Best known in Japan as a fashion photographer and music-video director, Kazuaki Kiriya has made his feature-film debut with “Casshern,” the Japanese film industry’s most extravagant marriage yet between live action and 3-D animation.
Bilingual — in English and Japanese — Kiriya is already getting offers from Hollywood, while fending off local tabloid interest in his marriage to former client and pop diva Hikaru Utada. In person, he is something of a shojo manga (girls’ comic) dream — tall, slim and handsome in a thin-faced, fair-skinned way and dressed in impeccably stylish black. He was also the ideal interviewee: outgoing, enthusiastic and frank. Our conversation at the Hotel Otani ran overtime — not because we were pestering Kiriya with questions, but because he had so much to say about a film that has been his consuming passion.
“When I first saw the TV animation series ‘Casshern,’ I was wowed by the images of futuristic robots and its European setting,” says Kiriya.
“As a 5-year-old kid, it looked very foreign to me.”
As a child, Kiriya was fascinated by the complexity and realism of the “Casshern” story. “In the TV show, the robot leader tells the humans, ‘You treat us as slaves, so I’ll treat you the same,’ ” he explained. “That line has stuck in my mind to this day — I realized that even villains have hearts.”
Usually, filmmakers try to blend CG cuts into live-action images as seamlessly as possible. Kiriya, however, did the opposite, making the live-action shots fit the CG-created images. The aim “was to make a totally new world in which the boundary between fantasy and reality or animation and live-action” was erased. “Every frame was touched with color adjustments,” he said. “I would say 70 percent of the film was created with CG effects.”
Kiriya co-wrote the script with two animation artists and worked meticulously on storyboards. From the script-development stage, it looked almost impossible to make the film within the budget of $5.6 million (600 million yen), with the CG effects Kiriya and his team wanted to use. However, after six months in postproduction, they managed to finish “Casshern” by March 2004 without busting the budget.
Kiriya tried for a “dirty” look that would allow him to maximize the use of CG technology while not overspending. “If we had gone for something more shiny, we would have had to spend more money on advanced digital technology — and we didn’t have it.”
“If you look at Tokyo today, it looks very much like what you see in sci-fi films, with all the futuristic buildings,” he commented. “I’m tired of that aesthetic. The future doesn’t excite us any more. I’m looking for something tangible, something I can actually touch and feel, a handmade quality. I didn’t want to do something that has already been done in ‘Titanic’ or ‘The Matrix.’ We even deliberately degraded the quality of the digitally created images.”
Although the state-of-the-art CG effects will be an eye-opening experience for the audience, Kiriya put equal stress on the story. “I’m not only a CG guy,” he said.
The plot has many twists and turns, but his characters, he insisted, are simple and easy to understand. Although they may not be human, they are just like us in feeling anger, love, despair and hope.
“Casshern” also offers something rare in mass-audience Japanese films — a long explanatory monologue at the end. “Japanese films tend to be silent and expect the audience to read between the lines,” Kiriya explained. “I wanted to make something different from the rest.”
Finally, though the film’s look may be retro, Kiriya’s concerns are distinctly contemporary. “We’ve gone through the Vietnam War, the Gulf War and the whole Kosovo mess. We are living in the 21st century, but we’re still doing the same things,” says Kiriya.
“Nothing has really changed since the world was created. I didn’t want to make a war film, though. I wanted to make a fantasy that speaks to problems we face today.”
In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.