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This interview and the information about it was translated by coriolisky, and original posted on Tumblr. Thank you so much for letting me host this! - Giovanna

Kazayama Juugo is a pen name for Igarashi Takuya, one of the main staff members for Shoujo Kakumei Utena. Before Utena, he was the director of Sailormoon Stars, following Satou Junichi and Ikuhara Kunihiko. Recently, his credits include directing Ouran Koukou Host Club, Soul Eater, and Star Driver: Kagayaki no Takuto.

This interview is from the Art of Utena book, which is currently out-of-print.
His credits for Utena include: Episode 19 (Script), Episode 9 (Episode Director), Episodes 9, 19, 25, 30, 37 (Storyboard), Movie (Part A, Storyboard).

Translator’s notes:
1. “Conte” (コンテ), the original word used in this interview, is short for “continuity.” The closest English equivalent is “storyboard,” which is what I’ve used here. Conte are sheets of paper with two vertical rows running down them, broken up into different boxes. Typically, the left-hand side will have rough sketches of a given scene, and the right-hand side will include notes about the flow and process. Many artbooks show various samples of this.
2. “Hashimoto-san,” who Igarashi refers to throughout the interview, is short for Hashimoto Katsuyo. This is a pen name for Hosoda Mamoru, whose credits include directing the films Summer Wars and Toki wo Kakeru Shoujo. Like Igarashi, Hosoda was heavily involved with storyboard composition and episode direction for the series.

Art of Utena Interview with Kazayama Juugo

Q: Kazayama-san, you started drawing storyboards for the series with episode nine. Wasn’t that a relatively late start?

Kazayama: Well, yes. In terms of storyboards, I think I was the last to start participating. So I was nervous. At the same time, I was looking at the storyboard for episode five and thought, “Wait, what, I have to do something great like this?” and started wanting to back out from that position. [laugh]

Q: Saionji’s first episode, “The Castle Said to Hold Eternity,” was a tremendous one, wasn’t it?

Kazayama: Yes, that’s right. Actually, he’s the character I can say I’ve stacked my bad points on to. But I can sympathize with him…more than that, I feel a certain fondness in regards to Saionji. He isn’t two-faced when it comes to others. This isn’t true of the rest of the cast, and it can be difficult to tell what they’re thinking. Sort of like the words they’re speaking are scripted lines from a play. However, Saionji is different. I think I can empathize with him. If he wants something, he says it. It’s not very cool, though. It’s rather childlike.

In contrast, the troubles that Juri, Miki, and Touga are subsumed in are different from those of ordinary people, aren’t they? For example, even though childhood trauma and feelings for someone of the same sex may be normal on their own, the depth of it all here is strangely profound. Yet Saionji’s worries are close to that of an ordinary individual. I, too, am very ordinary. So I think that within Utena’s universe, he’s actually very human.

Even for the movie, I was put in charge of Part A, where Saionji makes an appearance. That may just be the direction of things, possibly. Nishikiori-san says that Nanami’s cute, Hashimoto-san claims that Juri is a facet of him, and in that vein, I say that I like Saionji.

Q: I see. After that, Kazayama-san, you wrote the script for episode nineteen, “Song of the Fallen Kingdom,” didn’t you?

Kazayama: Yes. But this was an experience where, well, I thought that it couldn’t be done in a regular pattern. The scenario became much like a storyboard itself. Because we did the scenario with a storyboard and then used that to write everything, the sum total of that was extraordinarily difficult to manage. Normally, a third person would do the scenario, each member of the staff would bring something to the table, and that would give rise to a world of contents, but if you do both the scenario and the storyboard, you lose something in the process. To me, that’s painful.

Q: Normally, if you leap right from the script to the storyboard, you get criticized, don’t you?

Kazayama: Yes, but to me, that’s not the most important thing. Well, even though there is a problem if you go to extremes. What strikes me are the images that come into my head after the script is done.

The sole saving point of episode nineteen, with its monster of a scenario and storyboard, was its pairing with episode twenty. Episode twenty belongs to the world of Tsukimura-san and Hashimoto-san. Because of that variation, I feel like I was saved.

Q: There are filmmakers who do the script, supervision, and photography. You’re not that type of person?

