Interview: Kenji Kamiyama
KENJI KAMIYAMA profile
Director and scriptwriter. Born in Saitama Prefecture on March 20, 1966. In 1985 he joined the background atelier Studio Fuga, then became a freelancer. Kamiyama started his professional career in animation as a background artist and then art director, his credits including titles such as Akira (1988) and Kiki's Delivery Service (1989). Since around 1994, he started to show his talent in directing works such as movie segments in games. Then in 1996 he become one of Team Oshii's member at Production I.G. A rare example of a background artist shifting to directorial roles, Kamiyama worked as sequence director in Jin-Roh (1999) and wrote the script for Blood: The Last Vampire (2000), then debuted as director in MiniPato (2002). International attention eventually arrived with the TV series Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex (2002) and Ghost in the Shell: S.A.C. 2nd Gig (2004), and the feature-length Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex - Solid State Society (2006). He's next directorial effort after almost 6 years in the world of SAC is the fantasy TV series Guardian of the Spirit (2007). In 2006 he 'acted' as a superlivemation digital puppet in Mamoru Oshii's Tachigui: The Amazing Lives of the Fast Food Grifters, in the role of Manager Kamiyama.
What was on my mind when I started working on S.A.C. 2nd Gig
Since the Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex first season took forever to complete and took a lot of energy out of me, I was beginning to feel that people might be getting bored with the characters and the anime setting. This was before commencing the production of the 2nd Gig.
Then after I started working on the second season while still finishing up the first one, I felt I hadn't fully got everything in. I also felt that the characters were sort of guiding my way.
In other words, the characters were no longer moving according to a set plan, but were moving according to their own will, so to speak. I felt that their movements and conversations just came about naturally.
Sometimes I had strange experiences while writing a script or drawing a storyboard when I wouldn't really remember writing or drawing it. At that point, I feel that I could work with these characters even further.
This is one of the reasons for experimenting with minor characters from the first episode, and creating original stories for them in S.A.C. 2nd Gig.
If you felt that we added a more human quality to S.A.C. 2nd Gig, then it might be because to this.
The Ghost in the Shell TV series inherited many aspects from Director Oshii. I didn't try to distinguish myself from Director Oshii, Instead, I totally tried to copy him.
By nature, I like emulating others. I try to be like some that's well admired. If I was a fan of some band, I'd be copying everything they do, even their clothes and hairstyles. I'm that kind of person.
In regard to Director Oshii, I shared the same philosophy in making and directing anime. I respected him even before I came to I.G.
So when I was directing MiniPato, I was full of conceit, seeing that I was a good substitute for Mamoru Oshii while he was away.
After it was finished, I was absolutely sure that it would appear very much like Director Oshii's work. I was sure that if the ending credit showed Mamoru Oshii, the audience would have believed it was Oshii-san's work.
Still, there was one miscalculation on my part. In the third episode, The Secret of Special Vehicle Unit Section 2!, where they make dried fish, I knew there was a slight deviation from Oshii-san's style.
For example, in the way I portrayed Captain Goto, Oshii-san said that Captain Goto's model was Studio Ghibli producer Toshio Suzuki. I thought that was fine, but when I actually had to direct it, I realized I didn't know Suzuki-san in person. I began to feel that Captain Goto was Oshii-san himself as well as Ishikawa-san for me (I had followed the two movies Patlabor 1 and Patlabor 2 as a fan.)
From that viewpoint, given the respect I had for both of them, I somewhat pushed aside the image that Oshii-san had of Captain Goto, as well as the image that Ryunosuke Obayashi, the voice actor, had in mind.
I didn't realize this until I started working on S.A.C. It took me a while to understand this.
Things I learned through copying
The S.A.C. series, when compared to MiniPato, was not only a total copy of Director Oshii's style, but I also wanted to express my respect for Shirow Masamune. So I decided to make something that was like a "cousin" to the movie and manga versions.
At the time, people were also working on Innocence at I.G, so I decided that I would not cut ties with the Oshii Ghost in the Shell. Even then, the finished product showed a slight but definite deviation.
