I think my style has been developed gradually as I kept making animation works over the past ten years. My frequent use of monologues or the particular emphasis on details of background are the techniques I had chosen to make animation works with minimal amount of resources back in the days when I was still an amateur. And because those techniques have been perceived as my characteristics by the audience, I have been refining them. So the techniques I chose for my own convenience have developed into my auteur style through feedback from the audience.
ScreenAnarchy: Most of your works are a combination of science fiction and youthful adventure, what is it that draws you back to these themes?
I was into sci-fi novels when I was a teenager (and I still love them). Back then, the sense of wonder and those longings/curiosity and anxiety towards the opposite sex or towards the future portrayed in sci-fi stories were blended together inside me. So longings/curiosity towards distant planets or distant future and longings/curiosity towards girls or Tokyo existed as quite similar feelings in a sense that they both are longings towards an unknown object. And I guess those feelings I had back then still remain inside me even after growing up to an adult and starting to work on anime-making.
ScreenAnarchy: The score also seems incredibly important; do you consider the music as part of the narrative? Was it considered when you were creating the story, as it tends to work really well with the emotions portrayed, you and the composer Tenmon are a great collaboration!
Music is very important to express moods that cannot be developed by images or dialogue/scripting. So I do think about what kind of music should accompany particular scene(s) right from the scriptwriting or storyboard developing stage. However, as I am not a composer, the images I have for those music cues are quite blurry. For example, with Children Who Chase Lost Voices, I wrote down an instruction memo on the storyboard saying "strange music like a whale song heard from a distance". If I was a composer, I would think "give me more clear instructions, will you?" But Tenmon always gives me what I want, despite my ridiculous requests.
ScreenAnarchy: Children Who Chase Lost Voices is being described as Ghibli-esque, with more fantasy elements than your science fiction roots; would you consider this an inspiration for your film?
One of the themes of Children Who Chase Lost Voices is "children thinking about death". And I thought fantasy was more suitable than sci-fi to present that theme. I am still not too sure myself as to which one of sci-fi and fantasy works better with me as a creator. As for the Ghibli-esque style, it was one of the methods utilised to have younger audience come and see an animation film without feeling resistance or hesitance.
ScreenAnarchy: Endings are given really significant focus in your work, the major scene of farewells and goodbye's are evident in most of your films, can you elaborate on these feelings?
The target audience whom I wish would see this film the most are younger audiences who may be suffering in the process of forming his/her identity in the moratorium period* during adolescence. In a society like Japan where things are relatively stable, I think one of the biggest problems for teens living in such a society are "farewells" or "goodbyes". For a teen, the experience of a farewell/goodbye sometimes can be so significant that it can lead to a deep despair. And what I wanted to create was a work that can be a prescription/remedy for them. In short, a farewell, goodbye or loss of someone is not the end of your life, not the end of the world. I made this film almost entirely for the purpose of telling that message.
*moratorium person in a psychological context. i.e. - a young person who has avoided developing emotional maturity or avoided growing up.
Twitch: Do you prefer making shorts and anthologies or feature films?
When I'm done with a feature, I would think "I never want to go through such a pain again" and start feeling like making shorts. And when I'm done with a short film, I feel somewhat unsatisfied and start feeling like making a feature. Or I may choose to work on an anthology because that's a kind of in-between. I am not too sure myself as to which style is the one I like, but with my current immature skill level, I may have a better chance of improving the quality of the finished work if I work on shorts.
ScreenAnarchy: From the low-budget but brilliant Voices of a Distant Star to Children Who Chase Lost Voices has been quite a journey and your innovative voice in Anime has been felt, but what else inspired you?
I often get inspiration from voices of my fans. For example, audiences who saw Voices of a Distant Star in their junior high school years (13-15) are now professionals/workers in their mid twenties, and they write to me via letters and emails about various experiences in their lives. And if there are fans that are facing hardships and difficulties, I wish to deliver works that can rescue them out of such situations, even if my works may only be a very small relief.
Also, I get a lot of inspirations from novels. One of the recent books I have read is It's boring here, pick me up (by Mariko Yamauchi). The story was as if collective depressed feelings and emotions of Japanese youth in their teens and twenties and living in the homogenised suburbs were dripping on to it.
In general, I tend to be inspired by the lives of other people.
ScreenAnarchy: Noticing your work in manga, video games and even the novelization of 5 Centimeters per Second you have dabbled in various projects, what is next for you?
I am working on a short film that is set in present day Tokyo. After the 2011 Great Quake Disaster, I think many Japanese have a feeling/sense that the sceneries/views in which we live now will someday be lost. So I feel that I want to preserve those sceneries/views of Tokyo I see now on to an animation screen/image.
Madman's REEL ANIME 2012 will screen in selected cinemas from September 13 - 26. For more information, please check their official website.