75-year-old Yoshiyuki Tomino has been around TV anime as long as there has been TV anime, going back to Osamu Tezuka’s pioneering 1963 Astro Boy. He’d go on to work with Studio Ghibli co-founder Isao Takahata and Hayao Miyazaki before creating the genre-defining Mobile Suit Gundam. Forbes had a chance to interview Tomino about it all, from the beginning to recent Gundam Reconguista in G.
One of the noteworthy elements of the conversation is Tomino’s comparison between what he learned going into Gundam to what he sees in other genre filmmaking.
“To go back a bit, from around 1974 I worked with Mr. Isao Takahata on the storyboards I was doing. At the time, various people were involved in the projects and they were discussing on how to dramatise them, how to do the animation. They were all debating and discussing this, almost theorising. Then I realised that I shouldn’t be looking at my work in a purely practical manner and that I needed to look at this work as something creative and almost artistic. I also met Mr. Hayao Miyazaki around this time and he really loved animation and how to approach mecha type stories. Until then I had never thought about playwriting for animation. It was a really great period of study for me.
“If you’re not involved in a wide variety of work, your focus gets narrower. If you are not studying various types of works and if you don’t learn different types of dramatization then you will only make limited work. What I mean by this is that I don’t want to be a producer that is only capable of making something like the films made based on Marvel Comics properties, which from my point of view is very silly. Of course, I acknowledge the existence of Marvel label as a business.
“So from around 1977 onward I started to do mecha related series and from then on I was integrally involved in checking all the stories and production. I felt that because of all the studying I’d done up to that point I could do a much different job, without making it like some kind of Marvel film series.
“Within the restrictions placed upon these productions I tried to move them away from them being inherently childish and to make it closer to a film in terms of its approach and depth.
“To create cinema you have to rely on the structure of each scene. Normally within each shot you tend to need two points (allies and enemies) to focus on to make it work. Such as you and I for example. However, if you are going to make a story based around a war in space, how can you frame a scene like that? As the setting itself is so vast in terms of the distances involved.
“These things as well as everything I learned from Mr. Miyazaki in terms of characterisation and how to build characters, not to mention the various other theatrical and dramatic elements that I learned from Mr. Takahata. If I hadn’t met these two individuals and learned all these elements from them, then it’s very likely that Mobile Suit Gundam would not have turned out in the same way. I’m admitting this for the first time but without them and me aiming to make the series more cinematic, such as thinking very keenly on how to set up each scene; it would have ended up being worse than the Marvel films.
“It may sound like I am insulting the Marvel films, but I haven’t produced an outstanding work for 20 years, so I really do not have the right to say anything about them. Not to mention that as an entertainment, there are things that tend to fit their time period. So something like Marvel film series has its own place. For example in Hollywood, there were two Godzilla films made but recently we had a new Godzilla film made in Japan. As it had a different director, Hideaki Anno in this case, it had its own realism and was maybe just a different approach. So I suppose there should be places for various types of entertainment but I only think that if it is coming from somewhere like Tokyo it shouldn’t be placed in somewhere like Hollywood.