In every issue of Animage, Tomino Yoshiyuki (director of Mobile Suit Gundam) has an “Ask Tomino” section where he gives life advice. Recently two books accumulating all of those responses have been released. In the back of these are special talks between him and other directors. This time Tomino chats with Araki Tetsurou, director of shows like Attack on Titans, Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress, Guilty Crown, and High School of the Dead. I’ll most likely get around to translating the “Ask Tomino” questions and response soon, but in the meantime, enjoy the first part of these two directors’ chat!
What’s the difference between a big hit that will last throughout the years, and one that won’t?
Tomino: Are we going to be talking about what we’re going to make from now on, or is it going to be about how troubling it is that I’ve thrown so much criticism at Araki’s beloved Your Name (laughs)?
Araki: Oh, that’s no trouble at all (laughs). I do think Your Name is a good movie, though.
Tomino: I wonder. The bands Southern All Stars and Mr. Children have been around for something like 20 or 30 years, right? However, with Your Name, something that is so popular now, it’s difficult to say if it will still be watched five years from now. Creators have to think about the possibility that their movie might be understood now, but not later. Speaking of, another movie from this year (2016) that has potential to last is Shin Godzilla. However, there are most likely Your Name fan’s that think making hits like Shin Godzilla is behind the times and needs to end.
Araki: Whether it’s forgotten or becomes a classic, it at least has to gain that popularity the moment it comes out.
Tomino: Definitely, first your work needs to be popular. The work can have merit only because the viewer gives their outside opinion. Opinions need to have input from both sides. The director can by no means think, “I’m pretty good, so everyone else must think I’m good too.”
Araki: What is the difference between die-hard fans saying one thing will last and another won’t?
Tomino: Aren’t they only saying that because they are riding along with the popularity, like with Your Name? Of course, I can understand why Your Name had such overwhelming positive response. Even on this morning variety show, it appears that a lot of young people want to go out on pilgrimages to sights from the movie, regardless of weather.
Initially, I wasn’t exactly sure how the director, Shinkai (Makoto), went about doing his work. When he made his first work, he came to see me. In those days, I thought Shinkai was a 3D artist. His true motivation felt a little different than that of a movie director. On the other hand, Shin Godzilla‘s director, Anno (Hideaki), had his big break with (Neon Genesis) Evangelion, but then went on to live action films and even voice acting (laughs).
Araki: That did happen, didn’t it (laughs).
Tomino: Coming back to the main point, Anno is the kind of person that, despite doing many other things, followed this path and definitively arrived at the idea of directing a movie.
Araki: Shinkai has continued to build on his movies since his first work.
Tomino: It’s because he has continued to make movies that, if he’s not careful, he won’t be able to separate from what he likes. There is a bit Iwai Shunji in him. Something close to and author’s eye. If that is all he has though — and he can surpass Tanizaki Junichiro, a famous Japanese modern literature author, in taste, conversation style, and writing ability — then he can compare to the greats. Without that he won’t be able to break past this wall that he has gone and created for himself.
Araki: By likes, do you mean the way he writes women? You got quite angry with me many times when I worked on G-Reco (Gundam Reconguista in G). You told me all the girls were drawn up to fit into some stereotypical pattern.
Tomino: I guess you can call Your Name powered by the idea of love, and that is pretty self-contained. It fits the concept of love today, so a lot of people went crazy to see it. If you’re able to bring out that general idea skillfully and add in a bit of sci-fi into the mix then “ding ding ding you’ve got a winner!” In that sense, Shinkai does a stunning job. The number one problem for creators is producing a b movie. Things like Moonlight Mask, Ultraman, and Superman. It feels like Shinkai only creates what he’s interested in. In the process of working with games and CG, he more or less learned how to add in the key components for sci-fi, but, after this, in three, five years time, it’s a question of whether he can find himself able to make another popular movie.
The key to planning an anime is looking to the future and creating universal themes.
Araki: Put bluntly, planning an anime involves imagining what the near future is like.
Tomino: Rather, it’s about having the confidence to declare you can combine current and future trends. I think the reason why children were so taken with (Mobile Suit) Gundam when it came out, was because it was a different kind of period drama. It wasn’t the science fiction aspect they latched onto, but the instinctual structure of period dramas. I mean, stuff like “The Red Comet is coming!” isn’t really what you would find in science fiction (laughs). One more thing. The economic grown in Japan was still going strong into the late 70s, and there was still faith in new technology, so giant robots weren’t hated. Riding on those two points, Gundam was able to become a hit. Because of my youthful indiscretion at the time, I stupidly chalked it all up to the theory of Newtypes, but that was covered for all of one minute.
I couldn’t become Iwai Shunji, so I had to bring myself up with my own taste. But, there are always one or two parts in a movie that the audience will find funny when it was intended to be scary (laughs). Shinkai’s works don’t have this kind of conflict. Conversely, Anno did have those conflict and sunk after Eva. When he came into his 50s and started producing Godzilla (1954), he understood that it should be more realistic, that it should be more along the lines of Hollywood’s version of Godzilla (2014).
