First part: Dezaki talks about his early career and his start as Osamu Tezuka’s studio: Mushi Production.
ANIMERICA: How did you become an animator?
Dezaki: A long time ago. Osamu Tezuka had his production house-it’s still in business- called Mushi Pro, and I first got work there as an animator. But before that, I drew manga and was a part of an animation club when I was about 19. Before that, I was drawing comics in high school. Even if I were to tell you what comics I was trying to draw at the time, you probably wouldn’t recognize the titles.
ANIMERICA: What kind of manga were they?
Dezaki: I’m sure the young people today won’t even understand this, but back then you could rent manga. Several people would work on one book -I’d draw it and get money to make more comic pages, and it was sort of a part-time job while I was in high school. I thought that once I left high school, I’d go right into drawing manga, but shortly after high school, the whole rental manga business ended. This was about the time that Takao Saito (Golgo 13) started to sell his works as rental manga.
At that time I was still in high school, but I was more or less a professional. I was sure that I could draw comics for a living, and I drew comics during class in high school, so I wasn’t able to make it into college. (LAUGHS) This took place when manga was just starting to be adapted into animation on TV, about 1962. Every town would have at least one place to rent manga, kind of like the way game centers are today. They’d have manga lined up on bookshelves, and people could rent them for 10 yen a night. But once manga started appearing on TV, they stopped renting them, and suddenly, my professional career disappeared. For a year, I worked at Toshiba. But I was completely unsuited to it. Since I didn’t have any special skills, there was nothing I could do there.
ANIMERICA: What was your job at Toshiba? Was it a technical position?
Dezaki: I got in because I had connections, and I was assigned to work in the factory. But I didn’t actually have any work to do, so I’d just get there and hang around. (LAUGHS) And after almost exactly one year, Mushi Pro opened its doors and started Tetsuwan Atom. From about January to May, Mushi Pro was interviewing for animators, my application was accepted and I started with them that August. Tetsuwan Atom was Japan’s first animated program, and it ran for 30 episodes or so. That was how I got my first job in animation. That was the beginning.
ANIMERICA: So you were in key animation from the start?
Dezaki: Not at all! I was an in-betweener. The key animation position came after that. Since I used to draw comics professionally, it was a quick transition –two or three months until I became a key animator. There were lots of guys who were actual pioneers in animation there before me.
ANIMERICA: And after key animation you became a director?
Dezaki: Yes, well, I did a lot of things. As the years came and went at Mushi Pro, the studio’d start all sorts of animation projects. I also did some storyboard work on the side. The secret got out and they told me to quit this part-time job or else. Eventually, I got together with some friends to create a small production company, and suddenly I was the director for Tetsuwan Atom.
I was a manga artist, and then became an animator, so it has been quite a few years since I wrote my own stories, but I’ve found that being an animator is a very interesting business. You add sounds and music, and then you make the whole thing move on film. I fell in love with it. Maybe it was the work I was meant to do. From that point of view I did direction and, every now and again, storyboards or key animation.
ANIMERICA: So you were basically self-taught?
Dezaki: You could say that. There was nobody there to teach me. There were no animation schools at the time. Now there are schools like Yoyogi Animation Institute and others, but at the time, there were none. Back then, everybody was self-taught. Nobody wanted to waste time on teaching. So I did as much as I could on my own.
ANIMERICA: You wanted to be a manga artist from the start?
Dezaki: Yes, I still love it, of course.
ANIMERICA: What was it like to work on projects for Mushi Pro?
Dezaki: At first I was just one of their animators. You know about in-betweeners, right? Maybe, you’ve never heard of them, but they draw the frames between the drawing, animators draw, and make the action smooth.
ANIMERICA: One of the jobs in animation, right?
Dezaki: That’s right, a job in an animation company. Well, I never spent any time as one of those. When you do in-between work, your drawings come out dead, so I’ve always hated that kind of work.
ANIMERICA: Did Mr. Tezuka work directly on the projects?
Dezaki: On the projects? I’ve talked about this many times before, but he as the person I wanted to be ever since I was little. The whole reason most of us started drawing manga in the first place was due to the influence of Tezuka. When we were working on Tetsuwan Atom, he’d come in and check my storyboards. It was then, since I was working in his studio and my name is Osamu too, that everybody would call me “Osamu-chan” but I always got the feeling he didn’t like it. (LAUGHS).
ANIMERICA: He didn’t like the rivalry?
