Anime Los Angeles 2017 – Interview with Hiroaki Inoue
Hiroaki Inoue’s career as animator began with Tezuka Productions, founded by legendary Astro Boy creator Osamu Tezuka. Inoue would go to co-found Gainax and be involved with the production of classics such as Perfect Blue, Memories, Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honneamise, and various Tenchi Muyo anime and OVAs. Along the way he would collaborate with other anime industry luminaries such as Katsuhiro Otomo (Akira) and Satoshi Kon (Millennium Actress) while becoming a legend in his own right.
CFG had the honor of interviewing Mr. Inoue during Anime Los Angeles 2017.
How different was the anime industry when you co-founded Gainax compared to today?
Back then was a time when original video animation market was budding and a lot of companies in the industry were interested in giving a lot of staff members a try at coming up with original stories. The bulk of animation was made for television and they were children shows. This was the first time when companies were attempting to make original video animation for the otaku market.
During that time there were a lot of startup companies doing the same thing Gainax was doing. Did you come across any trials or tribulations? What was one of the biggest trials you had to come across to become significant in that growing field?
Back then Gainax and other fledgling studios had to come up with their own original content because until then, most made for television animated shows were based on pre existing manga. So new studios had to come up with original ideas and stories to animate.
Royal Space Force was a critical, but not a commercial success. What did learn from that experience moving forward?
Royal Space Force was originally meant to be an OVA. The ones who came up with the ideas for the project like Yamaga and Okada determined it was going to be our company’s first commercially funded project. At first they thought that an OVA project would be sufficient.When I saw their pitch, I thought that their idea would not fit into an OVA so I suggested to go theatrical. The company Bandai was suggesting us to do the OVA idea but, we went back to them and re-pitched as a theatrical feature.
There were a couple of people at Bandai who wanted to give young creators a chance. So they went to the company president and convinced him to get the green light for Royal Space Force to become a movie. As result, Royal Space Force became Bandai’s first animated movie. Commercially we can’t say that it was a success but, I do think it left an influence to a lot of creators.
Gainax has always pushed creators to make creative, one of a kind stories. Do you prefer OVAs over theatrical projects?
I do not really have a preference. In the case of Royal Space Force, the original idea was to make it a 16 minute video. But when I read the pitch, I didn’t think it was a story that could fit in a 16 minute format. It really depends on the content and also what kind of staff members would be involved, what kind of ideas were pitched, and also what kind of sponsors and finances we could get for a project. I tend to think of myself as producer that doesn’t have a preference in any fixed format.
For example, a movie after Royal Space Force I produced was Katsuhiro Otomo’s Memories. This had a budget that was much bigger than Royal Space Force. Another was Satoshi Kon’s very first movie, Perfect Blue, which was made with a budget that was much smaller than Royal Space Force. I tend to think that I am very flexible and adaptable to any production environment I get to work with.
Do you have a preference when it comes to cel or digital animation?
Once you know what it is like to work on digital, you cannot go back to cel production. Cel is a very difficult material to handle. Because of this, it’s a very time consuming medium. When you go into digital production, there is a whole lot of time saved that you can use for creative input in a show instead. It is much better to work with digital.
What was it like working with director Satoshi Kon on the film Perfect Blue? What are your thoughts on his passing?
The first time I worked with Satoshi Kon was for Katsuhiro Otomo’s Memories. He was support staff in that project. When working on Memories, I noticed that Satoshi Kon had a unique vision and Perfect Blue is the kind of story that would be difficult to do, but I knew he had the talent and skill to make it work. So I sought him out.
When I heard about Kon’s passing, I was very shocked. As the producer of Kon’s very first theatrical feature, I was very proud to see him make in roads in the industry and was very sad to not see any new work from him.
Of all the films and anime you’ve been involved with, is there one in particular you’re most proud of?
It would be difficult force me to choose just one but, in terms of story, the very first El Hazard OAV is something I am fond of.
If you had a chance to go back and do things differently, what would you change?
Royal Space Force was a real learning experience. There could be a lot of things that could be redone. The creators who were virtually all amateurs at the time, got to work on a very big project as their first commercial endeavor. If I were to redo everything, I would end up practically doing the same thing again.
Thank you for everything that you have done and contributed to anime. Your work at Gainax over the past 30 years have set the bar to new levels that creators strive for.
I am glad to hear that and thank you for this interview.