Despite that, there is still a sense that he should have made it like the original Toho version of Godzilla. This is because the original Godzilla had something special. It was made so people at that time could love it. Entertainment is just that, is it not?
Last is the problem of healing anime and beautiful girls. People often wonder how it is that animators never tire of the same voices and the same voice actors. I want to say that people of my generation never really paid much attention to voice actors. I want to say this, but we and the generation before us were all the same. At the very least Japanese men have always liked the sound of a beautiful woman. A perfect example is the b film eras famous actress Hara Setsuko . Her voice was a bit husky, but it had the same effect as healing anime today. There were a ton of directors that cast her, but it had to be because they liked her insurmountable voice.
Araki: Like, transforming to the ideal?
Tomino: Yes. So, even if I alluded to hating it, and instead tried to go a different route with choosing lesser known voice actresses instead of big names, the anime wouldn’t be as popular.
Araki: You can’t completely ignore what people currently like.
Tomino: Yes, yes.
Araki: But what if you think, “I want to unearth the beauty of this” or “I want to express this”? Constantly thinking that you never really know how conscious or ignorant people are of something.
Tomino: There’s no way you could know!
Araki: There’s no way (bitterly laughs)?
Tomino: If you get stuck in that vortex you’ll be no better than an otaku who thinks “yeah, this is good!” and continues on their way.
Araki: So, for the time being, what do we do?
Tomino: It’s not just for the time being, this is something important. If you mess up there, you can’t go on doing your job. For some time, I’ve even had a problem.
Araki: Since Turn A Gundam you’ve been making stories that were for the general public, I like those stories. It’s important to approach it in a way to clearly show what everyone likes.
Tomino: Of course, but if it’s not what you, yourself, likes, it feels strained to showcase it properly.
Araki: I understand that.
Tomino: In that way, it feels pretty awkward (sighs).
No matter how much criticism comes your way, pave your path with motivation from your next work!
Araki: So, I thought we could talk about today’s “Ask Tomino” [“I can’t understand the concept behind hate tweets”(Nov.2016)].
Tomino: What about it?
Araki: Even outside of Twitter, if you see negative comments about your work on the internet it’s depressing. I find it difficult to remove myself from that. Two weeks later I’ll be giving it my best, but it still hurts, and after two years I might see the same user and think “It’s Twitter user XXX! Not that guy again!” (laughs). I used to have a Twitter account — I never posted — but I got rid of it. Basically, to protect yourself, you have to distance yourself from internet opinions. Clear the air by realizing there are many opinions out there, or else it’s easy to get caught up in “why does everyone hate this character when I like them so much?”
Tomino: I get the part about getting caught up in it all.
Araki: In my case, I didn’t have the confidence to follow through with what I wanted. Especially if a character I thought would do well, didn’t, I deflated. Would that mean that characters I don’t see doing well are just going to get destroyed? Eventually, everything got to me (bitterly laughs). The louder the hate, the more you get pulled away from the positive fans. Compared to manga, it’s far easier to see and hear hateful comments, so the sheer number is unnecessary.
Tomino: It was about a month ago, I accidentally saw someone badmouthing the Zeta Gundam movies (Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam: A New Translation movie trilogy). I felt bummed thinking, “even now they are still criticizing it.” It’s been ten years since the release of this movie that I’ve nearly forgotten about, and yet when I see that I can’t help but believe that that’s the reason it didn’t do well at the box office. After that, I laid low for a bit, even when I was asked to do the job it felt that I was only good for making my previous TV shows into movies. I remember thinking — it would be pretty easy to turn into a hermit with these kinds of jobs — while working on the movie. Then I went on to make G-Reco, which turned out even worse than the Zeta Gundam movies it’s not possible to fall even further.
Why, at my age, did I want to try directing something new? G-Reco was meant to be an anime that overcame all the negatives of my previous works and took an entirely different point of view. It was my lifeline. I put aside whether that was a good way to think or not, I advocated for a deconstruction of Gundam and set out to create something that was nothing like Zeta Gundam. I was motivated by the idea that it probably wouldn’t become a huge hit. In the end, I can only do so much.
That reminds me when I heard there was going to be a 1/1 scale Gundam statue planned, I knew it was a statue, and the first gundam at that, but initially I heard it wasn’t going to move at all. So I told them they should make it move, and with a motor added in the head, they were able to do just that. If it didn’t have that motion in the head, it might as well have been a 1/1 scale concrete statue. If it could move, even a little, it was different than the giant Buddha statue in Nara. I never thought it would be around for five years, though. With that kind of gimmick, I thought it would become a sightseeing spot. Because of how the entertainment industry works today, when I stood in front of the 1/1 scale I decided that I couldn’t look at this in disdain, but had to continue to show a smile. I didn’t know if there would be a camera around, so I had to be sure to wear a mask. That was my duty.
Araki: That’s how a professional does it.
 Iwai Shunji, a film director known for his movie Love Letter (released in the US as When I Close My Eyes). He also wrote and directed the animated movie The Case of Hana and Alice, a prequel to another of his movies, Hana and Alice.
 Hara Setsuko, a well-known actress active from 1935–1963, best recognized in the West for her roles in Late Spring and Tokyo Story.