ComingSoon spoke to legendary animator Masashi Ando, whose latest film The Deer King is out today in theaters courtesy of GKIDS. The film is Ando’s directorial debut, although he was the animation director on some of the highest-grossing anime films ever made including Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away, and Your Name.“In the aftermath of a brutal war, former soldier Van toils in a mine controlled by the ruling empire. One day, his solitary existence is upended when a pack of wild dogs carrying a deadly and incurable disease attack, leaving only Van and a young girl named Yuna as survivors,” says the synopsis. “Finally free, the pair seek out a simple existence in the countryside but are pursued by nefarious forces. Intent on protecting Yuna at all costs, Van must uncover the true cause of the plague ravaging the kingdom—and its possible cure.”Tyler Treese: This is a very complex film for your directorial debut, as the story has a lot of nuance in the fantasy world is so rich. What was the biggest challenge in adapting the novels to a film?Masashi Ando: Yeah, definitely this was a difficult project because the original novel is very long [and] complicated, but very deep. I do think that is the appeal of the novel, but that’s what makes it really hard for us to turn it into a movie. I really had to think about it. It’s very complex as you said, and the novel has a lot of information. So then, we really had to think about how do we make it compact and then make it fit into a movie because we didn’t want to take all these elements from the novel, put it in just to put it in, because then that would make it really empty.So then what we decided was that we wanted the center of the film to be about the relationship between Van and Yuna. So that relationship, it’s very simple, yet deep. Then by focusing on them and then just having everything else that’s happening in the background as complex, we sort of gave the room to the viewers to think about what’s going on without giving them all the information. It really was a long process to decide what parts to put in and what not to focus on. I do hope that we were able to achieve it in the end.Speaking of the character of Yuna, she’s animated so well, and she’s so adorable in the film. This is a world with slavery war and terrible disease, so how important was it to show the pure nature of children? So I really think Yuna is very important in the story because really her existence is what starts Van’s life over or she’s the one who makes Van act in the movie. So I really do think that pureness and her childlikeness was really important. In the movie, all the adults are either manipulative or they have their own [motive]. They’re not necessarily evil, but they act for their own good. They’re very conniving, I think.So as a contrast to all these horrible adults is Yuna. I really needed Yuna to have the appeal of the purity and then the good in people for her to be able to get Van to be moving and acting. So I really took care in how we drew Yuna. We didn’t want to be like, “Oh, let’s make Yuna this cute, adorable thing.” Like we wanted to really make it very subtle in her daily life, how she moves to be very like pure, so I really focused on that.You did great work with the late Satoshi Kon, including my favorite anime TV show, Paranoia Agent. What was your philosophy when it came to character design for that show? Working with Satoshi Kon for the character design was very fun. It was very enjoyable because that was really actually my first time working on a series as a character designer. It was a very stimulating experience. I really think being able to work with Satoshi Kon was what made it fun. At the time, when I was working for him, I didn’t necessarily have to focus on designing characters that would be very appealing. He didn’t come to me and say, “Oh, can you draw this cool character like this?” or “Can you draw this cute character that would be like very likable like this?” I really think I had a lot of freedom and I really think that experience really came into play working on Deer King.It really became my foundation because when I was character designing for Deer King, I also had to think about like the silhouette of the characters. Then I had to make sure that they’re all very different and distinct, so when they like overlap, you can tell who’s who because some are, some are tall, some are small, some are fat, et cetera. All the characters all have different roles. I really think their designs sort of expressed through their designs. So, yeah, I really think like my experience with working on Paranoia Agent really came in handy working on this film.How inspiring is it to see your former Studio Ghibli boss Hayao Miyazaki still making films at his age? Mr. Miyazaki, to put it really simply, he’s an exceptional genius. I really think he was born to create. I know he’s retired many times, but he keeps coming back and I really think he’ll actually die if he’s not creating movies. That’s how much he’s entrapped by the process of creation.So, when you look at someone like him, it really makes you realize that like, yeah, I’m not that type of person. Like, I’m not a genius. I’m not so entrapped with creating, but how do I get closer? How do I approach his lifestyle and his work and just his ingenuity, right? So, I do think about it. He makes me think about those types of things, but then I start thinking, yeah, but I do need the help of others to create films that could even approach the level of his creations. It also makes me think [about] how do I utilize the help of others to make movies in my way.
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