Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Interview with Buddha Director Morishita

The Daily Yomiuri Online recently published an incredible interview with Kozo Morishita, the director of the first movie based on Osamu Tezuka's Buddha. This man is a true veteran of the animation business and has quite an incredible resume. Check out this sample from the article.
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You can read the entire interview here on the Daily Yomiuri or by clicking the link below for an archived version.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
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 [1969]). 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.


Animating 'Buddha'

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.

Continue reading "Interview with Buddha Director Morishita"...

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Black Jack OVA #11?!

Somehow, this amazing news had totally slipped by me until now!

The Black Jack OVA, directed by the legendary Osamu Dezaki who unfortunately passed away recently, is getting one more volume. The first volume was released in Japan in 1993, and this new is coming more than 10 years after the 10th volume, which was released in 2000.

The original voice actors for Black Jack and Pinoko are returning, and apparently did a live video stream of a recording session on May 14th.

And now I am reading that not only will there be this 11th new episode, but a 12th one as well. An amazing final gift from the great Osamu Dezaki. You can read more (in Japanese) here.

No word on any English-language release yet, of course. The previous 10 volumes were released on region 1 DVD by the now defunct Central Park Media and it's now likely harder to find a complete set. You can download subtitled episodes from Tezuka Productions on iTunes.

Source: Anime News Network.

Continue reading "Black Jack OVA #11?!"...

TeZuKa - The Dance Show.

The Sadler's Wells theatre in Islington, London, England will be holding a new stage production featuring music, dance, and multimedia, celebrating the work of Osamu Tezuka. It is being choreographed by Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui and will have 5 performances this September.

More information from the website:
Visionary Japanese animator and manga artist Osamu Tezuka provides the inspiration for internationally renowned choreographer and Sadler’s Wells Associate Artist Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui’s brand new work - TeZukA.

Working with a cast of nine dancers, two musicians, an actor and a calligrapher, all drawn from Europe and Asia, Cherkaoui explores Tezuka’s fascinating world - a blend of tradition, science fiction and contemporary reality. Two of Tezuka’s manga stories which are well known in Japanese popular culture – Astro Boy and Buddha – have particularly captured Cherkaoui’s imagination in creating this new work.

TeZukA will feature a specially commissioned score from award-winning composer Nitin Sawhney with lighting and visual design by Willy Cessa, plus projections of Tezuka’s original illustrations alongside work by video artist Taiki Ueda. Using the dancers’ movements to trace the physical evolution of Tezuka’s drawings - from a line on a blank page to a single Japanese kanji (letter) to a fully-formed manga character - Cherkaoui will bring the “God of Manga’s” philosophy, drawings and characters to life.

You can book your tickets here. The September 9th performance will include a talk with Helen McCarthy.

Source: Anime News Network.

Continue reading "TeZuKa - The Dance Show."...