Japan Cuts 2016 Interview: One Hitoshi on the Mysterious World of Mangaka with BAKUMAN

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Japan Cuts 2016 Interview: One Hitoshi on the Mysterious World of Mangaka with BAKUMAN
After his exuberant hit Love Strikes excited the 2012 festival, director One Hitoshi visited Japan Cuts with Bakuman, his rousing and heartfelt take on the mysterious, misunderstood world of the manga artist.  One spoke with me about CG battles and musical sequences, collaborating with manga gods Ohba and Obata, and the manga he really wants to adapt. (Hint: They’ve already been made).
 
The Lady Miz Diva:  Your film, LOVE STRIKES screened at the 2012 Japan Cuts festival and now you are here with your latest film, BAKUMAN.  Both films are based on manga.  What is the attraction to adapting films from manga? 
 
One Hitoshi:  As you probably know, in Japan, manga is the number one product of consumption, and there are varied types of manga in Japan, as well.  It’s very familiar in the country - manga itself.  It’s not so much similar to Marvel in the States, but manga and movies tend to have a strong connection in the country.  
 
Not all manga are appropriate for film adaptations, and I think not all adaptations are successful, either.  But, for me, personally, I’ve been reading manga ever since I was very small, so I do have a knowledge and I think I’m also able to analyse what types of manga would be successful as a live-action adaptation.
 
Speaking about Bakuman, specifically, there’s many adaptations of manga, but I think we rarely see the process of creation of manga, so I think there’s value in making a film out of that very specific genre.
 
LMD:  There’s such an energy that fills your films, and I love the soundtracks.  Do you use music to conduct the pacing of your movies? 
 
OH:  I think the two pillars of my personality are manga and music.  I’ve always been into music ever since I was young. When I was younger, I used to work in music videos, especially.  So, Love Strikes was my first film, and I wanted to use those two strengths of mine and sort of utilise what I had been working on in the music world into my film.
 
In American films, I think it’s often the case that there are various hit songs that play almost like an anthem in the film:  Take, for example, Scorsese’s films; I hear that he only uses music that he likes.  That is rarely done in Japanese films, so that is something that I wanted to attempt, and especially with Love Strikes.
 
LMD:  As with LOVE STRIKES, I was also delighted by the fantasy sequence in BAKUMAN.  Is this a highlight we should expect in your upcoming films? 
 
OH:  As you pointed out, yes, I think so.  The musical scenes in Love Strikes and also the CG battle that you see in Bakuman, those scenes help you deviate a little from the narrative, and I think I have a preference for that kind of effect.
 
LMD:  Please talk about your instructions to Satoh Takeru and Kamiki Ryunosuke about creating their characters.  How did you get them to keep that level of energy up through the whole shoot? 
 
OH:  Both actors are very good, but they also understand me very well; they have that capacity.  I also had both of them in mind while I was writing the screenplay, so there wasn’t anything specific that I had to tell them on set.
 
The process of drawing manga, it may seem like a very plain work, just putting pen to paper, but as you saw in the film, it is actually a very psychologically and physically taxing process.  In order to get those actors to display that sort of exhaustion, I did ask them not to sleep the day before the shooting, or just pull an all-nighter so that they could perform that extreme exhaustion.  So, Satoh Takeru-san, on his own initiative, didn’t sleep for days and his eyes were bloodshot when he came to the set.
 
LMD:  BAKUMAN is the ultimate insider peek at the mysterious world of manga.  Did you read all 20 volumes of the original comic?  Were there things you learned or research you did with actual mangaka that helped you with the production of the films?  Were BAKUMAN creators Ohba Tsugumi and Obata Takeshi available to you?
 
OH:  Of course, when the original manga was serialised, I was reading it just as a fan, but when it was decided that I would be working on the adaptation, I reread the entire manga, as well, and it’s quite a long work.  So, in order to fit that into a two-hour film, I did have to think about the limitations and what I would include. 
 
Regarding Ohba-san, when we met, he told me that he couldn’t imagine this original work fitting into just a two-hour film.  So he said, “You know what? You’re a pro in film, I’ll let you handle that.” With Obata-san, on the other hand, he did tell me, “I will let you handle it,” but when it comes to delineating the process of the creation of manga, he told me, “Please be as truthful to reality as possible.”  
 
I did go to his workroom and what left a really great impression on me was there’s a special pen you use to draw manga, and it’s called a G-pen, and the interesting thing about this pen is that it doesn’t move in various directions.  The interesting thing about drawing manga is that oftentimes, the manga artists will move the paper instead of the pen.  That really left an impression on me.
 
I think young manga artists these days incorporate a digital system.  Of course, some use pen only, but I think a lot of them incorporate Photoshop, and they do work on Macs, as well, but in the case of Ohba-san, he is very analog.  And in terms of backdrops and everything, he doesn’t use a computer, at all.  I think that’s very rare for a manga artist.
 
Another thing that left a great impression on me is that Ohba-san has about five assistants in the room, but they are always very quiet when they are working.  The only sound that you hear is the sound of the pen and also them cutting the screen panels with the cutter, so you hear that whooshing sound of the pen in the room.  The way you can tell when they’re working on a really good manuscript and that it’s going well is that sound almost sounds so beautiful, like a piece of music.
 
