Welcome to From the Mouths of Babes
Vanna's Note: This is the text-only version of one of two interview sections of the MASSIVE June 1997 Animage Extra 'The Utena Dossier,' a 36-page booklet of interviews, Enokido script notes, character notes, setting designs, voice actor hijinks, and more. I've taken Nagumo's cover to cover translation and worked it into the original scans for the full experience! The images are hosted here, in our new, work in progress, Utena Gallery, if you want to check them out individually! (Note: Click download for the massive full-size copies!) That said, the easiest way to get the total tour is probably by downloading this here 110mb PDF! It's not quite the same as having the booklet in your hands, but I hope it's close!! You can view the entire book here, including the below interviews which are also worked into the scans! It's an absolutely monster piece of work that took us FOREVER, but it's full of juicy meta and even the adverts were translated! The two bigger interviews are here for ease of access!

For Whom the Director Smiles

Kunihiko Ikuhara and Hiroyuki Kitakubo. This is perhaps a slightly surprising match up for this conversation. Actually, when we asked Director Ikuhara to do an interview for this supplement, he suggested, “If we’re going to talk about something in this Animage interview, I’d love to have a conversation with Kitakubo-san.” It appears Director Ikuhara has been interested in Kitakubo Hiroyuki-san as a fellow creator for his work on Roujin Z, Jojo’s Bizarre Adventures, and so on. Neither of them have been introduced to each other until now.

Kunihiko Ikuhara
Director. Not just the animation director of Revolutionary Girl Utena but also the leader of Be-Papas. He's involved in each and every stage of the entire project. You could say that Utena is a personal work that’s deeply steeped in his idiosyncrasies. Previously worked on the Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon series for three years, covering seasons R, S, and SuperS, as a highly praised Series Director. Readers of Animage know him well from the Director Diary articles.
Born December 21, 1964 in Tokushima Prefecture.

Hiroyuki Kitakubo
Director. Creator of many popular works such as Robot Carnival, Black Magic M-66, Roujin Z, Jojo’s Bizarre Adventures, and Golden Boy. The Ghost in the Shell promotional video discussed in this interview is the opening cinematic for the Playstation game for Ghost in the Shell, scheduled for release this summer. It is a super high quality work made using a program called Animo**.

Born November 15, 1963.

Kitakubo: Today, I’m going to ask a question that I’ve kept in mind should I ever get to meet Ikuhara-san.

Ikuhara: Whatever could it be? I’m scared. (laughs)

Kitakubo: I watched the first episode of Revolutionary Girl Utena, and it spurns the kind of popular appeal Sailor Moon has. So, was that intentional? Or is that how it’s supposed to naturally feel?

Ikuhara: No, that was intentional. I gave it a lot of thought before I started working on Utena. I asked myself, what exactly is the difference between Sailor Moon and the works inspired by Sailor Moon that came after? I came to the conclusion that there is actually no difference. Sure, you can see evidence of how we racked our brains on minute differences from Sailor Moon, but it's still the same. In the end, it's still all about girls wearing unusual clothes and fighting.

Kitakubo: Only the clothes are different, right? It's like a wedding dress or a nurse's uniform.

Ikuhara: Right, right. The pleasure of girls transforming and fighting was first introduced by Sailor Moon, and if you try to ignore that, you can't make a story about girls transforming and fighting evil now. In that sense, even Utena can't go against it. From a normal person's point of view, it's the same as Sailor Moon, and they'd say that the only change is that instead of sailor suits, it's mens' clothes.

Kitakubo: So you were aware of that from the start.

Ikuhara: Yes. That's why I'm not trying to strongly push back against Sailor Moon-like aspects of the story. In short, I don't want to make it about girls fighting in fanciful outfits. So I'm trying to depict that part as though it's a natural and everyday thing.

Kitakubo: I see. So that's why the main character's costume is so mundane.

Ikuhara: Yeah. I didn't want to imply that there was anything weird about dressing up in men's clothing.

Kitakubo: In a conventional story formula, Utena is a cross-dressing beauty, right? Meaning that feature is what 'distinguishes' the character? And yet, it isn't emphasized all that much...

Ikuhara: That's because it's not supposed to be. But that aspect was hard for people to understand at first.

Kitakubo: There's that conventional transformation pose in the second half of the Duel scene, right? But the gap between the ordinary and extraordinary isn't that wide. So when I watched the first episode of Utena, I was under the impression that the gap between ordinary and extraordinary would come out later.