Dezaki: No. That wasn’t the reason. I got the feeling that he just didn’t like the name. When I was drawing the storyboards, he’d say: “We have to make it more entertaining”. I was young so I’d just sit there in shock. You see, I always thought it should be more serious. I still think so. I distinctly remember him saying that, and it still has an effect on me.
ANIMERICA: How do you think Japanese animation has changed since the days of Tetsuwan Atom?
Dezaki: From an artistic standpoint, I think the drawings are better by several orders of magnitude. They’re prettier. We were still in black-and-white, but… how to put this? When I look at Tetsuwan Atom now, I see all sorts of things. We worked as if we were animated. Of course, nowadays, the technical side of animation has advanced so much. But the feeling behind the work was so much better back then. We were just a mixture of odds and ends, but all sorts of people like myself were gathered together, we got the feeling that we were really alive and free! Atom had such a good influence on everybody so it was like an unfettered freedom. But the work, week-in-week-out, was pretty hard.
ANIMERICA: And as you compare it, the old days may seem even better.
Dezaki: You’re probably right. But back then, you worked only for one studio. Well, I did some work on the side, but that was only because I wanted to do it. But everyone worked only on one project at a time. The young animators today work in quite a few different companies at once on all sorts of different projects. In a film of 400 cuts, one production studio will draw only 20 or 30 cuts, and they’ll combine these cuts with the cuts produced by other studios and finally make a production out of it. There are very few animators today who can see a project through to the end. Of course, I’ve seen directors who work hard and see their projects become popular and they can do anything they want. I see their work and I think they’re better than I am, but the people who want to work on untested ground have all but disappeared. Even the main staff of a program will work two jobs at the same time.
A director, as I’ve said many times, is a person who will do all sorts of jobs, like writing screenplays. He does all sorts of stuff but as the animation gets to the screen his job changes. I’m sure live-action is always that way. Screenplays are written with words, and to transfer them into pictures is a different way of making your audience enjoy themselves. Today’s animators and directors conform to the screenplay. Or, to put it in another way, the majority of people will animate strictly how the screenplay states. When you do that, I guess it is the only way you can do it these days.
For example, back then, you might have an idea that would make for great animation. The story will change but everyone will understand that because it will make the program better. The screenplay is, of course, a great foundation, but it can also serve to set off new ideas. I imagine that today you can’t do that anymore. The writer will start to complain. And in a restricted atmosphere like that, a director just has to translate the words directly into pictures.
ANIMERICA: Do you think that in TV and movies, the relative power of the screenplay and the director swap places? In TV, the screenplay is the guiding force and in movies, the director has the power.
Dezaki: With animation that’s not so much the case. Once it’s put on film, that’s the end of it. So it isn’t a struggle between the screenplay and the direction. If it’s a screenplay that has potential, then you can relax and play it as the screenplay indicates. In those instances you sell the pictured according to the screenplay. I’ve always said that you start with one original work, add lots of people, and get a different final product. The range of ideas the original work inspires is its width, its depth. One original concept has the thought patterns of only one creator behind it. When you have a really good original work, there can be a lot of different approaches to adapting it to other media. The work creates a lot of different images.
ANIMERICA: How about the times when you create the work yourself –in other words, when there isn’t an original work to work from?
Dezaki: Then it’s complete freedom. But sometimes the story I created gets changed. It’s only natural. I worked on Moby Dick on NHK and for a variety of reasons, it was cancelled before the story was finished, but for a while, I had complete artistic freedom.
Second part: Dezaki discusses why Hollywood movies just aren’t what they used to be, as well as his work on the medical drama Black Jack.
ANIMERICA: The surgery scenes in the Black Jack video are very realistic. Did you have any medical consulting on that?
Dezaki: Of course. I corrected the storyboards somewhat after consulting a medical doctor. And of course I don’t have much medical knowledge myself but I know what would make for an interesting situation. What I think is really interesting in Black Jack is the jargon or the specified knowledge. You know, when you go to the hospital, there’s that special kind of medical tension you feel there. Drug names come up and the doctor may explain all that to you in simple language but it’s of no help at all. It’s that kind of atmosphere that I wanted the most. It doesn’t matter if the jargon is comprehensible. What you really want is that hospital tension. I think there is something similar with Japanese animation videos crossing the sea to America, and the audience being able to enjoy them for that kind of contents. The tension in the screen is something that everyone on production produces together. In that sense, making animation isn’t a process where the creation of a moment is finely calculated with a background like this and a layout like that or whatever. We’re all striving together to make that sense of realism. That’s the basis of our picture-making. You know there are other productions where all you have to do is watch for two minutes, and you know the whole story.
