The following article is a transcript of a Q&A panel with Masaaki Yuasa, director of The Tatami Galaxy, Lu Over The Wall and The Night is Short, Walk On Girl, and Eunyoung Choi, an animation producer on Lu Over The Wall and The Night is Short, Walk On Girl and longtime collaborator with Yuasa, at The Night is Short, Walk on Girl Q&A at Picturehouse Central in London on September 11th 2017.
The following transcript was recorded on the night in audio form and was cleaned up for your reading pleasure. All answers were given in Japanese and translated into English on the spot by the in-house translator supplied by All The Anime. The transcript was recorded and transcribed by @Jakiba.
Anything in [These Brackets] are Jakiba’s own comments.
Question @ Yuasa: How have you found your time in London?
Yuasa: It’s been great, the food is fantastic actually! I just really need more time. This is my first time in London and there’s something old, something new and it’s a really interesting combination I can see. I just need more time to look at it and enjoy it!
Question @ Yuasa: Anime these days has become very accessible worldwide, do you create a film like The Night is Short, Walk on Girl with an international audience in mind at all?
Yuasa: Not really. I think people are the same pretty much everywhere, so as long as I’m open about everything when I make my movies I think, hopefully, people will accept them.
Question @ Choi: From a production point of view, do you have to consider the international audience from your side of things?
Choi: Again I’m not really conscious about these things, but as you’ve just seen Kyoto is in the movie. I think audiences outside Japan might enjoy that particular thing more than a Japanese audience does.
Question @ Yuasa: You’ve written, directed and storyboarded an Annie nominated episode of Adventure Time called ‘Food Chain’. The Night is Short itself has moments that feel very heavily influenced by classic Western animation. Can you tell us what inspirations and influences you have from outside of anime?
Yuasa: Again it’s something that I don’t think about that much. Everyday objects and things that I experience can be part of my animation. Influence-wise, Disney and Tex Avery were things I used to see as a child. Literally, I just saw them every single day, so they’re pretty much a part of me by now. But I believe that everything can be in my animation.
Question @ Yuasa: The Night is Short, Walk on Girl is an adaptation of a novel written by Tomihiko Morimi who also wrote The Tatami Galaxy which you previously adapted. What is it that draws you to that particular author’s works?
Yuasa: I think the use of language is what I am attracted to his works the most. The stories could be silly in a way, and they’re pretty much comedies I think, but there’s always something underneath his stories that probably everyone can identify with and with the undercurrent theme being quite subtle.
Question @ Yuasa: Obviously The Tatami Galaxy is a TV series, The Night Is Short is a film, was there any particular reason why you decided to make this into a theatrical film rather than a TV series?
Yuasa: We were going to work on Walk on Girl straight after The Tatami Galaxy but it didn’t quite happen but after film things happened in-between, we are now here. We wanted to keep consistency with the same sort of taste, similar style and wanted to use the same stuff if possible but still, we wanted to make something a little bit different, like an evolution. This film has less dialogue [than The Tatami Galaxy] but has a lot more music, a lot more pictures, movements, motion and I think it’s much faster.
Question @ Choi: As the producer of the film can you explain a little to people about what your role in the film entails?
Choi: This is the second movie we created in our studio, the first being Lu Over The Wall, so I was taking care of the staff side of things. Also, I had to make sure Yuasa-san could make what he wanted to make and I was dealing with things like everyone’s schedules and also the business side of everything.
Question @ Yuasa: Having adapted a couple of this author’s works as we mentioned, The Tatami Galaxy and The Night is Short, is there anything you can personally identify with in Tomihiko Morimi’s stories?
Yuasa: Everybody tends to be living in their head, thinking too much and the main character, Senpai, is in Kyoto University which is a very isolated place. And probably the more you think really seriously in the head the less you are able to ask, and the more hesitant you can be. And also the struggle between your head and your downstairs department/sex drive, that’s something I identify with.
Question: As you alluded to earlier you’ve founded your own studio, Science Saru, in 2013. Can both of you tell us what prompted you to go and found your own studio?
Yuasa: To put it simply, it’s for artistic freedom. As creators we wanted to make something we wanted to make in an environment we’re happy with and done in a way we were happy with. But it was quite frustrating because business people would say “No, you work like that!” and we thought “No, why should we!”
Choi: I have worked in various studios before and there are always pros and cons and I was always thinking “how about we just do it ourselves”. I think it would be more effective to do everything in one place and do it ourselves, and also we can work with the people and the staff that we want to work with and the communication be easier because we are a company and I think the results were pretty good. I mean there’s so much to in terms of work but we can put out what we like to put out and it’s been working pretty well.
Question: The animation production process that Science Saru has become known for sees digital animation tools play a large part, is there anything specific about these tools and the likes of Flash that has influenced you to transition towards using them?
