Morishita joined Toei Animation more than 40 years ago, when it was still known as Toei Doga. Since then, he's risen through the ranks to become vice president, and it's probably safe to say that the Shizuoka Prefecture native knows more about the firm than anybody else. After a break of more than two decades, Morishita recently dusted off his director's cap to call the shots for Osamu Tezuka's Buddha--The Great Departure (Japan title: Tezuka Osamu's Buddha--Akai Sabaku yo! Utsukushiku), which opened last month.That's right, this dude worked on Transformers, and now he's worked on Tezuka. Awesome.
You can read the entire interview here on the Daily Yomiuri or by clicking the link below for an archived version. You can also read about the Japanese premier of the Buddha film, with statements from the cast and crew including Morishita-san, here on tezukaosamu.net.
Breathing life into 2 dimensions / Toei Animation's Morishita relishing return to hands-on duties
Makoto Fukuda / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff Writer
Even if the name Toei Animation doesn't immediately ring a bell, chances are you're familiar with much of the company's output: Over the years, the Tokyo-based firm has produced some of the nation's most celebrated cinematic and TV anime.
Similarly, you may not have heard of Kozo Morishita, but you're likely au fait with at least a few of the anime titles he's helped coax into life, including Dragon Ball Z and Saint Seiya.
Morishita joined Toei Animation more than 40 years ago, when it was still known as Toei Doga. Since then, he's risen through the ranks to become vice president, and it's probably safe to say that the Shizuoka Prefecture native knows more about the firm than anybody else. After a break of more than two decades, Morishita recently dusted off his director's cap to call the shots for Osamu Tezuka's Buddha--The Great Departure (Japan title: Tezuka Osamu's Buddha--Akai Sabaku yo! Utsukushiku), which opened last month.
Morishita, 62, has been a movie fan since childhood and says he always wanted to work in a related field. While attending a vocational college with the aim of becoming a designer in the TV industry, he happened to hear about the entry test for Toei Doga. He recalls, "I initially thought the exam was for the Toei film company, but [Toei Doga] turned out to be a different firm altogether!"
When Morishita joined Toei Doga in 1970, it was known for making feature-length cinematic productions such as Nagagutsu o Haita Neko (The Wonderful World of Puss in Boots ). However, the company was also starting to make strides with full-blown TV anime. Starting with Kikku no Oni (Demon Kick), Morishita served as a director's assistant, learning the ropes under experienced senior colleagues.
He made his directorial debut with an episode of Kyuti Hani (Cutie Honey) in 1974, and also had a hand in such titles as Kotetsu Jigu (Steel Jeeg) and UFO Robo Gurendaiza (UFO Robot Grendizer), both produced in 1975. His first outing as chief director came in 1981, when he was handed the reins for Tiger Mask II. In 1983, he directed Tatakae! Cho Robotto Seimeitai Toransufoma (The Transformers) and in 1988, while handling directorial responsibilities for Saint Seiya, he was made a producer.
Contrasting TV and movies
TV anime and cinematic anime are very different beasts. On TV, it's all about presenting the characters in an engaging way within the framework of a limited number of drawings and a limited budget.
Explains Morishita: "[We learned that] if you endow the female protagonist with generous breasts, it puts a smile on kids' faces. Also, we turned the limitations associated with static images into a plus by effectively employing very detailed drawings of robots and such like.
"Working within such constraints let staffers heighten their powers of expression."
It may have been a slightly unrefined approach, but in their pursuit of each protagonist's "cool" factor, the staff helped coalesce the traditions of Toei Doga's production methods.
Morishita brought the full range of his skills to bear on Saint Seiya, which was produced in conjunction with Shueisha Inc. and its publication Weekly Shonen Jump. The project ate up large amounts of time and money: Clouds were drawn with multiple gradations, lavish action scenes were common and staffers poured their hearts and souls into the work.