Ikuhara: I meant to make it similar to, for example, that robot anime Mobile Suit Gundam, if I say so myself.

Kitakubo: What do you mean?

Ikuhara: There's this sort of element of robot wrestling that started with Mazinger Z, and from that trend sprang forth Gundam. Gundam is an anime made for those who grew up watching robot anime. You could say that I created Utena because I thought that some viewers had been trained by watching Sailor Moon and the like.

Kitakubo: I see. Even if you watch this world where beautiful girls wear strange outfits while fighting, you won’t be all that surprised by it.

Ikuhara: Yes. If this project came out before or right after Sailor Moon did, it would’ve been laughed out of the room. But since this project came out 6 years after Sailor Moon started, I thought it might work.

The Directorial Pro-War Theory

Kitakubo: Speaking of Gundam, I was once asked to do a project for a supposed Gundam series. But even though it had Gundam in the title, he said he wanted to make something that wasn't Gundam.

Ikuhara: Oh man, that sounds tough. (laughs)

Kitakubo: Up until now, Gundam always starts out about the tragedy of war. That means it goes on and on about how young people get caught up in war, and has since the first original story. That's why I thought I'd take the opposite tack and start with a pro-war stance.

― So war is magnificent?

Kitakubo: I don't think so, but there are certain positive aspects that war has. If you win a war, you gain status or catharsis. And there are heroes that are born because of war, too, right?

Ikuhara: But you won't be able to draw that. Especially not with a Japanese person's sense of morals.

Kitakubo: Yes. You’re right, but I figure, if one is going to preach about the misery of war anyway, why not start with the opposite position? Shouldn't we start with a protagonist longing to become a soldier and being happy about defeating the enemy? I asked, “How about we do something like that?” and he told me, “It doesn't fit the project.” (laughs)

Ikuhara: Even though that's a pretty common trope in film.

Kitakubo: Yeah. At first, war gets depicted positively, but it becomes more and more... itself. It's a very ordinary directing trope. But, I didn't feel like I could fit in with the current production and environment where such a thing was regarded as unacceptable.

Ikuhara: If you're saying that, then that means I don't fit in anywhere either.

Kitakubo: Seriously? But you were integrated starting with Sailor Moon...

Ikuhara: It only looks like that way. That's not where I truly belong.

Kitakubo: Ah, is that so. And here I thought it was nice that Ikuhara-san had somewhere where he fit in.

Ikuhara: No, that's not true that at all.

Kitakubo: I see. You know, until I came here today, I was shaking with dread over the idea that you were an unbearable fanatic who loved battling beauties. (laughs)

Ikuhara: Not at all. (laughs) The reason I made Utena this time was partly because it was an easy project to plan. If I had been on a robot show before, I might have ended up making it a robot series.

Kitakubo: So to some extent, because it was your job?

Ikuhara: There’s that too, but that’s not all there is to it. I mean, if I were to do everything due to it being my job, it'd be miserable.

Kitakubo: It sure would.

Ikuhara: So when I was making Sailor Moon, I deliberately inflated my libido and the otaku part within me to create it. I worked like I had multiple personalities—like I’d put on a wig, so to speak.

Kitakubo: But when you finished with Sailor Moon, you took that wig off, right?

Ikuhara: Yeah. But when I started Utena, I put a new wig on again. (laughs)

Director and Producer

Ikuhara: I had been working on Sailor Moon until now, a work that had just massive popular appeal. So no matter what I did within that work, it would become something popular. This time, I was worried I wouldn't be able to pull off making a popular work when I started. The two works are completely different in my mind, even if they look same from the outside. And why is that? It's because Sailor Moon had popularity from the start, while with Utena, I have to deliberately aim to make it popular.

Kitakubo: So if, say, it had been a robot series, you’d have been obligated to make toys to sell. Are you saying that you want to forge your own obligations?

Ikuhara: Yes, that's right. I guess that means I'll be both half producer and half director. In that sense, I'm constantly stuck in a catch-22. Should I think like a producer, the director's voice within me goes, “...but that's not interesting.” Then when I think like a director, the producer's voice goes, “...that's not going to sell.” (laughs) It's a constant back-and-forth.

