sexta-feira, 15 de novembro de 2013

Interview with Mamoru Oshii on Urusei Yatsura 2 - Beautiful Dreamer

(Urusei Yatsura 2 Byutifuru Dorima, 1984)
By Masumi Homma and “John” of Central Park Media
[Thanks UncleChuckTH for the transcription!]

CPM: Today I’d like to introduce the director of Urusei Yatsura – Beautiful Dreamer: Mr. Mamoru Oshii, who will be answering our questions.
Oshii: Yes, hello. I’m Oshii.

CPM: This anime, Urusei Yatsura, or Beautiful Dreamer, was created around 1984; that’s almost 20 years ago. Does seeing the opening scene make you feel nostalgic? 
Oshii: Well…after 20 years, the animation seems to be from a completely different world. The style feels a little old.

CPM: This is an original script you wrote. Did you ever consult with the creator, Rumiko Takahashi?
Oshii: Not really, no. No discussions.

CPM: So when you finished it, you must have said something like, “Here you go.”
Oshii: A lot of things happened before completion. I wasn’t originally the director for the first Urusei Yatsura movie; there was someone before me who ended up quitting, and I was a sort of pinch hitter. I rushed the job, too: it was all done in about four or five months. Naturally, it was really rough work. The fans liked it, but for me, it wasn’t my best work. For movie two, we had problems with the script for half a year. There was someone writing the script before me, but that version was scrapped. By then the deadline was getting closer, so I decided to write it. That’s pretty much what happened.

CPM: Being pushed for time, did you jump straight to the storyboards?

Oshii: More like memos. I wrote up a plot, and from there, the storyboards took off on their own. All this took…about a month.

CPM: You also directed the television series before you began production on this film, so you had about 100 episodes’ worth of experience. How was working on the movie different from working with TV?
Oshii: Well, the biggest difference is that the school the main characters go to, Tomobiki High School, is the main setting for the movie. In the original story, there were lots of weird aliens and monsters, and in Beautiful Dreamer, there are only students. My goal was to create an everyday setting, in which the cast doesn’t go into outer space or some other strange world. The film doesn’t rely on aliens to drive it, and instead it’s set during a school festival. Ultimately my aim was to create a world using only the high school characters.

CPM: There are a lot of characters that appear in the opening. Do they have back-stories?
Oshii: Animators love to draw different things, like their favorite manga characters, and they often did so when working on the series. We would end up with a whole range of people in the background, but the risks there are the copyright infringement possibilities, which are plain scary. If we weren’t careful, we’d get all sorts of absurd characters popping up all over the place - for example, sometimes, among the high school students, we would accidentally have a celebrity mixed in. This movie is the only one made by Toho Co, Ltd., and because of that, we intentionally limited the background costumes and monsters to those from media released by Toho. Interestingly enough, Toho actually told us to go nuts and to put lots of Toho costumes and aliens into the movie.

CPM: Is that why, later, we see Godzilla make an appearance, when the main characters are watching the (Godzilla) movie?
Oshii: Right! The Toho P.R. people were thrilled. There weren’t too many videos during that time, so for that scene the animator had to draw that segment from Godzilla almost entirely from memory. They even drew in the static, and tried to replicate the old scratched up film, so they put a lot of effort into it.

CPM: Most Americans, when they see Beautiful Dreamer’s opening, will probably notice the German Swastika appear. Is there any particular reason for that?
Oshii: Well, Germans and Nazis had appeared since the creation of the TV series. There were some big military fans on the staff, and I was into it, too. We started by putting in military vehicles and old tanks. Pictured in the beginning is a standard German army tank called the Leopard, which is a good example of what most tanks look like. We started including more vehicles like the Leopard, and before we knew it, they had become sort of a trademark of the series.
I liked the older models, so I sought to include more of them. However, when working on the TV series, there were a lot of arguments. Production kept yelling at me, asking, “Why the hell are you putting in tanks, fighters, and the German army?!” I often got called to the producer for a lecture. He never took anything out, of course, and the fans even seemed to like it. After these sorts of inclusions became the norm, the series seemed to become a unique world unto itself. There weren’t many military vehicles in the original story, so it was a component that was definitely limited to the anime setting. In the end, it came down to me wanting to do it.

CPM: I understand that you actually enjoy shooting as a hobby. When did you start? It isn’t a common hobby for someone in Japan.
Oshii: Well, you can’t shoot much in Japan, but I come to America frequently on business. I always liked firearms, so when I’m away I spend some of my time practicing. I think it’s been 12 or 13 years since I first held one. It’s one of my few hobbies, though I do say, not being able to shoot is one of Japan’s finer points.

CPM: Only target shooting?

Oshii: Yes, only targets. I don’t like to hunt; I don’t like to kill animals. Around the time of this film, I still enjoyed it, but I was too busy. Not only did I not shoot, but I also didn’t take a single vacation the entire time, which amounted to 4 or 5 years. I spent most of my time at the studio, and for the film’s beginning I chose a school festival, mostly because the school was similar to the world within the anime studio.

