The Annecy International Animation Film Festival selected Japan as Annecy’s Tribute Country for the festival in 2019. In response to that, a special program New Motion -The Next of Japanese Animation- was hosted by the Agency for Cultural Affairs*1 and the Tokyo Metropolitan Government. Visual Industry Promotion Organization*2 (VIPO) planned and managed the special program by welcoming Mitsuko Okamoto, the vice president of Tokyo University of the Arts, as the general director. As a part of the special program, 26 creators who will bear the next generation of Japanese animation were selected and their works were introduced during the festival.
Yoshimi Itazu is one of the selected creators for the program. He is well known as the lead animator of the TV series Dennō Coil (2007) and the feature film Miss Hokusai (2015), and as the director of the TV series Welcome to the Ballroom (2017). The Fukushima disaster-themed short film Pigtails, which marked his directorial debut in 2015, was screened at a program titled Tribute to Japanese Animation: New Motion – Directors, a part of the special program New Motion -The Next of Japanese Animation-, during the festival.
*1: A Japanese governmental body, which belongs to the Japanese Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology. Promoting Japanese art and culture is one of their public missions.
*2: A non-profit organization in Japan, which supports the Japanese content industry (anime, broadcasting, character, games, movie, music, publishing) to make it internationally competitive and to contribute to the growth of the Japanese economy.
Animationweek had the opportunity to interview Mr. Itazu during the festival and heard many precious first-hand stories about his career and the Japanese animation industry in general. We would like to share them with you here.
Interview with Yoshimi Itazu
Hideki Nagaishi(HN): Why have you aimed for the animation industry?
Yoshimi Itazu: I loved animation and I have been watching it since my childhood, so the dream of being able to be involved in a drawing-related job one day, had grown quite naturally inside me from a very early stage. At the same time, I felt urged to start to work as soon as possible, because, to be honest, I was not very much fond of going to school (laughs). I had been loving to draw pictures since I was a kid, so I thought I could find something that could allow me to do that to earn a living. Also, my favorite style was line drawing: the style of animation. That’s how the idea of working in the animation industry started to become an option to pursue. That idea eventually became reality when I managed to get hired by a studio. At that time, I think I was around 17 or 18.
HN: Who are the creators you were particularly influenced or inspired by, as an animator?
Yoshimi Itazu: Before I started to work, Hayao Miyazaki was the creator I was influenced by the most, as I had been watching his films for as long as I could remember. When I joined my very first studio (Studio Gallop), I had the privilege to work under Tsukasa Tannai, a very experienced animator who became my direct mentor. By absolute coincidence, and to my greatest surprise, he was nothing less than the lead animator for Mr. Miyazaki’s film Castle in the Sky (1986). I owe to Mr. Tannai most of what I know about animation techniques. After quitting the studio to become a freelancer, I had the opportunity to take part in a number of projects directed by Satoshi Kon, and I could definitely refer to him as a major influence in terms of film directing.
HN: Could you tell us more about how Satoshi Kon influenced you as a director?
Yoshimi Itazu: Mr. Kon was a person who used to talk a lot about films over drinks, with conversations such as: “This film is the kind of film that would be interesting if you watch in this way.” I had always heard him talking, being next to him, and he introduced me to a lot of films and his ways of watching them.
HN: Could you please let us know an animation title that you find especially impressive from the works you took part in so far?
Yoshimi Itazu: If I have to mention one, I believe that would be Miss Hokusai, directed by Keiichi Hara that became the biggest turning point of my career. Before the film, I had worked with directors who were also talented animation artists; but Mr. Hara is not an animator, even though he draws extremely detailed storyboards. Mr. Hara showed me a different style of directing out of the directors I’ve worked with until then, because he doesn’t draw animation with his own hands. It was a very precious experience for me.
For Miss Hokusai I had the role of lead animator, and Mr. Hara gave me fairly extensive creative freedom when it came to translate his storyboards into animation. This became a rare opportunity to expand my views on staging in animation. For this reason, Miss Hokusai is a very special title for me.
HN: I feel that Japanese animation has been creating new types of actions and movements that breaks the laws of physics. Do you take care of anything in particular when you animate?
Yoshimi Itazu: Many elements that are deemed distinctive to the style of Japanese traditional hand-drawn 2D animation today are in fact byproducts of the restrictions the Japanese animation industry had that have been affecting the whole industry since its early days. When Japan started to develop TV animation series, studios had to deal with shoestring budgets and production periods were short. As a result, newly-created shows would run at 8 pictures per second, which is a style of animation called “limited animation” that became almost common in the Japanese animation industry, in contrast to “full animation” that is generally common in Western animation, like animations made by Disney, which has 12 if not 24 drawings for each second. In this country, we made – and we are still making – animation with only one-third of the number of pictures used in full animation.
In time, Japanese animators learned how to make the most out of this animation style, resulting in the look of mainstream Japanese animation today. Since we have a low rate of drawings per second, we focus more on each drawing to be very well thought out in terms of layout, pose and visual impression.
The animators from my generation, including myself, grew up watching Japanese-style limited animation, so we are naturally accepting the style. As a matter of fact, I’m sure many of us eventually decided to join this trade because 8 frames-per-second animation looked totally cool and comfortable to us as it was. Hence, when I have to translate into a series of drawings a particular instant I perceived from reality, I feel perfectly comfortable in working with limited animation in order to render that very impression, rather than “reality” itself. I’m pretty sure I’m self-consciously doing it that way.