Michael Arias
Tamu Townsend: This is a bit of an open-ended question: Could you comment a bit about the background design?

Michael Arias: Quite open-ended.

Early on I told my art director, Shinji Kimura (Steamboy, Catnapped) that I wanted to make the city of Treasure Town (Takaramachi) the star of the movie. I wanted the audience to grow attached to Treasure Town as one might with their own neighbourhood. Insofar as the main characters each have their own story arcs, the city also has its own cycle of evolution. And that's really the big story being told in Tekkon—the story of Treasure Town: the death of the old town and the birth and subsequent destruction of Kiddie Kastle. That is the thread that ties everything else together.

So, to that end, Kimura worked to make the city as solid and three-dimensional and lived-in as possible (while still looking hand-crafted). That process of populating Treasure Town and making it a truly organic assemblage of real-world references informed every design decision we made.

I wanted the city to evoke some nostalgic associations with a previous, less hurried, more peaceful age, so Kimura and our colorist Miyuki Ito and I looked at printing from '50s and '60s Japan (also a bit of India and China)—children's books, matchboxes, billboard advertising. The film shows a great deal of that graphic sensibility in our choice of colour. I liked something very evocative Taiyo said about Treasure Town was that he imagined it like a box of toys spilled out on the floor.

Emru Townsend: Your influences in making this film are multifaceted. Aside from the print references for Treasure Town, you've also mentioned City of God's handheld-camera aesthetic and Francis Bacon's paintings. It seems to me that you chose the particular aspects of other works very carefully before you incorporated them into Tekkonkinkreet. Were there occasions during the making of the film when you came across something that made you reconsider your approach?

I had a very long time to prepare Tekkon so there were definitely certain aspects that I had worked out—perhaps too well—before production began in earnest. Actually, City of God was sort of a last minute inspiration—my distributor had City of God in theatres just when I began production. What City of God did, more than anything else, was it gave me a very concrete example to help communicate some ideas about camera work and tempo to my collaborators. A lot of the stuff we did with handheld, crane shots, aerial shots, etc. had never been tried in animation and there was a certain degree of resistance to overcome with a couple of things. It's very nice to be able to actually show a film that embodies the look and feel or some other aspect of what one's after. And impossible or impractical to communicate many of the devices through storyboards or still artwork.

There were instances when I reconsidered my approach. And certainly many aspects of the project that I didn't have a clear picture of until work was well under way. I really tried to stay flexible and keep the work interesting.

TT: Notwithstanding festival screenings, Tekkonkinkreet has had a limited release in the US, and an even more limited release in Canada (only two cities). Do you have any thoughts on how Tekkonkinkreet has been distributed here? How about for other anime films?

Suffice to say that I think there were a great many missed opportunities—and not solely with regards to Tekkon's theatrical release (or lack of such) in North America.

I designed the movie as an immersive experience—to be seen in a theatre, on the big screen—and it's sad to think that so many people who might have appreciated the movie that way didn't have the opportunity or (worse) didn't even know the movie existed. That's not to say that Tekkon can't be appreciated on the small screen—it can—but it's a totally different movie when watched from one's sofa. One thing that excites me about home video is that one can view a favourite movie multiple times. Tekkon is so dense, visually, that I'm sure it will continue to reveal new detail in repeated viewings. I just wish more people had been able to see the movie in the theatre first.

It's tough for me to speak for other films, but it's pretty obvious that there's yet to be a clear international theatrical success story for Japanese animation. There are many factors to explain this, I think. Audiences' tastes are different, for one thing. Most Japanese, regardless of their place in society, have seen an enormous range of animation and read a great many comic books by the time they reach adulthood. And from a very early age too. And the animation isn't just of the Cartoon Network or Simpsons sitcom style or Disney dancing elephant style (which I also love, by the way). There's some very sophisticated stories being told through amazing artwork here in Japan. By comparison to most Japanese, Westerners, even so-called "anime fans," have a very limited vocabulary of animation and comic art. There's other issues as well. I could go on and on. Needless to say, I think there's work to be done.
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