CPM: Like a school festival?
Oshii: Yes, it’s a lot like preparing for a school festival, as a TV series requires an episode per week, and each has to get done by a certain time. We ended up pulling all-nighters on half the scenes, and we had a young staff. They were in their teens or 20’s, so it felt like we were doing a long school festival preparation, and when we finally looked up from it, 2 or 3 years had passed.
So I wanted that feeling, that kind of atmosphere. We were all exhausted, so the characters have that same tired look to them. We were probably at the peak of our exhaustion then, so instead of starting the film off with a typically crazy situation, I wanted to build our story in a scene where our characters boil water for tea in the wee hours of the morning. That scene is one of my favorites; I enjoy how the girls talk to each other, and I knew it was where I wanted to begin building the story. The Urusei Yatsura that I was working on before producing that piece was created in a very different way. It had different tendencies.

CPM: Yuji Moriyama was in your production staff, and he is a favorite among American fans. How did you get your team together?
Oshii: We started with talented people from the television series, but we also had people who were only then beginning their careers with Urusei Yatsura. We had all sorts of people. Basically, to make a movie, you have to have a diverse crew with different experiences. That way you can do what you normally can’t, and you’re allowed to think big and do the things you’d usually hold back on. The crew was still really passionate, so when I told them about the movie, they all jumped at the chance. Finding staff for the movie wasn’t at all difficult.

CPM: How many of the TV series staff were actually involved in this?
Oshii: About half, I think. For example, Moriyama and Yamashita were two of the key animators from the series (Oshii is most likely referring to Kazuo Yamazaki when he says “Yamashita”). But obviously that’s not enough people. We did have veterans, but the animators were the ones that pulled them together, so I think they really worked well as a team.

CPM: You must have grown attached to the characters you directed every week. In that sense, how does the character development here compare with other movies, or even other movies you’ve directed?

Oshii: Well, I think that the (Urusei Yatsura) movies are completely different from the series. Being with the same characters in a series for 50 or 60 episodes, or even as long as 200 episodes, definitely connects you to them. In the case of a series, you grow old and mature with the characters, whereas movies are 90 or 100 minutes, and even first timers have to be able to enjoy them. The focus points are different. Characters are, of course, important, but in movies, your focus is more on what kind of society and what kinds of central themes you want to portray. They have to look to the future and conclude certain things: I think that’s an absolute condition for movies. In film, especially, you have to make it clear what you’re trying to say or express; you can’t deal solely in volume or scale. ……The first movie was like a long TV episode.

CPM: You mean the first Urusei Yatsura movie, Only You?
Oshii: Right, like Only You.

CPM: You also directed that one, correct?
Oshii: Yes, yes, I did. Reflecting back on it, I was quite disappointed with the whole thing…

CPM: Disappointed?
Oshii: Yes, because you could hardly call it a movie. It didn’t feel like one.

CPM: Just a longer TV episode.

Oshii: Like a longer version. The characters were the same, and so were their personalities: all their traits. Even the setting was the same. The only change was that a lot of new and different characters were introduced, and the fans seemed to enjoy that. But instead of a real movie, it was a fan movie, an event movie, I suppose. Consequently, I treated the sequel like a real movie, independent from the other one, and I changed how I filmed and how I did everything. If you look at it closely, you can tell. The characters look different, because we revamped their designs for that very purpose; they were subtle changes for telling our story. Their costumes are different, and we even created certain parts of the school from scratch. But the main difference, as I said at the beginning, is that the movie begins with the characters’ ordinary high school lives, and progresses from there. It continually gets stranger, and that’s how the drama develops. So it’s not a world in which someone or something suddenly appears, but in which something has already begun. The action doesn’t start after the movie begins, but rather, the action occurred long before, and as they go along, the characters start to realize it. That’s the kind of chronology, or composition, that I wanted for this film. Otherwise, the audience doesn’t feel time progressing, which I think is a critical part of the film. By the time the cast begins to realize something’s gone awry, they’ve already repeated the same day an unknown number of times, and that’s the movie’s pattern. It’s my favorite method; though here in Beautiful Dreamer would be the first time I ever did it.

CPM: Speaking of repeating days, about nine years after this film was released, Bill Murray released a film, Groundhog Day, which did very well. What do you think? Did Bill steal the idea from your movie?
Oshii: Waking up constantly to the same day, or the same morning, or feeling like you’ve said the exact same words for the last couple of days, that kind of déjà vu is very common. There have been many movies and many novels written on that same subject, and this is one take on it. As I mentioned earlier, many of us were extremely tired when we were making this anime. When you get tired, the feeling of déjà vu becomes much more prominent. As work on the film wore on, we kept wondering if this story hadn’t already been told in the series. We felt as though we had done this scenario two or three times before (in fact, they had; see episode 78). We began doubting our own memory, and it was a useful kind of doubt, which we included as a sort of hint. The characters all represent the staff in some way, myself included. We live our lives without questions, and yet we seem to be doing the same things we have done before. When you spend 3 years in the same place, without taking a single step out, you start to wonder if something else is going on out there, that there’s really something outside of the small world you’re situated in. So we made that the movie’s theme.
It started coming together then. There weren’t as many doubts, I guess. Even strange plot twists like this seemed to come naturally. In that sense, it was easier for us. The characters kept disappearing, and that built suspense. It’s a basic trick – starting to take characters out by making them disappear. It meant the studio work was easier. The schedule and the budget were both tight for this movie, and we did it in half a year, so there wasn’t much time to mess around. We started the movie off with a mob scene and preparations for the festival, but after that, characters slowly start to disappear. That’s the kind of ominous setting we wanted to play with.

