Hyper Japan 2012 Christmas edition, Japan Media Arts Festival Presents:
Talk by Anime experts Mitsuhisa Ishikawa, President & CEO of Production I.G. and Ryosuke Furukawa, animation critic and head of jury of the 16th Japan Media Arts Festival and moderated by Helen McCarthy, who has been researching and writing about Japanese popular culture since 1981.
Helen McCarthy: Could you tell us about the Japan Media Arts Festival?
Mr. Ishikawa: It launched in 1997 and it honors outstanding works in four different categories – art, entertainment, animation and manga. It provides a platform for appreciation of the works that have won awards.
Helen McCarthy: One of the things I find very interesting is that the festival is open for all and everyone can submit their works alongside with professionals, is that correct?
Mr. Ishikawa: Yes, that is correct, the festival attracts people from all over the world and everyone can enter.
Helen McCarthy: In the UK we don’t have a festival specifically for media arts. So if people from the UK and Europe want to enter, can they do it?
Mr. Ishikawa: Of course they can.
Helen McCarthy: How is this festival helping Japanese companies to find new talents?
Mr. Furukawa: When you win an award it paves the way for professionals companies to look at your work, so it is a very good opportunity. There is a slight problem though – it requires people to work as a team but being exposed to such media environment helps young talents to learn about team work.
Helen McCarthy: How does the event help to promote manga and anime in and out of Japan?
Mr. Ishikawa: This competition is connected with the Agency of Cultural Affairs which has a cultural and a commercial aspect.
Helen McCarthy: Let’s talk about ‘A letter to Momo’, which won many awards. It was shown in the UK in only a very few cinemas. The scenes of rural Japan were so beautifully researched and created. Tell us about this research process?
Mr. Furukawa: The story begins when Momo’s father dies and she has to move to a small island. Momo was very reluctant to go to such a rural environment. Meanwhile she started making those goblins which made her realize that in fact it is not so bad to be there. The director wanted the people from Japan to want to visit this island and that’s why the research was done so comprehensively. It took 7 years.
Helen McCarthy: ‘A letter to Momo’ shows how important the community and royal traditions are. The emotions of the youngsters were also represented so well. Can you talk about this technique?
Mr. Ishikawa: ‘A letter to Momo’ was appreciated in 2 aspects – the relationship between parents and children and the authentic, rural Japanese scenery which was recreated in an animation film. The director of ’A letter to Momo’ is an expert in animation so he turned those sceneries into a moving image. The Japanese animation films are usually known as being either erotic or violent so by using different techniques we wanted to catch the hearts and emotions of the characters. This tendency to represent the relationship between parents and their children can be seen in other anime films so other directors are using this technique too.
Helen McCarthy: This makes it such an accessible film in my opinion. For what other reasons did ‘A letter to Momo’ won?
Mr. Ishikawa: The point that was appreciated the most from the judges was the passion of making the film. The greatest achievement was that real persons were picked up and represented so realistically on the screen.
Helen McCarthy: How difficult is it to animate facial expressions and how were those emotions developed through the picture?
Mr. Furukawa: The reason behind ’A letter to Momo’ goes back to ‘My Neighbor Totoro’. It was indeed difficult to represent human emotions but we wanted to bring this technique back.
Mr. Ishikawa: Another main point is that a fantasy story like ’A letter to Momo’ was picked up so realistically, not like the Disney films for example.
Helen McCarthy: Something I want to mention is that model shots were used instead of doing it digitally. There are just a few cinemas in the UK showing animated Japanese films which is a shame. The problem is that we don’t realize the importance of anime but as an audience we are not given opportunities to do that. How important are regular anime screenings?
Mr. Ishikawa: In Japan we have a wide audience for manga, not only for anime so we have this basis for appreciation. People are starting to appreciate the animations and even in Britain now people recognize different productions and directors. Events like this are helping the recognition and an appreciation.
Mr. Furukawa: The 6 minute animated film we are about to show you now is shown in Japan as a 30 second advertisement so this is the world premiere of it.
Helen McCarthy after seeing the film: This is definitely a “black coffee” anime and not a “British black tea” one! What is usually the best time to watch animes like this?
Mr. Ishikawa: They are usually screened Saturday or Sunday mornings or early evenings, or even after midnight. There are two kinds of late night shows- films that excite you and ones that make you feel sleepy.
Helen McCarthy: Any last thoughts?
Mr. Ishikawa: I’m so happy to see so many of you today. I am honored and thank you all for coming and for your support.
Mr. Furukawa: I would love to continue making films like ’A letter to Momo’ so our future plans are to continue making films that reveal people’s emotions and feeling.