AnimeJapan 2017 is a grand exhibition of PR booths by the media companies, production studios exhibiting their latest works, stage events featuring voice actors and staff, vocational schools and universities offering courses in animation and media arts, and of course, both fan and pro cosplay.

But what many people don’t hear about are the “seminar stages” that are offered throughout the two public days of the event. This series of seminars is mostly geared towards those with a keen interest in learning how the animation industry works, the intricacies of the contents business, and even new projects related to the industry.

A wide range of topics were covered this past weekend in the various talks–including Kobun Shizuno’s talk, entitled “‘Directing’ for Anime.”

In many countries, we are brought up with the image of celebrity directors like Steven Spielberg and such, and we usually take “directing” to mean a guy who tells live actors how to move, speak, behave, and in essence, perform. Within the context of animation, since they are just drawings, this idea falls apart a little.

In the case of anime, it might even mean different things for different productions. Director Shizuno, famous for his work on Knights of Sidonia, the Detective Conan (Case Closed) movies since 2011, and also GI Joe Sigma 6, gave an hour of his time to explain his job in his own way, and give some advice for the budding creators in the audience (about half of the attendants were students) along the way.

Shizuno is an interesting candidate for this particular explanation of the role of the “director,” since his case is such a unique one. He wanted to be an anime director since he was little, but he only really has memories from when he was in second or third year of junior high school. He explained how he was something of a loner—he couldn’t really read, he always played by himself, and he did not fit in. He became such a problem child that his parents were called in by the school at one point. After middle school, he started to interact more with the outside world, but before that he lived in his own dream world, where he was a variety of characters. He would watch movies and act out the scenes by himself. One of his earliest memories was of watching Raiders of the Lost Ark in Kabukicho, and then pretending to be Indiana Jones. But he didn’t simply follow the plot of the movie, he would rearrange the story and added his own twists. He essentially said to himself: “If I was making this movie, I would do it like this!”

In a sense, what he does today as a professional is just an extension of that play style.

Even though he loved movies, the young Shizuno really had no interest in working. He had the opportunity to go to Los Angeles and live with a host family during a study abroad program, but even then he spent his time going to Las Vegas instead of studying.

Eventually, at the age of 26, his parents told him to go out and work.

Upon coming across a TV commercial for Yoyogi Animation Gakuin, the famous vocational school, he became interested in animation as a tool for creating anything imaginable. But even after enrolling (and his parents footing the bill, of course!), he still didn’t pay attention in class! Not interested in drawing animation frames, he instead sat at the back and concentrated on refining his storyboarding skills.

Shizuno then, is the type of creator who is driven by his own interest, by the excitement of trying to challenge something new. His motivation comes from a desire to remain focused on a particular goal, and not be distracted.

He described examples of this drive in a couple of episodes which give us an insight into his thought process and working style.

When he was starting off, he had not even touched a computer. But around that time in the late 1990s, an anime studio known as Gonzo was starting to integrate CG and cel anime, so he got a PC and in a week, with no sleep, he learned about modelling, rigging and rendering. He knew this would be necessary in the future. In retrospect, we can see this with his full CG works, such as Knights of Sidonia.

Another similar story is that even though he had no interest in drawing, he was told that for Conan he had to draw layouts, so again he did the same thing, he learned and improved.

So even though he is an anime director, he emphasized that he is not limited to anime and that the medium and forms of expression within it vary widely. Things like 3DCG or hand-drawn animation are things that depend on the tone of the work and tastes of the market.

So, in the end, just what is the role of the director? Unlike our ideas of “auteur” directors, Shizuno said that for the most part, the success of the movies is due to the producers and writers, not the director.

This freedom to work within various fields of visual media is down to the collaborative environment. So, whereas the director of an overseas animation production would have various materials and have to choose among them and rearrange them, Shizuno pointed out that, in Japan, the director is just one of many craftsmen, and as one of the actual laborers, he or she has to get his or her hands dirty. The ideas are discussed by the original creator, the writer, and the director (and the producers), rather than one single responsible person.

To wrap up, in spite of his years of apparent procrastination, Shizuno became a director because of his commitment to doing the things he loved, and he followed that road with no distractions. When he had to learn CG and drawing layouts, he did so because of genuine interest and because he thought it would serve on his path to his greater goal. I think we can all learn a lot from this type of commitment, and streamline our attitudes to our lives.

Image source: アニメーション映画『GODZILLA』 on Twitter

Kobun Shizuno’s latest Detective Conan movie, The Crimson Love Letter, is released on April 15 in Japan. He is also directing the upcoming Netflix animation, Godzilla: Kaiju Wakusei (Monster Planet) for Polygon Pictures, coming this November.

Comments (3)
  1. Fantastic article! I love seeing pieces like this that focus on Japan-only events that I would have never otherwise got to hear about!

    • Thank you so much for your comment! There will be more like this, so stay tuned!

  2. […] text in the corners for ambiguous and mind-blowing details. Speaking of the movie, Anime Now has some details from a Q&A the director did at […]

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