CPM: This movie takes place inside of a dream. In Ghost in the Shell, a world was created within the computer. Are there any similarities between the two?
Oshii: There probably are, sure. Since I was a kid, I felt the reality I was living in didn’t hold any kind of absolutes, so I always wondered if there was an outside world. Maybe there was another world close by, and the world we lived in was all a farce, where people only acted a certain way. I’ve been feeling this way since I was a little kid, so when I was writing a story, it seemed natural that it would creep into the plot. This isn’t the first time I did it in the series, because I did try it a few times before, but this was the first time I decided to make that the theme of a movie. In that sense, it was kind of an adventure. If I’d told my producers that this is what I wanted to do from the start, they probably would have said no. Like I said before, though, the original script was a wash, so we were pressed for time. They ended up giving us carte blanche.

CPM: As long as it gets done. (laughter)
Oshii: Since we had the general idea already, Toho told us to do whatever we wanted, just so long as we got it done. Looking back, we cut it close, but it was necessary for the movie to have progressed the way I wanted it to. It was definitely close; a little more and it would have been too late.

CPM: You barely made it.
Oshii: Just barely, yes. I was prepared for the worst. It’s a strange piece, and animated films weren’t as popular back then. I was ready never to work in movies again. I was definitely nervous for the duration, but I thought, “what the heck,” and did it anyway. It was mostly due to my bad feelings associated with the first movie, and so I wanted to make the second one succeed by making it like an actual movie. By that reasoning, this film became my revenge.
I was definitely nervous, though. I wondered if anyone would come to see it. Movie creators always ask that. “Will people actually come to see this?” Will anyone find this entertaining? When it opened in theaters, there was no movie I was more worried about than this one. But it did well, which wasn’t so good either.

CPM: In other words?

Oshii: I got cocky. I thought I could do whatever and write whatever I wanted, no matter how weird, and it went to my head. I was so amused that, after this, I made another movie that was a little out there. It was easily rejected, and I lost a job. But I don’t believe that Beautiful Dreamer ruined my career or anything like that.
I liked Onsen-Mark, the high school teacher. When I was making the movie, I knew I wanted him in it. I guess he’s the closest thing to a director in this film. The animation director essentially oversees his noisy “students,” who are selfish, disorganized, and always complaining, and he tries to bring these animators together, like a high school teacher. Actually, I also am certified to be a teacher.

CPM: Really?

Oshii: Well, to teach grade school, anyway.

CPM: Do you have any teaching experience?
Oshii: Yes, I do, although only as an intern; I’ve never actually taught. I maintain that making anime production people work together is similar to being a teacher, like Onsen-Mark. For example, I felt the same way he does in the film - dead tired. This teacher had forgotten the last time he had gone home, and I had gotten to thinking the same thing in the studio, wondering when I had been home last. I basically copied how I felt into the characters.
The same connection exists with the train the characters ride to get home. I’ve gone on many late-night train rides. No one gets on, and I always wonder where the train will stop. These are the delusions that are common late at night, like when you’re riding the bus. You’ve ridden on it many times before, but you feel like you don’t know where you’re going. Especially when it’s raining, you start to wonder if this is really your town. It can get pretty scary. Humans tend to put distance between themselves and their everyday lives. When they’re tired, they tend to feel that way.

CPM: An unreality within our reality.
Oshii: Right, like “Where am I?” “What was I doing?” It’s the same road I always take home, but today, I seem to hit a dead end. So I tried to use this element to help build the suspense. It’s not action-based. No fighting, but rather an eerie suspense, and I wanted to see how much I could capture the audience’s attention with it, even though it was hard. That’s what made me nervous. So each cut wasn’t pointing out the concrete, but it also had to include the things that were not shown at the surface. Even a scene like this one, where the train is moving, has to have an element of suspense to it. That’s how we had to present it. It was definitely difficult, but I became more confident in creating pieces in this style. It’s something you don’t do every day, especially in animation, you don’t use that style very much. So it was a lot of fun!
The train station is like the station where I got on the train to go to work. So it’s mostly places that I know.

CPM: Why did you end up choosing this station?
Oshii: It’s the Seibu Shinjuku Line. I used to take that train back then. And this is an old style school building as well. We drew it in the old style. Basically I created this setting, this world, around my memories and recollections of the past. Another thing I wanted to play with was phone interactions. What’s going on at the other end? I sometimes started wondering. Basically, I don’t like phones, and I don’t have a cellular to this day. I’d always wonder if a person was really on the other side. It expands on the illusion - what’s really connected to the other side? We don’t normally question things we use every day, like phones, buses, and trains, so when we start to we build suspense. There’s a lot of that in here. The Blue Turtle Taxi is an example, too. When you get into a taxi late at night to go home, you wonder if you’re going to end up someplace completely different. You can almost never see the face of the driver.

CPM: Only the back of their head.
Oshii: You start to wonder about them. I enjoyed thinking about that sort of fear. It’s scary, but also fun, fun that gives you chills and excitement. I wondered if it wasn’t possible to use this scariness to entertain. Entertainment allows you to feel excited and scared, and it makes you laugh and cry. It also delves into fear of the unknown. All of it becomes a part of entertainment, and that’s what I thought about here. I wanted to try it out. Animation was a world of very basic emotions, so I wanted to try and give those feelings more depth, with fear, anxiety, and afterwards, a feeling of relief. I knew this would lead to a broader form of entertainment, since it lets the audience feel a wide variety of emotions. Of course, I wasn’t sure if it would come across well until I did it. Until then, I was nervous as to whether people would get the message.

