Otakon 2014: 15-minutes with Sunao Katabuchi

The name of Sunao Katabuchi has found a place in people’s minds for two very different anime: the high octane action series Black Lagoon and his gentle and timeless film Mai Mai Miracle. But Mr. Katabuchi is a veteran to the anime world, having started his career doing a few stories for Sherlock Hound.

Building on his strength of portraying the wonder of everyday life in Mai Mai Miracle is his next directorial work, In This Corner of the World based on the manga by Fumiyo Kouno. The story takes place takes place in pre-World War II Hiroshima and follows the new experiences of a young newlywed woman.

At Otakon, Mr. Katabuchi spoke a lot about the project which is being produced by Masao Maruyama of studio MAPPA with animation direction by Hidenori Matsubara, both of whom were in attendance.  A special exhibit of production artwork was also shown over the weekend which revealed how much care they are taking to get the historical details right.

Reverse Thieves: Let’s talk about the beginning of In This Corner of the World’s production. When did MAPPA get involved? When did Mr. Matsubara come on board?

Sunao Katabuchi: When MAPPA was first created, the project was already there. It is my belief that MAPPA was created to make things like this.

Before this, we made a short video called Hana wa Saku. It was a charity work for people who fell victim to the 2011 tsunami and earthquake. So Matsubara-san was involved with that as an animator, too. He drew everyday life with the most precision; at least that is how I felt and that’s the exact reason I wanted him for [In This Corner of the World].

RT: In the animation of In This Corner of the World, how will you execute the art changes which occur in the manga?

SK: Trying to recreate all of those style changes is going to be impossible because as you can see (flips through a volume of the manga) it is made of many different art styles throughout the period. The style of manga is white and black, a monochrome world, and we need to create that in color, too. But what we really want to create is “what if Kouno Fumiyo had drawn this in color?” So, I was being told to get as many color pictures from Kouno Fumiyo as I could for that purpose. So, we may be able to recreate some of her color style, that is one thing we are attempting to do.

RT: How involved is Fumiyo Kouno with the production?

SK: We have lots of conversations. Like, you see this building over here (shows a page from the manga), this building was up until very recently but then last year it got taken down. The very last photo that we had of that building, the wall was brown, but actually the building was one Kouno-san had seen many times as a child, and she told me, “When I saw it as a child, it was bluish-gray.” Other things are like where this place was that she drew, those are the kinds of talks that we have. Say for example these caramels (shows a page from the manga), there were two boxes: a type that had 10 and a type that had 20 in them, so we’d ask which one was this? So those details, things like those [we talk about]. Similar to me, she is a person of detail, and being the same type of person I believe we have pretty nice conversations.

RT: Since you mentioned your work on Hana wa Saku, could you tell us more about your feelings on it? What was it like working with Yoko Kanno?

SK: The video was made to be shown exactly two years after the disaster. So, when such a long time passes, people who were in the midst of it or who are currently still in midst of it will remember, but the people who haven’t experienced it would kind of forget about it. So, the real purpose of the video is for remembrance, for those people who have not experienced the earthquake.

Talking with Kanno-san, we actually shared the same view when it came to the music that should be used. And she said that we should use the track we already had but redo it using children’s voices. And also let’s do it with the sound of organs; something you regularly have in a Japanese pre-school. In reality, she was even saying to use an organ that had taken damage from the tsunami. Although the story about the damaged organ did not actually come into reality, I felt we still collaborated wonderfully because we shared the same views.

RT: Finally, we must ask about your time on Sherlock Hound. Do you have any stories about the production you could share?

SK: So, Sherlock Hound was actually while I was in university specializing in movies. My professor back then was a friend of the great Miyazaki and he was needing someone who could draw pictures and also do stories as well. I told the teacher I had learned some animation but I hadn’t studied story and would that be okay? My professor told me to tell [Miyazaki-san] very confidently that I had written many stories before. (laughter) But then if I had said that they wouldn’t they have asked me to present the work I had done in the past? Then the professor said well tell him this: “I was forced to submit them all to the university and I couldn’t show you any at this point.” Miyazaki-san and his crew said, “Well, we can’t decide then, can we? So write a story for us and we’ll decide then.” And that is what you have on film right now. The biggest lesson of the day: listen to your teachers.

More Otakon 2014 posts:

Otakon 2014: Tweets
Otakon 2014: Under the Dog
Otakon 2014: General Impressions
The Speakeasy #056: X, Otakon 2014
Otakon 2014: Photoshoots
Otakon 2014: Panels
Otakon 2014: Concerts
Otakon 2014: Guests
Otakon 2014: Artist Alley

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