Interview: Itsuro Kawasaki

kawasakiITSURO KAWASAKI Profile
Scenario writer/storyboarder for Double Cast in the YaruDora game series. Later he was director/series planner for the TV anime Wild Arms TV. He has directed several anime including the TV series L/R, and the video series I'll/CKBC. He also took part in the production of several I.G titles, such as Windy Tales and Ghost in the Shell: S.A.C. 2nd Gig.

Part 01

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Tell us how you took up the job as the director for this anime.
At two in the morning, when I was checking the key frames for Windy Tales, I heard someone come in. The guy introduced himself, "Hello, I am Nakatake." He was in fact the producer of this anime. At two in the morning! Isn't that outrageous? Usually you don't come to one's workplace at that time, do you? Anyway, Windy Tales was close to being finished, and that particular night I was finishing up an episode. That's the best feeling; when you can indulge in the episode and also feel pretty good because you've accomplished something. If it was some other day, I would've said, "excuse me?" and then, "please come back tomorrow." That's it. But since I was in a good mood, I asked him what it was about. This was my encounter with the Tsubasa Chronicle - The Princess of the Birdcage Kingdom.
I had heard that they were working on that project, so I wasn't surprised when he told me about it. But I was amazed they hadn't picked a director yet. Later when I talked to Mitsumoto-san (Note: I.G chief producer) and President Ishikawa, they said, "The first time you were asked you declined the offer, didn't you?" To tell you the truth, I don't remember declining at all. Come to think of it, I do remember being asked, "How about next year?" to which I replied, "I have to work on a TV series." It seems like they thought I declined the offer. (lol) They should have told me that it was feature film work. Anyways, it took another round before he came back to me.

We hear that this is your first feature film anime.
At first, I wasn't familiar with working on a feature film, so I kept on fussing about how big and cumbersome the paper was! (lol) I wasn't obsessed with the idea of the big screen either. I mean, I wasn't really interested in doing feature films from the start. I'd always wanted to do TV anime ever since I started in the industry. That might sound dismissive to those who have a special affinity for feature films. But now that I've worked on one, I can understand the bigness of feature films. And also how feature film directors are sought after. (lol) (Note: Kawasaki-san had a number of magazine interviews scheduled that day.)

What was your impression about the original story?
Sure, I read the original. You can call me a skeptic, but I don't usually go for the bestsellers. Of course I knew CLAMP and how popular the group was, but at the same time, I felt there was no need to go out and get the manga just because everyone else did. Everybody acknowledged how good the manga was, so I knew it was good. I'd rather look for a fine work that doesn't get much attention. I would feel a greater sense of accomplishment that way, you know. Anyway, when I reread Tsubasa -RESERVoir CHRoNiCLE-, it turned the image I had about CLAMP on its head. How could CLAMP, known for their meticulous and detailed work, come up with such coarse drawings? But obviously it wasn't that they were being lazy. I figured that they intentionally used it to add a different flavor to the world of boys' manga. And they pulled it off really nicely. I realized that this group of creators called CLAMP was something to be reckoned with. That was my impression.

How did you related your work with the feature film xxxHOLiC - A Midsummer Night's Dream and the TV version of Tsubasa Chronicle?
At the start, I heard that the animation director for xxxHOLiC was Kazuchika Kise, so I figured that if they've got Kise-san, we would go in the complete opposite direction. Characters could be cute and curly, I thought. It wasn't really the rivalry against the TV series of Tsubasa Chronicle, but when we assigned Yoko Kikuchi as the character designer, we sort of set our direction. At first Kikuchi had a project going on somewhere else, so she couldn't assure us that she'd be working with us. But she had a talk with the president of the other company to make it so she could join us. I feel we were very lucky. To tell you the truth, the first anime I directed happened to be Kikuchi's debut work as a character designer. And now, as we are a little more experienced, I think we are both aiming to accomplish something we couldn't then. Well, this is my part of the story and I haven't really heard her say it. (Later, when I asked why she wanted to work on Tsubasa, she simply said, "I love Sakura, that's why." And that's it.)

In our previous interview with Producer Nakatake, he mentioned that ideas from the young staff were always enthusiastically encouraged and included in the work.
Basically, I would ask my main staff, "Is there anything you want to do?" I ask as much as I can, and then I would take responsibility and make a decision. I guess it's a pretty good feeling for those young creators to work with a director who listens to them, and then to see their ideas realized in the anime. You know, it's more fun to have lots of people involved when you're coming up with ideas. It doesn't cost anything to speak up. Gather up as many ideas as possible, as long as there's someone to pull things together neatly at the end. That's the way to do it.

Did you actually get a lot of ideas from your staff?
Yes, maybe too much. (lol) I felt like saying, "You were really hungry, weren't you?" There were tons of ideas. This process was a lot of fun too. Going back to the beginning, when I was offered the position of director at two in the morning, I talked about it for half an hour then went straight to Kyoji Asano. I asked him, "What do you think about Tsubasa Chronicle?" When I was still an I.G employee, Asano had just debuted as an animator, and he seemed so unsure of himself. But when I asked that question this time, he said, "I'm not sure whether I can manage the characters, but as for the layouts, leave them all to me." It was such a positive statement. That Asano sounded so cool! I was impressed and reassured. So I decided to work with him.
As for Naoyoshi Shiotani, I was with him once for a TV series called Kaiketsu Zorori (Legendary Zorori). I remembered him well, because when I first saw his key frames, I thought, "This kid doesn't draw like an I.G animator." He seemed to remember me as a storyboarder who let him draw freely. Since then we were both aware about each other, I guess, so I felt that this project sort of put us back together.

