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Platform International Animation Festival: Toonzone Interviews Katsuhiro Otomo on His New Short Hi-No-Yojin: Combustible

Katsuhiro Otomo debuted as a manga writer/artist in 1973 and is known for such works as Domu and Akira. Otomo directed the animated adaptation of Akira in 1988, which went on to become highly influential in the world of animation. Otomo also directed 2004’s Steamboy; his most recent work is a short film “Combustible (Hi-No-Yojin).”

Otomo was presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award at Platform International Animation Festival in Los Angeles. Toonzone News was able to sit down with him for an interview. Thanks to Yasuhiro Nishimura for providing translation.

TOONZONE NEWS: How does it feel winning a lifetime achievement award?

KATSUHIRO OTOMO: I was very honored to receive the award.

TOONZONE NEWS: Looking back on your career, what are you most proud of?

KATSUHIRO OTOMO: Every time I complete a project, I feel proud of myself.

TOONZONE NEWS: Did you ever imagine your work would be so influential and so known throughout the world?

KATSUHIRO OTOMO: No, I never imagined.

TOONZONE NEWS: How did you first get interested in art and manga?

KATSUHIRO OTOMO: Childhood. When I was a kid, manga was getting popular in Japan, and I was reading manga and watching the TV animation as well. From the very beginning, it was TV. I got a lot of influence from being exposed to manga and anime.

TOONZONE NEWS: What were some of your favorites growing up?

KATSUHIRO OTOMO: Old ones from Mr. Tezuka. And they had lots more things that I could talk to everyone about. Maybe no one knows, it’s too old.

TOONZONE NEWS: How would you say your style of art has changed over the years since you first began working?

KATSUHIRO OTOMO: Changing style a lot by people who influence me. For example, I love Osamu Tezuka, so I tried to imitate his style. Then there was additional influence from some of the other artists in the Japanese style. I’m still changing.

TOONZONE NEWS: You’ve worked in several adaptations, translating manga to animation, including adapting your own work. What are some of the challenges in that?

KATSUHIRO OTOMO: I wanted to do both and was lucky there was the chance to do it. It was a challenge in both.

TOONZONE NEWS: Is there a medium you prefer to work in?

KATSUHIRO OTOMO: I like both.

TOONZONE NEWS: What was the inspiration for “Combustible?”

KATSUHIRO OTOMO: It comes from the old story back in 300 years ago in Japan, the main event of this film comes from the Meireki story most people in Japan know. I wanted to bring that context to nowadays with the technology.

TOONZONE NEWS: What made you decide to do it in a 15 minute short?

KATSUHIRO OTOMO: Because I was asked.

TOONZONE NEWS: Do you ever see “Combustible” being adapted into something else?

KATSUHIRO OTOMO: This is it.

TOONZONE NEWS: Could you talk about the style of making “Combustible?” It looks like a handscroll painting come to life.

KATSUHIRO OTOMO: I had lots of fun when I was doing research for the kimono, the fabric. All of this was coming from back in the old days. I put lots more effort in the drawings because of where the original story came from.

TOONZONE NEWS: This is obviously targeted towards a Japanese audience, do you see it doing well for an international audience?

KATSUHIRO OTOMO: We haven’t started showing this film in Japan yet, so we don’t know what Japanese people think, but we hope this film goes all over the world.

TOONZONE NEWS: Are there any other historical stories you see adapting?

KATSUHIRO OTOMO: So far, no. But I see lots of opportunities because I see lots of good stories in the Japanese olden times.

TOONZONE NEWS: Any particular time period that interests you?

KATSUHIRO OTOMO: If I had a time machine that I could travel around in, I want to go visit every period.

TOONZONE NEWS: Can you talk about any other projects you’re currently working on?

KATSUHIRO OTOMO: Could you please wait for a bit? It’s under preparation, so I can’t speak of it.

TOONZONE NEWS: Is there any dream project that you have that you can talk about?

KATSUHIRO OTOMO: I have dreams, but it’s something I need more details and to think of, and until then, I don’t want so speak of them.

TOONZONE NEWS: You’re very experienced, but is there anything you’re still discovering about your own style?

KATSUHIRO OTOMO: Yes, everything. The world is much bigger than I expect, so everywhere I go, I find lots more things.

TOONZONE NEWS: In general, are you happy with the way manga and anime has come along over the years and the audience it has found?

KATSUHIRO OTOMO: Actually I’m very happy to see the audience likes to see my creations because I’ve put a lot of effort into it.

TOONZONE NEWS: Is there a team you typically animate with?

KATSUHIRO OTOMO: Sort of, yes, because the Japanese anime industry is not that big, so lots of people working for both. It’s not that big an industry.

TOONZONE NEWS: Have you ever been asked by a non-Japanese animator to collaborate on a project?

KATSUHIRO OTOMO: Yeah, actually, I had the chance to collaborate with some of the American people, but at the time, I had my own work to do, so I didn’t collaborate. I felt there was something missing in America and I wanted to do that, but I couldn’t. Maybe next time.

TOONZONE NEWS: What are some of the benefits of collaboration, with either Japanese or non-Japanese team?

KATSUHIRO OTOMO: Depending on the way of collaboration. Maybe content. The way we execute a contract, for example, the contract terms, how I do it in Japan is totally different from what’s been going on in the United States, so it’s very difficult to collaborate with Americans.

TOONZONE NEWS: Who do you admire that’s working now in Japan?

KATSUHIRO OTOMO: Maybe a couple Japanese animations that I’d like to watch by the end of the year, having been shown at the Annecy film festival. One is called A Letter To Momo. That I think I have to watch.

TOONZONE NEWS: Thank you very much, it was a pleasure meeting you.

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