A great guest elevates a convention. And a great guest at a smaller con is an opportunity not to be missed. Kenji Kamiyama is that type of guest. There is a level of intimacy present at AnimeNEXT between attendees and guests that you just can’t get with 20,000 more fans milling about the halls. With that in mind and a press badge to boot we got to hear a lot from Mr. Kamiyama over the weekend.
The multi-talented Kenji Kamiyama is a high caliber guest and I was extremely pleased to see him at the convention considering how much I have enjoyed his body of work. AnimeNEXT and Kenji Kamiyama were very accommodating in providing everyone an autograph and Q&A sessions on Friday and Saturday as well and a Press Conference. AnimeNEXT bent over backwards to make him as accessible, this is the real thrill of a well run mid-sized con; you still have the ability to interact with a Japanese guest.
Kenji Kamiyama has filled many roles in the animation industry from background artist to writer but he said the goal was always to direct. And direct he has. After studying under the famous Mamoru Oshii and still working with his mentor from time to time, he has created a modern, intelligent, and growing body of work which includes directing Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex and Eden of the East. Production I.G’s great library, and place in my heart, is in no small part thanks to this man. I happily waited in line to wait for his autograph with a crowd that was content and dignified when they approached him. He acknowledged two people cosplaying Takizawa and Shiratori from Eden of the East happily and I saw him chuckle a bit when someone handed him a Tachikoma to sign (I then chastised myself for not doing the same). This open and light vibe was felt throughout the con.
While he is most famous for his work on Stand Alone Complex and Eden of the East, his directorial work on Moribito – Guardian of the Spirit, Mini Pato, plus his various other scriptwriting and assorted jobs in the animation industry are equally remarkable. He is someone who slowly but surely worked his way to the top. I am curious to know if any of our readers could spot how his various roles in the industry have influenced his directorial style. I too regret not bringing something better to sign as I own all of Stand Alone Complex, Moribito, and a Stand Alone Complex shirt. Like Narutaki I got him to sign my program guide which was still a treat.
The press round robin came together quickly Saturday morning and by noon eight of us were sitting in the presidential suite with Mr. Kamiyama. We were allotted only 25-minutes out of his busy schedule but I’m here to tell you you can learn a great deal in a short amount of time. I was third up in the line of questions but I didn’t need too much time to know what my query would be. I eagerly asked about the vivid and memorable character, The Laughing Man from Stand Alone Complex. I wanted to know how the character emerged and Mr. Kamiyama seemed quite pleased to talk of him, in fact it became clear just how personal the character was to him. He related reading Catcher in the Rye and also how he felt the fanbase for that story was similar to anime fans. I followed up with the hope of seeing The Laughing Man reappear should there be more Stand Alone Complex. Mr. Kamiyama was conflicted saying he would like to use him again but leaving him so mysterious might be better. It reminded me of debates centered around many such characters and the idea that after you learn more about them they seem less cool. More questions about Stand Alone Complex came up from others in the room like whether or not Mr. Kamiyama felt any pressure directing a series that was so well-loved from the Oshii films but he admitted to feeling quite at ease in the role much to our surprise.
I got what I to call my “Tim Maughan questions” out of the way first by asking him what he learned from working under Mamoru Oshii and if he picked up any habits from him. Mr. Kamiyama said that Oshii taught him how to in inject a sense of realism into something inherently unrealistic like animation. He also half-laughing mentioned that he picked up the habit of writing large stretches of complex dialog that puts people to sleep from his mentor. I then asked him how much of his own sense of humor was present in Mini Pato. Since it was mostly Oshii’s baby, he mentioned his major contribution was to make the humor a little less poisonous than Oshii’s normal ultra-deadly brand. When I asked him about the difficulties in adapting Seirei no Moribito in a 26-episode TV series, he related that Nahoko Uehashi, the original author, asked them to just adapt the first book eventhough there was plenty of meaty stories throughout the series. Our questions aside, I did find it interesting that he mentioned while it was not his directorial style he did actually like moe anime such as K-ON!. Several people in the room were colored quite surprised by that answer. When asked what his favorite creative endeavor was he said he found he had no creative limits when writing but found it harder to get exactly what he wants from other forms of expression. A fun question asked was if he could go back in time to direct any movie what would it be? After thinking a moment, his answer was the seminal work Seven Samurai. Along that path his favorite directors are George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, and Ridley Scott and he mentioned how much Star Wars stood out for him early on. And that he liked James Cameron’s Avatar came up a few times over the weekend. My favorite answer was when he was asked if he had any funny stories about Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade. Ah e tells it, normally they would average 30 cuts a day on a project but they were on producing closer to 5 on Jin-Roh. Whenever the company president would come to see how things were progressing he would just look at when they had, sigh, and leave. But he mentioned that the movie was so well drawn that many people thought it was done using rotoscoping.
I enjoy when Q&A sessions start with some background and a light introduction but the guide book had all of that and the audience seemed to already know who had come to call. So not a minute was wasted in the one-hour session with Mr. Kamiyama on Friday afternoon. I was curious to see what the fans would ask, but I also placed one question of my own. If you’ve seen the manga, Oshii’s films, and Stand Alone Complex you know that each is quite different from one another, I said this to Mr. Kamiyama and asked what he had wanted to bring the franchise. He said he hoped to create a bridge between the original source material and Oshii’s theme-driven films while feeling out the characters in his own way. As can be imagined there were a lot of questions pertaining to Eden of the East from the many fans present. Some things Mr. Kamiyama mentioned was the process to get the voice actors for Takizawa and Saki perfect was kind of drawn out with lots of back and forthing. And of course he did say he was working on a new project, and no more Eden of the East, but he didn’t disclose any details.
I kicked off the Q&A by asking the one question I got from twitter, and that everyone wants to know, what about the future of Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex if there is one. He mentioned that they were still discussing the idea of a third TV series and were mostly trying to gauge the fan interest. I found it interesting that he said another season of TV and not just another movie like Solid State Society. His tone did not make it seem like anything was definitive I did get the feeling they are seriously considering it and it wasn’t the typical brush off “anything could happen”-type answer.
Over the years, and the many directors who have graced American anime cons, you realize there is something very special about getting into the head of someone who was so close to a work you loved. They make it happen, they know it better than anyone, and they can easily surprise you with their understanding of it. Every director is different in how they approach the fans and the myriad of questions set before them. Mr. Kamiyama showed great care in his answers and really gave the fans something to talk about. I hope anyone who is heading to Anime Expo takes advantage of his open-nature about his work. It is early in the con season but Kenji Kamiyama just may be the best guest of 2010.
I do regret not seeing Mr. Kamiyama second Q&A on Saturday as I still had plenty of questions to ask. When we went to Friday’s session the number of people at the event did not even take up 1/4 of the room, that this is a crying shame. One of the best guests you can see and only a handful of people at the con cared to attend. I assume that a majority of the people reading a report like this are the type who already have a tendency to go to panels with directors and producers so I will avoid preaching to the choir. What I will say is that you should try to get your friends or even people you randomly meet to go to see the guests of honor. If we want quality guests in the future we have to show both the conventions and the guests themselves that they can be just as much a draw as musical acts and the masquerade.
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