NYAF2010: "Mardock Scramble: The First Compression" Press Conference with Author!
Aniplex presented the World Premiere of Mardock Scramble: The First Compression at New York Anime Fest 2010 and held an exclusive press conference (via interpreter) with Tow Ubukata, the author of the novel the movie is based on. The English translation of the novel comes out in America early next year through VIZ Media under its Haikasoru label. Be sure to buy the book and give it a read, the story is incredible!
TOW UBUKATA: Hi my name is Tow Ubukata, I am a Japanese writer and I also work through Japanese anime and manga as well. I wrote Mardock Scramble and I also worked on the screenplay.
Q: What were some of the influences behind Mardock Scramble? Were you influenced by other science fiction? You mentioned the title itself refers to the God Mardock, how does that play into the story?
TOW UBUKATA: I received quite a bit of influence from many science fiction titles, and I studied about Mardock in college so that fell into play as well. For the most part, there were a variety of influences. While it isn’t exactly science fiction, I received influence from Steven King’s novels.
Q: How does it feel seeing your written work translated onto screen?
TOW UBUKATA: I am very impressed by it. I have been told that it would be hard to put onto the movie screen, hard to translate into movies, so I am glad it was done so well.
Q: Le Chevalier d’Eon and Mardock Scramble both to some extent are about women who are basically murdered and then brought back to life somehow, to avenge their deaths, why does that theme interest you?
TOW UBUKATA: I feel that such a theme is quite dramatic and strong in the dramatic category, and I feel that the preciousness of life is most easily represented when the life is in danger.
Q: What was the inspiration behind the plot of the story?
TOW UBUKATA: As far as the names are concerned, Mardock is from the God, and as far as the names of the characters, a lot of it is from sort of cooking with eggs, egg recipes. You have Oeufcoque and Balot and those are sort of egg recipes, there is some inspirations from that.
Q: Mardock Scramble was originally going to be made into a video series by Gonzo back in 2006 and it was cancelled, but there was some work done on it. How would you say this new Mardock Scramble compares to that one in bringing the story to life?
TOW UBUKATA: While producing the anime at Gonzo, we ran into a lot of different troubles, but it was a great learning process and through this experience I feel as though we were able to take the best parts of animating Mardock Scramble with Gonzo and take it into this new version of Mardock Scramble that we made now.
Q: So there was really no specific reason why the Gonzo anime was cancelled?
TOW UBUKATA: Basically I think it was the bursting of the bubble in 2006 that really was the main reason it wasn’t fully produced by Gonzo.
Q: You worked on both the screenplay and novel. What is the approach to working on those since they are different?
TOW UBUKATA: There were some parts of the novel that I wasn’t quite able to express as parts of the novel, and those parts were expressed a lot better in the anime.
Q: One of the more striking parts in Mardock Scramble were the twisted serial killers who go after Balot and they are really kind of disturbing. You got the guy with eyes all over himself. How did you come up with them?
TOW UBUKATA: When coming up with the villains of the plot, I wanted to create villains who treated human beings as objects, people who had no concern for the human spirit, to whom the person was just a piece of meat that they could cook. Sort of like cooking with meat recipes, the opposite of cooking with eggs.
Q: What do you find most appealing about the science fiction genre?
TOW UBUKATA: The main appeal is the relationship between the human and society, and when you introduce technology like time machines in it, how does that change society. You can tell a story on two different levels, you can tell a drama of the person and the drama of the society, and the story of the person and the society.
Q: During the Q&A section after the showing of Mardock Scramble, you mentioned the common theme in Mardock and science fiction is the victim or the oppressed getting power and abusing that power. Why do you think that is a common theme?
TOW UBUKATA: After World War II during the rebuilding of Japan, one common theme that the Japanese government used was that technology will save the people and the country. So, if you look at a lot of the works in Japan like Astro Boy, Astro Boy is a representation of Japan’s hope towards nuclear power. But at the same time, technology can be a blessing or a curse, depending on how you use it and Japan is a country that has really felt this through all the industrial pollution and the harm that comes from it. That is why I believe this is a common theme in Japanese science fiction.
TOW UBUKATA: One recent trend in Japanese animation is to have lead character who is female. It seems more popular to have a show with a female lead than a male lead right now. Now, the reasons for this, there are all sorts of critics and professors analyzing theories, but that would go on forever and ever.
Q: How do you feel Balot is set apart from the female leads in other shows?
TOW UBUKATA: One distinct feature about Balot is that her character encompasses a level of sexuality that is considered inappropriate for an animation. At the same time in Japan there is inequality between men and women and there is abuse of young women but on a societal level this problem is ignored and not acknowledged by society. Through the character Balot I wanted to create an animation piece that forces people to acknowledge this problem and to face it.
Q: Do you feel that by writing your book, Mardock Scramble, people have noticed this oppression of the woman in society?
TOW UBUKATA: Mardock Scramble was a novel that I wrote when this problem was not faced by society and currently society as a whole is more acknowledging of this problem in Japan. When I first wrote the novel everyone said that female child prostitution didn’t exist in Japan, but now, the news acknowledges that this does exist and this is a problem.
