Japan Cuts 2017 Interview: IN THIS CORNER OF THE WORLD Producer Maki Taro on Its Risks and Meaning

Featured Contributor; New York City, New York (@TheDivaReview)
Japan Cuts 2017 Interview: IN THIS CORNER OF THE WORLD Producer Maki Taro on Its Risks and Meaning
In This Corner of the World is already a blockbuster hit in its native Japan.  Japan Cuts hosted the US premiere of the film and I had a chance to chat with its producer, Maki Taro, about the risks and meaning of this hand-drawn look at a Hiroshima girl’s life during wartime.
The Lady Miz Diva:  In this day and age, IN THIS CORNER OF THE WORLD is a rarity, with its hand-drawn animation.  What went into the decision to make this a hand-drawn feature?
Maki Taro:  I really feel that for a movie like this, where it’s really about humanity and human emotions, and very much about daily details, I think that only hand-drawn animation can do that.
LMD:  Would you please tell us about how the award-winning manga by Kouno Fumiyo came to be a film produced by your company Genco Inc?
MT:  The director, Mr. Katabuchi {Sunao}, had encountered the original manga, and he really fell in love with it, so he thought that I was the only one who could make this into a film.
LMD:  How much persuasion did it take to bring you on board?
MT:  At first, director Katabuchi and Kouno-san started as a friendship, because they were very much alike and they had a mutual respect for each other’s work.  So, for about two years they were just working on their own as an independent project, and they were writing scripts, and many times they visited the Hiroshima locations by themselves.  So, for a period of time, they were doing it just as an independent project.
I came in midway and I joined, but it was the production studio who came to me asking me to get involved as a producer.
LMD:  What did your participation add to what had already been in planning?
MT:  A producer has many different jobs, but one of the biggest is to bring in funds, so I worked on the business side of things.  I’d seen, director Katabuchi’s previous film, Mai Mai Miracle, and fell in love with it.  If you just think of it as a normal business, this particular film, In This Corner of the World, the result was it was a big hit, but you never know when you’re making it how it will go.  
It was an unknown, because this film was particularly sort of plain, and when you compare it to Your Name, there is no miracle involved, there is no boy meets girl involved, and the normal elements that you would expect in animation.  There is nothing like that in the film.  If you think about it, normally, it would be very difficult financially to fund this kind of film.
So, personally, as a member of the audience, I was very much moved by Mai Mai Miracle, and I actually cried, but I didn’t know why.  I couldn’t understand why I cried, so I thought the director was a very interesting and strange artist.  As I’m sure you understand, because you’ve seen it, the idiosyncrasy of the director and his power.  Mai Mai Miracle was actually a failure businesswise.  So, you can understand, his previous work did not do well, financially, and this new work is just so plain, but I really believed in his idiosyncrasy as an artist, so I just wanted to introduce it to the wide world.
LMD:  So, even though you understood that there was a huge risk, you were willing to take the chance?
MT:  Yes, yes, I was.  The producer is believing in this film, so the producer is the one to take the first and greatest risk; I have to be willing to do that.  But for an independent producer, this would be a really difficult thing to do, because that would ruin their company.
LMD:  At this festival, we are seeing more films each year with stories of life during World War II.  Is that an accurate reflection of what is being consumed by the Japanese audience? Is there a renewed or continuing interest in telling stories of regular people during incredible times? 
MT:  When you think about war-era movies, it’s usually always portraying soldiers, and military, and heroes, or it’s a really tragic situation.  You don’t really see a lot of common people’s lives, except maybe the wife of a soldier, or something like that.
The Japan that is depicted in this film is a very realistic depiction.  Some people feel as if Suzu is a real historical person; is this like a documentary?  But in reality, in Japan, they know that since that war, we haven’t had any war for over 70 years.  So, especially the young people, they really don’t have any familiarity with war.  Some people might say, ‘Oh, the US and Japan had a war?’  Because of the war defeat experience, the topic of war, and talking about war itself is kind of taboo.  So, the people who lived through the big war, like my parents’ generation, they don’t talk about it.  It’s almost like the culture passing on the experience doesn’t exist.
So, in that sense, to have depicted the role of common people, and especially women’s everyday life during that period in such a realistic manner, I think was a very meaningful thing to do.
LMD:  I understand that between directors and producers, there is often a lot of negotiation about things you can keep in the film, and things you can’t keep.  What were the negotiations and discussions regarding this aspect with director Katabuchi?
MT:  As I mentioned before, I came in midway, already the project was started, so director Katabuchi already had a plan and a script.  Originally, the film was 150 minutes long, and the final cut is 120 without the credits, so that was something I asked him to cut, from the funding point of view, and also because really long films are not welcomed at theaters. {Laughs}  So, I really had to fight about that point.  What is perfect for director, that is inviolable, but as a producer, I have to look at the reality, as well, so you just have to wait for him to come around. {Laughs}
LMD:  Do you think there are aspects or details that western audiences might not fully understand? 
MT:  I’m wondering, but probably the most incomprehensible thing for the American audience might be how Suzu married into this family – the Hojo family - not out of love, but as a labour.  She was there to work for the family.  So, in the US, I don’t know, maybe there is matchmaking that exists, but probably weddings are out of love, so maybe that is something that the audience can’t quite get.
It’s sort of a coming-of-age story; she’s growing up.  Through the story, she really tries to like and love Shusaku.  Then she loses her hand, so she kind of loses her meaning or value as a laborer.  So, that is why she thinks she must go back to Hiroshima.  There is the scene where she decides that she has to go to Hiroshima, but right before the atomic bomb is dropped, she tells the sister-in-law, “I actually want to stay.  Please let me stay here.”  That is the moment where she is really trying to find her place in this world - her own place - but that is the process.  I would be really happy if that is actually conveyed to the audience.
LMD:  As you are the president of Genco Inc. with many anime successes [HONEY AND CLOVER, NODAME CANTABILE, ELFEN LIED, ACCEL WORLD, SWORD ART ONLINE, GENSHIKEN, TORADORA] tell us how producing a feature like IN THIS CORNER OF THE WORLD differs from a weekly anime series?
MT:  For a TV series, usually the timing for going on air is predetermined, and in Japan it is weekly, so, it’s almost like the production is like a conveyor belt.  Film, on the other hand is very, very special, and the motivation, the passion, and the money that goes into it, have nothing compared to a TV series.  So, everyone is really motivated and feels obligated to make it a success.  As a producer coming into it, I become very sensitive about it.  On the other hand, TV series rarely become a huge hit, whereas film can become a huge hit, so that is a great joy if that happens.
LMD:  What would you like IN THIS CORNER OF THE WORLD to say to the audience?
MT:  I think when the audience sees this film, I think the individual audience members having seen it – depending on their age, or gender, or career – what they feel will vary greatly.  I think that is kind of a rare thing in a film.  So, everyone will take different things away from it, and where you cry in which scene might be different, and if you see it multiple times, how you feel about different things might also change.  So, my wish is that each audience love this film and continue to love this film as their own.  And of course, I would like them to recommend it to others. {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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AnimationIn This Corner Of The WorldKatabuchi SunaoMaki TaroWorld War II

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