ANIMERICA: Like being able to tell the whole movie just by watching the trailer?
Dezaki: That’s right. And then, there are movies whose only presence is in the trailer. (LAUGHS).
ANIMERICA: I think Independence Day was like that.
Dezaki: Video games are so fun. Yet, computer graphics alone do not make a movie. If you just make a mechanical premise and a mechanical plot to go with that and just assume that the audience will like it for the graphics. Well, I guess those kinds of Hollywood movies are okay too. But it isn’t fun for someone who really likes movies.
ANIMERICA: You mean, mechanical to the extent of placing the high points at exactly “x” minutes into the film so that the commercial breaks will be perfect when it’s shown on TV?
Dezaki: There was that old movie 12 Angry Men. The whole drama takes place just inside the jury deliberation room. That kind of movie has no amusement park value at all. But the movie’s characters all have conflicts and wonderful drama. You don’t make a movie like that to fit the TV format or try to make it flasher. That kind of movie shows up once in a while, but it’s no longer the mainstream. I wonder if it’s all right for something like that to get buried. Conversely, I think that animation might be capable of doing that.
ANIMERICA: Let’s get back to your works. You’ve directed sports animation like Ace o Nerae! and Ashita no Joe. Do you like sports?
Dezaki: About the only sport that I’m capable of is golf. Sports people have a record of their growth and they put themselves into it. I find sculpting the whole personal picture from those kind of angles fascinating. It can be anything that you immerse yourself in, be it sports or something else, but I can use sports as the platform to depict a person.
ANIMERICA: You also directed One Pound Gospel.
Dezaki: You’ve seen that? (LAUGHS)
ANIMERICA: Well, Rumiko Takahashi is big, after all. We get lots of Ranma reader illustrations here at the magazine. And this is another boxing Animé.
Dezaki: I liked the relationship between the boxer and the nun. I just happened to be asked to direct that, but I was under contractual obligations back then and couldn’t use my real name. So I used a pen name. I like those kinds of uplifting Rumiko Takahashi worlds.
ANIMERICA: Interesting personal relationship.
Dezaki: Yes, I think it’s all about personal relationships.
ANIMERICA: Are you interested in robot shows or mecha shows?
Dezaki: Robots and mecha are still about people, in some context. You can say they aren’t human, but there are still thinking brains involved. That’s the same as people, in that sense. I don’t mean to compare it with sports Animé, but it’s another angle to depict people from. That can lead to interesting results.
ANIMERICA: Did you work directly with Rumiko Takahashi?
Dezaki: I’ve never met her. I did hear that she like my storyboards.
ANIMERICA: How is it different to work on a girl-oriented show like Rose of Versailles, compared to boy-oriented shows like Lupin III and Golgo 13?
Dezaki: You know, I’ll admit that the first time I ever read girls’ manga was the time when I was asked to direct Ace o Nerae!. Up until that time, girls’ manga was rather similar to boys’ manga. A little before Ace o Nerae! came out, girls’ manga started to go into its own unique world and I stopped reading. I just happened to be working on Ace, so I asked for a copy of the manga. Then, I wasn’t sure if I could do it. After all, it’s the story about a high school girls’ tennis team and there’s the main character’s love interest, Coach Munakata, who’s dying with a disease. If you extract all these plot elements, you can still get good drama. But I still had to translate the indescribable atmosphere of girls’ manga to animation. I thought that would be a good challenge.
ANIMERICA: Was it the same with Rose of Versailles?
Dezaki: Actually, the only girls’ manga I’ve read are Ace o Nerae! and Rose of Versailles. But girls are more imaginative than boys, so their sensibilities are fascinating. I feel, as I work. Girls aren’t all these effeminate entities that are crying all the time, as we men might think. They have terrifying sides too. (LAUGHS). And they have strength too, and that’s something I’d like to depict. It’s easier to get more imaginative about the unknown. For example, there’s a manga by Ryoko Ikeda called Oniisama-e. When I directed the Animé, Ikeda told me that I knew about women better than most women. I wonder about that.
ANIMERICA: As a maker of Animé, do you have genres that you consider you are good at or like?
