An Interview with Animation Director Takeshi Honda
Date: 2016 December 29th Thursday [15:55] | Posted By: Joe
UK anime company Anime Limited are great for getting guests over to the UK, this year alone they had Makoto Shinkai the director of hit anime Your Name, Psycho-Pass director Naoyoshi Shiotani, plus anime director Michael Arias.
Most of these guests appeared at either the May or October 2016 MCM London Comic Con. Our last interview of the year is no means the least. Here's our interview with animation director Takeshi Honda. He's probably best known for his work on the rebuild of Evangelion movies. He's an industry veteran having worked on the original Evangelion TV series and the original movies as well. He's also recently directed his own short anime.
We caught up with Mr Honda at the MCM London Comic Con in October 2016 for an exclusive interview.
What makes him interesting to interview was that he's worked with so many top notch directors, Hayao Miyazaki, Hideaki Anno, Satoshi Kon, Mamoru Hosoda and many more. From an interviewer's stand point we could easily talk to him for a few hours about any of these individual directors to gain insight. We know academics who would have a million questions for Mr Honda and picking a limited set of questions was a great challenge. For this interview we carefully selected a range of questions to cover his career and we hope that you find these insights interesting.
Your CV looks like an otaku's dream. You've worked on so many A-list titles at many different studios, so we've got to ask. How did you get into the animation industry and how did you get the opportunity to work on all these titles?
I just love drawings. Whether to be a cartoonist or animation designer, that's what I thought when I was a child. When I was at junior school / high school there was this huge animation boom in Japan, so I thought animation is the way. I really want to do that. I saw Miyazaki's Future Boy Conan, Battle Ship Yamato and also Gundam, really they're all huge. I thought right! I really want to do this!
It's not like I started out with major titles, I've got some works I really don't want to talk about now, very traumatic!
You've done a lot of work on Evangelion, what was it like working on the original series?
When I first got involved, I really wasn't very sure about it or very positive about it.
Gainax the production company hired me to work on this other feature film before Evangelion, it didn't get made. So then apparently there were plans and it didn't get made, what are we doing to do now? Mr Anno had to create something new because this plan didn't go ahead, so he decided to go for Evangelion. That was a TV series, I was hired to do a feature film, with a TV series you don't really see the end of it, no particular kind of schedule, that was why I really wasn't feeling positive about it.
Were you surprised by how successful the show was and the huge impact it had on anime?
Mr Anno wanted to make something that was never done before and also he wanted to make something bigger than Gundam. Which probably he did. But you know, you feel on the production side (like me), I don't really get that, I don't really get why it was a big hit. I kind of feel like an outsider. I'm pretty sure it's a great work, but I'm not really with the people.
You're the first person we've interviewed who's worked on every version Eva (TV, original films and rebuild films). What is like being associated with a title like EVA for this long?
Actually, no I didn't plan it that way. So the last episode of the TV series and then we made a movie out of it, I think that film was great, but the working conditions wasn't really great, we had some problems. It was a really good movie, but I didn't really feel like I did my best. So I wasn't really entirely happy about it. So when they made the new Evangelion movie feature series, I was still kind of unhappy, unsatisfied. Rather than given it to someone else and still be unhappy about it, I thought right, I'll do it! I'll just give it my best shot! And also I really want to make my film with that, so it has continued since.
What's it like working with Hideaki Anno?
It's very, very hard! You'd hate him! It's a bit like you don't want to see your heroes, maybe, so you adore him. You think "yes great!", it's a great opportunity and by the end of the project, you don't like him as much as you used to. I think that's what it is.
Why is that? Would he make you work very hard?
I really can't just give you one example! But actually I like him now. But every time I'm done with one project, I'd really want to kill him! Then we can be friends again.
I did so many drawings and then you cut most of it!
Which is your favourite Eva Unit?
I can draw the first Eva Unit, I really can draw it, if you ask me I actually can do it now, but my favourite is the 8th, the pink one with Mari.
Who's your favourite Eva pilot?
I like anything that's easy to draw. So Asuka is my favourite!
What was the trickiest bit to animate in the new Evangelion movies?
Mr Anno likes things really simple. So he tends to have not many shots, not many cuts, so he doesn't want things to move too much. Which I don't agree, so sometimes I think that would make the whole scene really awkward. So I do something nice, make it flow naturally, then Mr Anno wouldn't like it and cut the whole bit. That was really difficult!
One of the more recent titles you worked was Denno Coil. Working alongside fellow Eva and Rahxephon staff member Mitsuo Iso,. The show anticipates information connected networked cities, augmented reality and handheld computing wearables. Outside the fantasy elements of the story, does it amaze or scare you how close we are to making the tech and tech culture of Denno Coil a reality?