CPM: After the show opened, were there some audience reactions that truly seemed to come across to you?
Oshii: There were a lot of people who didn’t understand it. But a lot of them also found it fun, and at the same time, scary. A lot of people felt nostalgic about preparing for school festivals, and there seemed to be many people who felt the illusion of being alone in a silent town, where everyone had disappeared. That was conveyed successfully. Many young people also had a desire to live in that world, and see what it was like in that kind of post-apocalyptic setting. That strange fantasy was around when I went to high school, too - the idea that when you woke up, nobody would be around, and when you got to school, there’d be no one there either. It was only a delusion of course, but without that delusion life was too boring. I knew there would be people who’d enjoy that in the film. Of course, once it opened, I realized that there were a lot more of those people than I thought. I guess to those people, that world is somewhat comfortable.

CPM: You said there were people who didn’t understand the movie on their first viewing. Do you think some of them went back 2 or 3 times just so they could understand it all?
Oshii: I think there were, but there were also manga fans, series fans, and fans of the first movie who weren’t satisfied. The main character, Lum, and all of her alien friends don’t really show up much in this movie. This film focused more on Lum’s classmates, so this was more for the people who were fans of both the original story and series, but wanted to see something a little different. Some actually thought there should be a film like Beautiful Dreamer out there, but it did end up alienating some of the people who hadn’t seen the series. Others said that they understood the dramatic parts of it, but that there were a lot of meaningless cuts. But that’s what I intended.

CPM: Intentionally?
Oshii: Right. Ten’s pet pig, for instance, has a copyright logo on it.

CPM: What exactly does that mean? (laughter)
Oshii: Well, it was meant as a joke. We live in a world of copyrights.

CPM: I laughed the first time I saw this movie, because it’s a Toho production, and they are notoriously strict with their copyrights. When I saw it, I thought, “Toho really thought ahead on this one!” (laughter)
Oshii: All the characters should have a copyright logo! That pig’s not the only one who’s wearing that mark on their butt. I wanted to do it with everyone, but I knew I’d get yelled at if I did it too much. I wanted to show viewers the power of that mark. It’s on the pig now, but later, that pig swallows up the entire town. So it’s a warning to never underestimate the mark. Copyrights are scary!

CPM: So it wasn’t a parody of how to market merchandising goods?

Oshii: No, that wasn’t the intent. I guess Americans don’t know what “baku” is. Is there something similar over there?

CPM: I’ve never heard of a Western creature that eats dreams, except maybe in Greek or perhaps Roman mythology, but nothing in the modern age. But I haven’t studied it, so I don’t really know.
Oshii: Well, the Baku is what helps us end the film. Without it, the film would never end, it would just keep repeating.

CPM: Is Baku a Japanese myth?
Oshii: I think it originally came from China.

CPM: But most Japanese would know about it?

Oshii: Well, it’s possible that some younger people might not know about it.

CPM: They say that youngsters these days don’t know anything. (laughter)
Oshii: I like the alleyway scene (with Shinobu); I’ve always liked alleys. In that particular one there are “furin,” or wind chimes.

CPM: They seem to be floating on their own. Very mysterious.
Oshii: I find alleys and wind chimes strangely appealing. I showed alleyways in other series like Patlabor, and in other movies. When we were filming Kerberos in the alleys of Taiwan, it was fun, but they’re like a maze. We didn’t know where we’d come out. It’s a common idea, but within those places there could be an entrance to another world. When I was a kid, alleys were fun, but also scary. They still remind me of mazes and dungeons, and I like that.
At the end of that scene, there’s a boy standing by the window – everyone was asking me who that boy was.

CPM: So who is it?
Oshii: It’s an outsider looking in. Basically, it’s me, the director.

CPM: It’s the viewer, one’s self.
Oshii: That was my intent. He seems to resemble Ataru.

CPM: That’s who I thought it was.
Oshii: There were a lot of people who said that. I probably should have made him look a little more different.

CPM: His hair color is a little different…

Oshii: It could be that the animator or colorist thought it was Ataru as well. But the guy is someone outside of it all. I like the idea of briefly showing someone removed from the situation.
I don’t mind doing a little bit of craziness every now and then. There’s also a little bit of service for the fans. As I said, I really love the Leopard tank, and putting it into various situations, like in a classroom, or in a pool, is my imagination running free.

CPM: The tank was inside the school previously, and then it gets put in the pool. How did it move? Or am I thinking too logically?
Oshii: Someone must have moved it. I wanted to make it clear as the story went on, but from the middle of the story, it became okay for people not to understand why it happened. Movies don’t always have to be analyzed, and you can figure things out when you put all the pieces together. It’s more important that you fully experience the emotions that this brings out. So I stopped answering these kinds of questions when we were about halfway through the movie. Some people find it important that the story makes sense, or that the movie plays smoothly. So I guess there will always be complaints from those people. Movies, especially recent American ones, have a tendency to answer all the questions before moving on. Sometimes it’s good to leave a few questions unanswered so that there’s some suspense, so people can look back and say, “Oh, that’s why.” Giving everything away feels like a waste. You can express so much more. There are different ways to construct it, different ways to tell it. That’s what makes it interesting. So if the moviegoers know everything, then it’s only going to be boring for them. I like not knowing, and I think it’s fun to figure out how it ends when you actually get there. You can always see it again. A “well-made” movie is easy to understand. Most movies in Japan and America are like that. The scale is big, and there’s a big-budget, but the story is very simple. You find out how the characters think, and how they’ll act. If you ask 100 people, around 95% of them will tell you they’ve seen something similar. I think it’d be more fun if 100 people saw the movie in 100 different ways. To each individual, it was his or her own movie. To them, the movie was a certain way. But if you ask a stranger their opinion, they may disagree with you and bring up some good points. I think that’s where you’ll see how that person’s experiences and knowledge will influence their perception of the film. The movies are a place where you can test all that, and it should be nurtured. That’s what makes movies fun.
When I was in Hollywood, someone told me that if I don’t make the movies for the 95 of 100 people, then I’d never succeed in Hollywood. So I thought, alright, I won’t make it in Hollywood. That’s how it is.