Dezaki: In that sense, I think I try to take on everything. You know, apparently, there are manga for girls where boys are the only characters that show up in them. They’re full of stories of boys falling in love with each other. This wasn’t a manga style that I had ever seen before, but I was asked if I’d direct Animé based on it. So I read the manga but I didn’t get it at all. It’s boys falling in love with each other, basically a straight translation of the male fantasy of the goings-on in a girls’ dorm at a boys’ dorm. I’m a grown-up, so my idea of these type of relationships is completely different from the audiences. It’s for young girls who really don’t know about this type of world to fantasize and get excited about boys kissing each other and holding hands. I had to say I wasn’t good enough to take it on. Because there’s no room for me to let my imagination roam, as a guy myself. I may not be able to handle this genre. After all, this type of manga has no character development at all. They just have flashy names, and that automatically makes them good-looking.
ANIMERICA: So that’s where all the style must be.
Dezaki: It must be. And I must have gotten old, since I didn’t get it. So there was that. This was one area I didn’t take on.
ANIMERICA: Conversely, you’ve taken on the very masculine Cobra and Lupin and Golgo. Where do you get the images for these characters? Hollywood movies, for example?
Dezaki: There might be situations picked up from there. There was one thing about Golgo 13 that surprised me. I tend to follow the story and follow Golgo like a nature photographer. I follow him like a tiger hiding in the jungle. I don’t really know Golgo and he is, after all, a man whose business is to kill people, so I follow him with the intention to never get inside him. So the film is done. It’s time to dub it. Golgo 13 ‘s voice actor is two hours late to the studio. We all worry if we’ll finish on time. We’re worried that it might take another three or four hours. But he finishes in 30 minutes. (LAUGHS) He only has about five lines. Straight out of the bloke.
ANIMERICA: Very straight.
Dezaki: Maybe two complete sentences total. Five places to speak. It was so easily countable.
ANIMERICA: On a completely different title, you’ve also directed Yoshiki Tanaka’s Sohryuden?
Dezaki: Yes, Sohryuden was always a video project. It didn’t start out as something for TV. It was going to be 40 minutes for an episode split into 20 minute segments, with the later intention of TV. I like serials and was interested in it.
ANIMERICA: How did you like Tanaka’s novels?
Dezaki: I like them.
ANIMERICA: Not just Sohryuden but everything by him?
ANIMERICA: His most famous work would be Legend of Galactic Heroes.
ANIMERICA: Would you call Cobra Sci? As a film-maker, how do you like Sci compared to more down to earth stories like Ashita no Joe or Golgo 13?
Dezaki: I don’t feel that differently, but you can embellish the settings more with Sci. You can say that’s a fun thing about it.
ANIMERICA: As in tall tales?
Dezaki: Exactly. I love tall tales. I also like realistically sounding bluffs too.
ANIMERICA: The Mighty Orbots. That was an American TV show. How did you like dealing with Americans compared to a 100% domestic production?
Dezaki: Well, most of the staff was all Japanese. The guys over there in US wrote the script, but the screenplay was by a japanese writer. We had some storyboards at first, but in the end, we ended up redoing them ourselves. That’s how the 13 episodes were made, but it was pretty much a japanese production.
ANIMERICA: Were there any words from the sponsors?
Dezaki: Nothing specific. Just to make it. So we spent our efforts in the beginning to make it. There were some things that came up afterwards though.
ANIMERICA: How did the project come to be?
Dezaki: The president of TMS back then, Mr. Fujioka, wanted to sell something in the US. So he included some American staff. It was at a time when robots shows were all the rage in Japan, so he wanted to sell a transforming robot show –something that wasn’t there in the US before. I was all japanese, starting from the planning.
ANIMERICA: Would you call it a comedy-style robot show?
ANIMERICA: How did you like working in a comedy style?
Dezaki: It wasn’t much different. But I like comedy.
ANIMERICA: You previously mentioned your experience at Mushi Pro.
Dezaki: I’ve gotten old since then. I was 37 or 38 when I did that.
ANIMERICA: So you were making comedy presented with a straight face.
Dezaki: Maybe not really so. We just tried for some upbeat American style, whether we were successful.
ANIMERICA: What are you working on right now?
Dezaki: Episode Seven of the Black Jack video series and I’m just about thinking of returning to the Legend of Moby Dick that’s been on hiatus. And then, Golgo 13.
ANIMERICA: Which one are you going to put most effort into?
Dezaki: Of course, I’m serious about all of them, but in terms of time, I still don’t have a formal go ahead, but when Legend of Moby Dick gets resumed, it still has eight episodes left. That one will be the toughest.
