach lighting, and do you have any influences in that area?
There is a famous Japanese director of live action art film, Shunji Iwai [director of All About Lily Chou-Chou, Love Letter, and star of Hideaki Anno’s live action film Shiki-Jitsu]. And his films are not anime, but he shoots beautiful scenery, so I think there is some influence from Iwai-san.
And being 40 years old, I am part of the 8-bit video game generation, like the Famicom, or in America, Nintendo Entertainment System. (You call it the NES, right?) My generation loved Famicom and PC games, but at that time the computers couldn’t use as many colors as today–[some] PCs could only use 8 colors, and the Famicon only had 64 colors. I think there were many ideas of how to depict nature or characters with limited colors, and I think I was influenced from that as well.
How have you changed as a storyteller since your early works?
I want to believe I am getting better with my storytelling skills. I don’t know what the audience thinks about me, though.
Well, compared with 10 years ago when I was making She and Her Cat and Voices of a Distant Star, I have come to be more aware and conscious about the structure of the story, or what the driving force of the story is. What’s the engine, what elements moves the story forward? So I think I am more aware of that compared with 10 years ago.
You’ve done both sci-fi/fantasy works as well as contemporary “slice-of-life” stories. Do you prefer one or the other?
I like both. For Garden of Words, I made the film about really ordinary life, but I have a desire to make an SF story my next film. Before Garden of Words, I made a fantasy story, Children Who Chase Lost Voices, and since I made a fantasy film then, I made a film about ordinary life this time. So, there is always a pendulum of desires: since I made a realistic film this time, I want to make a different film next time.
So what genre do you want to do next?
But I always think that there are many movie directors, and many animes, so there is no need for one director to make all kinds of films. Everyone has something they’re good at, and what I’m good at is depicting the tightly focused relationship seen in The Garden of Words, as well as scenes from contemporary life. So The Garden of Words is like my speciality. I’m playing in my home turf, using skills that I excel at. Sure, I still do have a desire to make SF and fantasy; I’m interested in them. But if I try to do mystery or comedy or anything else, I think that will be beyond my powers. That’s how I feel.
What kind of emotions did you depict that you hadn’t previously in The Garden of Words?
To put it simply, I hadn’t really depicted characters screaming out their emotions at each other in my previous works. I think I had a lot of works where you might carry a lot of emotions inside but you suppress them; you can’t say what you want to say. But this time, at the climax of the film, I wrote a scene where the boy screams at his crush Yukino-san. He throws his emotions hard at her, and personally I think I hadn’t made something like that before.
Also, [another] difference from my previous works is that they were about the characters searching for who they are inside, for their self-identity. I had wanted to write stories that explore the kind of inner emotions a character might have. But on reflection, this film became not so much about self-discovery as about discovering the other. So Takao [the male protagonist of Garden ofWords]is not trying to find out who he is, but is trying hard to find out who Yukino is instead. That’s one significant difference from my prior films.
We heard from [screenwriter] Mari Okada yesterday at her press conference, and she said that she wrote scenes of characters shouting at one another in AnoHana to send a message to the current youth that they need to be more honest and expressive, not repressed. Did you have the same agenda with your climactic scene?
Mari Okada is here at Anime Expo?
Yes, she is here too.
Oh, okay. I have met her before. I don’t feel the same way as Mari Okada, that youth should be more expressive. Rather, I think the opposite. My impression is different, and while I don’t think you can hastily generalize about all “youth,” I think young people [especially] in online communities express inconsiderate snap judgments too much. Like, “that’s creepy,” “I love this,” that is BS.” They say that stuff so easily and without hesitation; that’s my impression at least. So don’t scream your thoughts right away; digest them first. I want them to have more thoughtful communication as a form of expression. That’s how I feel about youth.
Well, if I must say one more thing about Mari Okada…I love Toradora, which she wrote the screenplay for, a lot. And I think that Garden of Words is influenced by the way the characters express their emotions in Toradora. I really do think that.
Well, one thing about Toradora is how well it depicts the longing of the characters for love and friendship. I see a similar thread of longing, koi or ko-hi, in your own work. What continually draws you to that theme?
I’ve been asked this question many times…why do I keep going back to that theme? Hmm. It’s like asking, “Why do you make sad stories more often than happy stories?” It’s hard for me to explain even to myself, why do I keep depicting this strong yearning or unrequited love? Well, if you want to psychoanalyze me, there might be various reasons, but even I don’t know what they are that clearly. I just seem to be constantly drawn to it.
Speaking of ko-hi, are you influenced by the “Tora-san” series of films? They are about a man who is always turned down by the main woman in the end.
