Using Animation to Express “Interesting” Things
——Interview with Japanese Director Masaaki YUASA

 

Masaaki YUASA

Born in 1965, Masaaki Yuasa made his feature directorial debut with MIND GAME (2004). In 2017, NIGHT IS SHORT, WALK ON GIRL won the Animation of the Year award at the Japan Academy Prizes, and LU OVER THE WALL won the Cristal for a Feature Film at the Annecy International Animated Film Festival. DEVILMAN CRYBABY was distributed worldwide in January 2018 to rapturous reviews, attracting many fans around the globe.

CFMYour film LU OVER THE WALL and NIGHT IS SHORT, WALK ON GIRL were screened in Shanghai International Film Festival and gained ravishing compliments. Could you please talk about your creation process of these two films?

Masaaki YUASA: We made NIGHT IS SHORT, WALK ON GIRL after LU OVER THE WALL. LU OVER THE WALL is my first original feature film, and I put everything I wanted to do with animation in this film. NIGHT IS SHORT, WALK ON GIRL is a story about a young man written by Tomihiko Morimi with his unique style. We worked together for a TV animation THE TATAMI GALAXY. This time, we wanted to make it more dynamic as a film. Before making LU OVER THE WALL, I have created rather art house films. But for LU OVER THE WALL, having discussed with many people, we made it in a wide range of contents that can attract many people and be family-friendly. Because I got the offer of NIGHT IS SHORT, WALK ON GIRL during the LU OVER THE WALL production, our team continued to work for NIGHT IS SHORT, WALK ON GIRL as well. We asked the staff from THE TATAMI GALAXY to join the project as much as possible to make it in the same style.

CFMIn your work you depict each phenomena with a distinctive point of view and create various fancy lands for the audience. Where do you think your imagination comes from?

Masaaki YUASA: In my school days, I tended to think in real and concretely rather than abstractly when I saw various things and I thought there were not many interesting things in the world. While I did a research for the setting design for the CRAYON SHIN-CHAN series, I realized there are surprisingly many interesting things in the world. I always think it would be nice to feel interesting things, express it as they are, and put it in an animation. I believe anything that I find interesting can be animation. For example, when I researched castles for a work of CRAYON SHIN-CHAN, I was fascinated by not only castle itself but also its foundation beneath it and the town around it. When designing a building, I studied and appreciated its architecture, and when drawing plants, I noticed that there were diverse plants around them. While I studied about old castles, I could even imagine the castle shape only from its foundation, which excited me a lot. It was impressive that a castle had been designed more functionally than I expected. I think it is fun to make animations with the things that most people feel and laugh but pass by in daily lives. It is same with a composition of a song; I want to put what I found interesting and fascinating within music structure into animation. It is not a big thing. I am thinking this way from my desire to express things happening in daily life.

CFMIs there any common theme or anything in your mind when creating your works?

Masaaki YUASA: I am not so much aware of “common theme”. It may be a coincidence, but when I’m offered the original novels for my films, I usually find it interesting in the difficulty of understanding each other. People spend same time at same place but see things differently, which is interesting to me. I want to express this funny phenomena, hoping it would be nice for them to understand their difference from each other. I think I’m hoping that we can understand each other in the end. There are various social issues in the world, but I feel most of them can be solved with our mutual understanding.

CFMLU OVER THE WALL is produced with 100% flash technique, which is rarely seen in the industry, and achieved great success. Why did you choose to use flash technique to make this film?

Masaaki YUASA: I assume flash technique is often used in the production of a unique movie such as a cutout animation. I saw flash technique was used in more uncommon way in a studio abroad named ANKAMA before, and I thought we could make a great film if we use it in Japanese way. We decided to use flash technique because it allows us to make in-between animation smoothly with the most beautiful lines at present time, and we could meet staffs who have good command of flash technique.

CFMAnimators in Science SARU studio come from Korea, USA, France…. What’s the difference between them and local Japanese animators?