ANIMERICA: Oh, so that show hasn’t ended yet.
Dezaki: No, the ending hasn’t been made yet.
ANIMERICA: I’d like to ask more about Golgo 13. You’ve made a Golgo 13 movie before. How is it like to return to Golgo 13 after all those years?
Dezaki: Thirteen or fourteen years, or perhaps more? Maybe sixteen or seventeen. It’s been so long that I’ve forgotten. This is a completely new production.
ANIMERICA: I wouldn’t think that’d be the case.
Dezaki: I wonder how to put this. I’m conscious of the fact that I’ve done this before. Of course, there’s still the issue of how the audience will still take it.
ANIMERICA: What’s the new story?
Dezaki: In the new Golgo 13, there’s a guerrilla leader called Queen Bee on a small South American island. She turns out to be the illegitimate daughter of a US presidential candidate kidnapped and sold to slavery at a young age.
ANIMERICA: Some recent events must have been inspired by your story.
Dezaki: The original idea came from newspaper king Hearst’s daughter Patty being kidnapped but ending up fighting along with her kidnappers. The idea’s mutated a little. But Queen Bee’s become the leader, and she resents her father who sold her out. So she’s attempting an assassination on him on the presidential trail. The presidential campaign people ask Golgo 13 to kill Queen Bee. So now, what’s going to happen when Queen Bee, targeting the presidential candidate, and Golgo 13 , Queen Bee, finally meet? (LAUGHS)
ANIMERICA: So this Queen Bee is like the queen bee as in the beehive?
Dezaki: Yes. She’s a strange woman who’s made it through many close calls. Her attitudes toward men and love and the meaning of life are all now so eccentric, but I depicted her thinking it’s all beautiful. In the end, she gets shot by Golgo and dies, but I think the life of a strong woman like that is beautiful.
ANIMERICA: Does Golgo smile when she dies?
Dezaki: No. Golgo doesn’t smile, but the woman has more expressions. When she says: “This has been my way of life”, Golgo replies: “That is a respectable way of life”. And right before she dies, it turns out that the presidential candidate had a bad friend who corrupted him into his ways, and she requests Golgo to assassinate him. Golgo acknowledges her request and accepts it. This is an extra something, and Golgo doesn’t comment on it, but he must have had respect for the way this woman lived. I made the video wanting to have him respect her.
ANIMERICA: If Golgo dies, will you make a video after that?
Dezaki: No, Golgo won’t die, just the woman.
ANIMERICA: His target.
Dezaki: Of course. Golgo will never die. If he dies, he’ll come back to life. (LAUGHS).
ANIMERICA: What do you feel are the shortcomings and strengths of recent animated TV shows and videos?
Dezaki: Perhaps, I shouldn’t comment so loudly on Independence Day. They’re trying to make good drama and solid stories and make the audience excited about it. The directors are making really picturesque screens. But I think it’s a different thing if that’s working to enhance the drama. I think the visuals are just part of the drama. Its place is there when you want to show something. The visuals aren’t there just to dazzle, and making film with that philosophy is my way, as an old school movie-maker. You can say there are quite a few titles whose visuals don’t really have any relevance to the story.
ANIMERICA: Are you talking about how cute the female characters are of what popular voice actors are in the cast?
Dezaki: It’s all about what the makers really want to say through that work. I think the number of works where you can feel that the makers have something to say is diminishing. If you look at them, they seem to be more worried about the merchandising and whether it’ll sell. But the audience isn’t stupid, so when that gets repetitious, I’m sure they’ll get bored. Of course, I might be the one who came up with these kind of visuals first, but I fully intended them to be relevant to the story. They were to show the drama or depict a character. Animation is different from live-action in that you can’t show the sense of flesh, so I intended to show a character’s psyche using the whole screen. It wasn’t to embellish the screen or to make it pretty. It’s always the drama and the characters that are interesting.
ANIMERICA: I tend to think that good directing is independent of animation style. But conversely, I think your works tend to be enjoyable even if you look only at the visuals.
Dezaki: Well, I like that as a compliment. But I still think it’s all to enhance the drama. The drama experience won’t be limited just to the characters, but will also extend to the audience. Then you can identify with the characters more. That’s what I’m after. I’ve always been that way, and I think that’s the way to make movies and drama. And then, even minute details will carry the power of conviction. Nothing goes to waste.
Third part: The conclusion! Dezaki responds to the question “who do you think your influence?” and speculates if it’s possible to animate James Joyce.
