Cartoonist Taiyo Matsumoto‘s Tekkon Kinkreet (English title is Black & White) is a manga masterpiece, which was published serially in the weekly manga magazine Weekly Big Comic Spirits in 1993. Finally the animation film of Tekkon Kinkreet will be shown in cinemas in Tokyo this December – 7 years after they made their first pilot movie. Resfest Japan is going to have a premium screening of Tekkon Kinkreet on Thursday 23rd this week. PingMag went to talk to Eiko Tanaka from Studio4°C, the woman in charge of this special animation, to find out about what happened behind the scenes and what it takes to transform a famous manga into an animation, that is simply stunning.
Written by Chiemi
Translated by Natsumi Yamane
With the kind cooperation of RESFEST
Mrs. Tanaka, could you quickly introduce yourself, please?
I’m the president of animation studio Studio4°C, and also CEO of another company called Beyond C. Beyond C is the company which originally started this Tekkon Kinkreet project and I am the producer of the movie. I used to work with Studio Ghibli and played the role of the line producer for My Neighbor Totoro and Kiki’s Delivery Service.
What was your first impression when you saw the comic Tekkon Kinkreet?
When I saw it about 12 years ago, I just thought “this is it!”. A kid standing on a telephone pole and looking down at the whole city in the wind like that… there was nothing else like it. Even now, animation is basically for kids and families, but I always wanted to make an animation which adults can enjoy and Tekkon Kinkreet had that feeling to attract adults.
True, this story is definitely for adults! It contains too many violent scenes for kids actually…
Yes, that is probably the main reason why it took such a long time to be made into a movie. Our consciences tell us that we shouldn’t make a cool movie showing scenes of a kid beating up adults with a metal pipe… However, it’s impossible to show the delicate and dangerous balance of human beings without showing those kind of scenes as well.
In 1999, Michael Arias, who later on became Tekkon Kinkreet’s director, made a first pilot version with animator Koji Morimoto, but the whole project disappeared straight away. Why was that?
Koji wanted to do some experimentation with 3D, but when they actually started work on it they both realized just how difficult it is to express emotion in 3D.
But then, in 2003, you and Michael were working together on The Animatrix and you started to talk about it again, and decided to work on the project officially. What made you do it?
Mike’s passion was simply convincing. He was really into Tekkon Kinkreet and told me that he actually only did his best for Studio 4°C because he wanted to make a Tekkon movie! (laugh)
Director, Michael Arias
You managed to gather a real dream-team for this film including the art director Shinji Kimura of Steamboy, the animator Shoujirou Nishimi and the technical director Hiroaki Ando. Apparently, every member of the staff is a huge fun of Tekkon Kinkreet, but were there any problems because of the team’s strong attachment to the original?
I think we had more problems with the fact that the original was simply an amazing work, rather than anything to do with our personal attachment to it. We all had different scenes that we wanted to include, that each of us felt was a must-have in Tekkon. Because the team had so many experienced and talented professionals, I think they all felt that if this project was going to be born as their work, it had to achieve a satisfactory level, and if it wasn’t going to be that way, there was no point in participating at all.
The original manga has many memorable dialogues. Did any problems occur embedding those into the film?
Actually the scenario was written by a foreign writer Mike had requested, so it had to be translated back into Japanese. But that of course changed the overall ‘taste’ and many of the original dialogues got lost and it disturbed the overall tempo of the work. So we had to create a solid new rhythm and style for the Japanese scenario before we could continue with the storyboards – so that meant the scenario had to go through a major modification again. That all happened about a year after the project came up, so I didn’t dare tell the production committee… (laughs) It was a major crisis then!
Watching Tekkon Kinkreet, I thought the streets of Takaramachi were really striking. Are they based on any particular place?
Well, I think we were all walking around Kichijoji during our lunch breaks and I also asked the director to go and take some photos of the area along the river in Gotanda. (laughs)
Streets of Kichijoji. There certainly are…
How did you construct the city and think about how to connect one location to the other in the scenes?
This picture (below) shows the image board which everyone referred to when drawing backgrounds. When we got stuck, we went back to the original to find our way out. Only Shinji had absorbed everything of Taiyo Matsumoto’s world and never had to go back to the original once when he started drawing.
We had to think of everything: the distance perspectives of the streets, the positional relationship, where Kuro and Shiro lived, the size and the population of Takaramachi, the overall structure,… There are possibilities of dramas in all sorts of places in these streets. Shinji put it all together and made it into this drawing of the town.
