An Interview Hirokatsu Kihara - Horror Writer and Studio Ghibli Production Manager
Date: Wednesday July 27th 2016 [16:53] | Posted By: Joe
One of the fun parts about running Otaku News is that you get to meet interesting people. In July 2016 we went to Japanese Cultural Festival Hyper Japan and met Hirokatsu Kihara. The former Studio Ghibli Production Manager is now a horror story writer and yokai expert. Hirokatsu Kihara sounded just like the kind of person you'd be interested in hearing from. So we caught up with him for an interview.
You're a well known Yokai expert. How did you get interested in Yokai?
A long, long time ago before the electricity arrived all children believed that there were some monsters lurking about in the dark.
A while ago we saw an interview you did on NHK World. You showed the presenter that you had a preserved Yokai in your house. How did you acquire such a creature?
It's a difficult question, but I can tell you! There are strange types of yokai in Japan. This particular type can do fortune telling. This creature when he does the fortune telling, everything he says is going to happen. I was interested in this type of yokai for a long time. His name is Kudan. His face his human and his body is a cow. There is a similar yokai in Italy, again the face is human, but the body is a horse. So this yokai, I've been searching for, for 30 years since I was little and finally I've managed to find a taxidermy of this monster.
Has it got you into any interesting adventures?
I started going aboard. I started coming to London and other European countries. ever since I captured Kudan yokai the variety of my work has widened.
Another feature of the kudan (other than the fortune telling), if you stroke the back of it, it'll make your wish come true. So I have wished my work to be bigger and thanks to that I'm sure he made that come true.
How do people react when they see it?
*Jumps back and gasps!*
So last year when I was in Hyper Japan a director of a documentary film heard about the story. So she came all the way to Japan to stroke the back of the kudan.
Did her wish come true?
Yes, it did.
Apart from Kudan do you have a favourite Yokai?
There are lots of famous Japanese yokai that are all characterised, but there are other yokai that represents people who are poor or maybe being oppressed.
I'm more interested in the yokai that represent poor people or the people who have been segregated. They're not as well known as other more famous yokai. The ones I'm interested in are not so well known. For example inugami.
How did you get into writing ghost stories?
Ever since I was a child, I've always felt that there was something that you can't see. Or actually they want to help you on occasions. It's a feeling, emotions of something, such as ghosts.
There's a tradition in Japan that people believe that the dead people have got feelings. So their feelings still survive long after their death. So that's something that we've always believed in our culture and tradition.
There's a culture in Japan it's called juzo (you can translate it as magic power), it means with the sheer will power you can make people happy as well as you can also kill people with that power.
Where do you get your ideas from? Do you go to particular places or feel like you have particular influences?
100% Interviews. So when I meet someone I always ask "Have you ever experienced any strange situations". "Do you have any stories?"
When I hear stories I take notes, like this -
(Kihara pulls out massive note book).
This is the notes of the experiences they had, and how they felt when it happened.
Are you interested in the super natural in other cultures?
I'm particularly interested in fairies, in Ireland, there are similar Fairies in Iceland also. I'm England have got some fairies too. This is something again, super natural beings that we have in common with Japanese culture.
Are you aware of the story about the people who took some photos of fairies long ago, and the person behind it insisted that it's fake, and even proved how he did it?
Yes, I'm aware of that story. I also know it's been proven to be actually false. I also know out of all the pictures of the girls, they're all false pictures, except for the last one. I think fairies are not the figures such as characters, they're actually the consequences and happenings. For example when you wake up in the morning somehow the arrangement of the kitchen is slightly different or your arrangement of the shoes are slightly different. When those events happen, you can't help but believe there must be something out there to cause this. I think that represents the spirits or the fairies, not the figures such as characters.
Do you think the things that scare people are universal?