Both of them are in charge of key action scenes, aren't they?
Three of them, actually, including Toru Okubo. I'd like to point out that Okubo has done a fabulous job for this project. I want to congratulate him, but I haven't seen him since the animation meeting. I want to take him out for a dinner. So I'd like to use this opportunity to say, "Come on, Okubo, right away!" The action scenes by Asano, Shiotani and Okubo are all terrific in different ways. I'd like the audience to enjoy them as well as see how individualistic they are.

(to be continued.....)


© 2005 CLAMP/Kodansha/" The Movie Tsubasa Chronicle The Princess in Birdcage Kingdom" Committee

Part 02

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What do you think is most import in this anime project?
First of all, Tsubasa is a short feature of just 30 minutes, so I thought setting the location setting was a key point. Actually, I wanted to choose a catchy and appealing location. I asked Yasunori Miyazawa, whom I have worked with in other projects, to join us and he accepted. He was supposed to be a setting designer for this anime, but basically, I gave him a rough picture of the project and asked him to draw image boards. He drew quite a lot of sketches for us, which were very useful in the actual production of the anime. The setting of the Birdcage Kingdom was already decided in the script, but to have something on top of the birdcage originally came from Miyazawa. And we also used his designs for the Birdcage Kingdom crest and for some of the birds.

What about the tropical feel of the anime, which can be sensed from the characters' clothes?
I asked Kikuchi to do that. Sort of a southern island atmosphere, including some flavors of Okinawa and Taiwan. The reason is simple. I like that motif and I wanted to go there for location hunting. (lol) Yes, I did go, but I had to pay out of my pocket for the whole trip. Incidentally, I encountered the Blood+ team in the hotel where I was staying. The company paid for their trip and I had to pay out of my pocket. They were a big group and I was on my own. Well, anyway, when I went to the restaurant in the morning for breakfast, it was strange to see all the familiar faces. Of course, breakfast was the only time of the day I saw them since we went out on separate quests. I tried to gather information on plants that were unique to tropical islands. Tropical plants like banyan trees and mangroves give a special atmosphere. These were the things I mainly gathered and brought back. I wanted to use the motif of tropical trees in the anime.

We heard that you prepared so many storyboards at the start, which were disproportionately too many for a 30-minute short film. Is this because you were very enthusiastic about the project?
I think I was greatly inspired by Miyazawa's image boards. And also Shiotani's too. When I asked him to arrange action combat scenes, he just kept on talking right through. He would say, for instance, "Here is this and then that and..." It was simply overwhelming. When I put them all in, I came up with an enormous number of storyboards.

Well, let us shift to another subject. It seems that the finished anime has an unbelievably high frame number for a 30-minute anime.
A standard TV episode is said to be 30 minutes long, but in fact it is just around 20 minutes. So I thought it could be all right if I used one and a half times the number of frames in a TV episode... Maybe. To tell you the truth, I was a little taken aback myself. Fifty cuts in the latter half consumed so many frames. It just kept on taking up more frames. But I had been good with I.G until this anime and always kept to the number of frames I was allowed. So why not use up all my savings and spend it at once? Please cut me some slack this one time. (lol)

As for characters, is there any particular character that you have a special feeling for?
No, the opposite. To be honest, what I really think is that I want all the characters to stand out. So every character in the film is appropriately involved. I actually had to take out some of their actions because there wasn't enough space. It was the key frame artists who put more love into their work than I did. It might be appropriate to say they poured in too much love. Anyway, the characters are always moving. Actually, you are supposed to control the number of frames to make the action scenes stand out. Then you can pick out and discuss which movement was better. Usually, directors use more frames to make certain scenes stand out, but since the overall number of frames was so high for this film, we had to make certain sections stand out with even more frames. It's fun to watch, but directing it was trickier than I thought. It was hard to manipulate the scenes. These people were just drawing key frames quietly a little while ago, but for this project, they were using up frames like they were avenging their father's death. "What has happened to you?" I asked them. There must have been so much that was repressed inside. (lol) I did try to sort them out, but the action scenes that came up were so fun that it was hard to eliminate them. Therefore, I soberly told Nakatake that I would be using more frames than planned. (lol)

Did you do anything special regarding the interlinking with xxxHOLiC?
That was already included in the original scheme, so it wasn't that hard. But I remember, almost at the final stage, we realized we forgot about something that was supposed to be handed over to xxxHOLiC. (lol) Don't worry. Since these are planned as collaboration films, we've done our job to reflect that in the film.
The xxxHOLiC team had staff who can be reputed the best in the industry and we, the Tsubasa Chronicle team, had mostly the younger creators. (lol) We couldn't beat them with technique, so I told my staff that we shouldn't let them beat us in enthusiasm and momentum. But I didn't actually mean using a lot of frames. (lol) As a result, the film has that power, that momentum, so I think it's all right. People might say that the film only has energy. I didn't intend to elaborate and add "something" because it is an I.G production. I've tried to come up with a regular sort of film, which is easy to understand and fun. I tried to put a lot of entertaining elements into it. I hope everyone will feel refreshed after watching it, because there are no tricky elements to it.


Recorded at Production I.G, Tokyo on July 4, 2005.


© 2005 CLAMP/Kodansha/" The Movie Tsubasa Chronicle The Princess in Birdcage Kingdom" Committee