Yuasa: Hand drawing is good but it’s really, really difficult and sometimes I get confused. Flash makes things easier and also I was lucky enough to have very skilled animators who can utilise Flash, and make beautiful and amazing results from the program. I always wanted to work with Flash and I was wondering whether or not I was where I could do it [before starting Science Saru]. Obviously technology is always changing and so all I can say now is that Flash is very good for what we want do.
Question @ Yuasa: We’re going to be taking audience questions in a bit, but before that we should talk about another film of yours that we’ve mentioned before and that’s Lu Over The Wall. Yuasa-san to give people a taste of that film, can you explain a bit about what people should expect from Lu Over The Wall?
Yuasa: We actually made Lu Over The Wall before Walk on Girl, so this is the first film we made at Science Saru and also the first original feature film that I made, so I’m really passionate about it. I wanted to make something that everybody could understand. It’s fun and I’m really proud of the result, so I want everyone to see it. It’s about this vampire mermaid in a small, very conservative town and all these struggles and fun things between the townspeople and the mermaid. I hope you enjoy it, go and see it!
Audience Questions Time
Question: I would like to know more about the inception of the project.
Yuasa: How long have you got? Laughs To put it simply, after The Tatami Galaxy we were supposed to go into the production of Walk on Girl. We actually got to the scripting point but [the film] didn’t quite happen at the time and it just went somewhere else with a plan for somebody else to work on it. However, whilst we were making Lu Over The Wall they came back to me [with Walk on Girl]. We had something to work on, and basically we just went back to where we stopped for a while so we could use the same stuff as then.
Question @ Yuasa: You’re one of the few directors who have worked on both Japanese and American productions. I’m wondering what the biggest difference between these productions would be and how you enjoyed those?
Yuasa: The US studios are big, clean, beautiful and very fast. I thought the works were done in a very systematic way and I was quite impressed with that. In Japanese studios, I think it’s more like craftsmanship, so people have got their own policies, wills and are constantly fighting every day!
Question @ Yuasa: When making Walk on Girl, did you try to replicate the source material or did you want to make your own original style or maybe a mix of both?
Yuasa: I definitely try to be loyal to the original story as much as possible. Making a visual version of a book is probably the closest way I can describe this process. Obviously, you have to change and tweak here and there but when I read the book I go “I like this! I like that!” and I was thinking if I was making an animation version of it, I would do this and that, so it is my own version.
For example, the original story is in four parts but I wanted to make it into one movie. One of the major differences is that the musical scene is a stage play, not a musical, in the book. So it’s not a carbon copy, more like a different version of the same story.
[There’s more to this answer, but it’s pretty big spoilers and is just basically plot points.]
Question: I understand they’re finally releasing Mind Game on Blu-ray; do you have any thoughts on that?
Yuasa: There’s not really much I can say here. There’s some issues that I can’t actually tell you! But to get 500,000 yen crowdfunding, I really thought we could actually just do it ourselves. [This was a bit of a strange response.]
Question @ Yuasa: In the last couple of years what were your favourite anime series or movies?
Yuasa: There aren’t many, but I really liked Sing which is a 3D animation. I also really liked Baby Driver. [I think he interpreted it as any movie, not exclusively anime.]
Question @ Yuasa: Is it true that Yuasa has a “no moe” rule on all of his projects? [I audibly groaned at this question]
[Choi was very quick and adamant to say no, think this question came about because it’s previously misquoted comment of hers.]
Yuasa: No, I don’t dismiss moe, but I’m not quite sure of the definition of the word “moe”. But for The Tatami Galaxy I thought that the Mochiguman is quite cute and for Walk on Girl I think we could have had cuter characters if we wanted to.
Question: The dance in this movie is my new favourite thing in the world! Is it based on someone because it seems very specific?
Yuasa: This is an animation, so there’s huge emphasis on impossible movements. In Japan, we have our own traditional dances, and the dance in this film is quite similar to those. But if you look closely you can tell that these movements are quite impossible for any human being! They’re bending so close to the ground that any person would fall. You can actually see their asses from the front, which is impossible for a human being.
Question: I was wondering if you could go into your storyboarding technique, how you start, how you conceive them, etc.
Yuasa: I can’t really tell you much because it’s my secret! But I really feel like I’m still learning, everything is a learning process. I have actually read quite a few books on scriptwriting, but they were pretty much useless. I have learned my skills on the job! But ideally, when the words and the pictures come together, that’s what is great. That means that when an animation script is written, that script has to carry what only animation can do and explained clearly, that would be the ideal script for me for an animated movie.
I admire camera work that can speak louder than words, so I think a storyboard is like a script. A good storyboard writer/artist is a very good scriptwriter.