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Wednesday, April 14, 2004

Drawn to the future


Born in 1964, Fumihiko Sori joined Tokyo Broadcasting System, one of Japan's Big Four TV networks, in 1988. In 1996 he entered the film department of the University of Southern California and later assisted James Cameron with the VFX work for "Titanic." After returning to Japan he worked as a VFX supervisor on the TBS-produced films "Secret" (1999) and "Keizoku -- The Movie" (2000), as well as several TV dramas. In 2002 he made his directorial debut with "Ping Pong," an art-house hit. He is the creative producer on the new TBS-backed animation "Appleseed."

The "Appleseed" story came from a manga by Shirow Masamune that was later made into a TV show. Why that particular material?

The fact that it was created by Shirow Masamune is one reason. A film based on his manga "Ghost In the Shell" became an international hit about 10 years ago and made him famous worldwide.

Another is that we wanted a world suitable for 3-D. If you are making a film set in a forest, live action or 2-D is better, but when you are making a world with futuristic cities and machines, you should probably use 3-D. Masamune's future world is incredibly detailed and ideal for our purposes.

The setting is a kind of utopia -- one theme of the film is this utopia's destruction. The destruction of an ideal world is very cinematic, I think. So as much as possible we wanted our future city to sparkle with perfection. A lot of the buildings are made of glass that looks temptingly breakable. That you would feel good taking a rock to. [Laughs].

Who is distributing the film worldwide?

Geneon, which used to be Pioneer USA, is releasing it worldwide. The U.S. theatrical release is scheduled for this summer.

"Appleseed" is a test case -- the Japanese film industry has made 3-D animated films before, but none have really succeeded at the international box office. We have had so many wonderful 2-D animations that our leading animators, such as [Hayao] Miyazaki, [Kazuhiro] Otomo and [Mamoru] Oshii, don't yet see the need for full 3-D. Instead, they have been mixing 3-D with 2-D techniques to get a cel-animation look.

The look of "Appleseed" is still that of 2-D animation, but the entire film was made with 3-D technology. We wanted to keep the look "user friendly" -- in other words, something that audiences will find easy to relate to, not cold like some of the 3-D animation out there.

The design and sensibility are very Japanese, even if the technology isn't. It's something that Americans couldn't easily make, even if they were to put a lot of money into it. For example, Americans can make robot animation, but it's not going to look the same as ours -- and even American fans can tell the difference. Japan has an animation tradition that is unique -- and that we have tried to respect.

Are you also thinking about an "Appleseed" TV series?

We can make a TV series, but the budget would have to be held down even more. Actually, "Appleseed" was originally conceived as a TV series.

One big advantage of digital is that you can make a database. You can recycle the characters and backgrounds in various ways.

That might mean the end of traditional animation altogether -- since TV is becoming its last refuge.

Yes, that might happen. I feel sad about the disappearance of traditional animation, but you can't just be nostalgic for the past -- you have to look forward as well.

I don't think that cel animation will totally disappear. There are still things it does better, such as caricature -- as when a character's eyes pop out and so on. Since 3-D looks so real, it's better suited for more realistic stories, while 2-D is better for fantasies and comedies.

I think of films like "Appleseed" not as animation in the traditional sense, but as a separate genre. Within that genre it's better to make only films that couldn't be made any other way. That way, cel animation can survive. Both 3-D and cel animation are essential -- one shouldn't have to die at the expense of the other.



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