Shinichiro Watanabe at Detroit Film Theatre, Feb. 8th, 2006

The following is a transcription of the information in the Detroit Film Theater's booklet:


The critically acclaimed animation (anime) director Shinichiro Watanabe will make a very special appearance at the Detroit Film Theatre, sponsored by the Japan Foundation in cooperation with the Consulate General of Japan in Detroit, the Japan America Society and the DIA Friends of Asian Art. Best known for his Cowboy Bebop television series (1998), which combined elements of traditional American westerns, 40's crime films and a classic jazz score, Mr. Watanabe will discuss the aesthetic and technical aspects of this work, and show clips from Animatrix (2003) and Samurai Champloo (2004). This newest series tells the story of a ronin samurai, a womanizing warrior and a teahouse waitress who band together to search for a "samurai who smells of sunflowers." Samurai Champloo harnesses the kinetic poetry of classic "chambara" sword epics, but is also wildly anachronistic with a musical score recorded by contemporary Japanese hip-hop artists. The evening will be a rare opportunity to meet one of the world's most innovative and important anime directors working today. Wednesday at 7:00.

[notes by Milarkie from the Adult Swim forum--used with his permission]

These are some notes from the special event held at the Detroit Institute of Arts. Everything that is written here is not verbatim, mostly because no Video or Audio recordings were allowed, so I had to write all of this out. I believe I got the major points of the Panel Discussion and Q&A Session that took place. Most of the night was spent on Samurai Champloo.

It opened with a Professor at the Michigan Institute of Technology laying out the evening for us. After that the openings to Cowboy Bebop and Samurai Champloo were shown. Shortly after that Shinichiro Watanabe was introduced and came out. He opened with a little anecdote about how he was related to Detroit. The story goes, when he was about 10 years old and he started experimenting with music, he heard a song by a band from America. The name of this band was KISS, and the song that peaked his interest most was Detroit Rock City. Though he loved the song, he feared coming to the city of Detroit because of the cover of one of KISS' albums [probably "Destroyer"], which depicted them in a "monstrous" form. [Not really interesting unless you were in Detroit, but I figured I'd throw it in there. ]

Next they showed Episode 1 of Samurai Champloo. Following that there was a panel discussion.
I'll just list the topic of the questions and give the main facts that he responded with.

Use of Music in his work:
He uses Yoko Kanno in many of his works, but it's difficult to do a whole soundtrack with her, because her music is so powerful that it overshadows the animation, making it seem as if the animation is lacking. He is always the Music Consultant in all of his projects. There was only one project that he was NOT the Music Consultant on and that was The Animatrix. Much of the music in Samurai Champloo was improvised. Meaning it was made up on the spot as many of the scenes were being watched. In episode 22 there was a special instrument that was used to do this. [Sorry, I forgot the name] It's a box and you can change the pitch of the music by moving your hands around the open air above the instrument. [This would be a theremin.]

Hip-Hop/Samurai Correlation:
The reason he chose to use Hip-Hop with Samurai is because often the Samurai is represented by one sword, just as a rapper is represented by one mic. Just as in rap, he "sampled" old samurai scenes and added and took from them to make a "remix" of a sort of them and created his own scenes in the show.

A main influence on Samurai Champloo was the flim Zatoichi, which is about a blind samurai. Other influences include the movies Enter the Dragon and Dirty Harry. Another odd influence was Chiropractics. While working on Samurai Champloo he was going to a Chinese Chiropracter. While there the Chiropractor would tell him stories of Chinese lore. One of which was about an energy in all living things called "Ki", which he actually "sampled" and created an entire episode about.

Effects of Popularity of Anime in U.S.:
Anime, of course, was originally created for sale in Japan, but up until about 5 years ago, a more conscious effort was being put forth to think about sales overseas. Offers from Hollywood often go out to creators to produce anime. But the bad thing about that is Hollywood's opinions. When asked why he thought Cowboy Bebop was so popular he replied with "I don't know. Perhaps it's because we all have a little Dirty Harry in all of us."

Recent Work:
He is currently working on a Compilation Movie [similar to the style of The Animatrix], by the name of Genius Party. He is one of 10 directors on the project. In it, he is working on a "Boy Meets Girl" type of story.

Making a Movie vs. Series:
There is typically a great difference in series and movies; however, with him he usually does it the same way. He starts off with a short story and builds on from there. Because of this format he worked many, many, many long nights. And another result was an angry crew.

Minorities in His Works:
Watanabe feels that it is an important aspect to include minorities in his work and that they are well represented in them. Such as the Ainu in Samurai Champloo and how there were Indian Americans, Gays, African Americans, and Hermaphrodites in Cowboy Bebop. He makes a conscious effort to include minorities in his works.

Use of Violence:
Shinichiro doesn't particularly like violence in his work; however, always makes sure that a "Live or Die" theme is present in his projects. He wants the character to feel real and that the character really lives, will bleed, and will die. That's why there is always a death scene present. He doesn't want that "Disney Dreamland" feel to his work.

Q&A Session:
He got into the film industry when he was 20 years old. He didn't care what kind of film it was, just as long as it was the film industry. He was an assistant for the first 8 years of his career. The reason he became an anime director was because a friend of his told him that it was easy to get into. [Which he agreed with]. He has been given offers to do live-action films as well.

Similarities between Spike and Mugen:
Seeing as Watanabe is from Kyoto, that went into Spike and Mugen. People from Kyoto speak indirectly and his bosses didn't like that, so he began speaking his mind. But when it came to his characters he "rebelled" and designed them after the people of Kyoto.

Champloo Movie:
There are currently no plans for a Champloo movie, but if the series does well in America, he says he'll think about it.

Opinion on Fansubs of his work:
His work is created for larger screens. When his work is DLed and Fansubbed, the quality is taken away and lessens the experience. He says if you DL his work, then watch it, just make sure you buy it or else he's out of a job.

What's currently in his CD player/Ipod?
He has about 8,000 songs on his Ipod, and is a bit frustrated because he has about 1,600 more that he can't put on.

Cowboy Bebop Episode 5: "Ballad of Fallen Angels" Music:
The scenes in this episode came after the music was chosen. He came up with the scenes as he was listening to the music he chose to play during the episode, and built the scene around the music.

Preferences in Animation:
He prefers 2D animation over 3D. He said he'll leave 3D to America, and let the Japanese Animators continue with 2D.

Mugen's Fighting Style:
He was asked why he chose Capoeira as Mugen's fighting style. But this is not the case. He modelled Mugen's style after breakdancing and later saw Capoeira and realized how similar it was.

Other Random Facts:
He knew where the story of Cowboy Bebop was going, but with Samurai Champloo he didn't even know what "The Samurai who smells of Sunflowers" meant. And commenting on CB's ending he said he didn't know why some viewers thought the ending was dark. "Spike could just be asleep."

Mr. Watanabe was asked about how the expansion was affecting his ability to be creative, and if it became more difficult. He said he's always getting pressure from sponsors. They're always saying "Make something as good as Cowboy Bebop" to which he always replies "No Problem!" not knowing how he's gonna do that.

If you had no budget, what kind of movie would you make?:
If he had all the money he wanted to create a movie he would run off to an island somewhere in the south.

Afterwards Cookies and Punch were served and we had the option of getting something autographed. [Which I passed on seeing as I didnt have anything to be signed]


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