Recently we caught up with the film’s director, Kenji Kamyama, to discuss just why he chose to make a film with such dubious politics, as well as his thoughts on the future of cell-shaded animation in Japan.
HEYUGUYS: The original comic series, the villain is the Black Ghost organisation. With the film you’ve taken a different tact, and the villain is, at least at one point, America and American Capitalism. Why was that important, and why did you choose to do that?
KENJI KAMIYAMA: In the comics, in the Manga, there is a fight against God that Ishinimori-san died before he brought that fight to conclusion, and the reason that this fight came about was because the war against the Black Ghost ends, and it turns out the war against the Black Ghost ends, and it turns out the Black Ghost and the war they represent is human greed, and it’s human beings that are the biggest evil, so even after the Black Ghost is gone, evil still exists, wars still happen, and the Cyborgs continue to fight. But if the wars keep happening as long as human beings exist, at some point God decides that Human Beings are what is evil, what is wrong, so at this point, should the cyborgs fight against God. The Manga ends before that question is answered, so by continuing that story, that’s how I decided to bring Zero-Zero Nine back, To revive it for modern audiences.
The US is identified as a major villain throughout much of the film, and it’s not until very late in the day that it’s absolved of responsibility. With that in mind, how do you think the film will play for Western audiences?
When I was making the film, I didn’t really think about fans in different groups: the Japanese fans, the American fans, the British fans. I live in Japan, and I was writing it, writing about the world as I see it as a Japanese person. After I’d written it, and we started animating, then I did think, as we were drawing particular scenes: when Dubai is blown up by the nuclear bomb, what would people on Dubai think? Or like you say, when the US comes across as a villain, represented by Jet Link, what would people think in the states? I did think that, but basically the film is based on my feelings, so I just wrote what I felt at the time. Maybe commercially speaking, it would have been better to think how to make the American fans happy, but that’s not how I was thinking at the time.
It’s interesting you have that attitude. The British film industry at the moment is very much in service to the US industry, and independent film isn’t doing quite as well as it might. In Japan, particularly with animation, you have a thriving industry. Do you think part of that success is because you’re not thinking about markets outside of Japan, and by staying true to your core audience, that – ironically –gives you a broader appeal than if you were pandering?
With Hayao Miyazaki from Ghibli, he started directing before the days of the internet. For me the internet already existed when I started, but people were still watching their anime on DVD rather than online, and I never imagined that this many people, internationally, would be watching what I had created. For me, I wanted to take the films, both Japanese and foreign films, that I had watched as a teenager, and share them with audiences, and before I knew it people were watching it in other countries and liking it, but I never really thought that I wanted to make things for those other audiences. I think there are good things about that, but times have changed a lot, and for this film for example, the UK is the first place it’s been released outside of Japan. With Ghost in the Shell, the DVD came out in the States very close to when it came out in Japan, and so people have been saying, ‘you should make something for the US audience’, but the way it works in Japan, we think about the Japanese fans first.
With regard to Japanese animation, Hayao Miyazaki recently railed against the state of the Japanese animation industry. As another prominent director of animation, how do you feel about the state of your industry?
I think more and more creators are becoming aware of their audience – that they have this overseas audience. In the past we saw these Hollywood films, and we couldn’t make that in Japan, either through live action or through 3D, so we kept on making our 2D animation. It just so happened that people liked that overseas, but we weren’t doing it on purpose, we were just making what we made. Until now. Now I think, as people are becoming more aware of the overseas audience, it’s going to split in two directions: people who don’t care what the audience outside of Japan think, they’re in their closed country, and they’re going to make just what they want to make, and what the Japanese fans are going to like; and the other group who are aware of the overseas audience, and are going to tailor it more towards them. Miyazaki, I think, wants to be in the former group, but he also likes making things that people like, and it just happens that people like what he does.