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Meet Kazuo Yamazaki (Anime Expo '97)

On how he got started in the industry

Up until age 20 I walked the Earth. I quit school, I went through various jobs, but they didn't last long. But I loved drawing manga. When I was 21, there was this ad in the newspaper, "amateurs welcome - anyone who can draw." I had a lot of time to waste, so I went there, to the Toei studio. That was my first job in anime. I found out that I could draw cartoons and get paid for it. I found that very comfortable, and that's where I've been for the last 26 years.

On his major influences as a director

Before I went into the anime industry, I never watched TV. I didn't see movies either, so I mostly read books and manga. After I became an animator, I started watching other TV shows, since it was in my line of work. I was very impressed with one show, Ashita no Joe from Osamu Tezuka's Mushi Productions. The director of that show, Osamu Dezaki, who also directed Space Adventure Cobra, possessed a style with which I was very much impressed.

On his involvement with the Five Star Stories anime

I read the Five Star manga first, when I was selected for the job, and the original manga is a very difficult story to follow. As we got into pre-production, six months passed and I still hadn't come up with a single page of storyboard. In the story, there's the character "Ladios Sopp," who is supposed to be the same person as this other character "Amaterasu." But during those first six months, I had never figured that out. (laughs) I re-read the manga several times, but it was still difficult, so they decided to make it into more of a simple story, a boy-girl love story, between the main character, Ladios, and his "Fatima," whats-her-name. ("Lachesis" -Ed.)

On how long it takes to storyboard for television

We get about two weeks for each TV episode, so that's our given schedule.

On directing Urusei Yatsura

I'll speak honestly now. (laughs) Urusei Yatsura was a show that I signed up for, having wanted to do. I ended up for various reasons as the director on the fourth movie, Lum the Forever. I have my thoughts to that movie - the work of a directors is a really tough job, and about that time I was starting to want to get out of it. Around that time, working on the staff of UY, I was getting a lot of letters from fans, saying how much they loved Lum and whatnot. I wanted to tell them that they should not focus their entire lives on the series but that they should move out, get some exposure to real life, get a life. (laughs) Life's too precious to be wasted: that's the kind of message I put into the movie. But in retrospect, I think I made a mistake there, and I regret it somewhat. The story I'd wanted to tell was about the Urusei Yatsura world, the Tomobiki-cho, being one living organism. Within that organism, the foreign object called "Lum" would be intruding. There was the process of the various "immunological" responses of the organism called Tomobiki-cho trying to assimilate Lum, and the process of that turning into a synergy. I don't think I was as skilled back then, when I made Lum the Forever. When it came out in the theaters, I bought a ticket and went over to see the movie. And when the movie was over, I was leaving the theater, and saw two boys, about 10 or 11 years old, come out, looking rather disappointed, and one of them kicked the floor and spat. Hence, I regretted what I made, and I've sworn never to make a work that lacked entertainment, even if it had a serious message in it.

On the appearance of the song "Alone Again, Naturally" in one episode of Maison Ikkoku

I guess that was the Gilbert O'Sullivan song you're referring to. The sponsor of the Maison Ikkoku show was Kitty Records, and they had the rights to that artist in Japan, and wanted to promote him, so they asked us to use that song. But it proved to be unpopular, so it was used only for one episode.

On adapting the Please Save My Earth manga to anime

It was pre-determined that the production of Please Save My Earth would be six volumes, given the amount of our budget. When we were in production of the video series, the magna series of PSME hadn't yet completed. In the manga, I have a favorite character - Kyaa!, the cat. So I started planning by placing him in volume six, and then worked my way backwards from there, taking out plot elements of the magna so that there could be a consistent story leading up to volume six. Then, the original PSME manga ended right before we started doing the storyboards. So we got permission from the magna artist to include the actual manga ending in the anime. That's how you get such a dramatic change from volume five to volume six. As for going back, and doing the rest of the story, it's been a while, and I think it'd be difficult to recreate the same enthusiasm we had for the work.

On the "boys' love" theme in BRONZE

In both of the BRONZE anime films, the theme of homosexuality exists in the original work. In PSME, that theme is not so overt, but BRONZE is all about that. I don't have such inclination personally, but while I was working on the project, I tried to get a personal comprehension of it. There was one time late at night, where there was a scene in BRONZE, where there are two guys who are supposed to be holding hands, and I wasn't able to get that drawing down properly. So there was this new animator who had joined our studio, and I asked him to hold my hand. (laughs) So it was at the studio, late at night, two guys holding hands with each other, and when it came down to that, I wasn't really feeling too comfortable about it. (laughs) But I'm personally convinced that kind of love story must exist in real life.

On working with Rumiko Takahashi on Urusei Yatsura and Maison Ikkoku

I had many chances to meet her at various receptions and parties. Rumiko Takahashi is the sort of person who's very generous in how the look of her characters in the anime may deviate from the look of the original manga. She wears glasses, and very much likes wearing Chinese dresses. She's well-proportioned, too, so it was rather exciting to have her sitting right next to me. (laughs) At parties, staff were allowed to sit next to her, but usually I'd get nervous and have Akemi Takada take over for me. She's rather attractive, and it was a bit too much for me to handle. (laughs)

An average day working on Urusei Yatsura....

The typical work day would have been that we'd get up at 9 a.m. from the studio floor (laughs) and all the staff would be getting out of their sleeping bags. Around 10 a.m., the cel painting staff, who were mostly girls, would be coming over, so we'd get up before then and go to a nearby cafe for breakfast, and then go to work until about midnight. Around one or two a.m., we'd go get some dinner, and maybe something to drink, and then crawl back into our sleeping bags. Three hundred and sixty-five days a year. The team consisted of about five or six members - for them, that's what it was life for two years. No "Happy New Year" or anything. But it was fun.

On American animation

I think it was in the Amazing Stories TV show...there were those episodes, stories about an animated dog..."Family Dog?"...I liked the directing in those episodes. I also liked All Dogs Go To Heaven. It has good animation. The low-angle perspective shots done in that film - the one from the dog's point of view - were, I am sure, not rotoscoped. I say that an animator can draw everything from their imagination. Even though rotoscoping may be necessary at times, I admire All Dogs for not using it.

On his "philosophy" of animation

This may not be answering your question properly, but I don't think that animation is just for kids, but I think it's a medium of expression, just like composing music, or writing a book, or drawing comics. So, if there's a story to tell, I think it could be told in the form of a live-action movie, or as an animated one. Perhaps the thought of limiting the scope of a genre only to accommodating children also limits the types of stories you can tell. I'm not saying that one should necessarily make animation for adults only.
In closing, let me say that I was surprised to see this many enthusiastic fans of Japanese animation all the way across the sea, in the United States. I'm inspired by it, and I thank you for giving me the opportunity to find out about it. Thank you.

Originally Published in:
Animerica Vol 5. No. 10

Credits include:

Director, Animation Director, Episode Director
Urusei Yatsura (1984-1986), OVAs, Movies 1-3

Maison Ikkoku

The Five Star Stories

Director, Screenplay
A Wind Named Amnesia

Please Save My Earth

City Hunter: The Motion Picture

Animation Director
Mobile Suit Gundam

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