Morishita recalls, "We used far too much cash, and consequently, I was made a producer so I could learn how to disburse funds appropriately."
Morishita then produced the Dragon Ball series--again based on a Weekly Shonen Jump manga story--which led in turn to Dragon Ball Z. Dragon Ball starts off as a heartwarming tale, but as the protagonist, Son Goku, grows up, he becomes involved in numerous fierce battles. This change in narrative direction, coupled with Toei Animation's depiction of the resultant action scenes, increased the show's popularity.
In 1978, to deal with a shortfall in personnel, Morishita traveled to South Korea and trained staff there. Five years later, at the invitation of U.S. firm Marvel, he began visiting the United States to help make and direct The Transformers, the success of which brought great benefits for Toei Animation.
Morishita's personal standing rose, too, and he began to have a say in the running of the company.
About six years ago, Toei Co. President Yusuke Okada told Morishita he was interested in turning Osamu Tezuka's Buddha into an animated feature film. Numerous directors and scriptwriters were then tasked with drawing up pilots and plots.
"At the end of the day, however, none surpassed the impact of the original work, and I realized that a straight reading of the story would be best," recalls Morishita. "As I was the one who'd had the original conversation with President Okada, I decided it would be best if I tackled the project myself."
Fulfilling his role as a senior manager naturally kept Morishita very busy, so he'd hit the studio at night and on weekends to hammer away at storyboards for the project.
"I'd order in food and fill out expense sheets; I guess staff in the administration department probably wondered, 'Who the heck's Morishita?'" he says with a laugh. "They probably didn't expect me to be working on the shop floor, as it were."
As for getting into the thick of things again, he notes: "I'm one of only a few people who were around in the era when Toei Doga was churning out full-length cinematic features.
"TV anime attracts viewers through the accentuation of popular characters, whereas movies can afford to spend a long time concentrating on story composition, development and presenting a world view," he adds. "Within these two genres, the director's job is completely different. But when you tackle these roles, you find that it becomes easier both for yourself and for the people who come after you."
The animation master's directorial efforts continue apace, and he's currently working on several projects slated for eventual cinematic release, including George Akiyama's Ashura.
Notes Morishita: "Director Hayao Miyazaki is proving there's still an audience out there for high-quality cinematic anime."
Morishita has a strong desire to see his company once again churn out top-notch feature-length movies a la Hakujaden and its many successors. In this regard, the industry veteran's focus and enthusiasm may well serve as a valuable legacy for future Toei Animation staff.
Tezuka's 'Buddha' trilogy launched
Toei Animation's Osamu Tezuka's Buddha--The Great Departure is based on Tezuka's manga series Buddha, which traces the life of Siddhartha Gautama, the founder of Buddhism.
The first film in a projected trilogy, it sees the birth of Prince Siddhartha in the Indian kingdom of Shaka, about 2,500 years ago. On becoming acquainted with a number of young female thieves, the young prince begins to ponder the merits of his caste-based society. Meanwhile, Chapra, a slave-turned-military leader from the kingdom of Kosala, invades Shaka.
"We endeavored to make the kind of entertainment that the whole family can enjoy, while still conveying the story's main themes," says director Kozo Morishita. "Ideally, we'd like to spark people into thinking about the fate of those burdened by troubles, or about hurdles that can't be overcome."
Steering clear of needless flash, the film's treatment of the characters' inner struggles and conflicts is handled in an orthodox manner, but with care and gravity, impressing upon viewers the fundamental strengths of Toei Animation.
The movie features the voice talents of such actors as Hidetaka Yoshioka, Masato Sakai, Kiyokazu Kanze, Sayuri Yoshinaga and Nana Mizuki. The theme song, "Scarlet Love Song," was penned by X Japan.
Original artwork by Tezuka and a statue of Buddha are among the many items being showcased at an exhibition titled Buddha: The Story in Manga and Art, running at the Tokyo National Museum in Ueno, Tokyo, until June 26.