I was thinking more about the actual work than whether the story would be scary or anything, but I believe that Mitsuo was thinking ahead, yeah this could happen. But I thought there might be games similar to this storyline. What I was more aware of was the virtual pets, you can see it, but you can't really touch it, you don't feel it. That was difficult. The director said, there's a dog you can see it, but you can't really pick it up. When you're working on animation, how do you draw something that's not there? The director said, you know what I mean? I said, yeah, I know what you mean, but how do I do it? That was really difficult to create something that's not there in animation. So I was more conscious about that sort of aspect, so I just thought oh my god he's just giving me a hard time. But I thought at one point then again it's something they can deal with in the direction, not the actual drawing, that kind of made me a little be easier about the whole process. So that kind of uneasiness of having to draw something that's not there was what I was thinking more about than the stories.
Out of everything you've worked on, what title did you enjoy doing most? Was there any particular scene or thing to animate?
The most fun thing was 20min Walk From Nishi-Ogikubo Station, 2 Bedrooms, Living Room, Dining Room, Kitchen, 2mos Deposit, No Pets Allowed, I really enjoyed working on that.
The deadline was quite tight. Originally everything had to be finished in three months. So it was hard work. So I had to create something from nothing. The character design was relatively easy, but what I wanted to do was Princess Kaguya from Studio Ghibli. I wanted to make animation like illustration, that was what I had in mind. So I wanted to use that for this. So the character design was relatively easy, because of that, but the set up, where do we set the story? I had to come up with something from nothing and we didn't have much time. So I thought, right! I can set this in my own kitchen! So that was the scene, that was the start. I started creating the story, but it took about two months to get there. Then the storyline changed again and changed again and changed again, so until we got the final script it was gone past the first two months! So I think we spend six months all in all and completely ignored the deadline. That was fun!
What's it like working with the late Satoshi Kon?
Millennium Actress, that's the work I remember the most. He was really, really talented, he could do everything, anything and he was once and assistant to Katsuhiro Otomo. So his drawing just were amazing and he could create great storylines. Back then Katsuhiro Otomo made Akira, so manga artists were shifting to animation. I think that's why Satoshi Kon went into animation. He was able to beat any animation creators although he came from the manga background. I think he's one of the top five talented artists ever.
So I really enjoyed working with him. it was kind of easy because he can do everything. He can draw everything. He was really good at pointing the right direction. In a way it was easier for us to just work with it. He was very clear with what he wanted. Also there are so many animation people who wanted to work like him. So many people understood his style. I think that made everything easier.
Satoshi Kon looked after his staff really well. He was very nice to me and I really liked working with him, but you really don't want him as an enemy, he will be quite scary if he doesn't like you! I really enjoyed working with him.
While nobody could replace his kind of talent, how do you feel the industry is doing in fostering the kind of talent he had in today’s crop of creators?
That's a very interesting question. My company Khara has been really trying as well, but it's really down to the natural personal talent, whether the young person has it or not, that pretty much determines everything I think. Anybody who is talented is really good anyway. So I think what we have to do now is we've found the right talent, how do we make them better? That's really hard, but I think what I can say through my own experience is that you just have to learn on the job. So you just keep working, work harder. That's the only way to nurture any talents.
What's it like working with Hayao Miyazaki?!
It's fun! I was actually working with him until July, (July gone). There are things that are not really easy or fun, but generally it's fun. I had the opportunity to work literally next to him, his desk was right next to mine. He would keep talking. So basically I was saying yes, I was nodding and agreeing. That was actually quite fun. What he had to tell me was really interesting.
So the very first work of Miyazaki that I got involved in was Ponyo. Toward the end of the film. I did the last final few cuts, where they had a group hug with the grandmothers and the main characters. That's my work. Apparently, he didn't tell me directly, I heard from someone that Miyazaki said "Oh my god, I didn't know he did this and I really wanted it and I didn't realise somebody could actually do it". He was really impressed with my work. So since then I just get offers from him and I'm really happy to work with him.
The hardest work was the mob scene in The Wind Rises. That was really, really difficult, because the station where the main characters meet you just have to think of the depth, all those people. Some people coming in the foreground. So I really had to keep drawing so many, many, many drawings! I really wanted to give up. I thought oh my god, my brain is going! Apparently Miyazaki heard I said that from somebody else and he would still apologise to me. "I'm really sorry, I'm giving you a hard time! I'm really sorry". Obliviously I say, "Oh! No, no problem!" But it really was hard work. But then again it's really a great experience and it's such an honour to work with him.
Out of everyone you've worked with, who has surprised you the most?!
Akihiko Yamashita. Before I joined Gainax I was working in a place called Atelier Giga, that was the first studio that I joined. Yamashita wasn't that old, he was probably only a year or two older than me, but he was so talented and I thought wow, someone my age is doing such a great job. I was really impressed and really surprised.
Otaku News would like to thank Takeshi Honda for giving such awesome interview answers, plus MCM London Comic Con for hosting Mr Hondaand of course Anime Limited who arranged everything. Anime Limited's new edition of Evangelion 1.11 is available to pre-order on Blu-ray and DVD Combi Pack Collector's Edition.