Scotland Loves Anime: Ryosuke Takahashi is the Anti-Tomino

“I don’t usually come to festivals, because y’know, usually the movies aren’t that interesting, or its just not my thing. But with Scotland Loves Anime I felt I had to go, because Scotland has the ST Andrew’s golf course!”

This was Ryosuke Takahashi’s first words to us at the Scotland Loves Anime Festivals. He went on to tell us that everything he was wearing had been made in Scotland (except his hat). His opening remarks closed with the statement that VOTOMS and Golf were actually quite similar, in that both were ancient, and both kind of dull to some people.

I have to imagine that ‘Scotland Loves Anime’ festival director Andrew Partridge shares not only my first name, but also my love for Takahashi’s work. Takahashi, a director primarily of politically-focused mecha series, many of them now decades old, is not a director known for his convention appearances or going abroad, neither will he attract every weeaboo interested in Naruto and Bleach. Even among the somewhat niche Mecha-fandom Takahashi is not extremely well-known, perhaps outshone by the more idiosyncratic and perhaps infamous director Yoshiyuki Tomino of the Gundam franchise. However the anime produced by Takahashi, such as VOTOMS or Dougram have gained a certain following and appreciation within anime fandom as a more down to earth, gritty alternative to the flashier mech-series like Macross or Gundam. It might be then that bringing Takahashi over to have him play a little golf, and answer some Jonathans Clements snarky questions was something of a passion-project for the SLA.  Here’s what we learned in the Q&A:

 – FLAG took 10 years to get on the air, and was really Takahashi’s baby. He was the only person involved from its conception until its airing.

-He became a director after seeing after seeing Astro Boy in 63′. He opted to become a director after learning how many cells animators have to draw (he began mimicking drawing madly)

-He worked under Osamu Tezuka, who is “99% a good guy.”, at Mushi Productions. He said that while everyone who’s met Tezuka likes him, he could be very scary as he was so focused on creating all the time. The work hours at Mushi Productions were so bad that the only times he could find to sleep were at his desk, though occasionally he’d be woken up by Tezuka sleeping next to him. He explained to us that he did not mean by that that Tezuka fancied him.

-After leaving Mushi Productions in the late 70’s he spent some time in Europe, and then had a brief foray into the underground Japanese theatre scene. (to everyones surprise, noticeably Jonathan Clements)

-He got involved in Japanese theatre after hearing about it from someone working with him on Wonder Seven. He had heard from his friend about cabaret shows, where the actors and actresses would paint themselves gold, and after the show scrub the gold off each other in a big tub. This sounded pretty good to Takahashi.

-In talking about Sunrise Takahashi explained that with Mushi-Pro Tezuka was only interested in creating something new and interesting, but the business-side of it was a failure. With Sunrise they were only interested in the business-side, and as such did well. He mentioned Sunrise’s ability to market toys, ect.

-Gasaraki came out of Takahashi’s need to find a new and exciting ways to power robots. He always felt Noh was a strange art due to the lack of movement in what is meant to be a dance, but heard that each step in Noh was meant to equal a 30 years. Gasaraki started out as the idea of a robot powered by those steps in Noh (this came off as a little vague to me as someone who hasn’t seen Gasaraki, but really interesting)

-Clements asked if he considered himself rivals with Tomino. Ryouske Takahashi said that this was not the case, and as “if Tomino is a star then I’m a streetlamp”. He went on to say that he got on well with Tomino as they both struggled with the same issues of being directors who did not have experience animating.

 I believe it was then handed over to audience questions:

-Someone asked what Ryouske Takahashi’s dream mecha project would be if he had unlimited funds. Takahashi replied that he actually didn’t like robots that much, and that they were included for marketabillity’s sake, but that he would like to do another longer series, something which would last “at least a year.”

-I asked if he ever planned on returning to Dougram as he had done with Votoms, but he replied that he preferred to make something new, and had only returned to Votoms due to massive fan-demand.

-Someone asked about the integration of CG with hand-drawn animation, and if he saw CG gaining more popularity. Takahashi felt CG would gain more success globally, but the fanbase in Japan are still accustomed to handdrawn.

