Production I.G CEO Mitsuhisa Ishikawa

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Since 1987, Production I.G has been involved in the production of anime television series, original video animation, theatrical films, video game animated scenes, video game design and development, and music publishing and management. It is perhaps best known for its “Ghost in the Shell” series. Tokyo Journal sat down with founder Mitsuhisa Ishikawa, who put the “I” in Production I.G, prior to his press conference at the 2013 Anime Expo in Los Angeles.

Q: It’s great to see you again. It’s been a long time! Can you tell us how you got started in your career?
ISHIKAWA: When I was a student, I started out with a part-time job in the anime world at Tatsunoko Production. I didn’t expect to get into it at all. I just kind of got lost into it and found myself here. I was working on a program called “Golden Warrior Gold Lightan,” where a lighter turns into a robot.

Q: Now I understand Production I.G owns 11% of Tatsunoko. How did that happen?
ISHIKAWA: I was originally working for Tatsunoko for six years and I ended up marrying the daughter of the president, Tatsuo Yoshida. So as I was kind of marrying into the company, I felt the responsibility to be a strong force within the company. In doing that, I created the subsidiary with the Tatsunoko name but eventually I ended up breaking away from Tatsunoko, becoming a rival and becoming successful. As Tatsunoko was part of my roots and I felt that I owed gratitude, I made that 11% contribution.

Q: Why did Production I.G acquire Mag Garden?
ISHIKAWA: I think effectively integrating Mag Garden was a plus. Intellectual property is extremely important when you are making a series. In my opinion, the strongest resource of IP for anime in Japan is manga. I thought it was really important to integrate such a strong source of IP into our company to create a synergy. Even if that synergy is not as strong as it could be now, I think it will definitely grow.

Q: Do you work with many people from Hollywood?
ISHIKAWA: Yes. As a matter of fact, as soon as I got off the plane during this trip, I met with the former chairman from Marvel. He just finished shooting the new “Spiderman” in New York.

Q: You worked with Quentin Tarantino. What do you think about him?
ISHIKAWA: I like him. He’s crazy. He’s very much like a child who grew up in body but not in spirit. As far as directors go, I think you pretty much have to be an off-the-wall, out-there, strange kind of person. I think those kinds of people, especially, are made for directing.

Q: Do you have a favorite director?
ISHIKAWA: Whether or not you’re a famous director, I think it’s more important to be interesting and unique, and to have skill. I like Spielberg because he has a strong spirit and never gives up on his dream. Regardless of his age, he is still pursuing his dream and I admire the fact that he has been able to accomplish this through successful business.

Q: What do you think about Akira Kurosawa?
ISHIKAWA: I love everything Kurosawa did in black and white. As a matter of fact, I really liked when movies were in black and white. As his movies changed to color, I felt that my interest in Kurosawa’s work waned a little.

Q: What do you think about George Lucas?
ISHIKAWA: I feel he is a young person at heart. Everyone loves “Star Wars.” But more
than “Star Wars,” I really liked “American Graffiti.” I really think the actors he chose and the acting they portrayed were really a reflection of George Lucas himself. Even after all the years that have passed, I really feel George Lucas still holds that youth.

Q: What is your favorite anime?
ISHIKAWA: “Ghost in the Shell.”

Q: In “Ghost in the Shell” you combine hand-drawn backgrounds with digital animation. What is the advantage and disadvantage of that?
ISHIKAWA: In 3D, we are not at the point where we can put as much detail in facial expressions as you can with 2D, in my opinion. Especially with “Ghost in the Shell,” we really need that kind of detail. With 2D, I feel we can do that. If we weren’t using 2D, I don’t think we could get the kind of expression we needed.

Q: Anime is becoming very popular around the world. Why is it becoming so popular?
ISHIKAWA: It’s kind of unusual and hard to explain but it could be because anime is more of an art form than a business at this Producing Anime point. Everyone enjoys it. From now it is the producers’ jobs to change that into a moneymaking business.

