Thursday, June 19, 2008

Animation in Translation: Shinichiro Watanabe on the world of anime

by Thomas Silver

On Thursday June 12th, the Worldwide Short Film Festival premiered a double screening of the animated short collections, Genius Party and Genius Party Beyond, with celebrated Japanese anime director, Shinichiro Watanabe. The following day, I attended a symposium from the Worldwide Short Film Festival, “Animation in Translation,” moderated by Todd Brown from, with Shinichiro Watanabe as the featured guest.

From the beginning, Watanabe began to explain that in anime there are usually two specific types of directors, the first being an actual animator that becomes a director like world renowned anime director, Hayao Miyzaki. The other type is more like what Watanabe is, an actual film director that in turn directs animated films.

As the symposium began Watanabe spoke of his early years from his first job in anime doing the series SPT Layzner to his work in Macross Plus, thus extending his career into his more well known projects, one of the first being an episode director for the anime series, Gundam 0083: Stardust Memories, which in turn led to his being sought by The Wachowski Brothers for an animated side project (and his first work with the American studio Warner Brothers) The Animatrix. This would become a win-win situation for both The Wachowski Brothers, as they were fans of his animation work, to the mutual respect from Watanabe as he found The Matrix to be “very impressive and a great honor to be asked for his contribution of A Kid’s Story and A Detective Story.” He did share that although it is some of his best work, he found The Animatrix to be “difficult,” but also said, “there were too many difficulties to list.”

Going back to his early years, Watanabe began talking in great length about being a production manager and having to work up to 20 hours per day (something people wanting to get into the animation field should consider, it’s not always as easy as it sounds) and as well motivating less productive animators to, “hurry up!” From there he became an episode director and he relished this opportunity as it gave him more of an opportunity to work freely on his own, even being able to change a story if needed. Gundam 0083, gave him that chance. While he was working on other anime shows, an idea came to mind and this would lead him to create probably one of the best known current anime shows made: Cowboy Bebop. With it’s scenes of fast paced action, comedy and drama, the series, set in future space dealing with a group of bounty hunters (simply known as “cowboys”) with a scintillating jazz soundtrack featuring Yoko Kanno generated an amazing appeal and eventually led to a full length motion picture, Cowboy Bebop: Knocking on Heaven’s Door (or known more simply as Cowboy Bebop: The Movie in North America) Shortly after Bebop had ended it’s run, Watanabe created and directed a new series with another twist – a samurai style action comedy/drama series with a blazing hip hop soundtrack entitled Samurai Champloo.

Surprisingly Watanabe admits that even though music influences his work and inspires the story, he wishes it to be known that the music, “isn’t the point.” By this he means the music is not the main focus of the piece and wants it to be a blended effort of music, action and animation. He then went to mention his one time being a music producer for the animated film Mind Game and smiled saying it was, “very easy and a lot of fun to do.”

The last things discussed were the possibility of another Cowboy Bebop movie to which he said, “maybe later we could see the return of Spike.” He then jokingly mentioned that being he is not an artist, he is somewhat reluctant to show his storyboards until the one time he had seen storyboards by Steven Spielberg and how he was, “amazed that a person that directs such amazing films is such a bad artist.”

Shinichiro is now currently involved with several projects in Japan and there’s a likely chance we’ll be seeing something from him in 2009. Let’s keep our fingers crossed…


Jane P. said...

Hi Chris, just wanted to say a HUGE thank you for this summary; I've been looking for something like this. I've added it to my Cowboy Bebop site here with full credits to you:

Again, thanks so much!

hou said...

I've been looking for something like this. I've added it to my Cowboy Bebop site here with full credits to you
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