CPM: I think it is confusing, with how many people there are, the effects of the mirrors. I can’t really tell what’s going on in the nighttime school scene.
Oshii: That is one of the scenes I enjoyed doing most. I had wanted to try using visual tricks. There are some classic mechanisms in there that have been used for years. We can do them because it’s pictures; it’s animation. If we tried it in real life, or in 3D, it would end up failing. You can only get the true fun of it through animation. I wanted to use all sorts of tricks. The only thing was, it was kind of tough. I think the animator definitely had a difficult time with this.
CPM: The scene makes you think, “Wait, what just happened?”
Oshii: It’s what happens when you step between the mirrors. Ataru runs in circles. The ceiling and the floor are also flipping around. It’s the same old crazy antics, but the setting is objective, so it comes across well. We don’t have a steady setting with the characters running around. Instead, the setting is changing, and the characters can’t keep up with it. Here, Mendou falls off the stairs because he hesitates before completing his ascent. I wanted to combine these kinds of illusions with the action, and for me, that was quite fun. The animator probably had it rough.
I think they forgot how to connect each scene as they finished them. We got complaints about the schoolhouse because the building had a different amount of floors in a few scenes. Sometimes 2, 3, 4 stories. It’s probably because I couldn’t remember how many floors my school had, so it changed according to the mood. Everything is a part of memory, so each time you revisit something new details will appear. It’s never the same world you lived in, because depending on your feelings or mood, your memories will be slightly different. That’s how I feel. As I think about it, I get closer to the reality that actually transpired. A lot of people said they didn’t get that. How much of it is trickery, and how much is expression? Or maybe it’s a metaphor. Many of them probably couldn’t tell. That’s why I didn’t make any distinctions. Because of that, working on this was a real treat.
Some people commented on the clock in the film, too. “Where are the hands?” they’d say.

CPM: What’s the reason for the missing hands?
Oshii: It’s a world without time, so naturally the clock doesn’t need hands. That’s the purpose of the symbolism. I made sure that there was an “Out of Order” sign from the very beginning, so no one could see what was behind it. Before they realized it, they were in a world without time, or at least a continuous loop.
The soba shop is another one of my grand delusions. I love those kind of cheap joints, the kind of places Americans would call “Fast Food.” Standing-only soba shops. I always thought those kinds of places were hiding something, like a hidden helicopter under the restaurant. All my delusions like this one from life became scenario, which was very fun for me. I wasn’t sure if the patrons would find it as amusing as I did, but I figured that they would.
And we also have a Harrier jet, another one of my favorite fighting devices. I always wanted to fly one, just once. The city pictured in the aerial view is Kichijouji, a town I’ve been to many times.

CPM: So you didn’t have to go location hunting, did you?
Oshii: No, I didn’t. This is the world we all live in, so there was no need for research. There wasn’t time for it, either. This scene surprised a lot of people, even though they seemed to enjoy it. It’s pretty simple, though. Loading 7 or 8 people into a one-man fighter is a humble desire. This part of the movie had quite an impact.

CPM: Most Japanese people know about the turtle from the Urashima Taro myth, don’t they?
Oshii: Yes, most people know Urashima Taro.

CPM: He’s like a Japanese Rip Van Winkle.
Oshii: Precisely. The giant floating turtle was drawn up so that people familiar with the myth would realize its significance, although I wasn’t entirely sure they would immediately link it to Urashima Taro. There’s an Indian legend that the world rests on the back of a turtle. This portrayal was meant to implicate the world as a whole, as well. Having mentioned Urashima Taro a couple of times earlier within the movie, I expected most people to understand the connection by this point.

CPM: Do you do research to design elaborate scenes such as this one, including technical details, such as the dials on the dash of the plane?
Oshii: Usually, yes, because I’m so fond of them. When this was made, this kind of detail wasn’t a common practice. A limited number of animators would research existing fighting machines, and learn to draw them. Today you see them all the time, but in those days, they were hard to come by. It was a difficult undertaking.
I always wanted to land a harrier on my lawn. Or rather, I wanted to come back from school in some kind of military machine. (laughs) We were really on a roll in this film. My delusions were just spilling out, and it was too much fun to write.
After the characters see their world from the outside, the film’s tempo changes. Following a series of small mistruths, a much larger deception is revealed.
I like the convenience store setting. I always liked those kinds of stores. I used to fantasize about being able to help myself to all the food. In most stores you can’t simply take the food you want. But people enjoyed that scene as well, so this must be a popular sentiment. Either way, they still write an IOU.

CPM: The section of the film where Ataru, Lum and Co. are the only ones remaining has a certain Twilight Zone feel to it.