In the first Patlabor movie, Oshii-san made Noa, the main character, say, "There are no humans!" And 15 years later, he made the movie Innocence where there are almost no human beings. I felt that human beings had finally disappeared from Oshii-san's consciousness.
For the past four years, while working on the S.A.C. series, I tried to avoid speaking with Oshii-san. Even when I had questions, I didn't ask him for his ideas.
The result was that Oshii's Ghost in the Shell world, and this includes Innocence, no longer had humans in it, while my S.A.C. decidedly featured "humanity."
I wasn't actually conscious of it, but I asked the voice actors to portray the eager members of Section 9 as 15 years younger than the characters in the Ghost in the Shell movie. I also tried to turn Motoko and Aramaki into more down-to-earth characters.
When the production was over, the story turned out to be about offering hope for the humans, even though I understood Oshii-san's sense of taking out the humans, as in his film.
This was a very interesting outcome for myself. I could then see objectively what I was interested in and what kind of story I wanted to tell. I learned that what most fascinated me was the "human" aspect after all.
Now that S.A.C. 2nd Gig is finished, I could see this very clearly, and I feel both good about it and at the same time, lost. This is very difficult to explain...
© Shirow Masamune - Production I.G / KODANSHA
Learning about human nature through reassessing the characters
Ever since I started writing scripts for the first season, I'd always thought that it would have been much easier if someone like Aramaki were with me.
As I tried to figure out how to direct an anime series, I often ended up in a dead-end without anyone to help me. Oshii-san wasn't around either.
Given these circumstances, I found myself gradually developing the Aramaki character as someone who would be like my ideal boss.
Also, from my standpoint as a director, I understood the sorts of issues and difficulties facing Aramaki. Being the leader of a team, you realize that you have to be decisive for the sake of the group, even if you know you could be wrong.
After a while, Aramaki began to take over. The anime director and the section chief of Section 9 coexisted within me and made a connection with each other.
It was also like that for "Laughing Man", an original character we created for S.A.C.
The crime he committed and the work of Section 9 were fundamentally the same: "Effect justice against an unseen crime." Nevertheless, he winds up being a criminal and Section 9 is treated like a group of heroes. The difference is where they belong. If the Laughing Man was a member of Section 9, no problem. But since he was just an ordinary citizen, he had no authority to do such things. He reminds me of myself as a teenager and in my 20's, which I wouldn't care to remember.
When I was starting out, I used to bring my drafts to the likes of Sony and the Shochiku film company. They didn't take me seriously most of the time and so I was a frustrated kid. Now I realize that that's not the way it works. Inexperienced freelance animation directors are simply never taken notice of. In those days, I was so naive. I had no idea.
When I look around, my staff provides perfect models: some walking about intently, trying to look smarter; some with low esteem who undervalue themselves; some jumping onto any opportunity they see; and others just toiling away at their given jobs. But everyone is doing his and her best to make S.A.C. better. This sentiment is more or less reflected in the character profiles of Section 9 members such as Batou and Togusa. Thinking about it, I guess I was hoping that the positive and ideal aspects of the characters in the anime would transfer onto my staff at the studio. Or perhaps I was thinking that it would be awesome if my staff consciously imitated the characters.
However, as to the character called "Kuze" in the second season, it is totally a different story...
And with Motoko Kusanagi, I had trouble putting my finger on the true identity of this character. This was because she happened to be a superhuman!
Oshii-san also said, "I don't understand Motoko!" He used to say, "That's why I made her a woman preoccupied with her own desires."
But I somehow felt that this might not be the case. She may be cynical, but she's also a woman who would use her powers to help others. I basically couldn't understand her motives in the first season; the only reason I could think of for her actions was that she was the heroine of the show. But I wasn't happy with that. She could never be the centre of the S.A.C. story. So in the second season, even though I wasn't really supposed to do this, I created an episode that was not written in the original manga, and recounted her past. And in order to emphasize her past, I put a love affair in there. Through this process, I finally understood that this mysterious superhuman was actually a real human being with a miserable past. And as a human who was chosen to gain this superhuman power, she probably believes that she has an obligation to use that ability for the benefit of others. This was my conclusion. You know, just as a very talented athlete gives us inspiration through his or her efforts, she is stoically trying to use her capability in her own way.
