Keiichi Hara was born in 1959. He began his animation career in TV, working extensively on popular children and family-oriented shows like Doraemon and Crayon Shin-chan, for which he initially served as episode director under Mitsuru HONGO from 1992, and then as series director from 1996 to 2004. He also scripted ten Crayon Shin-chanmovies, directing six. The 2001 Shin-chan franchise movie, entitled Crayon Shin-chan: Impetuous! The Adult Empire Strikes Back, earned wide critical praise, and raised his profile. The following year’s Crayon Shin-chan: Brilliant! The Great Battle of the Warring States was recommended by the Agency for Cultural Affairs and won five awards in Japan. Hara then shifted to independent filmmaking, pursuing more personal projects. International recognition came with Japan Academy Prize-winning Summer Days with Coo (07) and especially with Colorful (10), which received the Jury’s Special Distinction and Audience Awards at Annecy in 2011. Both movies received theatrical distribution in France and other countries. Hara admires classic Japanese filmmakers such as Yasujiro Ozu and Keisuke Kinoshita, and dedicated his first live-action movie in 2013, Dawn of a Filmmaker: The Keisuke Kinoshita Story, to the latter. His latest animated film, Miss Hokusai (15) won prestigious international awards at Annecy, Fantasia, Sitges and APSA, and was described by French newspaper Le Monde as “a lesson in elegance.”
CFM: This year celebrates the 100th anniversary of Japanese animation, and Tokyo International Film Festival (TIFF) will feature your (Mr. Hara’s) works to celebrate the memorial year. Please give us your comments on this.
KH: TIFF is an event that attracts media and filmgoers not only from Japan but from around the world, so I am very honored to have this great opportunity to screen all my films, including my past work, in such a forum.
CFM: Data shows that the Japanese animation market scale has exceeded 2 trillion yen in 2016. Animation annual output reached more than 300. Its (animation’s) audience has been getting broader, in terms of age (not only for children anymore but also adults) and regions (not only Japan but worldwide). What do you think about the spread of Japanese animation?
KH: When I started my career, I never imagined that Japanese animation could draw this much attention from foreign audiences. This is the result not only of my generation, but the preceding generation, which continued to devote themselves to the creation of animated films. I don’t believe they always had foreign markets in mind when they were creating. Rather, foreign audiences “discovered” Japanese animation.
I’m aware that foreign audiences may see my films, but I think if there were a trend in Japanese animation toward trying to become more international, then that would be not a good approach. I believe one of the reasons that Japanese animation earned so much global attention is because it’s “domestic” animation. So I don’t plan to change my method of creation.
CFM: Japanese animation has a great influence in overseas market. In 2015, the overseas sale of Japanese animation reached 286 million dollars. As the most prize winner as Japanese animated film director at Annecy, you have received great international recognition. What kind of feedback or reactions have you received from overseas market? What do you think was the key to the success of your films overseas?
KH: I didn’t receive any surprising reactions overseas. In my experience, the fundamentals are the same, and most foreign audiences also enjoyed and felt certain things deeply, just like Japanese audiences. I got the impression that they understand Japanese expressions and feelings.
I’m not much interested in creating a method to become successful in every market worldwide, like American films, Disney and Pixar. My main focus will continue to be Japanese audiences, and it would be great if foreign audiences could also enjoy my films as a result of their success in Japan. I believe that creating works that stay true to myself can reach audiences.I would like to maintain this approach at the heart of my filmmaking.
CFM: Japanese animation has strong vitality. How to protect animator’s creative passion and personality? From your point of view and experience, how to combine auteurist approach with commercial appeal to reach a balance?
KH: I consider myself to be a director of commercial films, so I always want to create films that are commercially successful and, at the same time, enjoyable for audiences. However, I might have to decline a project if I had to go against my principles in creating the film.
If I were asked the definition of director’s raison d’etre, I would say it is to protect such principles when making films.
CFM: There are always new trend in Japanese animation. Is there any new trend that you (Mr. Hara) would like to try?
KH: I had an opportunity to direct a live-action film a few years ago. It was quite hard work, but I felt I had achieved something in my own way. I would like to have the chance to direct an original live-action film in the future.
CFM: What is the motivation for you to create next film?
KH: It usually takes approximately three years to make an animated film in Japan right now, unless they’re part of a series. That means I have to spend three years with “this story” and “these characters.” Therefore, I first have to consider what type of project makes me feel like I want to go on a such a long trip together.