Oshii: It certainly does. From there it turns into a summer vacation, and that causes the plot to slow down a little. It’s a picnic of sorts, and because everyone in the town has disappeared the summer goes on indefinitely. It’s much like the way that streets appear empty on New Years’. When you notice that nobody’s out and about you wonder, wouldn’t it be great if this went on forever? A lot of people enjoyed this idea. Since the medium here is anime, the story mostly applies to middle school and high school students. Giving shape to young people’s fantasies, wishes, desires; that’s really part of our job.
It’s the same as wanting to fly in a huge spaceship, or to pilot a robot. Those are wishes young people have, and satisfying them is animation’s core objective. Once that is achieved, the next challenge is figuring out how to turn the work into an actual piece. When you put those two components together, you end up with the kind of work we do. You can’t focus only on one side of it. Even if you create an amazing film, without giving people a chance to satisfy their hopes and desires, they won’t come. On the other hand, when we make movies filled with nothing but fantasies, we the creators end up hating it. You have to create something cohesive while satisfying your audience. Those two goals are what moviemaking is all about.
Of course, I didn’t realize that until after I finished this piece…(laughter)
I figured out that I needed both elements when I was working on Patlabor. At that time I was still too self-absorbed. I figured that if I thought it was funny, everyone would like it. But I had no sound reason for believing that, so the movie became based solely upon my own desires. That was all I wanted to do. I simply couldn’t force myself to write according to fans’ wishes. I had to include a little bit of myself.
If everything in Tomobiki was abandoned, the school could become a lake, and it would be easy to roller skate through the middle of town. I used to think about these kinds of things. Working this way was a means of making those dreams come true. That’s the gist of it.
It was kind of amazing to find that a lot of people thought the same way I did.

CPM: Did it make you happy?
Oshii: It made me very happy. If you have a funny or appealing idea all you have to do is express it well, and people will be satisfied. Eventually I learned to think that way with confidence. My ability to create was already there, so I didn’t try to change things needlessly. I came to understand that if I didn’t enjoy what I was working on it wouldn’t be a movie, and that it wouldn’t make my audience happy.
The Godzilla scene was made with that in mind. I enjoyed showing an apocalyptic monster movie being screened inside a ruined movie theater. Theaters are all indoors now, but in my day we would watch films at the school playground or set up screens in the fields. Back then when the summer rolled around they had outdoor screenings. A lot of people these days might not be able to imagine that, but we did use to watch movies on the playground. We’d watch and eat watermelon. We got mosquito bites, though.
I gradually picked out my favorite wishes and fantasies here, so I never got any kind of writer’s block.

CPM: The ideas kept coming?

Oshii: They did. For example, Ataru’s mother rinses the spaghetti in the washing machine, and tries to make fried rice for 12 people at once. Furthermore, they all live in one house, a huge group of friends. The ideas were stupid things like that. They may be simple, but that’s what’s important. The creator must enjoy doing it, especially when it’s a fun movie.
However, it was no excuse to do whatever I wanted. I may have gotten too confident about that!

CPM: You had a lot of fun with your production staff back then. After the movie was over did you continue to work together?

Oshii: Well, I think that when we did Beautiful Dreamer our relationship was definitely at its best. The friendship was very strong. They didn’t know what I was trying to do half the time, but we seemed to be in sync with regards to writing and drawing. It worked especially well with the planes, tanks, and cute things. We seemed to understand each other. All I had to say was, “let’s do something fun,” or “let’s do something different.” On that account, I think we were all blessed. Everyone was young, including me. I was about 30, maybe a little older.
Afterwards Moriyama and everyone started creating on their own. We slowly started to drift apart. People started to do what they wanted to do by writing scripts or perhaps directing. Beautiful Dreamer was the last piece I did with the staff I’d been working with for years. It was sort of like our final school festival, but at the time we didn’t think of it that way. We supposed we might work together again, but ultimately we never did.
That’s one of the interesting parts of this world. People get thrown together to accomplish a goal, knowing full well that the experience will be fleeting. Then someone new comes along, and the process repeats. We call this “Ichigo Ichie.” Is there an English translation for that phrase?

CPM: “One chance, one encounter.” Take advantage of every opportunity you’re given. As in you won’t get another chance.
Oshii: Right. At any given time, the people who surround you are the best ones who could possibly be there. You have to think that way or you won’t get along. Looking back, I really think the staff did an excellent job. Considering how strange the storyline is, they probably said something along the lines of, “this is going to be a movie?” And I wouldn’t have blamed them for that. It was the ideal time. Being at the studio and getting into arguments was quite fun. It’s not that way anymore.

CPM: Nobody in production probably thought that in 20 years there would be an anniversary version released in the US or Europe. When you produce something, do you think of the future?
Oshii: With this film, we didn’t really think about anything; we only thought about what was in front of us. I mean, at the time I was still wondering if I would ever work again. After all this time, seeing the film released on DVD, living on, is odd. I never was very confident that it would get this far. I mostly wondered what I would do next. I only wanted to do fun things, so I didn’t dwell too much. I wanted to finish the film and move on to the next thing, so I didn’t consider what would happen to the piece we created.

CPM: However, 20 years later it still feels fresh.

Oshii: It is strangely fun, but it feels a bit inexperienced. As you get older, the good and the bad both become more refined. I’m thinking particularly about the layout, timing, and structure. Those tend to naturally get better with experience and study. Everything gets better without the useless add-ons, too. Over time, all the unfocused energy tends to dissipate. If I did this today, I could probably express myself better, but it wouldn’t be as fun. It was a young person’s job, made through sheer momentum. It’s hard to make movies like that today. Everyone I worked with feels the same way.