ANIMERICA: Which manga artists and animators have inspired you?
Dezaki: The obvious inspiration was Osamu Tezuka. Tezuka had a strong envy for the movies. He was a manga artist himself but it seemed he always wanted to get into animation, and he tried to bring a sense of the movies into his manga. So he spent a lot of energy tackling the issue of pacing and timing in the print medium. In that sense, since he’s already deceased, I don’t think he was able to accomplish everything he wanted to do, but what he aspired to do was wonderful. Besides him, the logical development from Tezuka was Takao Saito. His style is more realistic. My favourite is Tetsuya Chiba –when I worked on Ashita no Joe, he certainly gave me advice as the manga artist, but he really has a great sense of the visuals and of time. I think he’s the first one who tackled that issue seriously.
ANIMERICA: Conversely, have you noticed any animators who have been inspired by you?
Dezaki: That’s not something I can say, but there are a lot of animators who worked under me and are on their own now. I want them all to be doing well, but I shouldn’t really name them. After all, in our line of work, everyone is competition, even one’s own proteges. I don’t pretend to think I taught them. We’re all rivals.
ANIMERICA: Do you still watch animation and read manga?
Dezaki: I don’t really watch much, to tell you the truth. I see movies, I’ve liked movies and documentaries for a long time. And I’d like to take something like that and see how I can arrange it in my own style.
ANIMERICA: Do you have a favourite manga?
Dezaki: I happen to have very few. I like Bicycle Thief. And you guessed it, it is an European movie. I don’t know if it’s recent, but it’s good. I like old movies too. I like movies that are old but can’t be made into movies under today’s system, probably. This one came out a while ago, but L’Amant (released in a censored US version as “The Lover” in 1992) has a place in my heart. And this one I just happened to catch on satellite, but The English Patient… that was also good. It was good, but if you think about what is was about, it doesn’t necessarily make sense.
ANIMERICA: Do you incorporate a consistent theme in all your movies?
Dezaki: Maybe just being anti-authority.
ANIMERICA: So basically, you take on something new each time.
Dezaki: Yes, I do that, although depending on the audience, they might say I keep on doing the same thing. But I’ve been taking on a lot. I think it’s all about what freedom is and what it means to live.
ANIMERICA: Do you have a dream project, a project that you want to do the most right now?
Dezaki: Moby Dick Legend is my original work, so I can’t move on without finishing this. But stories like the Monkey King, that has many ways to interpret it, I would like to work on it with my own arrangement.
ANIMERICA: So a story that’s been around for awhile. If you go to the route of tales indigenous to Japan, you’d probably end up with Kojiki or Nihon Shoki.
Dezaki: Perhaps. But if you tried to animate that, it’d turn out very differently. Beside that, It’d like to animate a novel that’s successful only in that form. A lot of novels today, like Tanaka’s, are really text descriptions of visual scenes, aren’t they? I don’t consider those real novels. There are worlds only describable with words, aren’t there? I’d like to visualize that. For example, Machi Tawara’s haiku, or the haiku of Hosen Ozaki. Osamu Dezaki has his famous No longer Human, but he also wrote 20th Standard Bearer, and it’s not visual at all. It’s the novel that goes “I’m sorry for being born”. I’d like to try with animation the transvisuals.
ANIMERICA: How about animated James Joyce?
Dezaki: James Joyce, the poet?
ANIMERICA: Well, the Irish writer…
ANIMERICA: Yes, Ulysses.
Dezaki: That would be fun.
ANIMERICA: Would it be possible?
Dezaki: I think it is possible. My take is that anything should be possible with animation, although that’s beside the question of whether it can be done well. If you tried to make a rhyming poem or a haiku or a song into a visual work, it might be easier to start by filming live humans, but I think you’d immediately hit a wall. I’m thinking that animation is the work of human drawings, and it’s still in the realistic period, but it’s starting to get into the impressionist period. I consider myself an impressionist. Just a little further down the line, animation’s bound to start getting abstract. Animators will really have to start thinking about the meaning of humanity. I think it could be done. I’d like to head that way, regardless of whether or not I’d be able to accomplish it myself. It’s nothing complicated. It should be possible to make an entry into that field with only easily understandable props. It’s not like get into art.
ANIMERICA: Do you mean that the medium has yet to mature?
Dezaki: Absolutely. I think I’m only trying to reach the world of Van Gogh, but there’s still more ways to go.
