Interview

 
 
Place: New York

Daydream, Interrupted

Art Categories:  Film, Movie

Director Sunao Katabuchi’s animated feature film “In This Corner of the World,” which gained explosive word-of-mouth popularity after its opening in Japan last year, will finally open in the US on August 11th. Prior to its US release, and with the film’s producer Taro Maki in attendance, “In This Corner of the World” screened as the Closing film at this year’s JAPAN CUTS!, the largest Japanese film festival in North America.

 

Christopher Nolan’s new film “Dunkirk,” which depicts without romance or friendship soldiers trying to escape from the battlefield, is a hit in the world now. But war involves not just soldiers but also ordinary people who are living modestly. So who “In This Corner of the World” follows is not a soldier, but Suzu Urano (Non), a newly married young woman who moves from her home in Hiroshima to her husband’s village of Kure in 1944. Suzu isn’t a “capable housewife”, she mostly enjoys drawing and daydreaming, but she’s talented in finding the richness in a life where one doesn’t even have enough food to eat. Even so, the gigantic shadow of Pacific War creeps slowly over her daily life.

 

We still freshly remember 9/11 from 2001, and 3/11 which happened about 10 years after that. They seem totally different events, but they share the same aspect, that is, everyday lives of people were suddenly infringed upon one day by an unimaginably overwhelming force. In Japan over 70 years ago, Suzu’s daydreaming world was interrupted. And even then, though tragedy struck, everyday life just went on. In its depiction of the different aspects of daily life, from everyday meals to Suzu’s relationships with the people around her to the change of nature in a chaotic time, “In This Corner of the World” shows us that whenever or wherever, what people fundamentally experience is probably the same. Looking at contemporary history, we can see that the USA has continuously been at war, and still is. Therefore, in American films, fighting soldiers are always the protagonists and heroes. How will this film reflect in people’s eyes in this country?

 

 

COOL sat with producer Taro Maki who visited the screening of “In This Corner of the World” at JAPAN CUTS!

 

 

“It was a very challenging project to bring to life”

 

 

Your company JENCO joined this project which director Katabuchi was incubating. What aspect of the project made you want to join?

Actually, what I was curious about was director Katabushi’s sensibility, not the project itself. When I saw his last film “Mai Mai Miracle,” I was moved and felt his incredible talent. And then “In This Corner of the World” was a hit and we received a lot of awards as a result.

 

However, what would happen to this project wasn’t predictable at all. In addition to that, the film doesn’t have any quality of so-called “animation,” such as romance or action. So as a business, I thought it would be a difficult project. But I believe my work is to collaborate with creative and talented people and introduce them to the world, so I found my own motivation for it.

 

What is an incredible quality of director Katabuchi?

I think his works touch people’s heartstrings. Honestly, I didn’t know what moved me when I saw “Mai Mai Miracle.” I just clearly knew that his talent was doing that to me. By working on “In This Corner of the World” together, I felt like I got to know a half of what kind of talent he has. It’s very difficult for me to describe what it is.

 

That he works very carefully and never cuts corners is one of the things. Also, animation allows his talent to be livelier because he has to create the entire performance of every character. So, because he is an animation director, he is seriously thinking about what kind of performance will touch people and what he wants to tell them.

 

The project’s use of crowdfunding was much talked about in Japan. What were the reasons you used crowdfunding?

Not many people knew about the system of crowdfunding in Japan three years ago. There are two aspects for crowdfunding: raising the budget and gaining supporters. So, we wanted to gather supporters and have them be publicists to promote the film. In that case, you adopt crowdfunding right before the film’s opening. But we were having difficulties raising money for the budget. This film isn’t flashy, you know. There is the original comic, but it’s not a best seller. Director Katabuchi’s former works also weren’t hits. In that sense it was a very challenging project to bring to life, but the production was a ‘GO.’ Any independent producer would feel difficulty in this kind of situation because the production needs money little by little. We never came up with the total amount of budget at first. That’s why we decided to adopt crowdfunding to raise money for the budget even though we were planning to use it right before the film’s opening. But as a result of it, we ended up achieving raising the money and getting supporters as well.

 

Did you come up any some ideas for the film as a producer?

Almost nothing. But actually, when the project was brought to me, the length if the film was 150 minutes. But it would be very difficult to raise money if it’s that long, so I told director Katabuchi to cut it to 120 minutes. If it’s 120 minutes, we need less money. Also, theaters don’t appreciate long films. They would say, “That’s long,” even before talking about the story.

 

Non’s voice makes Suzu very memorable in this film. Could you tell me the process of searching for Suzu’s voice and the casting process?

"In This Corner of the World" © Shout! Factory Films

Animation is made with picture and voice, and we work on them separately. In regards to the picture, the director executes the movement, expression and emotions. At that point there still is no voice. Post-recording is common for Japanese 2D animation, and pre-scoring is common for CGI animation. So, we thought about what quality of voices would match with the characters.

 

Director Katabuchi was having trouble finding the right voice for Suzu, but he’d been thinking about the voice of Non, so we asked her to come to the audition. I think we auditioned about thirty people, including actors and voice actors. So, Non began creating her character by asking director Katabuchi about the details: what kind of character Suzu is, and what kind of performance is needed to embody Suzu. Then she became a convincing Suzu, as if she was a shaman. If we say, “as if she was a shaman,” she would be mad, like, “I’m trying very hard!” But that’s her talent, isn’t it? She has become the incredible Suzu.

 

 

“I’ve failed countless times”

 

 

You’ve worked on numerous animation pieces. How did you enter the animation industry?