Deep down it comes to people's feelings. Yes, it's the same. However, there's a religion that may prevent you from believing in certain things. For example in China, because the government didn't allow them to practice religion. So even if they recognised things happened, but they wouldn't believe it was done by ghosts or supernatural beings.
Another example is in Greece, they have the myths such as Olympus, but they don't talk about any ghosts in those stories. For that reason they don't accept ghosts. However I do believe that they do recognise all these unexplainable situations.
England, the UK, America, again they do recognise the unexplainable situations, however because of the religions that your life ends once you die, therefore they won't believe in ghosts.
What scares you?
The world beyond physics. Don't you find it scary?!
I'm sure depending on the person, but the dead people coming back with messages. It may be welcomed by the close ones families or friends, however that could be scary for other people. So overall I believe that for humans that if you see something unexplainable that you can't deceiver you'll find that scary.
When I was in secondary school, I went camping up in the mountain with my friend, just the two of us. It was raining, it was midnight. It was just only two of us, but then we started to hear somebody's footsteps wearing high-heals coming up to us. I thought it was really strange, so we unzipped the tent and I looked outside. There was a women standing there in a dress.
So the woman carries on walking past our tent and carried on walking into the mountain. The road she was walking on leads to a cliff. Unless you turn 90 degrees on your right to go up on the mountain. So we thought she was in danger, so we came out of the tent and ran after her to try and tried tell her you can't just go down that way. It's dangerous, it's dangerous! With a torch on. The funny thing is, she's walking in front of us, we're running, but somehow we can't catch up with her. She just carried on walking, we thought she's going to fall! Then suddenly she disappears!
(During the interview the staff in the background gasped hearing this)
After she disappears we suddenly realise how dark it was everywhere. So it was impossible to see somebody so clearly from head to toe as if she was glowing in the dark, because it was so dark in there.
Then suddenly I felt frightened. The scary feeling crept up. When it was happening I didn't feel that. I think these experiences are quiet scary!
How did you get into the animation industry?
Every since I was in secondary school I had this complex that I couldn't draw. Watching all this animation on TV and on film it's really great. I really wanted to get involved in it. Luckily I noticed that animation can't just be created with someone drawing. You need to have somebody paint and you need to have somebody shoot, somebody draw background, somebody to actually produce the work and also the sound engineers.
Eventually I was told the role of director who you need to have a better understanding of the story and pictures not as much as being a good drawer.
I started off as an assistant to a camera operator and made my way up to production management. So when I was doing a bit of production management I was picked by Miyazaki who said I had a talent in it. I carried on working in production management, by doing so I developed a larger view of the whole production and it started to feel actually fun. So graphics and the pictures, working with these mediums it was very fun.
Don't you think it's impressive even without any characters working on something like this?
Look at the shadow of the airship down there on the cloud. All the backgrounds have been painted by hand with brushes. Even the paper, paints and brushes, there's nothing special about this you can buy them from your local stationers. You get the same equipment, but not everyone can achieve the same results as this, meaning that the person who draws this has got the technique.
It's different than drawing a character.
You combine the beauty of the background and the beauty of the character, then you're complete. You can't just be an art director to produce a great work.
You worked at Studio Ghibli when they produced their most iconic film, Totoro. When it was being made, did the people involved know it would have such a cultural impact?
No one expected it would be such a success, in other words I didn't even imagine Studio Ghibli would be such a success as a studio. When we worked on Castle in the Sky, they worked so hard because they knew if they couldn't make it perfect there wouldn't be another one. Everything went on like this. They just concentrated on one film at a time. Otherwise there would be no more films. They didn't think about anything in the future.
After the interview Kihara showed us some other Studio Ghibli cels, he had some of the closing credits from Totoro, some from Kiki's Delivery Service (the end scene when the crowd are all around Kiki and Tombo). He also had the cel used for the Totoro promotion poster.
Otaku News would like to thank Hirokatsu Kihara for being so awesome to interview, along with Hyper Japan for inviting him to the event and helping us arrange the interview.