By Andrew Osmond.
The film Blue Giant opens in UK cinemas this Wednesday. It’s a music drama about the fortunes of three teen boys in Tokyo – sax player prodigy Dai, haughty pianist Yukinori, and greenhorn drummer Tamada – trying to make it as a jazz trio. You can read more about Blue Giant’s story here, while there are details of the UK screenings here.
In the run-up to the film’s opening, I interviewed Blue Giant’s director Yuzuru Tachikawa when he visited London. Before Blue Giant, Tachikawa was best-known for his stint on the acclaimed TV action-comedy anime Mob Psycho 100. He also created the short film, “Death Billiards,” about trials in the afterlife, which was the basis for his later TV series Death Parade. Tachikawa’s other credits include Deca-Dence, an SF series with some very unexpected developments, and he was also Assistant Director on Shinichiro Watanabe’s Terror in Residence, as mentioned in the interview.
I’d like to start by asking about the big “performance” sequences in Blue Giant. They’re very fast, with a dizzying number of shots, some almost subliminally quick, and they’re very different kinds of shots from each other. How much work it takes to create that kind of sequence?
There were actually three of us who did those storyboards for the live performances. We did one piece to start with, as a test run. And there were a lot of shots, and we realised that if we storyboarded them all in the same way, it would be too long. There would be way too many shots. So we needed to adjust that and have a balance between the longer shots and the shorter ones.
Is it true that those sequences used both motion capture and also rotoscoping (animation traced from live-action)?
That is correct. And the reason that I needed both those techniques was firstly because we had created the space (for these scenes) in 3D. And so with the camera work in the 3D space, I also needed the characters to be 3D, which is where motion capture came into it. Rotoscoping, animating based off live-action videos, was more for the close-ups on the expressions and the fine detail.
The late director Satoshi Kon once said that in animation there’s less unnecessary detail, but it’s possible to communicate information faster than in live-action, in terms of the speed of the shots. Would you agree?
Maybe if what he meant is that in live-action, there’s a lot more information on the screen, whereas with animation, you can hone in and focus on what you want to say – if that’s what he meant, then I would agree with that.
Regarding the three main boys in the film, are any of them are types that you’ve met in real life; for example, in high school, or working in anime?
I’ve never met anyone as strong and single-minded as Dai. I’ve met people similar to Yukinori and Tamada, while working.
I have to ask about the scene where Dai and Yukinori first meet, and there’s a brief misunderstanding. It’s very funny, and for a moment you wonder if the story will turn into Boy’s Love. Was it the same in the manga?
It’s more or less the same as the manga. But in the film Dai approaches Yukinori to ask to if they can play together, whereas in the manga it’s the other way round and Yukinori asks Dai.
There have been a couple of previous animations that have depicted jazz performances – Shinichiro Watanabe’s series Kids on the Slope and the Pixar film Soul. Did you look at either for inspiration, or did you deliberately avoid watching them?
I’ve watched both. I worked under Watanabe as an assistant director on Terror in Residence. And I love Cowboy Bebop, and I also love Pixar movies.
I think what stands out with the performance scenes in Blue Giant are the solos, the expressionist abstract nature of those scenes, which I don’t think you had in Soul or Kids on the Slope. With Blue Giant, what I’ve tried to put on the screen is what the players are seeing in that moment.
When you see Dai practising his saxophone, he’s often playing outside next to water. Why did you show him this way?
That stood out for me in the manga – the fact that Dai would practice by this nameless river in Sendai [where he grew up]. And apparently it’s better to practice with a saxophone in an open space, rather than in a room. It makes the sound resonate more and it allows you to “grow” your sound, and I thought that was quite fitting for the character.
(The next question involves a story spoiler.) I want to ask about a central scene where the pianist Yukinori has a meeting which goes badly, and destroys his self-confidence. What kind of effect were you aiming for with this scene?
Yukinori is someone who wants to win. And the (piano) solos that he has always played are ones that he knows are going to be winners. And that’s how he chooses to play, and also in his past, there’s this young girl that he’s known who had to give up playing. He knows that there are certain conditions that enable you to be able to carry on playing, and hence he wants to be on the winning side. He’s very handsome, he looks like a winner… but this is the moment where he is brought down and experiences despair.
And this is in contrast, of course, to Dai, who when he’s playing has no thought of winning or losing. He just wants to express his emotion through music.
In general, I thought the animation of the three boys feels very physical, in the way they move the heads when talking, for example. They reminded me a little of the boys in Akira, in terms of their designs and physicality. Can you comment on that?
I’m honoured that you think that. I was very aware that these were three teenage boys, these protagonists, and I wanted that to come across. I wanted to give them that teenage feel, so if that does come across, then I’m glad of that.
It also struck me as a very big contrast with one of your previous anime, Mob Psycho 100, where the main character Mob is usually a very quiet boy. Did it feel good to go from one extreme to the other?
Well, for different projects, you have different characters, and they bring out different feelings. And it’s certainly more fun to work on different projects with different kinds of characters.
Andrew Osmond is the author of 100 Animated Feature Films. Blue Giant is in cinemas across the UK on Wednesday and Thursday this week.