Actually, everyone in the team knew exactly where the boys were running around on this map. Also, if the scene was at 3 o’clock in the afternoon, we needed to draw them with a light at 3 o’clock in the afternoon, even if they ran zigzag through the streets. Animators need to go into so much detail! Amazing!
This was Mike’s first work as a director, so he was surprised by these things too. (laugh) But he learned the process of animation at an amazing speed!
Who developed all the character design studies for you then?
Our character designer Shoujirou Nishimi made all kinds of “rules” about the characters’ personalities: how they act, what kind of poses and expressions they show amd in what situations etc. Then he made character settings according to those rules. Other guys were working on backgrounds creating “artistic settings”… Put those two together, and you get storyboards!
Can you tell me about the process of creating your storyboards?
Usually, storyboards are drawn in chronological order by the director himself. Hayao Miyazaki works that way, too. But in our case, we divided everything into 12 scenes with 3 people working on storyboards individually, like in live-action films. During this process, we paid attention to the feelings of the characters in each of the scenes.
When you finally got to the point of animating, were you joined by extra staff?
There were around 30 people just in the main animation team coordinated by the animation director. In Tekkon, there are 1538 cuts, so we had to put up the list of cuts on the wall and mark out the scenes that were finished in red.
Was Taiyo Matsumoto involved in the production at all?
I think Taiyo had complete confidence in Mike, and Mike was totally devoted to the work too. Even for us at 4℃, there was an understanding close to “Taiyo Matsumoto = Michael Arias.”
When Taiyo saw the finished anime, he said it was the treasure of his life. During the production, he only visited the studio twice. He said he’d feel jealous looking at our work and that he was also too tempted to make requests if anybody asked for his opinion, so in the end, he just decided to stay away from the studio until the production was over. (laugh)
Afterwards, he expressed his sincere gratitude to Shoujirou, Shinji, Hiroaki and everybody else in the studio, although the guys were just happy to meet Taiyo.
I heard that in this work, CG was only used for stage direction, but is this true?
CG in animation had always been very easy to spot, but I don’t think many people can tell where it’s being used in this piece of work. In Tekkon, we used it only as the camera. Incidentally, the trains and cars are all done with CG. Also, there is another CG method called camera mapping, where the camera moves in-between stereoscopic objects.
There was a scene where the boys were being followed in a camcorder – is that the scene you are talking about?
Yes, that’s the one!
I heard that the film “City of God” was shown to the staff as reference material. Why was that?
Apparently, the CGI director Takuma Sakamoto took ideas on how camcorders were being used in the film, but Shinji (Kimura, art director) seemed to be inspired by the film’s gaiety within cruelty without any sense of pessimism. Shoujirou said that he got ideas on childlike innocence and a sense of frustration from City of God and adopted it in Tekkon characters. So, everyone basically referred to different aspects of the film, I think.
Is it true that the director himself chose Plaid, a British electronic music duo, for the soundtrack?
Mike insisted that Plaid was the only band who could do it, and I think he was right too. The guys from Plaid came to Japan towards the end of the production, and when I thought they were working on the remix at the studio, it turned out that they were actually re-composing the song all over again after they saw our graphics. In their final week, they were sleeping at the studio using collapsible beds. (laugh)
This is a Japanese animation, but you had many foreigners on your team. Did you have any problem with the communication?
Not within the core-team, but because Japanimation is such a big word we had some trouble persuading some of the staff who thought a work by a foreign director wasn’t going to be a proper Japanimation.
What do you think was the main reason that persuaded those people that Tekkon was a real Japanimation although there were many foreigners involved?
I guess the simple fact that everyone just wanted to deliver the spirit of Tekkon… People gathered just for the sheer joy of it.
I think it wouldn’t have been possible to make such an excellent piece of animation without two things: the powerful attraction of Taiyo’s “Tekkon Kinkreet” and the talents of our staff, who each properly understood his work and successfully made it into their own creative work. And for this reason, I want everyone to know that there are these guys working behind the scenes and gave their very best to make this movie into a great success.
CGI director, Takuma Sakamoto
art director Shinji Kimura
colorist Miyuki Ito
Production, Kazuhiro Takei
Producer, Eiko Tanaka at Studio4°C in Kichijoji
Mrs. Tanaka, thank you so much for your time! The film “Tekkon Kinkreet” will be shown at “RESFEST” film festival at Laforet Museum in Harajuku on Thursday November 23 at 7:10pm, and also will be screened worldwide soon.