An interview with Production I.G.
Date: 2013 January 12th Saturday [15:28] | Posted By: Priss
Returning for the second time in 2012, the fourth Hyper Japan festival in November welcomed thousands of visitors to Earls Court for a three day extravaganza of entertainment. The event flourishes every time with an array of Japanese cultural experiences, encompassing fashion, film, games, cuisine and of course anime and manga for people to see.
For anime fans, this Hyper Japan was host to an astounding public event - a panel chaired by Helen McCarthy in which Production I.G. President & CEO Ishikawa Mitsuhisa was joined by esteemed anime critic Hikawa Ryusuke. It was an exciting opportunity to gain unique insight into the Japanese animation industry from one of today's greatest studios and a major modern figure in Japanese cultural criticism.
Production I.G. are renowned for their technical innovation in animation and their portfolio boasts a myriad media including games, films, animated sequences for live action movies and great TV anime. They are responsible for all anime adaptations of Shirow Masamune's Ghost in the Shell, Eden of the East, Usagi Drop and work with high profile directors such as Oshii Mamoru.
In their 25th year of business, Production I.G. has made it to a major milestone as a studio, which has given Ishikawa-san time to reflect upon the founding drivers for what built their house style and dictated their animation projects. As the studio has evolved and expanded with success, how can free thought and artistic innovation resist the demands of the commercial marketplace? How does I.G. intend to keep its edge, staying remarkable and never generic? All animation projects need funding to succeed and in the end money is what will make or break an idea.
The web has connected the creative industries throughout the world in ways that have revolutionised the filmmaking on a budget. For the creative industries, this has given new hope to artists who have been tied to the restrictions of ensuring marketability of their product. In recent years, however, there has been a rise in the promotion of artistic ventures and the trend of encouraging public participation in filmmaking through crowd funding.
Crowd funding serves two important functions; for the artist, it gives a concept that has no chance in the mainstream market the potential to exist. For the project backers, helping to fund a production gives a unique sense of ownership. As backers are given exclusive updates and insight into the workings of the project as it progresses, it is an exciting and promising platform for the future of independent filmmaking.
My first encounter with the crowd funding film phenomenon was with the announcement that animator Yuasa Masaaki had launched a project on Kickstarter.
Yuasa-san is a figure who stands out in modern anime. An accomplished key animator who has worked with many studios, his style is instantly recognisable for its raw and organic qualities. Unlike most anime, which has the tendency to be polished and smooth, Yuasa-san's animation overflows with vitality. His use of colour, expressive marks and characters built from broken lines create images that at first glance seem chaotic, even crude. On paper, his character designs lack the refined quality one expects to encounter in anime, yet when in motion Yuasa-san's work is exceptionally dynamic, exciting and emotive. His directorial experience includes the film Mind Game and the series The Tatami Galaxy. Having just finished the latter and delighted in Yuasa-san's influence on the strange yet spellbinding comedy I was instantly sold on the Kickstarter campaign.
Kick-Heart is the name of Yuasa-san's first creation made possible by public funding. The story is a simple story of the lovers who each have a secret. One is a nun while the other is a pro-wrestler. The rest? We shall have to wait and see...
Working in collaboration with one of anime's most innovative studios, the project packs a punch as it is presented by Production I.G. this will guarantee spectacular production values and quality in animation.
When I had the chance to interview Production I.G.'s co-founder Ishikawa Mitsuhisa at Hyper Japan, I took the chance to discuss the Kick-Heart project with him directly. Joined by anime critic Hikawa Ryusuke we discussed the project over some very English tea and biscuits.
I had wanted to know why Production I.G. had chosen animator Yuasa Masaaki to be the lead artist on their first crowd funded anime. Ishikawa-san revealed, however, that the project came about in reverse order.
"Yuasa had created four separate concepts, one of which was to become Kick Heart. While the wrestling adventure had a great premise, it was the least likely to ever be seen as a commercially viable venture for a major animation studio to produce. The other concepts we could keep in reserve to be made into films or series at a later date" To make Kick-Heart possible, Production IG had to come up with another means of funding and producing it altogether.
As one of the co-founders of Production IG, Ishikawa-san related the nostalgic desire of animators to be able to work on "edgy and unique projects". The modern market for anime, however, focuses principally on the desires of the otaku masses. This leaves little space for the creative industry to express the raw qualities of its artists.
As a consequence of success, after 25 years Production I.G. has felt a rift develop between their initial vision for the studio and current commercial face of the company. As the business has grown over time, the demands of the industry have gradually obscured the original vision of the founders. Reflecting upon this, Ishikawa-san saw in Yuasa-san's concept the opportunity to revisit the roots of Production I.G. and create something more free from the constraints of the mass marketability.
As an artist and someone who studied animation, I can appreciate the desire to create something different and to express an original idea in an unreceptive marketplace. Ishikawa-san revealed that some scepticism surrounded the project's early days. "The production staff were asked to go the extra mile to pitch the idea to the public, which was not easy for them."
The Kickstarter campaign, however, exceeded expectations, gaining a lot of attention from international anime fans. With endorsements from director Mamoru Oshii and promotion by web-star Danny Choo, momentum on the funding increased. In the final days contributions came rolling in from supporters to take the project safely over target on the closing night of sponsorship.
Ishikawa-san, recognising the unique quality of Yuasa-san's capabilities as a director and putting faith in the Kickstarter platform has proved positive that the constraints of commercial success can be overcome. While this is undoubtedly a great achievement, it is one that Ishikawa-san puts into perspective. He was reserved about how much the success of the campaign will have an impact on the future of how anime is produced at I.G.
Appreciation of Yuasa-san's art by myself and other fans pleased Ishikawa-san and expressed my knowledge of his works as "deep" with a smile.
For everyone who stood behind Kick-Heart and Yuasa-san's creative spirit, it has been an exciting journey to be a part of. The final release of the short film is scheduled for April and I for one can't wait to see it. I will be sure to review it for Otaku News and reveal what the "Spinning spinebuster" sponsorship package will look like when it lands on my doorstep.
I'd like to thank the team of Hyper Japan for making this interview possible.