-A very scottish girl asked (the best) a question about Takahashi’s involvement in The Moomins. He replied that he did it “to eat”, but that living in both the city and the Japanese countryside he often feels now that a japanese based Moomins could be quite interesting.

I might be missing out some key points, but that’s what I remember. Takahashi was a really funny, jolly guy, and extremely approachable. Kind of like the anti-tomino. I’ve gotta thank Scotland Loves Anime for making this happen. I got my ticket signed by him afterwards, and even though I didn’t speak Japanese and so just bowed profulsely, he seemed genuinely happy to have a fanbase outside of Japan (the golf probably helped.)

Imagawa was pretty much right about Tetsujin 28: The Lingering Moon

Tetsujin 28: The Lingering Moon is an odd movie. Despite sharing the same director, character designs and cast as the excellent 2004 series it is neither a sequel nor a re-imagining of said anime. Instead, as we learn in the films rushed opening exposition, it is something of an alternate take on the Tetsujin-28 anime. Like many of Imagawa’s works the movie opens in media-res, with nothing but a brief introduction to acquaint you with the world and the characters. Yet, unlike Imagawa’s other works like Giant Robo or Shin Mazinger I would not recommend this movie to someone who has not experienced the previous iterations of this franchise. The Lingering Moon does very little to explain who the character of Shotaro is or how he came into possession of the titular robot and you’ll find little reason to care about the plot if you don’t already have some amount of love for the franchise.

The focus is mostly on a new character, Shotaro’s adopted brother (also named Shotaro), a soldier who returns to Japan after hiding out in the southern Islands for years, believing the war was still continuing. Coinciding with this, a series of undetonated bombs, relics from Taisho era Japan, are discovered underneath Tokyo, capable of destroying buildings without harming civilians or animal-life (surprisingly humane and advanced for something created by Imperial-Japan) The plot of this movie is used mainly to re-iterate the themes of the TV-series; the clash between modern and Imperial Japan, the industrialisation of Tokyo and the question of whether weapons of war can be used for good. They are still surprisingly effective here, for an anime which, by all accounts, we’d expect to simply be about robots hitting each other. In fact it wouldn’t be a stretch to say this movie is less about Tetsujin-28 and more about a war veteran returning to a country which has moved on, in the character of Shotaro’s brother. This theme is handled with a high-level of melodrama, as characters tend to speechify at length, such as in the scene where Shotaro berates a beggar for pretending to be an injured Veteran. Still, there’s a level of sincerity here, as there was in the TV series, which makes this view of Post-War Japan, as a fragile country on the cusp of rebirth, surprisingly emotionally resonant.

Unlike the series however these themes feel at odds with the story of the robots themselves. Tetsujin-28 itself is completely ancillary to the plot, and there aren’t any real Mecha encounters until more than an hour into the movie. The mecha action that is there is superb, with the roundish tin-man looking Tetsujin being given an impressive sense of scale as he lumbers around the industrialised Tokyo-city. Imagawa as-always shows off his visual-flair for set-pieces in the climax, involving a Tetsujin-28 so large it dwarfs much of Tokyo with hundreds of missiles sprouting out of it, and while the resolution to this set-piece is entirely too reminiscent of Giant Robo, and feels somewhat rushed, its still visually arresting. Still, all of this takes a backseat to the character interactions. One of the great elements of the TV series was Shotaro’s relationship with the somewhat-sentient Tetsujin, and how it developed over the course of 26-episodes, leading to a heartbreaking conclusion. Here the story of the boy detective and his robot feels almost tacked on to a movie which is half retro-futurist mecha action, half contemplative post-war melodrama, and not entirely adept at either.

Imagawa was not entirely happy with this movie, as he said in a 2006 interview,      “ The Tetsujin 28 movie has been completed but shelved. It was finished last September but however it is not a good movie. It was a troubled project from the beginning. These troubles are reflected in the film.”                                             Its refreshing to see a director be so honest about his work, and yes, Tetsujin-28: The Lingering Moon is not up to Yasuhiro Imagawa’s usual standard. But its an interesting oddity, one which encapsulates a lot of what made the 2004 series so interesting and unique. Its just a pity that it never feels as cinematic as it should, neither is it entirely sure of what it wants to be.