LMD:  Have actual mangaka {manga artists}, including Obata and Ohba, seen the film and responded to it? 
 
OH:  Without meaning to boast, both Ohba-san and Obata-san were really happy.  They were incredibly happy about the film, and they told me it’s almost better than the original work.  Ohba-san also drew the manga that was used in the film, so in a sense, Ohba-san was part of the staff, so he was very happy about that, as well.
 
Other manga artists also came up to me and told me that they really appreciated how realistic it was to the process of their work and they were just happy to have their work spotlighted in this way.
 
LMD:  Were there any mangaka that we might know in America who commented?
 
OH:  Gintama’s creator, Sorachi Hideaki.  One Piece’s Oda-san was very happy, as well.  And Chiba Tetsuya, who is considered a legend in Japanese manga.
 
It wasn’t just the mangaka, but the editors of not just Shonen Jump, but a variety of them also told me, ‘I’m so grateful that you highlighted my work this way.’
 
LMD:  Did you find a commonality between the struggles of the characters Moritaka and Akito in BAKUMAN, and yourself in the filmmaking world? 
 
OH:  Yes, that is something that I definitely noticed when I was writing the script.  I think the work of a filmmaker is very close to the relationship that we have with our editors, and I think that the manga editor is close to a film producer, as well, and the relationship they have with film directors.
 
The line that the editor, Hattori, tells the two characters, ‘If you want to draw or write something that only you want to do, you can do it in a doujinshi.  If this is a Shonen Jump piece, you have to make sure that it’s a hit.”  I think that same line can be spoken by a film producer.
 
LMD:  BAKUMAN ends with the two characters talking about other possible projects they could write, like Perfect Crime Party, Reversi and Detective Trap…
 
OH: {Laughs.} You know so much!
 
LMD:  Well, you came to the right festival.  I wondered if including that scene with their future ideas means there’s hope for a sequel to this film?
 
OH:  Truthfully speaking, I don’t intend on making it. {Laughs.} I love this film, this particular work, and when it comes to doing this sequel, of course there are episodes in the original work that I could probably use, but the truth is, I’m quite exhausted.  This film took quite a long time to make, so I think I’m still not the point where I could consider a sequel. {Laughs.}
 
LMD:  If you had unlimited time and budget, which manga would you most want to adapt? 
 
OH:  Yes, because you know a lot about Japanese manga, so you would know: I would like to remake Kieijuu (Parasyte) and Shingeki No Kyoji (Attack on Titan).  I was not happy with either of them, at all. {Laughs.}
 
LMD:  I had a conversation with Mr. Ayano Go, who has appeared in many manga adaptations, and he felt very passionately that film adaptations had a responsibility to respect the original work and the readers.  Do you also feel like that?
 
OH:  For me, I think of course I respect the original work, but I don’t think you necessarily have to follow the original work to a T.  I think what is more important is deciphering which part of the original work is appropriate for a film adaptation.  In regards to Bakuman, I changed a lot of the setting, because it’s completely different thing; the original work and the film.  They are two different animals, and a living actor will be portraying it.  So, I think it’s more important to re-create the original work to the best of your ability, and I think that in itself is a way to respect the original work and also the fans of the original work.
 
LMD: I understand that your upcoming film, SCOOP!, is a remake of an earlier picture.  What drew you to this project? 
 
OH:  It’s a remake of a 1985 film (Tosha 1/250 byo Out of Focus), and around that time, the Japanese entertainment industry curiously was full of scandals.  These two magazines, Focus and Fridays, were sort of competing against each other to get the scoop.  Growing up, that phenomenon really left a great impression on my memory; it was a very eccentric time.
 
So, of course there are paparazzi in America, as well, but I think celebrity gossip is something that people of the entire world love, everybody enjoys it.  But when it comes to the people taking the photos, I think they are very much looked down upon, the actual paparazzos themselves, and I think there’s a certain prejudice in that, too.
 
I think a world without entertainment scandals and celebrity gossip would be very boring.  A few years ago, I got to know one of the paparazzo, and I asked him how did he get those photos and what were some of the techniques that he used?  It was so interesting hearing their stories, and I knew this would be great for a film.
 
Of course, I used the 1985 film as a foundation, but it’s really just the characters that I used; the story is completely different.  I felt the original material really fits our current contemporary age, and especially in Japan, from last year to this year, there have been so many entertainment scandals that have just been rousing the society, so I knew this would be a great fit.
 
LMD:  As he is also a guest at Japan Cuts, will you please talk about Mr. Lily Franky, who plays your Chief Editor in BAKUMAN, and is going to be in your next two films {SCOOP! and A BOY WHO WISHED TO BE OKUDA TAMIO AND A GIRL WHO DROVE ALL MEN CRAZY}?
 
OH:  My first film was Love Strikes and Mr. Franky was in that film, as well, but the truth is, we’re just personal friends outside of work.  I would just casually mention to him that this is my next film, and he would say, “Oh, okay, I’ll be in it.” {Laughs.}  So, it’s just something that he does to be in my film. {Laughs.}
 
This interview is cross-posted on my own site, The Diva Review. Please enjoy additional content, including exclusive photos there.
 
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BakumanJapan Cuts 2016Japanese cinemamangaObata TakeshiOhba TsugumiOne Hitoshi