Director Naoyoshi Shiotani’s career includes work on productions such as Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, Oblivion Island and Fullmetal Alchemist. He attended the convention to specifically discuss his director role in the Psycho-Pass franchise being released by Anime Limited and Toonzone News had the chance to interview him.
TOONZONE NEWS: It’s been said that Psycho-Pass had a ‘no moe’ rule to combat recent anime trends, a fact that can be seen in how smart, strong and compassionate Akane is as a character. How important was this rule to the production?
NAOYOSHI SHIOTANI: Of course we were making an original animation so we could have done all sorts of things. But in this case we were focusing on characters who were members of a police force, solving crime. And the main staff of the production decided that what we were aiming for was something that adults would watch. Adults who maybe hadn’t seen anime before or who used to perhaps watch anime in the past but had drifted away from it, that they would enjoy in the same way as watching a live action movie. So although I don’t think moe is bad (it can be effective) that wasn’t our priority, having those moe girl characters.
And there’s so much moe in anime at the moment that it was a way of making something original with a unique tone to not have that.
TOONZONE NEWS: I know that in the past you’ve been asked if you side with Kogami or Makishima. Akane receives her own rival in the form of her subordinate Mika. Out of those two which do you side with?
NAOYOSHI SHIOTANI: [Laughs] Tough one…I prefer Akane but I like Mika as well. They play a different role. Akane is the protagonist, the heroine, viewers see the story through her eyes and they grow with her throughout the story. Mika, when we were talking about the character amongst the staff, we said “Well, she’s new, she’s young, she’s headstrong, she thinks she’s better than Akane and that she knows best”. And so she’s easy to dislike but I like her and the other staff like her. We get a bit sad when viewers say they don’t like her.
TOONZONE NEWS: I should probably add that there’s a bit of a rivalry between me and a friend. We both like Akane because as said she’s a well-rounded character but I’m slightly more a fan of Mika whereas my friend can’t stand her.
NAOYOSHI SHIOTANI: [Laughs broadly] It’s the same in Japan. Yeah, when you start talking about Mika people start booing.
What I told her voice actress to do was to deliberately hate Akane. She had to hate Akane so much that she didn’t want to hear a single word that came out of her mouth, that she didn’t even want to be breathing the same air as her. It’s not that I just wanted her to hate Akane, it’s that as part of a theme of Psycho-Pass they’re in the same position of catching criminals but they think differently and I wanted that to come across very clearly to the audience.
TOONZONE NEWS: Dystopian authors such as George Orwell and Phillip K. Dick are referenced frequently in the series by characters and I believe this referencing helps better sell the idea of how such a world has come to exist. How actively were you trying to show your inspirations?
NAOYOSHI SHIOTANI: When we started, myself and the other staff talked about work that we liked and how it would be interesting if we could mix them all together and meld them into something new. That includes works of some of the authors you mentioned.
So we’ve read these books and we love them but a lot of young people today don’t read books anymore, so we also wanted this to inspire young people to read books by including the titles in our story.
TOONZONE NEWS: Colour is used strongly throughout Psycho-Pass to convey mood. For example, there’s a scene in the film where we see lighting shift via a beautiful sunset. Where did this preference for colour come from?
NAOYOSHI SHIOTANI: The use of colour is to do with showing the emotions of the characters and the need to express all these emotions that the characters are feeling. So there might be rain to express sadness, for example. Then you have warm colours and cold colours and certain colours give a very strong impression; red can come off as aggressive, blue can seem calming. So the use of colour is very important in Psycho-Pass. The other reason is that it’s a series about human psychology, so it was a way of using that as a tool in creating the series.
I often refer to it as layers. So there’s the layer of speech and a layer of visuals (characters, backgrounds, etc) which you can use to build depth. It then becomes a question of how you use these layers to create psychological effects and how people will react to those.
It’s a bit like the layers of a mille-feuille cake. How to express these particularly complex emotions.
TOONZONE NEWS: One of themes of Psycho-Pass, especially the movie, is the danger of isolation and nationalism. As you’re likely aware the UK is currently facing this problem itself. In your own words is there a specific message that you feel the story is trying to relate about those dangers?
NAOYOSHI SHIOTANI: Well the story is fiction but as you asked earlier about the moe and I said we decided from the outset not to include it, there were several other things we decided from the outset as well. One of those was that we would be dealing with problems that exist in the real world but in a different setting. So this future that we see, it may be that it’s the wrong future or it may be that it’s a better way of living. We don’t know the answer to that but it does give us an opportunity to think about what would happen in these situations, what happens when you’re isolated in this way and computers control human society.
It’s deliberately a difficult storyline that gives us an opportunity to think about the problems that are hard to solve and to try to think of solutions to these issues. In order for us to be able to think about right and wrong it gives us a scenario in which a computer is able to decide what is right. Because if that wasn’t the case there would be nothing for us to question.
And right now it’s dealing with a closed society but if I were to make more Psycho Pass I think I might like to explore what happens if that society opened up .
TOONZONE NEWS: Just to say briefly, I do agree it is very important to use fiction in such a way to get people asking such questions and get them thinking.
NAOYOSHI SHIOTANI: Thank you.
Japan is an island nation and about 99% of the people in Japan are Japanese. I’m sure that Japan isn’t the only country with such a population breakdown but it makes it quite unique to have. But if you live there that’s normal. You don’t meet many foreigners and although we have the internet which makes you feel closer to people in other countries, until you actually meet them you don’t realise how difficult communication can be and a lot of Japanese people only speak their native language so it can be difficult. But we tend to hide in our shells and I think we need to break out. It doesn’t come across explicitly in Psycho Pass and as much as I was making it for Japanese people to watch, I think I was trying to get people to notice this thin shell that they’re living inside.
And again, I can’t say if it’s a good thing or a bad thing because maybe it’s this unique mentality and culture that we have in Japan that has given rise to this original idea.
Toonzone would like to thank Naoyoshi Shiotani for taking the time to speak with us, Jeremy Graves of Anime Limited for helping to facilitate this interview and Bethan Jones for interpreting.
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