Three or four years after I started working in film and TV, the word “home video” started to be used in the industry. Before that, movie theaters and TV were the only options, but anime fans wanted to watch their favorite films or shows again and again. And, in fact, there were many requests from fans who wanted to see animation works at home or wanted them as a collection. It’s difficult to go to movie theaters over and over, and TV shows weren’t available at your convenience.

 

I’ve worked on many projects including foreign films, Japanese films, and animation, and then I began going deeper into the animation industry because there was a lot of demand back then. That’s how I started to adopt myself into the animation industry. So, I entered in the animation industry considering it as a business, not that I couldn’t survive without animation.

 

Did any of your work change your life?

I’ve been producing for many years, and “In This Corner of the World” was a good outcome, and I feel like I was able to provide good work as a producer. However, it’s because of accumulation. What I mean by accumulation here is the quantity of projects that I’ve worked on. So it means that I’ve failed countless times.

 

I’m careless because I just do things that I believe are great, and “Millennium Actress” is one that I’m glad that I did, even though it failed at the box office. We received some awards for the film. But awards don’t feed us, do they? It’s been sixteen years since I produced “Millennium Actress,” but people still say, ”Maki-san who produced that film.” It’s the root of my brand. When I saw “Perfect Blue,” I was greatly fascinated by the film, so I visited director Satoshi Kon and directly asked him, “Let’s work together next time!”

 

The animation audience must be very different now than when you started to work in the industry. Animation is no longer for just children. How is your awareness towards making animation from before?

"In This Corner of the World" © Shout! Factory Films

Before, animation was for children and otaku (nerds), but all over the world we’re no longer able to categorize animation for just those two. When we were conscious about the child and nerd audience, we had some kind of specific manual, but now it’s broad and universal. We have no equation for making animation, so it’s definitely becoming more and more difficult. There used to be a manual, like including a female character with big breasts would sell. That manual doesn’t work anymore. So, we just try to create something great.

 

There is a younger generation emerging in the animation industry, such as Makoto Shinkai from “Your Name” which opened in the US earlier this year, and many more creators younger than him too. And you must be working with them. What do you share with the younger creators?

I guess that will be the spirit to create something new. I believe there is a fundamental desire for creators to make something no one has ever made. Whether it’s the younger generations or the generation like us, they try to make things that have never existed. This spirit is necessary for people who work in creative fields, no matter how old you are!

 

What position is “In This Corner of the World” standing in your career?

I think the job producer is different in Japan than in the US, but there are so many producers in the Japanese film and TV industry; if you spontaneously throw a stone there, it’ll definitely hit a producer. There is a film committee system in Japan, and people in the film committees are basically all producers in the credits. But, unlike Japanese producers, we can tell Hollywood producers and their films are connected in people’s minds: when you come up with the name of a Hollywood producer, you also come up with the names of their films.

 

I’ve worked on so many independent films, but “In This Corner of the World” has been the most successful in criticism and box office. I’m so grateful for it. Even if someone doesn’t know my name, he or she knows the film, so it’ll make a smoother path for my future projects.

 

 

“Not just war,

but 9/11 and 3/11 were also much the same”

 

 

In the film, the characters’ lives during wartime feel more real than in live-action films. Could you tell me why?

One reason is that Fumiyo Kono’s original comic was well researched. Then, because director Katabuchi received the comic in trust, it was necessary for him to research even more than the comic. Reproducibility is one of director Katabuchi’s wonderful talents. This obsession is crazy, even. Whether we really had to do the research or not, we know that because we did it, people responded to it.

 

Do you remember the scene where Suzu and Shusaku are watching [the battleship] Yamato coming into the bay of Kure? That happened only on April 17, 1944. Some people might know this information. But director Katabuchi checked what the temperature and the weather were like, also how far you could see in those conditions. It was cloudy and around 10ºC that day, and you could see up to 20 kilometers away, so he just created that image. Moreover, it was cloudy but it was kind of nice, so you also feel warmth between Suzu and Shusaku as well.

 

Also, people in Kure witnessed the mushroom cloud happening in Hiroshima from 20 kilometers away. We don’t have this scene in the film, but our depiction of everyday life could allow the audience to imagine that people in Kure might have been seeing the mushroom cloud while having lunch.

 

In This Corner of the World” addresses war, which is very sensitive material. As a person who works in art, what feeling did you have towards this film?

Taro Maki at JAPAN CUTS! © Taiyo Okamoto

The film certainly takes place during wartime but is about a woman, a housewife. An inescapable gigantic disaster befalls her. I think, in that sense, not just war, but 9/11 and 3/11 (the Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami) were also much the same.

 

If you think about war films, you can imagine that there is a hero in a tragic story. This story unfolds during wartime, but you don’t see battlefields. It’s very rare to encounter a film like this, which depicts people’s everyday life: whatever the circumstances we have to eat food. Something like this might exist in Europe. but it is uncommon for a Japanese film.

 

There are many people in the US who believe that the atomic bombing of Japan was right. What do you want US audiences to feel from this film?

This is about something that happened more than seventy years ago. People who are over seventy might feel a sense of urgency, but most people won’t be able to feel it for real. In fact, there are young people who have no idea about the fact that Japan and the US were fighting a war. Especially in Japan, schools don’t really teach about war now because it’s not easy to define if it’s simply good or bad. So, because I think that this kind of situation is happening now not only in Japan, I would like people in the US to see the film without any preconception.

 

 

Text & Interview by Taiyo Okamoto

© Shout! Factory Films

 

In This Corner of the World” opens in limited release in the US on August 11

 

“In This Corner of the World” Official Website

JAPAN CUTS! Official Website

 

 

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