ANIMERICA: In the history of paintings and music, breakthroughs come when creativity becomes stagnant, as works get abstract.
Dezaki: Of course. Early abstract works had to be more human. And eventually, only the form remained and you had to start wondering what was so interesting about it. It had to be something more approachable and humanistic, but that eroded and only the techniques got refined. There wasn’t the content to follow the expression. Or perhaps there still was, but the artists who could convince you of that were no longer. Naturally, that should be avoided, or perhaps it’s unavoidable. And the whole process will repeat.
ANIMERICA: In recent years, retro works and remakes of old shows have been popular. In that sense, Golgo 13 and Black Jack seem to come close to that.
Dezaki: Perhaps so.
ANIMERICA: What’s your take on that?
Dezaki: But in regards to Black Jack, it’s never really been animated before. The manga’s old, but I think the animation’s new. Golgo 13 was also animated only once before, and that’s a loss. Fortunately, I worked on the old production, and I’m working on it again. I’, remaking my own work and not someone else’s old work. I would be different if I were reworking someone else’s. If some young guy started work on Ashita no Joe, I’d be turning in my grave. Not that it might happen.
ANIMERICA: Would you feel rivalry?
Dezaki: I probably would, at the loss of my opportunity. And it might turn out to be a good production too. But that’d be the time I know it’d be for me withdraw.
ANIMERICA: So for you, Ashita no Joe and Rose of Versailles would be those types of works?
Dezaki: They might be so. I keep on thinking that Ashita no Joe is still incomplete, and I keep on mentioning that whenever I have the chance to mention it in my columns. I’d like to depict Joe’s boyhood, I mean, what was Joe Yabuki doing before he showed up at Namidabashi?
ANIMERICA: How does it compare to be successful in Japan and to be building a reputation overseas?
Dezaki: I don’t think I’ve had success in Japan, so I can’t really tell what that’s like. But if I lose the place and chance to be able to make the works I want to make, that’s the end of it in our line of work. When I finish a work, it’s like I’ve made it through the preliminaries and can make it to the next round. And so that’s why I’m working on my current project so hard. For example, I might want to correct 300 cuts in Golgo 13. If I don’t, I may not be able to go on as a creator. That’s the kind of persecution psychology I put myself into and make those corrections no matter how much I’m told not to go back. Of course, I have the audience in mind too, but I’d be the one most embarrassed to send it out as it. Of course, there’s a limit to it, because of budgets and schedules, but within those constraints. I’d like to leave proof that I did my best. If I don’t do that, I really think I won’t be able to work on my next project.
My line of work is like drafting the blue prints but if I started to believe that none of my plans would be fully realized, I wouldn’t be able to draw more than what I knew could be realized. I’m most afraid of that. So if I worked on a project and showed myself that I strived two steps or even just one step further, I’d still be in the frame of mind to be able to make the next film. It was even tougher when I was young, I often thought that there’d be nothing left for me but to take my life after my current project. If I were going to die, then I’d naturally have to do my best on that current project. That might be an antiquated attitude these days. I share it a little now, but now it’s the attitude that you can afford to fail because there are other opportunities.
ANIMERICA: So you will strive forward until the end.
Dezaki: That’s right. It’s really so. After all, you can’t tell what’ll be tomorrow. If you can’t affirm what you’ve achieved now, you can’t move on. And so you think you’ve been striving that way. But, you know animation is a group effort –the environment is tough if you want to push your ego in front. I pity the young animators today in that they’re told “you’re making a product”- remember that, “from the people who have the money or who are in management. They might want to do things their way, but they’re told “There’s no way you can do that”. Those who don’t listen to that get twisted and drop out. Eventually, they lose any place to go.
When I was young, I went to some animation festival. I forget what it was called, but they showed animated works five to six minutes long and exchanged critiques. Back then, those were the people considered to be animators. We were making shows like Tetsuwan Atom, and so I thought, no, they are experimental artists. Our real work has to be shown in the context of what goes on TV –that’s where pros had to do their work. Sometimes, I feel discouraged and get the temptation to go into experimental films, though. But I haven’t.
ANIMERICA: Osamu Tezuka made those kinds of films.
Dezaki: But he made both kinds, didn’t he?
ANIMERICA: Is that the ideal form, accomplishing both?
Dezaki: I don’t think so. I don’t think what Osamu Tezuka did for his experimental works had any feedback into his professional works. They were just the beginning. Anyone could produce a short subject given ample time. But I think one should use a lot more staff under the same conditions and make a movie or an animated work or what not. That’s when the expression finally matures. One person can take on a lot of projects, and there certainly are good works of that nature.
