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Marvin Gleicher
"I think the Japanese are still producing films for their own culture first."
Emru Townsend: One of the things about Japanese animation is that a lot of the stylization, to some degree--well, part of it is cultural, but part of it is also born of necessity in terms of differences in budgets for animated films. Which I generally consider to be a good thing, because even, say, a Miyazaki film like Laputa would cost a fraction of your average Disney film, but can go toe-to-toe with a Disney film. What we're seeing in some cases, with Akira eight years ago, or Ghost in the Shell, or Macross Plus, we suddenly have a bit more money given over to them. The aesthetic stays more or less the same, but the actual animation, for want of a better expression, is improving. More full animation, better character animation, more of a feeling of weight, and so on.

Marvin Gleicher: Since some of these are originally intended for a Japanese audience--Ghost in the Shell, for instance, is really meant for a Japanese audience more than anything else. Macross Plus was primarily intended for a Japanese audience, and so on.

Yeah, Macross has been known for years.

Yeah, it's the Star Wars of anime. Or maybe Gundam is. But anyway--since co-productions are happening more often, not just with you, but also, say, Little Nemo with Tokyo Movie Shinsha, and so on, do you see this as possibly, however minutely, starting to affect what's happening in Japan, in terms of Japanese animation films?

I think the Japanese are still producing films for their own culture first. I don't know if that answers your question.

Well, I'm looking at it more in terms of production. Because you look at Ghost in the Shell, you look at Macross Plus, and you look at Nemo. In the three cases, they have a higher budget than your average anime film. With the exception of Nemo, they were essentially produced for a Japanese market. Nemo seems to have gotten more play in Japan than over here, which is why I bother to mention it. And all three of them are head and shoulders above what you normally find in anime for a variety of reasons. Ghost in the Shell has this very state-of-the-art computer animation blended in with very high quality character animation.

Right. And background drawings and everything.

Right. The background drawings are very lush. Macross Plus also has some blending of computer animation, although not as much and not as extensive, but even so it's brilliantly directed. And Nemo of course has a very strong Disney influence in terms of character animation, a feeling of weight for the characters, which a lot of anime doesn't have, and much more full, 12-24 frames per second as opposed to anything lower than that...

Yeah, like eight or six.

So do you see the possibility that at some point in the future, since co-productions, worldwide, seem to be the way things are going--British and Canadian, American and Japanese, American and French, British and French, and so on--do you see that as becoming more of a reality in Japan and in some ways changing the expectations of the Japanese audience of what they'll find in, say, theatrical anime?

Okay. I agree that, yes, the co-productions are necessary because it spreads the risk. And it could be five Japanese companies that co-produce it, one's a toy manufacturer, one's an ad agency, and blah blah blah...

Sort of like Akira.

Right. Or it could be Gaumont and Alliance and somebody else... there are definitely lots of co-productions to ensure proper distribution and marketing in those major countries as well as spreading the risk. However, in Japan, there is still what is known as the director's moral rights. Once the project is financed, once the script is agreed to, then as production begins the director controls it. So if we want to edit out some scenes that don't work in Germany or something of that nature, unless it's only for a board of censors it cannot be touched or removed due to what's kind of an inherent law for [a] director's moral rights in Japan. And there are various types of clauses--it doesn't translate exactly into international law, but it's kind of a copyright protection of the work that's created. We have production meetings with them, but we've hired them because of their skills, to produce as they see it.

So ultimately, even if you are to some degree footing the production costs, ultimately it's still in the hands of the director.

First it's in the hands of the committee, and then from that committee of which the five companies or three companies or two companies are in, then it goes to the director. So from that director's point of view, he's going to produce it as he sees it, and whether that's for the Japanese market or for the western market... well, it's difficult to put your finger on it.

Now, a lot of the productions done in Japan that are now successful in Japan don't translated outside of Japan. And some of the productions that translate outside of Japan are not the productions that we're looking for. They might be too X-rated, or they might be too young in demographics, competing with Disney or competing with Fox network, or competing with Nickelodeon, [which is] very difficult. Difficult isn't the word. So we're bringing stories to them that we're going to finance, that we'll produce under our guise, and that's one aspect of it. But the animation studios still want to stay in business, and they want to produce films that will have appeal worldwide, because they realize that the Japanese market is isolated as it is. It's still the strongest consumer of Japanese animation, however there's a lot of other countries where this is now occurring, and depending on how much they can westernize it without sacrificing their integrity--that's what they're attempting to do in most cases.

I notice there's a note here about music. What we've tried to do is educate the Japanese directors and producers to westernized music. In a lot cases the music is added as the last part, the music budget is nowhere near what it should be for a lot of films, it's thrown together because the story and the animation is more important--there are certain parts of the production that are not done at 110% of efficiency. So we've attempted in many cases to, based on the story, and based on some of the rushes that we've seen from various scenes being created, have gone out and gathered 25 or 50 songs from everyone from Yello to KMFDM to Nine Inch Nails to Soundgarden or Moby or whoever, and attempted to add to the film. You can keep all of the Japanese inherent cultural things in a film, [and] if you add more westernized music sometimes it'll can make it more worldly just by that effect. In the case of Street Fighter II, that worked tremendously well.

Of course, in some cases anime music quality has flip-flopped wildly, and in some cases it's been absolutely brilliant. Unfortunately, that's very much in the minority. And I found that with Ghost in the Shell in particular... well, it's been a long time since I've heard an anime soundtrack that just fit so perfectly.

It was really well done. We added the [Brian] Eno/U2 track at the titles because we wanted to attempt to integrate the music industry as well, but it was really well done as a soundtrack.

Of course, being an Island company, it sort of helps too, in terms of having music connections.

That doesn't mean U2 is going to charge us less. [both laugh]

No, but it does make it easier since the contacts and the links are in place.

Completely agreed. I've been out actively attempting to license various clips for MuchMusic and MTV so that we get more exposure on these markets and bands are able to increase their production value at little or no cost... we try and cross-promote and cross-market as much as we can. We're licensing films into TV shows, we're licensing films into movies right now, we have a CD-ROM game coming out, you can pick up anything you want on some of our Web sites and they're all interconnected... We're attempting every possible way of marketing other than buying full-page ads in the New York Times to expose it and to show people that there's a lot there that they aren't going to see on television, and it's rare that they get into theatrical. We were very lucky we were able to theatrically release Ghost the way we were.

Ghost in the Shell uses some computer effects.

It's called digitally-generated animation. It's sort of [director Mamoru] Oshii's subjective perspective of integrating digitally-created effects with actual cel animation. And he does it so artistically, more on feel than technically.

Well, that's what Oshii's good at. To be honest, I've only seen one thing by Oshii that I'm consciously aware of, Angel's Egg. Aesthetically, it's just wonderful. But was also wondering if, as you're getting into more co-productions, will you be incorporating more of the computer stuff not in terms of CGI alone, but more in terms of digital ink and paint, and at times incorporating CGI.

I think the Japanese are just starting to do that. As I said, they're still a lot more based in traditional cel animation. They're not using that as much, to my knowledge.

Are you currently working on any television projects?

Yes. We're finally licensing several of the films, and we're working mostly with movie channels. I've been working really hard to try and get some of the cable stations to pick up some of this, and have succeeded mostly with the Sci-Fi Channel.

Naturally.

But I'm trying to expand that audience where we can, and we're actually working on a broadcast network to do a show, which, you know, has a chance, at least we're trying. But a lot of the films now are starting to get licensed at decent prices to various premium services.

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