Masaaki YUASA: I do not distinguish animators by their nationality. The first impression for me of the creators worked for the companies overseas was that they moved quickly and worked so fast within a limited time somehow. Also, they are positive about their work, though I’m not saying that Japanese animators are not. They have a strong sense of responsibility. In Japan, I suppose people work long hours a day, but those animators who I see abroad tend to work short setting a deadline for themselves. I think they are good examples to follow. Of course, some Japanese animators work in a same way, however, our production (Science SARU) work in the same hours, so we can learn from animators overseas how to work short. I have an impression that overseas animators work happily. Things might have changed a little, but in Japan, the idea of 24-hour operation was common, and everyone was exhausted. Overseas animators seem to me that they limit their working hours and make the most of it in a creative way not to break the deadline. I thought I would like to follow them when I started the studio and I myself would like to work at the environment like that.

CFMWhat influence does this talent pool bring to the studio?

Masaaki YUASA: I think it is about generosity. Everyone has their own life style, but they are flexible about a creative work. Since they meet various people, I feel that they are capable and accustomed to embrace others.

CFMLU OVER THE WALL won the Cristal Award at the Annecy International Animated Film Festival, and NIGHT IS SHORT, WALK ON GIRL won the Grand Prize for Features at the Ottawa International Animation Film Festival. How do you think of international film festivals?

Masaaki YUASA: It is fun to go overseas because I always work at the studio. There is a group of people that I meet at film festivals such as producers and staff from production studios who also come to festivals like me and I see them wherever I go. What I look forward most is to encounter with various people even if I have never worked with them. I like the atmosphere of a film festival itself and it is also fun to experience the culture of the country where the festival is held.

CFMWhat film festivals have impressed you most?

Masaaki YUASA: An impressive festival or rather what I am dreaming of, is the open-air screening beside a lake at Annecy International Animation Film Festival. I always dream of the screening of my works there and seeing it by myself. When I saw it, it was very peaceful, and I was lying on the grass and seeing a movie. I loved the atmosphere and found the new way of watching a film.

I used to watch many movies at film festivals I was invited at first, but now I do not watch films so much. I enjoy experiencing the atmosphere, seeing city, or meeting people more. Many film festivals are cozy, and the host holds a party and makes the guests welcome. In Japan it is not that common to have a party. I think it would be more fun if I could speak foreign languages. Thanks to those festivals inviting me, I can enjoy visiting the countries and cities where I have never been to. I get a chance to go where I might never go on a trip, and it is surely fun when I actually go there. I feel film festivals are held at nice places, like waterside, an old town, a hot spring town and so on.

CFMWhat is your plan for your next project?

Masaaki YUASA: Following LU OVER THE WALL, we will make even more “true” love story. It might be a special but pure one. The story is set in seaside and enjoyable. Basically, the story is somehow related with LU OVER THE WALL, but the theme of the new film is about how to face with what you lost. We aim at completing within this year and releasing next year.

CFMWhat is your impression on Chinese animation films? What’s your favorite one?

Masaaki YUASA: I used to have an image of art films in Chinese animation films, but these days I feel entertainment films are gaining more popularity. Recently I saw BIG FISH AND BEGONIA on Netflix and I was impressed. I have been curious about this film because it has been nominated for many film festivals. I was more interested in animated works painted with ink. There are many movies that are not released in Japan and I am interested in those. I wish I could go to the festivals as a long relaxing trip, but since it’s a short stay, I have no time to see many films. It is nice that many people can see a movie on Netflix.

 

CFMHow did you feel to be chosen for TIFF’s Animation Focus? What is your expectation for TIFF?

Masaaki YUASA: I wanted to get offer but it was surprising at the same time. It made me surprised and happy to be selected in the animation focus screening that has shined a spotlight on the seniors whom I have respected and worked with.

I am humbled that I was selected alongside with the acclaimed animators featured in the past Animation Focus screenings. But I am also looking forward to the chance to have many people see my previous works which are quite difficult to see now on the big screen. I believe the audience will enjoy them. I hope many people will come to the screenings.

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