CPM: How big was your production budget for Beautiful Dreamer?
Oshii: It was low, as I recall. Probably 80 million yen, or around $800,000. Movies often ran that amount back then. I think it was standard. At the theater they put a mask on it and played it Vista size, but on film it is actually standard size. We made the layout so the picture quality would be good even in Vista size. People in the business call it “binbo vista” (poor vista). In the past animation was always made in standard size (not sure where he’s getting this from, as it’s not true). I think it was after this that people started making animated films in Vista size.

CPM: You probably wouldn’t be able to make a movie on a budget of 80 million yen today. When working with more money, what kinds of things begin to change?
Oshii: Well, there’s a higher risk in recouping the money. There’s a lot of pressure to do that, and the director faces more challenges. When, for example, a 007 movie is made, it has to cater to everyone’s needs. Personally I think that whether it’s a small movie or a big-budget movie, you have to treat them the same. That’s the ideal situation. The movie I’m working on now has a pretty big budget, but in terms of feeling I want to create something completely new. I want to be adventurous. If you don’t think that way, your movie probably won’t be any fun. It’s difficult to be sure, and as the staff increases the director takes on more chores.

CPM: Are the limitations of your decisions altered?
Oshii: Yes, they are. A director’s job isn’t simply putting the film together—they also have to mediate arguments between animators and help with advertising and PR. It can be a hassle. I like to do low-budget films, and because of that I often get to do whatever I want. Ideally, I’d like to get paid a lot to do that. But if you get lots of money the investors get excited and start looking to make a profit off you. They try to sell millions of videos across the world, and I think it’s okay. If the investor has a lot of ambition the movie will be more interesting. To match that, the director has to satisfy a much greater need. If it escalates beyond its limits it’s bound to fail. Because of that directors are often a bit paranoid. This is even true of directors like Coppola and Lucas. It’s not the scale of the movie that increases, but the scale of the devices used. At a certain point, the devices become more important than the content. The story becomes irrelevant, which means directors become less necessary. That’s a scary thought. I think that on occasion directors get stuck in a bind and become overly sure of themselves. I know I do that. I’ve seen a lot of movies suffer from operating at a massive scale, especially in Hollywood. They make a hit movie, and then part 2, part 3, and 4. The devices they use continually get more grandiose, but the story remains dull.
The line between the world’s reality and the one being created often gets blurred. Coppola did that in Apocalypse Now. It was a great movie partially because it made it unclear whether it was about war, or portrayed an actual war taking place. Beautiful Dreamer was similar, because what I wanted to do blended with what I wanted to say. There’s a lot of fun in merging those distinctions.

CPM: Did you ever think of the foreign market?
Oshii: There was no need to, so no. There wasn’t much of a video industry, and I remember somebody telling me that laserdiscs came out shortly after this film. Back then movies were still made to be shown in theaters, so we never gave much thought to that.

CPM: When you produce films now you have the backing of big studios, even ones in Hollywood. How is it different?
Oshii: Well, when you finish a film in America and Europe, it goes straight to the screen. During production, you might have to negotiate with the distributor. But that doesn’t change the film in any way. If you compromise it turns boring. There was a lot of foreign money tied up in Ghost in the Shell, but I could only use my usual method. I didn’t think about it that much.
Japanese animation is fundamentally different from Western animation, and therein I think lies the appeal. It’s neither Disney nor Hanna-Barbera, and it’s not artistic like European animation. It gives shape to people’s unconscious wishes. Giving people a little bit of what they want is a fundamental quality of Japanese anime. If you get rid of that you lose something very basic, and no one will enjoy it. I’ve had my movies open across the seas over the past several years, and people always ask me, “what’s changed?” And I answer, “nothing.” There’s no way to change the formula.
Real movies have their own differences. I’ve shot live-action all over the place. Recently I shot in Poland. I find that location and audience tend to affect films. With animation there’s no way to enact those kinds of changes.

CPM: The big debate in the field right now is 2D versus 3D. Up until now, there have been many 2D cel anime, the most popular ones being Akira and Ghost in the Shell. What do you think of films becoming completely 3D and computer generated?
Oshii: I don’t think Japanese animation will ever become entirely 3D. I don’t know about 30 or 40 years from now, but I think that it won’t change for awhile, and that it shouldn’t change. Our characters are uniquely Japanese. The character designs, I feel, fully realize the audience’s desires. That makes expression extremely important. That has evolved in a very specific way in Japan. However in five years, all the 3D technology of today is going to look old. That will happen because 3D is objective. 2D on the other hand allows you to create something exactly the way you imagined it. It can be aesthetically strange, so long as it gives shape to your desires. 3D can’t do that, because it’s hard enough just to objectively come up with a straight expression.
However, mechanics and settings are naturally objective, and can definitely be done well in 3D. I use that technique in my films today. The characters, however, need to stay in the 2D world. In terms of expression 2D characters are far better than 3D ones. There’s still room for improvement, and I doubt it will change for awhile.
It might have made things more dramatic to render the town’s destruction in 3D. But the scene was very difficult to do; the animators nearly died. It feels a little forced, but not entirely. I think it’s quite difficult to entrust one’s thoughts to a girl character, to tie emotions to innocence. But doing this through pictures is a great way to understand. I have never seen a 3D character that conveys emotion to the audience. They always look like dolls. What results is a puppet anime. Eventually there will be 3D characters that fully realize the viewer’s hopes and desires, but I don’t think that time has come. A generation will have to grow up with the technology first. The kids processing CG right now might be able to create great things 20 years from now.
I probably won’t be working then. That’s probably for the best. I don’t draw, and I know I can’t draw. I’m only a director, so I can see that kind of thing more clearly. If you ask me what goes into creating movies, I’ll tell you it’s giving shape to your desires. Animation is a medium that communicates that clearly and honestly. I think that’s why people from America and Europe enjoyed Beautiful Dreamer, why it had an impact. If that value doesn’t come across, then characters with huge eyes or unusually large breasts might appear grotesque. If you made them into 3D, they’d be nothing but monsters. I think that’s what expression is in animation.
You can take a lot of techniques from live-action, too.

