An interview with director Kazuya Murata and producer Masahiko Minami of Fullmetal Alchemist - The Sacred Star of Milos
Date: Tuesday June 26th 2012 [16:08] | Posted By: Priss
Fullmetal Alchemist (Hagane no Renkinjutsushi or Hagaren for short) is a series that has made a significant mark on anime fans across the world. With the conclusion of the manga and the anime adaptation Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood over the past year, it is with great excitement that we are once again given the chance to join the Elric brothers on their second cinematic adventure - Hagaren the Movie 2011 - The Sacred Star of Milos.
For fans of the series they will enjoy return to the world of their favourite characters. Mystery, intrigue and all converge in this epic that calls into question the bonds of blood and national loyalty. The film was made to slot into the timeline of the Brotherhood series narrative. This new adventure, however, has a very different look and feel to the Hagaren previously produced by Studio Bones (株式会社 ボンズ Kabushiki Kaisha Bonzu).
At the beginning of June I was fortunate enough to meet with director Kazuya Murata and Bones producer Masahiko Minami at the BFI Southbank in a roundtable interview with Adam Reeves (of Anime UK News), Andy Hanley (of UK-Anime.net) and Ramona Naicker (of Japan Cinema.net). Here follows some of the choicest titbits from our session.
Otaku News (P-ON): As the director what was the best thing about working within the world of Hagaren?
Murata (KM): Thatís a very difficult question. (He pauses to think deeply). The original manga focused on very serious subjects such as life and death. The film was a chance to consider these themes afresh. From the perspective of animation, the best thing was that it granted us the opportunity to use alchemy for creating exciting visuals.
Japan Cinema.net (RN): Was it at all intimidating to work on such a popular and established series for the first time?
KM: As the film is set during a specific point in the narrative of the manga, we had to ensure that we didnít disrupt the continuity of the original. We also had to make sure that the characters were true to themselves so that they could be recognised as the same people by fans.
UK-Anime.net (AH): Milos has a number of new characters. Where did the ideas for them emerge from? Were you inspired by anything or anyone in particular?
KM: Truly these characters came from the scripting. We build the designs around the script to best represent what is needed.
Masahiko Minami (MM): The character Julia, however, changed to become a much stronger character during production than she was in the script. I believe that this is because Murata likes strong girls (laughs).
The jovial and highly enthusiastic Minami, brought his sense of humour to the session and was happy to provide intermittent comic relief throughout!
Anime UK News (AR): As this was your first time directing a movie, what did you learn?
KM: I learnt about the challenges of controlling a production team but it also gave me the chance to rediscover how much fun it is to work on a project like this.
AR: As this is your first time directing on a feature film, how does the experience compare to working on a TV series or OVA?
KM: Itís good to work on a film as the staff are more focused and compact. You are able to have a very close working relationship with the team.
P-ON: If you yourself could wield any alchemical powers, what ability would you chose?
KM: (Furrows his brow and considers) Thatís really hard to answer... I think the power to be able to draw storyboards really quickly!
MM: I would like that too!
This chapter in Fullmetal Alchemist features a notable difference in style for both the movement, rendering and overall character design. Director Murata revealed that he was keen to apply this new look and feel to the series to generate excitement for the viewer.
P-ON: The dynamic organic style of the animation and design is typical of Animation Director and Character Designer Konishi Kenichi-san. Did you personally choose him for this reason and have you worked together before?
KM: Obviously, his style was the reason I chose him to work on the film. We had in fact worked alongside each other before, as apprentices at Studio Ghibli. We had always intended to work together on a project in the future.
P-ON: Who is you favourite character from the original series and from the Sacred Star of Milos?
KM: Well from the film it is Julia... but from the series... I would say Kimberly.
Any fan familiar with the series knows that Kimberly is not a conventional choice. As one of the storyís many powerful antagonists, he is known as "The Red Lotus Alchemist". The former State Alchemist is a sociopath with an insatiable appetite for destruction. He appears after being released from prison, working as an agent for the Fuhrer. He moves behind the scenes mercilessly meeting out his missions with his. Unable to hide my surprise that Murata had selected one of the showís most infamous villains, he moved quickly to append his choice with a diplomatic pronouncement that, of course, Edward and Alphonse were also favourites of his!
While Murata was unable to discuss any specifics of his future projects, he revealed that he is currently working on a TV anime series. He has hopes to collaborate with many other key artists in the industry but often this comes down to timing.
When asked about which series Murata was most proud to have worked on, he mentioned many famous shows from Eureka Seven to Code Geass. It was clear, however, that as a director, each and every project was an important experience for him. Minami gave us the producerís perspective, that in his time in the business he has seen 20 separate titles come to fruition. He explained that as a producer, each of these creations that are born from concepts and carefully nurtured until they are released. They are like his "precious children", he told us with a smile. While some productions excel and become supremely successful, others go off the rails. Regardless, an emotional investment is made each time making each and every one of them important to the team.
RN: Do you have any interesting stories about the production process on the film that you can share with the fans?
KM: The production team had lengthy tournaments of playing kendama.
Kendama is an advanced cup and ball game, whereby the player performs tricks to catch a ball in one of the three cups or on the spike at the top.
KM: We would play to see who could go for longest. We even had charts and leader boards up in the studio to track the playersí ranking!
MM: I would see these charts and mistake them for the filmís production statistics! I would look at them and think "wow these are really interesting results"!
As it turns out, Animation Director Kenichi Konishi was the overall winner of the Milos kendama showdown. Perhaps experience in swiftly sketching thousands of frames for animation enhances agility in handheld games!
As the session drew to a close, I made sure to leap at the chance to geek out and asked Murata and Minami to sign one of my many items of Fullmetal paraphernalia.
The film is due for release on Blu Ray and DVD in the UK later this year.
Thanks goes to Kazuya Murata, Masahiko Minami, The BFI Southbank, Manga Entertainment UK and their PR company Fetch.fm.