Japan was one of the few countries that were able to build its own animation industry. In those far lands, the animation art end up acquiring original characteristics, that are known as Anime. There is a false idea that the world can be viewed through only one type of lens. That is proved wrong when we find out how rich is the animation language in Japan and how different it is from ours. To increase the exchange with the “oriental other”, Anima Mundi, in partnership with Institute Japão Pop BR, brought one of the most important symbols of the Japanese animation art, Shinichiro Watanabe.
Side by side with his translator (the polite Jo Takahashi, from Dô Cultural), Watanabe started to tell his life story to an audience that was anxious to know more about the director. He said he was also very happy to be in Brazil, a country that since a young boy he has been fascinated with. Deeply appreciator of Brazilian music, Watanabe has always tried to embody the rhythms of our culture to his movies. In one of his films, there is a sequence where we can see three old men sitting in a bar. Curiously, their names were Antonio, Carlos and Jobim.
Watanabe started at the age of twenty with an important doubt: cinema or animation? He told us laughing that back then there was a rumor that working with animation was really easy. He decided to give it a try. From that, he had a good and a bad news: he discovered he had talent to work in this area, but he soon found out that it wouldn’t be easy. In 1994, he was hired by the Sunrise studio, as production assistant. He learned everything he could until he was given the opportunity of co-direct a film, Macross Plus. Shinichiro told us that his part in the job was to give support to the main director, what frustrated him many times because the feature was not coming out as he thought it should. A few years later, he was reward with the freedom to do his own TV serie, Cowboy Bebop, which soon proved Watanabe talent.
In Cowboy Bebop, Watanabe reunited everything he liked in animation. Spike, the main character, is kind of an ideal figure that has profound impact in Sinichiro’s work and is a remarkable symbol to many animation fans all around the globe. He was inspired in the icon Bruce Lee, not only in the way he fought, but also his philosophy. “The way Spike fights is almost choreographed with the music and that is something I took from Bruce Lee”. The TV series became a film in 2001. Nowadays, Watanabe is writing the screenplay to transform Spike into a flash and bone character. Keanu Reeves has shown some interest in playing it. With the typical oriental serenity, he said that there is nothing confirmed. “The only thing I’m afraid of is to do a life action that ends up like Dragonball Z”. We appreciate your concern!
A few years after doing Cowboy Bebop – The Movie, Watanabe was invited to direct to episodes of the American series Animatrix, based on the big hit Matrix. The short-films Kid’s Story and A Detective Story were exhibit during the chat and Shinichiro told us a little bit more about those pieces. He told us that is very common for people to ask whether he used or not rotoscope (technique where the animation is designing over life action, frame by frame) to do the episode Kid’s Story, because of the almost photographical background. Some parts were actually shot with real characters, but the tapes were only used to serve as a reference. The episode A Detective Story was actually an accident. He was invited to do just one, but in the last minute the directors needed another one, so the movie end being produced with one-third of the time available for the first one. They had to cut some action scenes and put more passages without movement, just a quick simulation. This kind of technique, when well used like Watanabe did, can reduce the production time, without any loss of quality.
Shinichiro told us a lot about his relation with music as well. All his films have amazing sound tracks. But the level of involvement between music and director is a lot deeper than simply choose what it is going to be played in each scene. For him, music is a matter of concept. In Cowboy Bebop, he introduces the way of thinking and feeling within the Bebop movement, one of the most important influences in American jazz. Bebop seeks to bring a free halo to music. It is an attempt to break through that believes in the end of the score’s imperative and opens new paths towards improvisation. Sinichiro brought not only the Bebop’s rhythm to his films, but also embodied the very meaning of it into his work. He started to conduct his movies in a more loosen way, accepting advices, tips and suggestions from anyone. During the rehearsals for record the soundtrack, for example, he would let any musician come along at any time. He wanted to make the music richer day by day, introducing new elements. Even in the screenplay creation process, this way of working was adopted. Anyone could help thinking it through and adding new components. A guy who had just started in the studio became main screenplay director because of Sinichiro’s open mind.
None of this would be possible if Watanabe wasn’t a genius in compositing. He has the power to unite several elements and create an environment where they can potentiate one another. The result is a rich and broad product that has no cohesion flaws. This can be clearly felt in the TV series Samurai Champloo (2004). Watanabe puts together the traditional and serene culture of the samurai with the intense modernity of the hip-hop music. In the hands of other directors, the product of this sum would be a hybrid work incapable of inspire due to the disconnection of its elements. With Watanabe in control, we have an integrated narrative flux that strikes our attention from the beginning till the last minute. The harmonic marriage of image and sound is the key to make this possible. The music becomes an important narrative element, where the flux of its intensity and rhythm has the dramatic momentum as center of gravity. Even the series name is a reference to this capacity of integration. Champloo is a typical dish, made in an island on the south of Japan. It is easy to do! All it takes is to put together everything you like in a pan and fry! That is the essence of Shinichiro’s work: uniting all the elements he is passionate about, balancing ingredients to achieve the most tasteful flavor as possible. “I made an animated champloo”, said the director.
Nowadays, Shinichiro has been working as musical producer in the TV series Michiko and Hatchin. The historiy takes place in Paradiso, a country inspired in Brasil. He told us that he invited himself to work in the program when he found out that it had Brazilian elements. Shinichiro said he hopes that some TV channel in our country tries to bring the program here. Then, to finish, Watanabe presented something different from everything he has done before. “In my histories there are too much people killing each other. After thinking a little bit I decided that I wanted to do a movie where nobody dies”, said the director. It came from this decision the delicate and sweet short movie Baby Blue. It was clear that Shinichiro Watanabe is an artist of many skills. His specialty is the ability of working with the most different elements not only adding, but actually integrating. As a result, we see all the initial ingredients and something else. It is within this “else” that lays Shinichiro Watanabe’s magic.