Q: What projects are you working on now?
ISHIKAWA: We are currently working on four big projects. Starting with the TV realm, we are working on “Attack on Titan” and “Kuroko’s Basketball.” The manga for“Kuroko’s Basketball” was from Shueisha and “Attack on Titan” was from Kodansha originally. We are creating the TV series. We remade “Space Battleship Yamato” into a movie. What was originally a TV series with 30-minute episodes, we put together into a movie: “Yamato 2199” and it is doing very well. We have a phrase in Japan, “owacon,” which is short for “owatta contents,” which means contents or a production or series that is over and done with. Peopleare
not interested in seeing it remade. “Yamato” was considered one of those dead projects. People were saying even if you remake it, people won’t like it. However, myself and a bunch of other people who loved theseries as much as I did got together and made it, and I like to think we proved them wrong. The biggest project we have worked on, as everybody knows, is “Ghost in the Shell.” In 1995 we made the original. In 2004 we released the second movie, “Innocence,” and there were the “Stand Alone Complex” episodes. This is definitely the series that has been most loved by the fans. Three years ago in the summer of 2010, I met with Masamune Shirow, the maker of the original “Ghost in the Shell.” We looked at Western dramas like “CSI” and “24” and the fact that they were one-hour episodes, not 30 minutes. We looked at the quality of the scripts used for those shows and we decided that’s what we wanted to do. We wanted to challenge ourselves with that and make something as good as “CSI” or “24,” or even better. One of our goals of making “Arise” was to make something completely new. We got a whole new staff - new people in design, new people in music, new voice actors, a new director, etc. Once we did that, the Internet went wild with everybody becoming really sour. They were really disappointed. That’s the starting line that we had. We were asking ourselves, “How do we make this series that is already established fresh and new?” I looked at all of the recent Hollywood movies like “Batman Begins,” the new “Spiderman” movies, and all of these remakes. That’s where we got the inspiration for this recreation. I realized the best opportunity to start with a whole new staff is to create a prequel and create something that happened before what has already been established. 2029 was the setting of the original “Ghost in the Shell.” So we made a prequel set in 2027. The story is about the main character before she creates the police force she is in. Another thing we are working on is “Kick- Heart.” It was made with $200,000 in crowdfunding. Crowdfunding is a way of getting a lot of money from a lot of people. The fact that we were able to get funding from fans around the world, people who just love anime and wanted to see this project made, whether in Asia, Europe or the U.S., is proof of how much everyone loves Japanese anime.

Q: Have you been to Anime Expo before?
ISHIKAWA: Yes, 15 years ago. One thing that really surprised me this year is the fans. Before when I was here it was a lot of older guys with larger builds. But this year I see so many young people. It is so different from how it used to be and that really surprised me. Another thing I discovered coming here is no matter where you go around the world, people love cosplay. It’s a kind of borderless phenomenon.

Q: Do you have a personal goal in animation?
ISHIKAWA: What I want to give to the fans is the message that if you don’t give up, your dream will come true. Keep following your dream. That’s my message through anime. A lot of the movies I have made are ones that as a parent you really wouldn’t want your kids to see. I really truly believe that young people have the power to change the world, and so I want kids to see death scenes and violence. I want them to know and to feel pain because I want them to see something with creativity and all kinds of feelings – not just bland stuff their parents want them to see – so that they can be creative. I think the desire to create new things and have advancements comes from letting kids from a young age see these kinds of movies with things that are just unimaginable. They see these technologies and think, “I want it to happen,” and that desire leads to the actuality of these technologies being invented. One of the wonderful things about anime is that ability to instill desire and inspire creativity to bring things into reality. tj

The complete article is available in Issue #272. Click here to order from Amazon

Written By:

Anthony Al-Jamie

Anthony Al-Jamie lived and worked in Japan for over 20 years. His in-depth understanding of Japanese language and culture has allowed him to carry out interviews with many of the most renowned individuals in Japan. He first began writing for the Tokyo Journal in the 1990s as Education Editor, later he was promoted to Senior Editor, and eventually International Editor and Executive Editor. He currently serves the Tokyo Journal as Editor-in-Chief.


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