No, actually I’m not influenced by Tora-san either, I have never watched those movies. But I do love stories where the character always get turned down. Speaking of getting turned down, there are a lot of novelists that I like who write that type of story, but if I had to choose one, I love Mitsuyo Kakuta, a female novelist. She is a writer of “real” or “pure” literature—not light novels, but “real” prose novels like those by Yukio Mishima. Kakuta has a collection of short stories where a character gets turned down, and I love it.
But the thing about getting rejected is that you reflect and think and analyze about why you got turned down. You learn a lot more from stories about getting rejected than stories about becoming happy. That’s why I prefer those stories.
How was Kana Hanazawa chosen to play Yukino? Did you write the part with her in mind from the start, or did she audition for the role along with others?
Well, we just had a typical audition, and we had about 20 people come in. We chose the one that we thought was the best among them, and it was Kana Hanazawa. But I heard a lot of opinions that casting her as Yukino was an unexpected choice. Hanazawa is 24 years old right now, but Yukino is 27 years old. So Hanazawa’s voice playing the role of an adult woman might sound too childish. That’s what I heard often.
But during the audition, Hanazawa’s childish voice—actually it sounds more like a teenager’s voice—I thought it was very charming or appealing. And she can do not only childish voices but, since she is a woman in her 20s after all, she can do a mature woman’s voice too. In fact, when she is off screen, she doesn’t sound like an anime character at all in daily conversation. Instead she talks with a calm, rather low tone of voice, as one might expect. Moreover, I thought Yukino’s character had both a childish side and an adult side, which Hanazawa reflected well—so we chose her.
Where do you see yourself in the anime world today—someone who belongs more to the otaku fandom side of things, or someone who stands outside of the scene, like Hayao Miyazaki or Mamoru Oshii? Personally, I see you as having one foot in both…
Perhaps that’s what it looks like when you see me from the outside. But I have a question for you instead How am I seen on the outside, like overseas, in America? if we suppose that there is a fine line between those two sides as you just described, which one do people think I belong to?
Well, you’re regarded as one of the most promising directors in anime—the most common comparison is that you are “the next Miyazaki.” I remember that Voices of a Distant Star made a splash among hardcore fans, the moe and SF type. However, I also know people who are not hardcore anime fans, like animation students, who know about She and Her Cat (but not much else).I think people who know your name tend to be hardcore fans, but there are still people who like animation in general who also recognize your talent. Hence my thinking about both sides.
To me, I don’t think I belong to either side, and personally, I want to make films that belongs to neither one. Maybe, for lack of a better term, there’s a “Miyazaki side,” or [Mamoru] Hosoda or [Mamoru] Oshii side, and there’s is a deep maniac anime fan side, but there are people that don’t belong to either side and I want to do things that neither side has done.
For example, there’s groups who don’t usually watch anime—like working women in their 20s or 30s that usually only read women’s magazines, and I want to make anime that makes this group feel “oh, I didn’t realize that Japanese animation was this beautiful!” or “Oh this anime is interesting!” At the same time, for the chuunibyoupeople who love Kyoto Animation’s works, who are very deep hardcore fans, I want to make them feel “oh, there is also that kind of expression or depiction in anime”—that there isn’t just KyoAni-like or Macross-like anime, that they get to know or discover my style of expression and come to love it. Ultimately it’s not about deciding where I come down on; I want to make work that reaches an audience that’s neither on the “Miyazaki” or “hardcore anime” side.
Photos by Shizuka and Laszlo Dudas. Translation and some questions by Rome. Thanks to Makoto Shinkai and David Del Rio and Kim McKee from Sentai Filmworks for making this conversation possible.
One of the best parts of going to any anime convention is seeing all the great cosplay, and this year’s Anime Expo was no different. I can only imagine all the hours of hard work and dedication that went into making many of these amazing costumes.
One thing of note, it seemed that there was much more non-anime inspired cosplay this year. Disney, Portal, and American Comic Book inspired costumes were aplenty, more so than I can recall seeing in previous years.
That said, here are just a few of the characters that were on parade this past weekend.
Also, for your viewing enjoyment: An Eva trying to fit through a door.
George Wada, head of Wit Studio and producer of popular anime “Attack on Titan,” sat down with the press and talked about that anime. He then gave us a brief private chat as well. This is a tweet record of both events.
We were one of the lucky few pre-approved press outlets to be able to attend the Porno Graffitti[sic] press conference at Anime Expo 2013! Here is a live tweet record of it. There are gaps and other issues due to an unreliable Internet connection, but a complete, translated transcript is forthcoming—so here’s a small taste. Enjoy!