But I felt I couldn't come to this conclusion without telling the story of Kuze, an original character in the second season who embarked on a new life leaving a similar past behind. I think this was a lucky spin-off that came about as a result of my being so bold as to include the unlikely element of a love story in the Ghost in the Shell world setting.
"It is yet another crime not to fully employ your capability whatever the situation you are in!"
This could be how Motoko Kusanagi sees it...
© Shirow Masamune - Production I.G / KODANSHA
The context of Stand Alone Complex
This was something I never intended, but realized while writing the script.
When I first named the series, "Stand Alone Complex", I tried to underscore the dilemmas and concerns that people would face if they relied too heavily on the new communications infrastructure known as "the network".
When "the network" links individuals together, the speed and the amount of transmitted information is greatly boosted. Also, people can share information as if they had actually experienced it, using virtual reality tools in the same way that cell phones and text messaging is commonly used today.
When you are only exchanging text messages, you tend to include all sorts of presumptions and imagined notions. I became aware that this could lead to a sort of parallel information further leading to dangerous situations. This is the image I had for the title.
But as I worked on the series, one type of character embodying this particular problem, the Tachikoma, gradually gain their own individuality through parallelizing each other's information.
This is similar in the way that, while I tried to totally copy Oshii-san, I could never do it. Therefore, the parallelization of information might not be all there is to it.
Even in an ambiguous network society, there may be a positive new hope.
Although the parallelization of information could have numerous side effects, I came to conclude that true individuality would only stand out after parallelizing all of the information.
At that point, I could no longer see hope in the latter half of the 20th century, so I turned to the forgotten art of Sci-Fi to express my hopes for the future.
And I began to see that Stand Alone Complex represented humanity and human society. Then I was curious about what would come next. That really got me fired up to face the ordeal of creating the 2nd Gig.
A new problem that emerged
But I was yet to encounter a new problem.
If I had to comment on the two series, I would say that for the first series, "information disseminates and parallelizes; and the Stand Alone Complex phenomenon actually exists."
And for the second, "good cause is seldom parallelized, and does not disseminate."
In one of the episodes, someone says, "as water runs toward the lowest point, so does human nature." Some may find it upsetting to hear this, but I couldn't find proof otherwise during the production process of the second series.
You know, bad news spreads easily. Similar crimes recur, whereas great people like Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. are hard to find.
But that did not make sense to me. Good stuff should disseminate as well. And I looked for evidence.
Is this really improbable? I looked around thinking about it.
Unfortunately, nationalism was in the air, and I wanted to do whatever I could to stop this tendency toward war. People all over the world were definitely against it in the beginning, but when they actually started firing, everyone just shut up.
It wasn't like this back in the 70s when everyone was passionately about political action. Now, it's different. It's hard to find politically active movements.
Why is this?
Since judgments could differ significantly according to your standpoint, it's not easy to answer. But at least in the process of making S.A.C. 2nd Gig, I could not find even one instance of something worthy to note. And my desperateness was sort of expressed in the series.
I feel there is more to the Stand Alone Complex, but I also feel that I've done all I could, given my position.
I was very lucky to be on the team as a director. It was an invaluable experience.
For the first series, I tried to be anonymous. At the same time, I toiled away to perfect it, and to create a work of art. I used every resource to do so, and, you know, I wanted to do a faultless job. I am sure the viewers would agree that the series was easy to follow.
But for the second series, I was restless.
When I was working on the first series, although it reflected the era, I was still confident about the power of storytelling.
You might remember the Glico-Morinaga Case (*) and political corruption scandals of the 1980s. I wanted to get to the bottom of them.
As a vulnerable kid back then, I couldn't relate to the fact that politicians committed crime. It had been two or three decades, and I felt a strong desire to retrace these incidents, and solve them (in my stories, at least). And I guess I did realize my dream.
