Some directors joke their way through press conferences (Takeshi Kitano), while others seem to revel in the attention (the late Akira Kurosawa), but few looked as ill at ease as Katsuhiro Otomo, appearing before the media at Roppongi Hills in early June to promote “Steamboy.” Nervously blinking as though he was not quite used to bright lights and human voices, Otomo responded to the mostly predictable questions with expressions of ironic puzzlement. His answers, though, were concise, to the point and often funny, giving a glimpse of the master animator behind the otaku exterior.

Presenting a striking contrast on the dais were Shigeru Watanabe, the very picture of the brisk, articulate executive producer, and voice actors Anne Suzuki and Manami Konishi, who played Ray Steam and Scarlett O’Hara, respectively. All of 17, Suzuki was poised and in charge, while Konishi, nearly a decade older, was more in the sweet, charming idol mold.

On what attracted him to the past

I chose the 19th century as a setting because, more than a world I had imagined myself, I thought it was more important to bring out the tactile feeling of something real like a steam engine, to draw what I’d seen and knew from the past. Also, I wanted to spend time drawing what I myself liked.

On how he himself changed since the start of production in 1994 — and how those changes affected the film.

The terror attack on Sept. 11 and the war in Iraq had a big impact as social phenomena and they may have influenced the film somewhat. But the script and continuity drawings were already finished before then, so I didn’t make the film because of these events. But they may have affected my feelings in some areas.

When you spend a long time [making a film] various things happen — it’s only natural that they influence the film.

On the use of digital technology

The film definitely makes use of digital technology, but I don’t think it’s anything so special — it’s not all that different from what’s used for an ordinary TV series. The work took more time and effort, but that’s about all.

On what took the most time in the nine-year production process

Ah, raising the money. I could have made any number of [projects], but looking for sponsors and production partners was really tough. I’d rather forget that part if I can (laughs).

On where he gets his own energy from

Natto on rice.

On the source of the name Scarlett O’Hara

At the very beginning, when we were trying to decide what sort of character the heroine should have, we talked about her being like Scarlett O’Hara — and that was the name she had from then on. I thought seriously about changing it, but I lost the chance and had to keep it (laughs).

On the character of Ray

I wrote about 30 scripts, and as I wrote the character gradually took shape. Not many of the characters I’ve created until now have been positive types. So this time I wanted to make a character who would have a positive attitude, who would face things without flinching.

On the music of Steve Jablonsky

I chose Steve Jablonsky at the suggestion of Keiichi Momose, our music supervisor. The music [Jablonsky] composed for us is really wonderful — I think I was lucky [to have found him]. As for requests — I didn’t make any specific ones. When we made the first 30-second trailer, I added a melody that was a bit melancholic. I had him listen to it and that may have given him a hint for the sort of image [I wanted]. But that was the only thing I thought of — nearly everything else came from his talent.

On his own heroes as a boy

“Steamboy” is not an imitation of “Astroboy [Tetsuwan Atom],” but I was somehow thinking of the world Osamu Tezuka had tried to create. I wanted to draw something that may have been about the past, but had a feeling of looking ahead toward a more expansive future.

On what he would like to invent himself

Drugs to cure various illnesses. I’m not able to eat sea urchin anymore, so I’d like to invent a drug so I can eat it again (laughs).

In line with COVID-19 guidelines, the government is strongly requesting that residents and visitors exercise caution if they choose to visit bars, restaurants, music venues and other public spaces.

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.