CPM: What was Rumiko Takahashi’s reaction?
Oshii: She’s actually in one of the crowd scenes. I remember we did a slide presentation for the movie at one point, and the series creator arrived. After it was done we said let’s have a meeting to discuss the good and bad. I asked her if it was okay, but she didn’t have much to say. She did say one thing, but our thoughts differed. That more or less meant that this project was separate from her. I think she liked the first film better. But you know, if you take the original story as is, it’s not really a movie. Manga and movies are two separate worlds, so when making a movie you can’t avoid fighting the creator. To tell the truth, I only met Takahashi three or four times. When we met we only ever said a couple of words. We seemed to frustrate each other.

CPM: Both of you?
Oshii: More from her end. I didn’t think much of it. I suppose the original story of Urusei Yatsura is based on women’s desires. When I read it I thought it was a woman’s world, and when I was adapting the series I based it on a man’s wishes, because I can’t think any other way. I guess she didn’t like that.
Women are flowers from the time they date a man to marriage. If they marry, they become mere wives, but before a woman gets married she’s taken care of and treated like a queen. It’s probably the best time for a woman, from courtship to marriage. They don’t want to make a decision; they want to stay in power. At most they’ll tell you maybe. Men are simpler and just want everything for themselves. If they marry it’s only a bonus. Men and women are completely different creatures. Their wishes and desires are utterly different. I don’t think they’ll ever sync up.
Directors are 98% male, so most movies are made for men. The way typical directors use actresses in their movies and the way female directors use male actors are completely different. Which kind of movie is more universal? Unfortunately, movies have become a world of men, mostly. What women can enjoy in such a world is another story.
I made this movie according to male logic, and I am aware of that. I respect and admire women, but that’s different. I still find that they remain a mystery to me, and I think ultimately it’s better that way. I don’t think that women should be silent, but if men don’t think of them as different they’ll never find common ground. I’m going to get yelled at by some old feminist, I know. Being born as a boy or a girl in part defines who you are. For me, it’s simply easier to live with my dog. Nonetheless women are important to me, and I wanted to show that in the film, particularly towards the end. The little girl character may appear insignificant, but she’s a symbol of women worldwide. That was my intent.

CPM: The girl is a motif?
Oshii: A symbol, yeah. She asks Ataru to take the responsibility of treating her well. There was a lot of argument about that part. Everyone wanted to know what I meant by “taking responsibility.”
CPM: Isn’t she Lum?
Oshii: Well she could be Lum, but at the same time she’s the symbol of female logic. The idea was that reality and dreams were unimportant so long as the happiness continued. But men can’t leave the issue alone. Ataru has to see what’s on the other side. Existence alone isn’t much. You exist in order to accomplish something, and you must figure out what it is you’re supposed to do. Perhaps for women, living is what makes existence worth it. To truly live, before deciding what kind of work to do. Lum’s saying that if you wake me from that dream, you’d better take responsibility. You can interpret that in a number of ways. I wondered what the audience would make of it. Originally, I planned to stop the series with that. It seemed to me that there was nowhere else left to go. I showed you these dreams, you enjoyed them, and now the clock has begun moving again. This is the end. I didn’t think I could write anything beyond that. So who takes responsibility for the movie? In the end we all do. Can I take responsibility for it as the director? Well, there’s the producer, and the audience, who seem to think so.
They say things like, “give me back my lost time and money! Take responsibility!” (laughter) Ataru is a lot like that. He doesn’t take any responsibility.
We added Moriyama at the end of the film, and in that scene, the one wearing the hat is Yamashita (Yamazaki). We zoom out from the school at the very end, which is where I started. We made it an end title. I wanted to try that.

CPM: How about a message to your American fans?
Oshii: Hmmm. Well I wonder if young Americans have the same desires found in this movie. I think they must. Waking up one morning to find nobody’s in town. I wonder if those people feel anxious when they try to remember how they’ve gotten where they are. I think it’s the same. Looking back on Beautiful Dreamer, it is steeped in its time. So keep that in mind. I think I could do it better today. Seeing it again makes me realize how hard all the young people worked on it.

CPM: Especially with a budget of $800,000. You couldn’t do that today.
Oshii: Even then it was hard. We started the film in the summer and finished it by winter. I first read the text on a warm day, and we finished on a day with snow. What a pace. Looking back, I can’t believe we did it. I think this was the time I had the most fun with anime movies. I think that the animators, the staff, and I were at the peak of our game back then.

CPM: Thank you very much for telling these great stories.
Oshii: Thank you for having me.

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