Q: What was the reasoning behind taking away Balot’s voice?
TOW UBUKATA: Balot is an egg recipe where a chick that is about to hatch is cooked within the shell of the egg. So, it is a metaphor for a character that is trapped in an egg, and her cries for help can’t be heard by anybody. For the character Balot, the only one who can cure her cries for help is the mouse and I think her not having a voice is representative of this struggle. That is sort of the reasoning behind the shell when Balot is reborn.
Q: Do you have a favorite scene in Mardock Scramble?
TOW UBUKATA: The best one I like is when Oeufcoque is in her hand and saying “I’m not a human, I’m a mouse,” and the way their partnership is born. That is probably my favorite scene.
Q: Did you ever expect your work to be turned into a film?
TOW UBUKATA: It was a novel where people said there is no way this is going to get animated; this is no way this is going to get turned into a film. So I had no expectations.
TOW UBUKATA: It’d be hard to do any of them animated, but if I wanted one animated I’d want all of them animated.
Q: What advice would you give to young authors that would perhaps like to work in the animated field?
TOW UBUKATA: Don’t think too much about the animation part when you are writing your story. If you write a story that is easily animated, if you consider how is this scene going to be animated when you are writing the scene, then it is not adding anything new to the animation industry. When you are writing your story you should instead just write what you want to and even if it is something that is not easily animated, it will act as an inspiration for the animation industry and add to it.
Q: What can you tell us about what you are currently working on as far as your novels go?
TOW UBUKATA: Mardock Scramble is actually a novel series and I am working on the latest issue of that, but in addition to that I am also working on about seven different projects between novels, animation and manga.
Q: What was the reasoning behind screening the movie in America before Japan?
TOW UBUKATA: At first they wanted to run a simultaneous release in both America and Japan at the same time. But I think they started to lean towards a premiere in America mostly to have them see it first and sort of be able to attach the ‘world premiere’ part to it as well, so that’s how it was shown in North America first.
Q: Now you have worked with video games as well as manga, are there any plans to broaden Mardock Scramble into a video game series or a manga series?
TOW UBUKATA: A manga version of Mardock Scramble is currently being serialized in Japan right now, and there are plans to release an English version of the manga. But as far as the game goes, censorship is very strict in the video game industry so there are no plans right now to make a video game series out of it.
TOW UBUKATA: The mouse is a creature that keeps eating so long as it is alive. It keeps growing heavier until one day it collapses from its own weight and they keep reproducing and increasing in numbers until they run out of food and the entire pack dies out. I wanted to use the mouse as a metaphor for the growth of cities, the uncontrollable growth of cities, the proliferation of weapons across countries and just the abuse of power by people.
Q: Was the gritty animation style used to portray the dark style of the novel?
TOW UBUKATA: Yes, the director was trying to represent the dark underground atmosphere of the novel within the animation, but he was also very careful to not just turn the animation into this very dark product. There are scenes in the work that are very bright and hopeful, so instead what he was trying to do was to create a distinction between the light and the dark and have the two different images of novel make each other stand out better.
TOW UBUKATA: We used New York as a model in terms of it being a New York future city because a lot of people would recognize the name from both America and Japan. You probably noticed that Central Park was one of the places mentioned. In terms of how it is organized, I used Hong Kong as one of the inspirations as well; the poor live on the coast while the wealthy live up on the hills. I used that organization as part of how the city is put together.
Q: But it is an original city correct? It is not actually supposed to be New York or Hong Kong?
TOW UBUKATA: We were planning at first for it to be New York City but problems developed so they decided to make it an individual city. It is a unique series because if we say it is New York then a lot of people might not feel kindly towards that.
Q: The character Shell, who has his memories erased, what was the inspiration for that?
TOW UBUKATA: It came from the name “Shell” itself. I wanted to convey an image of something that has just a shell and there is nothing inside, it is empty inside. So for the case of Shell he would really be a dangerous character in which there would be no emotion. He is a character that has no morals, no empathy, no feelings towards others and it seems like he has ambition, that he has a purpose he wants to accomplish but even that purpose is not his own.
TOW UBUKATA: The girl is seeking shelter, seeking help from the shell but instead she is trapped by the shell and killed by the shell.
Q: What did you think of the American audience’s reaction to your film?
TOW UBUKATA: On one level it was a sigh of relief to see that the reaction was similar to the reaction of the Japanese audience. On another level, we threw a lot of English motifs into the episode so I expected the American audience to be able to swallow some of the humor more quickly than the Japanese people and I was glad to see that there was laughter instantaneously towards the name of some of the characters.
Q: With all of the cooking metaphors in Mardock Scramble do you enjoy cooking? Are you a good cook?
TOW UBUKATA: No, not really.
TOW UBUKATA: The English translation of the Mardock Scramble novel has been in the works for three years. After three years of work we finally came up with a product that we can release to the public, so if you want to know what happens after the first episode, I suggest that you pick up the novel because I think we have plot twists in there that you can’t possibly imagine.
All images are © TOW UBUKATA/MS COMMITTEE