Kazayama: Not really. My personal qualities are a little different. This was the first time I wrote a script, but I thought, “I’ll never do this again!” There probably are people who get passionate about this type of work, but it didn’t suit me. Episode nineteen caused my downfall. [laugh]

Q: Even though episode nineteen is set apart from the main plot revolving around Utena and Anthy, it’s not a gag episode and has a special place within the show, doesn’t it?

Kazayama: It’s very much a side-story. It’s about Wakaba, but underlines a major premise within the story. Wakaba herself isn’t a special girl, and has nothing to do with the strange events going on at the academy. Hence through Utena, this is a story about how a student like Wakaba is fenced-off from that extraordinary student lifestyle.

Moreover, Kazami Tatsuya-kun also exists outside of this world of profound mysteries, and through Wakaba, enters the academy. However, it’s a world that neither a human like Wakaba or Kazami-kun can fully inhabit. More than just his lifestyle, Kazumi-kun is a normal boy who hasn’t been impaired in the slightest. I’m not saying that living that way is a bad thing. Rather, I’m trying to show that even within Utena’s world, there are people who live in such a manner.

Q: Finally, episode twenty is connected to episode nineteen, but it’s about Wakaba becoming a duelist, isn’t it? In contrast to episode nineteen, I thought that it erased the presence of Kazami-kun from this story.

Kazayama: Episode nineteen has a fairly romantic atmosphere. In a certain way, episode twenty is also a romantic, tearjerking episode, but its presentation is different. That must be the difference between Hashimoto-san and I…

Q: I think that romantic atmosphere is your distinctive characteristic, but what do you make of that?

Kazayama: I suppose…yes, I think that degree of romanticism takes center stage within these episodes. I haven’t worked on more than one episode with a duel scene, and episodes nineteen and thirty are oriented towards my sensibilities. But I’ve wondered if my work on them has been received poorly. With episode nineteen, I thought, “Is it really okay to leave things like this?” The flow of my episodes are always different from typical Utena ones, and fairly romantic. Like shoujo manga. So while feeling a little uneasy, I continued to work on them.

Q: What about in relation to episode thirty, “The Barefoot Girl?”

Kazayama: Episode thirty is also romantic in a different way. Concerning that episode, I intended to emulate the mood of Saitou Chiho-sensei’s original work. If it failed in doing that, I apologize. [laugh]

Personally, I haven’t read that much shoujo manga, but when I read Saitou-sensei’s work, there’s an erotic feel to the characterization. It has a very vivid color. That’s why I thought, “It would be nice if I could portray this mood,” while doing it. When I look at the posters Saitou-sensei has done for Utena, they definitely have a sexy feel to them. In a fleeting way.

Q: Is that how the mood differs from episode nineteen?

Kazayama: Yes. I imagined a rather adult-like mood. Originally, Akio was supposed to be portrayed as about nineteen, but he doesn’t look it at all. He looks more like a forty-year-old. And even so, his field of conquests ranges from middle-schoolers to his fiancee’s mother. All girls are captive to him. I’m envious. [laugh]

People watching this show may think that guys like him don’t exist, but they do. At any rate, they’re “Princes.” But what exactly is a “Prince?” They fascinate all girls. All girls yearn for them.

Q: Indeed. I’d like to hear more about the movie, but all the parts are supervised by different people, aren’t they?

Kazayama: That’s right. Speaking of that, even in the pamphlet, it’s been separated into Parts A, B, C, D, and E and written down like that. Yet even after being separated into different parts, there’s a strange feeling of cohesion. Maybe it’s the connection between the people behind each of the parts. Even though we’re all different, we’re still able to reach out and cooperate with each other. That’s the amazing thing about Ikuhara-san.

Also, I did the beginning of Part A, but the spectacle of each individual part is very strong. I was aware that I couldn’t slack off at all. It’s the surface presentation of a show that the audience will catch on to. Even the arts have that aspect, and the movie is the result of a concentrated effort on everyone’s part. That’s how Ikuhara’s supervision and style of completing a film is admirable. [laugh]

Q: From the outset, there’s been a certain significance to how the characters and setting have been introduced, right?