I often bring it up, but I sure would like to work that way for a short feature. Maybe just 52 minutes. Or just 26 minutes. Not that it’s possible. But if you pursue that sort of venues further, you could find a medium of expression without spending a stupid amount of money. There is no point in doing a Sunday-project type of work. If we’re not at work 365 days a year, there’s no point in calling ourselves professionals. After all, if we worked on something just on special days and tried to impress people, you couldn’t say what I do on all the other regular weekdays. It’s not something I like too much.
ANIMERICA: Did you watch the TV show Evangelion?
Dezaki: Just a little.
ANIMERICA: Just a little?
Dezaki: Towards the end, that show certainly becomes experimental. I think that’s fine but I don’t think it is the right kind of experimental.
ANIMERICA: What do you do when you’re not working? Such as hobbies?
Dezaki: Play golf. As a sport.
ANIMERICA: How about movies and music?
Dezaki: Of course, those too. I watch TV all day long. Especially these days, with the increased number of channels, and there are a lot of videos too. I don’t watch much animation, though.
ANIMERICA: What kind of advice would you give to a young aspiring animator?
Dezaki: I can only say, do it if that’s what you love. Don’t be trying to get good reviews from others or believe that you could do better if only you got those. I don’t think you can continue if you don’t love to draw and enjoy animating. You know there are many young skilled artists. It’s a visual culture out there, so there are lot of manga out there too. I know a lot of young talent, but they can’t make it. Animators are expendable, so it’s tough. And you can’t do everything yourself. You have to collaborate with others. And you still have to show your individuality there. It’s very tough. You have to love it to make it. And those who can persevere will gain their aims. Some of us love it because it’s so tough, of course.
ANIMERICA: That’s more like the type of person who can make it, rather than advice.
Dezaki: We’re that entire kind of maniacal people. If you pursue something all the way, I think it becomes fun. Also, a creator needs have wide knowledge. You have to explore widely and accumulate experience, even if it’s only in your head.
ANIMERICA: In that sense, maniacs tend to have narrow and deep mindsets.
Dezaki: Well, it’s necessary to be deep, but depth has no meaning if you don’t have the width to go along with it. That is, it’s good to see a lot of things and make conclusions. It’s different from liking something just for the comfort. You have to be able to persevere through nothing but discouragement. I’d tell someone he’s no good, not to negate his entire person but as a means to encourage him to try hard but he bends there. It’s scary that there are so many people who bend so easily too, so I’ve become hesitant to say that, I’d think it wouldn’t be good not say it, so I’d say with much trepidation, but it’d still do no good.
ANIMERICA: So young people these days are different in that regard?
Dezaki: In some ways, it’s something to pity. The only thing in their minds is to avoid ridicule or to avoid being different from others. If we didn’t want to be different from others, we’d be out of work. We’re loathed to be the same as others, so perhaps only those who want to be different from others should enter our profession.
ANIMERICA: It’s very tough.
Dezaki: Very tough, I’m sure there are young people today with incredible perseverance, but in my day, we’d consider the worst –we’d consider it, but do our best not to fall there. People today consider only the best, and they can’t go on if they deviate from that just a little. Many are able to work hard under the best conditions. I may be speaking a little badly here, but many don’t try to persevere. I think it should be the reverse.
ANIMERICA: I’d think you get stronger by overcoming things.
Dezaki: That’s why they all disappear before any discouragement hits. They must be afraid of discouragement. It might hurt, but you can’t really recover from something if you don’t face discouragement in the first place. The real point is in making the recovery, but they run off to avoid discouragement. They don’t experience hardship. Like avoiding having girlfriends just because they hate breaking up.
ANIMERICA: I’m sure some young people are like that.
Dezaki: Well, that’s a sad thing. It’s sad to be dumped, but you can’t let that stop you. So you don’t want to show your embarrassing moments.
ANIMERICA: Finally, do you have a message for your fans?
Dezaki: As I mentioned earlier, I’d like to keep on making wonderful works and entertaining works as I learn what good drama and human relations are. Of course, I should try for new things too, but these are the things I’d like to continue doing, so I hope you continue to enjoy what I make.
ANIMERICA: Will you ever go back to Rose of Versailles?
Dezaki: I’m sure I’d make something different if I were asked to work on it.
ANIMERICA: Thank you very much.
Dezaki: No problem.