Kitakubo: In fact, when you're a director, you often wish that the producer would get lost, but not having one around is such a hassle.

―A hassle, is it?

Kitakubo: Take the Hollywood Producer System as an example. There, Ikuhara-san and I are directors. Our primary job as directors is to take whatever good scripts or projects that come our way and make them interesting. But that's not how it is in our industry. From the script to the project, we have to present them ourselves to get anything off the ground. But truthfully, us crafting them by ourselves means we need a different person to think up a plan to sell them.

―Ah, I see.

Ikuhara: Essentially, we want to engage in something closer to creative masturbation. For example, it’d be easier for us if there were people who’d say, “No matter what you make, we’ll sell it, even if we have hoodwink everyone.”

Kitakubo: I’m awfully disconnected when it comes to that creative masturbation. My favorite movies and novels are all quite peculiar, but I wouldn’t necessarily make something like them. Why? Because if I did, I wouldn’t be able to do the job. As long as I’m getting paid to make something, I don’t want to make the buyers waste their money.

―So you mean the sponsors?

Kitakubo: Of course the sponsors, but even the audience and staff.

―Really... Even the staff?

Kitakubo: Yeah. The staff are paying with labor as their currency. We have to pay them back with a salary, but also more than that. People who work just for money don’t put that much passion into their work, and there’s always something in a project that can be helped by adding their passion, right? That passion is the bonus factor that the staff adds to the work. You know… That little extra something that gives it a spark…

Ikuhara: That magic quality of the film, right?

Kitakubo: That’s right. It might have made you suffer, but you still think it was worth doing.

―So that is what you mean by the staff is ‘paying’ too; it’s their passion that adds to it.

Kitakubo: Exactly. Whether the audience paid ¥350 to rent something from a video rental shop or spent ¥1800 at the movies, you want to give them more than what they paid for. Same with sponsors: if they put in 100 million yen, they should get back more than 100 million yen. I want them all to think, “I’m glad I watched that” or “I’m glad I got this made.”

―What are your thoughts on that, Ikuhara-san?

Ikuhara: To be honest, I don’t really want to make something that’s entertaining. I’m not interested in that. Everyone attempts to make entertaining stuff, so if anything, I figure I should stick to making odd stuff and aggressively original stuff, and who cares if they’re not entertaining? But when I do that, I end up leaving my staff completely lost. (laughs)

Kitakubo: But let’s say you want to make something odd. You should use your own money to do it, right? If I got the money from someone, I wouldn’t want to waste it.

Ikuhara: Same here. That’s why I’m thinking of doing a grown-up job that’ll have popular appeal. (laughs)

A Girl with No Nostrils

Ikuhara: The reason why I wanted to meet with Kitakubo-san is because I had watched his Ghost in the Shell promotion video. At the time, it was the most surprising anime I’d seen in five years. The leading lady felt as though she was really right there. It’s not that she felt three-dimensional―it wasn’t on that level―but rather that I sensed in her a tactile realness.* I felt like she really existed. The moment I saw it, I was scared.


Ikuhara: Yeah. This might sound like nonsense, but I saw these pictures of an anime character figure in a magazine. It was really well made, as if the anime character was actually alive and real. It was incredibly scary. Could it be that everyone wanted a girl without nostrils―this ultimate immaculate woman? So when I saw the promo for Ghost in the Shell, I thought that such a world was there through the screen. So I got scared. Moreover, the girl's boobs were jiggling. (laughs)

Kitakubo: Whoa, that is scary. Utterly terrifying! (explosive laughter)

Ikuhara: If I were to put it into words, it feels like being told to go and have sex with a girl without nostrils.

Kitakubo: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Ikuhara: Until now, I’ve been able to laugh off the shadows in animation by going, “Oh hey, it’s just manga-style,” but I can’t laugh at this. It’s like, where do you draw the line between manga drawings and real pictures? I don't know if it's good or bad, but in any case, such a thing has finally been created. I was horrified when I realized what’s sure to happen afterwards. I thought to myself, “At long last, the sort of anime done by Osamu Tezuka is coming to an end.”

―When you say anime as done by Tezuka Osamu... are you talking about ‘limited style?’

Ikuhara: Yes. The kind of animation we've been making now is, after all, the same kind as Tezuka Osamu. Like for example, how we move only the mouth in a 'still image' of a bust shot (i.e., medium shot, of the chest and upwards), to indicate that a person is talking.

