After more than two years of absence, the Angoulême International Comics Festival returned with a 49th edition, held exceptionally in March. The context of the health crisis, probably little helped by the war in Ukraine and the closure of certain airspaces, did not allow for a show to be as lavish as in recent times in terms of Japanese guests as the publishers had hoped. Yet a big name still made it there: Masaaki Yuasa. Present at the preview of his new film, inu-ohthe talented director gave us the honor of an interview in which he talks about his career, his new work and his vision on adaptation.
Hi Mr Yuasa and thank you for awarding this interview. You made your debut in Japanese animation in the 1990s and have been mainly active in directing since the 2010s. click?
Masaaki Yuasa: I worked in a large studio. I complained about a lack of flexibility, which prevented me from doing what I wanted. Together with other artists we decided to set up our own studio.
You seem to like customization work a lot. In particular, you adapted the manga Ping Pong by Taiyô Matsumoto and Devilman by Gô Nagai. On the literary side there is also Japan sinks: 2020, loosely based on the novel by Sakyo Komatsu and now Inu-Oh. But in these adaptations you breathe a strong identity. What do you like about transcribing a pre-existing work?
Masaaki Yuasa: An edit is always an easier exercise than an original production, especially in the movie format that takes a limited time period. Of course, each lens has its pros and cons. When adapting an existing work, for example, there is an entire audience of previous fans who should not be disappointed.
I like to work with interesting works, also works that appeal to people. I always try to live up to this expectation.
Inu-Oh is editing Hideo Furukawa’s novel. What tempted you in the original literary work?
Masaaki Yuasa: Hideo Furukawa modernized the text of the story of the Heike (Heike Monogatari). We can even say that he has made a contemporary translation of this story. The original poem tells the chronicles of the defeat of the Heike as told by blind monks. Inu-Oh tells the story of these monks. I then modified this story myself to transcribe it differently. I found this perspective very interesting.
Inu-Oh allows you to rediscover the graphic universe of Taiyô Matsumoto, from which you adapted the manga Ping Pong. How did this reunion go and why did Taiyô Matsumoto choose the character design?
Masaaki Yuasa: I love Taiyo Matsumoto! So as soon as I get the chance to work with him, I take it. But at the same time I also want to collaborate with other artists. This explains why I haven’t been with Mr. Matsumoto worked together, but the opportunity was perfect. After Mr. Matsumoto designed the cover of the novel, this was the right project
In Ping Pong, he was only the author of the work I was editing. This time, the author is Hideo Furukawa, although Mr. Matsumoto illustrated his novel. Somehow it’s kind of like he was one of the authors of the original material while being an artist of the movie since he did the character design. I gave him complete freedom in designing the characters, except for the two most important ones. Since these protagonists are the figures that would be most moved, this had to be taken into account.
In the film Inu-Oh, the first half hour is presented as a somewhat mystical historical fresco. Then there is a moment of transition that transforms the film into a rock opera with several musical scenes also disrupting the staging. How did you deal with this tipping point?
Masaaki Yuasa: Historical reality consists of a large number of forgotten stories. So I thought it would be a shame to make a historical film about elements we know well. So I tried to run my imagination to favor a frame that doesn’t exist in history with a capital H.
Inu-Oh was produced in a certain context, that of the health crisis. What impact does this crisis have on the production of the film?
Masaaki Yuasa: In reality, covid is not the cause of the delay in the release of Inu-Oh. Before the health crisis, our schedule was already behind schedule. I interrupted production to focus on Eizôken, then quietly rounded off Inu-Oh. At that time, the pandemic had become serious, forcing me to work alone, telecommute. From my house I worked on the music, the story and the animation.
Some of your works reflect a certain idea: closing the human being to something else. For example, we find the presence of xenophobic behavior in Devilman Crybaby and Japan Sinks 2020, the denial of death in Ride Your Wave, while Inu Oh approaches this form of compartmentalization in a different way. Is this idea of ”the man who shuts himself off” dear to you as an artist?
Masaaki Yuasa: I am indeed very interested in the ideas of emancipation, acceptance and tolerance. To deal with these themes, I have to talk about characters from the past. But at the same time, I don’t plan to make caricatures. In Inu-Oh we see samurai trying to unite the land. They have a purpose and that is why they display this kind of behavior in spite of themselves. In the case of Japan Sinks 2020, there may be an element of caricature, but I wanted to show that human individuals in everyday life can change for the worse in the face of a dramatic or catastrophic event. I’m not defending these behaviors, but I wanted to show that they exist.
Interview conducted by Takato. Thanks to Mr. Masaaki Yuasa for his availability, as well as to his interpreter and to Games of Com for organizing the meeting.