Judit Kawaguchi

Words to Live by: Animeka Mamoru Oshii

Interview by Judit Kawaguchi

Mamoru Oshii, 64, is a director and writer of both animation and live-action films, including Ghost in the Shell (1995) which had a strong influence on the Hollywood movie, The Matrix (1999). Oshii is most satisfied with its sequel, Innocence, (2004, nominated for the Palme d’Or at the Festival de Cannes), mostly because it features his beloved dog, Gabriel. Both are based on the work of manga artist Shirow Masamune and some of his and Oshii’s visionary predictions about the future of technology are already becoming reality. Obviously, they were barking up the right tree which is not surprising, as Oshii considers himself a dog and at the moment, is busy licking his new animation into shape, by Production I.G.

Tools of the trade deserve respect. Everything has a spirit and we Japanese sense it, whether it is in a mountain, a doll or a kitchen knife. Therefore we usually give names to our tools as we treat them as partners. Once they are broken, we make elaborate ceremonies to thank them for their service and hard work. For example, we place old needles in tofu and we pay our respects to them in a Shinto ceremony called harikuyo. I called my first NEC computer Basset 68,000 and am still keeping its brain, its hard disk, in a drawer. I can never throw it away.

Women run Japan and not in the right direction. Japanese wives boss their husbands around and the smartest way to deal with these overpowering women is to give in to them. At home, I just behave like a dog: I show my appreciation for my wife and always apologize in advance, even if I have not done anything bad. Of course, she gets mad anyhow, so the best is to stay at work. I think this is universal, though: men are struggling and losing out to stronger women but I still find many foreign women a lot gentler than their Japanese counterparts.

The shogun, or general, has a lot more stress than the foot soldier. As a director, I have all the responsibility and I noticed that bossing people around is more tiring than following orders.

Dogs have instincts and it’s wise to follow them. I adore my two dogs, Daniel and Gabriel, and I listen to them: if they like a person, he or she is definitely a good person.

Japanese feel free and creative within the confines of a controlled environment. For hundreds of years we painted and mass printed images but we always drew the lines first and then colored between them, which is exactly how animation is made in this country. Japan is the world leader in manga and anime because we love lines as they create a safety net to work within. Lines keep us straight.

Fantasies are healthy, even when they are violent. Japan produces some of the most intense and erotic manga and anime, yet we have a lot less crime in real life than in other countries. We satisfy ourselves in fiction and it stops us from acting out.

Animators need more support. Whenever I’m working in a production studio, I’m feeling like a primary school teacher. Creators tend to be like children inside a protected environment, but an adult, business-based harsh reality is waiting for them out there. Many great talents do not succeed because they can not handle the real world.

Japan’s greatest treasure is its language. The Japanese language is very flexible and open, and we have been freely importing from many languages in every time period. Our language is always evolving and that says a lot about our whole culture.

The sun might be the star but for us Japanese, the leading role belongs to the moon. We prefer the moon’s poetic atmosphere to the power of the sun. We have many beautiful stories about the moon which gently reflects the sun’s light. This is how Japanese want to be: always second, never showing off. I am like that, too. I am so glad Hayao Miyazaki is the number one anime director.

Non-Japanese who love Japan become more Japanese than the Japanese. I guess they already might have the typical Japanese characteristics of ambiguousness and lack of aggression at the start and these just get enhanced as they master the Japanese language and get deeper into the culture.

Manga and anime fans are already otaku, regardless of nationality. They are all over the world and in every walk of life. They can survive as they are educated and can make money. It sure costs a lot to be an otaku.

Music is as important as imagery. Kenji Kawai’s music is responsible for fifty percent of my films’ success. I can’t do anything without him. He is a genius at music but he is also a bum at life. I never get tired of him as his answer is always different from mine, even though we have been together for 20 years.

Animals need more protection. My dream is to set up an animal rescue force, similar to what exists in other countries, where the Animal Police not only helps animals but has the authority to arrest those who hurt them.

Those who torture animals deserve severe punishment. I would give them all the death penalty because it’s the worst kind of crime and such predators usually move on to children next. Also, if a man hurts a woman, he should get a life sentence.

Pamper your dogs while you can! Atami in Shizuoka prefecture has the best climate for my dogs so I moved there. We walk the mountains, take onsen bath together and enjoy the good life. They eat better food than me. I get soba noodles and they chew on veggies, meat and rice. They deserve it!

One can never be the same after losing a loved one. I’m in constant fear about the inevitable death of my two dogs, Gabriel, 13 and Daniel, who is maybe 16 now. I’ll never be the same without them. Even now I have a big hole in my heart for my cat that died years ago.

Little white lies make people happy. I love people and I often resort to telling them what they want to hear. When I pronounce it, I even believe it myself.

Mamoru Oshii photographed by Judit Kawaguchi in Tokyo
Mamoru Oshii photographed by Judit Kawaguchi in Tokyo

A version of this interview appeared in the Japan Times on March 13th, 2007

This Quote

Japan’s greatest treasure is its language. — Mamoru Oshii