―Ah, the so-called lip sync. Techniques like banking (using the same picture over and over again) were also created by Tezuka-san, right?

Ikuhara: Yes. It’s a stylistic method that is unique to Japanese animation. But if you look at co-productions or anime from overseas, you can see the upper body moving about while characters speak. The reason for this is because Disney works, which are fully animated from start to finish, form the basis of the overseas animation style.

―So in Japan’s case, Osamu Tezuka's animated works form the basis.

Ikuhara: It was Osamu Tezuka who established that if only the mouth is moving in a bust shot ‘still image’, it indicates talking. The method is the result of working with cost performance in mind, and that’s how Japanese animation has been made up ‘til now. But when I saw the promo for Ghost in the Shell, I thought this method might finally be obsolete. And I also thought, “This is the world that Osamu Tezuka originally wanted to create.”

Kitakubo: You mean the wall between manga and live film?

Ikuhara: Yes. For example, the way we affix shadows*** to cels now doesn’t adhere to the trendy style established ten years ago. That, too, has gone with the wind. When I saw that, I thought tactile realness will turn out the same way for sure, though the process leading to it will be different for each person. Toy Story is like this too. Once you can do anything you want, where do you draw the line between manga and live film? They don't really understand that overseas. However, Japanese people are practically raised on manga and have a keen sense for its style. I mean, when foreigners look at it, they have zero understanding of why it's okay to have no nostrils, or the exaggerated extent to which a girl can be drawn but still be pretty.

A Place in the World to Belong

Kitakubo: What I find strange is how everyone watches Hollywood films like Terminator 2 and Rocky and says that they’re interesting. However, regardless of how many people were on the production side of things, when they reached the stage of making the film at last, the basics of directing had no influence on anything.

Ikuhara: That's true. There are a lot of works like that.

Kitakubo: I used to think I had a strong grasp on what most people would find interesting, and that what I found interesting was it. I believed I represented the general public, that I was the majority. (laughs) So I thought this would be my strength as a director. But in fact, I was wrong. (laughs) I don't know if it's the mentality of the Japanese people or the mentality of anime, but generally speaking I apparently don’t belong anywhere in the framework of animation.

―This brings us back to the topic of fitting in.

Kitakubo: That’s right.

Ikuhara: In my case, there were people around me who would prepare the way before me, but I didn't want to rely on that. That's why I want to cultivate the ability to prepare a place for myself through this project.

Kitakubo: I see. Ikuhara-san is the sort of person who creates a place to belong.

Ikuhara: What are you going to do after Ghost in the Shell? Are you going to make something like Ghost in the Shell again? Or are you planning something else?

Kitakubo: My next work might be a short film. For now, I'm thinking of making a work that's somewhere between a business card and a project proposal.

Ikuhara: ???

Kitakubo: To continue where we left off, right now, I feel like I don't fit in anywhere, so I'm pretty desperate. I'm looking for a place that'll permit me to continue working, and I'm also considering extending my feelers out to other countries. To that end, I think I need a work I can use as my business card.

Ikuhara: But hasn't Ghost in the Shell become your business card?

Kitakubo: I think of that as a trivial business card. So, the next step is to make something that smells like both a business card and a project proposal. Then comes the world. I hope I can find somewhere where I fit in out there. (laughs)

Ikuhara: So you're looking for a place in the world to belong.

Kitakubo: It's not as cool as that sounds. For me, it's a matter of life and death. (laughs)

* Translator’s Note: 質感 tactile realness: The impression you get from the unique appearance of an object, such as the luster of the surface of metal , the transparency of glass, and the beauty of jewelry reflecting light . In particular, when an illustration gives the impression of being real, it is expressed as "textured." (Google translate of this page.)

** Translator’s Note: The Ghost in the Shell PS1 game opening was groundbreaking because Studio I.G. adopted full digital coloring technique for it. This work set the standard for later animation productions. (Ref here.) A documentary (no subs) includes it at the 20 minute mark here.

*** Translator’s Note: Ikuhara is most likely refering to the shadows from the cel against the background. When you layer cels, you can usually always see its shadow. How this is photographed and the technology used changed over time and created aesthetic trends. This is also an effect that is naturally absent in digital animation, and gets added, when desired. This interview would be on the cusp of the transition to digital animation. Good overview using Simpsons.

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.