For the second series, when I discussed the theme with Oshii-san, we decided that we couldn't avoid the issue of "war". In other words, we simply couldn't ignore the way society had evolved since the events of 9-11. That was the approach we decided to take, and I tried to illustrate a 21st century (near-future) war. But to tell you the truth, I couldn't avoid feeding back into modern reality.
I had a wish, at least in the anime, to end the war and I kept on asking my staff to find a way to do that. Unfortunately, I couldn't find the solution. This was the hardest part.
When I was working on one episode about a refugee ghetto, incidents occurred one after another, such as the slaying of a Japanese traveler in Iraq and a Chinese submarine appearing near Okinawa.
I was totally carried away. The series shows how I committed myself to these issues, and you can see what may appear like remnants of a war. I put a lot into it. The process wasn't easy, but I can still feel the enthusiasm that I had back then. So the second series turned out to be one of my favorites.
(*) The Glico-Morinaga Case - On March 18, 1984, two masked men with a cap on carrying a gun and a rifle stormed into the house of Katsuhisa Ezaki, president of the giant food maker Glico Corporation. The two men held Ezaki for ransom of 1 billion yen. Ezaki escaped three days later, but this was only the beginning. In May, blackmailing started with letters sent to the newspapers telling that they had laced some Glico products in the Nagoya-Okayama region with potassium cyanide. The letter was signed by "The Monster With 21 Faces", after the villain in Edogawa Ranpo's popular detective novels. Glico products disappeared from the stores, with a loss of more than 5 billion yen. In June, Japanese newspapers received a new letter from the group: "We forgive Glico." But then The Monster With 21 Faces shifted the target from Glico to other food companies, Marudai Ham, Morinaga and House. However, after one last message, dated February 27, 1985, nobody heard from The Monster With 21 Faces ever again. The identikit of the "fox-eyed man" as the police called the prime suspect of the Glico-Morinaga Case, was on all papers and TV channels, becoming one of Japanese crime history icons. In March 1994, the statute of limitation ran out for the abduction of Ezaki, leaving the case unsolved and without explanation. The Glico-Morinaga Case, or Case 114 as it is officially designated, has been the highest on the Japanese Police priority list for 10 years.
© Shirow Masamune - Production I.G / KODANSHA
Evolution of Real Robots
Before I started working on Stand Alone Complex, I was looking for ideas for a new "real robot" anime ? a missing link to fill in the gap between Patlabor and Ghost in the Shell. But I couldn't find any.
There's nothing surprising about that, because Ghost in the Shell was the ultimate robot anime.
At the height of the robot anime back in the 80's, the most elegant creations among the various infrastructures were land vehicles and aircraft. The robots were expected to replace those vehicles and aircraft on infrastructures created by man..
In the 90's, computers were introduced.
Patlabor had the foresight to use robots as replacements for computers, and not for vehicles and aircraft. When the Internet was introduced as the new infrastructure, we could no longer do anything without linking to the Internet, even though Patlabor did not have a full link to the web.
What then could we utilize on the web? Without any doubt, this would be information.
How about virtual robots in the world of cyber space? That would not do. Robots are robots only when they possess actual robotic bodies.
What if we piloted robots using the web? That was a little off track. Robots take on character when they are piloted directly just like vehicles and aircraft.
I was playing around with these ideas when I realized that if we introduced some kind of interface by which to gain access to the networks, that would serve as a replacement for the idea of piloting a robot. At that point, giant robots disappeared from my mind. The fusion of the web and robots is none other than the artificial bodies you see in Ghost in the Shell.
If we can find a new infrastructure that incorporates real robots in an anime, in other words, if we can invent a situation where we can use an army of robots and still make it convincing for the audience, then we can revive the old style robot animes.
When Patlabor was in production, the Japanese economy was in a bubble, and that made it convincingly real to have robots as heavy machinery to restructure Tokyo. The Babylon Project, an ambitious plan supposed to redevelop Tokyo, was another element to the basic story setting introduced to justify the presence of giant robots.