Kazayama: One does get the impression that there’s a “hook” to understanding the story. But even though we attempted to give the other parts a cinematic feel, the part I did has the strong vibe of being a movie-version rearrangement of the same scene in the TV series.

Q: Specifically, what do you mean by a movie-version rearrangement?

Kazayama: I don’t feel that the movie worldview is all that different from the TV series. However, the movie’s depiction of Ohtori Academy, for example, is even less grounded in reality. Within the setting, there’s no information given about its location or scale. No matter where you go, you’re still within the academy. No matter where you say is is, it’s impossible to confirm. No matter how high it reaches, nothing of the outside world can ever be seen. This leaves the strong impression that it’s a birdcage or a jail.

In the show, Ohtori Academy still gives the impression of day-to-day conduct. Rather, there’s enough space to make room for ordinary behavior. You can picture a student lifestyle there, right? However, even though we’re depicting a sort of daily lifestyle in the movie, we’re removing all unnecessary parts. Yet it doesn’t give off the feel of a city in the future, and it wouldn’t be right to just say that it deviates from reality. It could just be that every single bit of space is being controlled there…

Q: So the movie is going to delve into the representation of Utena, more than even the personality of the story?

Kazayama: Yes, that aspect will be there. If the show left a bewildering mark in the end, then the movie is going to be even more extreme. However, I’ve never been concerned with whether I understand or don’t understand Utena. I can only comprehend it to the best of my limits. I don’t know if I’m right in saying this, but that’s what it means to keep on co-creating a work together.

Q: Certainly, it isn’t a work created with the intention to have everyone understand in the same exact fashion. In that vein, bad people in this story aren’t imprinted with entirely wicked characteristics.

Kazayama: Utena doesn’t have a typical sense of morals or humanity. Essentially, “as convention states, it’s like this” opinions overflow in public, but how much meaning does that have? Like a conscience and so on. If a large number of people voice the same opinion, there are many who will use that as an excuse to reassure themselves. Utena is about the people who stand outside of that majority.

Within a group of one-hundred people, if ninety-nine people conclude that something is bad, why does that one other person disagree, even if their reasoning is nothing special in of itself?

Q: In regards to Utena’s central cast, if you were to dwell on their sense of morality and so on…

Kazayama: Utena’s characters are all dysfunctional. And they all try to hide away that damaged part of themselves. But most ordinary people don’t see their own selves as dysfunctional. I think that way as well. I’m ordinary too. So I might be able to objectively see the heart of someone who wants to bury that damaged part of themselves because of that.

In order to hide that damaged part of yourself, it takes strength. But I don’t have that kind of strength, in all honesty. Feeling like I might have that strength is somehow painful, lonely, and laughable. In this world, there are many people who are lacking for something but don’t know what it is and can still continue to live. However, people who think “I can’t continue this way,” can become duelists. The duels at Ohtori Academy were created for that purpose, for those who have the intense will to bury that part of themselves. It may be impossible, but it’s a game that humans who fight to attain something can solely take part in.

Q: I understand. Kazayama-san, did you work on the storyboards while looking at it from this objective standpoint?

Kazayama: It’s often said that I look at everything while taking one step back from it all. I believe that’s because I create while observing as a spectator would. Rather than conveying my style to another person, I feel more strongly about looking at what I’ve done myself. I’m not creating these storyboards for anyone else. I’m making them on my own and evaluating them on my own, which I’m constantly aware of.

For example, in Hashimoto-san’s films, it’s clear that he has a style of creation specific to him alone. [laugh] But that’s his own distinctive touch with its straightforward parts, and it’s wonderful. While working on Utena, I thought, “There are so many amazing people here.” Recently, when I watched the movie, I felt a great sense of accomplishment. Still, that feeling of accomplishment was probably due less to finally reaching this point, and more to feeling content that I was involved with Utena to the very end and made it to the finish line with everyone else.

Shoujo Kakumei Utena (Revolutionary Girl Utena) is © Kunihiko Ikuhara, Chiho Saito, Shogakukan and bePapas/TV Tokyo and/or their respective copyright holders. The US release of the Revolutionary Girl Utena series and movie was © Central Park Media and now belongs to Right Stuf. The US release of the Utena manga is © VIZ. The various sources used in this site are noted where their content is presented. Don't sue us, seriously. Blood. Stone.