But still, that was not as convincing as the on-going war being the rationale, or infrastructure, for mobile suits in the Gundam anime series.
Well, I won't give up on my search.
© Shirow Masamune - Production I.G / KODANSHA
In S.A.C. 2nd Gig, I dealt with a lot of political issues. Actually, I wasn't particularly interested in politics until I began to work on this series. I didn't really pay attention to the political pages in newspapers before. I was only interested in making anime, ever since I was a high school student.
In anime production, you have a production crew ranging from in-between animators right up to the director. Each and every one has a different role to play.
When I was an amateur, I was happy doing the in-betweens. At one time, I even thought it would be cool just to do the artwork in anime productions.
As I got to know more about the production system, I decided that I had to become a director to do what I really wanted in the commercial anime industry. My dream was to impress people with my work, as I was impressed and influenced by many anime in the past.
This meant that I no longer just sat with a pencil and drew. This was because, in order to realize my vision in anime, I had to work with animators and directors, as well as sponsors, voice actors, and of course, the audience.
It was quite tricky. I found out that I couldn't get things done without political and diplomatic maneuvering. I needed to use my powers of persuasion in the creative workplace.
So it is no coincidence that I gradually became interested in politics.
When I start working with a new crew, I sometimes ask, "If you were chosen to be prime minister by chance ? like by winning a lottery ? would you take the office?" I'd ask, "Without having toiled through all the stages to become prime minister, you just fall into the job tomorrow. Would you take up that opportunity?"
Most of the time, six out of ten people say no.
If I were lucky enough to have the chance, I would even take leave from this job and take up the position. I don't know what I'll do, but I'll try to finish my term as prime minister. I'd be driven by my own curiosity, but I'd also have some hope that I might be able to change something. To help the underprivileged, for example. Even a little support would do.
A young person would say, "I'd rather do whatever I wanted to do with someone I love". I think it is the special privilege of young people to have that kind of dream. Some people commented that S.A.C. is the extreme opposite of a "closed world" type anime. As a director, I couldn't ignore the fact that there is a society between the "world" and the private life of "you and me".
© Shirow Masamune - Production I.G / KODANSHA
Potential Of The Original
As we finished working on this project, I came to realize that the original Ghost in the Shell created by Shirow Masamune truly had great potential.
Director Oshii once told me long ago, "When I was just about finished Urusei Yatsura, I knew the company would ask me to do Maison Ikkoku, by the same author. They were similar, but the potential of the two were different, so I made up my mind and declined the offer."
I now understand what he meant.
With the setting for Urusei Yatsura, he could do classic literature and hardcore Sci-Fi with the characters, but it would not have been the same with Maison Ikkoku.
It was the same with Stand Alone Complex. Within the fifty-two episodes, I could experiment with a "program picture" structure or break down the drama and restructure its story. I could even insert my secret messages into the story.
With the current networking society and the potential of the original story, I think I was very lucky to have had a chance to direct Stand Alone Complex at this time.
Compared to the time when the first feature film version came out, I think we, as the production staff, and the audiences can now relate to the networking society better.
So I am extremely grateful to Shirow Masamune, the original author, to let a rookie like myself do the job.
I tried not to forget the respect I always had for the original story. While I was working on S.A.C. , I was always conscious that I would be handing it back to Shirow Masamune when it was completed. I'll have to have others judge whether I had done a good job.
As it turned out, my perception deviated from Oshii-san's, and it might also be somewhat different from the original story as well.
I feel that creating something is a process of clarifying the differences between yourself and other people.
Up until now, Production I.G has always stuck to police stories. I feel it might be interesting to create a story from the criminal's point of view. Being on the side of the authority, you never lose, but don't you think criminals have more freedom? Of course crimes are immoral, so it is hard to produce an anime from that perspective. But I think it would be fun to go about in the world of S.A.C. from a "commoner's" point of view.
Tetsuya Nishio and Dai Sato often suggest that we should make anime set in convenience stores and family restaurants! (lol).
© Shirow Masamune · Production I.G / KODANSHA