The final translation to celebrate Kizumonogatari’s 5th anniversary is with none other than director Tatsuya Oishi: his feelings after wrapping up such a monumental production, the reasoning behind his visionary direction, and even themes you might’ve missed.
Director: Tatsuya Oishi
Interview originally published in Reiketsu’s movie pamphlet, which means you can’t actually buy it unless you rely on auctions or go back in time. Yay for awful preservation!
The intent behind some of the scenes in Reiketsu
— What did you think about people’s impressions and reviews for Tekketsu and Nekketsu after finishing their production?
I was in the audience for the stage greetings for those two movies. Everyone tends to get really serious watching the movie at events like that, so you basically get no reactions out of them. Which means that I couldn’t tell if they were enjoying the movie or not (laughs). Other than that, I was too busy to go to the movie theater, so I didn’t have a chance to experience everyone’s reactions in person. Hideyuki Morioka, the character designer and chief animation director, went to go see them every week to get all the weekly promo merch, and so I got second-hand accounts of how the audience reacted.
The thing is, it was a long wait until these movies came out. I was most thankful that people had waited for them this whole time. I’m genuinely thankful for comments like, “It was a good movie” or “I want to see what happens next“. My goal in making movies is to make the audience happy. All of these positive reactions end up motivating us folks working on the movies. All I can say is thanks.
— Is there anything you incorporated into Reiketsu based on those responses?
We entered production after I drew the storyboards for the entire trilogy, so there weren’t any big changes. The final scene for Reiketsu, however, did end up changing from the initial storyboards. This wasn’t based on people’s reactions, but rather my own feeling of wanting to end the movie differently, which got stronger the more the production progressed.
— Is that because you grew fond of the characters?
When I make anime, I need to put myself in the characters’ shoes. As a result, I end up spending a lot of time in the storyboarding process. I slowly had a change of heart over time as I worked on the first two parts, and decided that I wanted to make the end like this instead. At first, the idea was to end on a fade-out, and have it tie into the voice-over narration. But I thought it’d be better to focus on the image of Koyomi, who is forced to spend the rest of his life alongside Kiss-shot.
— I’d like to ask about some other scenes from Reiketsu that stood out. The scene in the gym storage room where Koyomi debates whether or not to fondle Hanekawa’s breasts sure is an intense one.
We wanted to make it a scene that goes so far as to make you feel uncomfortable as the viewer. It wouldn’t be right not to go all the way as long as we’re going for it. The scene might feel out of place when you look at the sequence of events as a whole, but I think people who were fans of the original Kizumonogatari novel came to see the movie expecting that scene. You can’t call the movie Kizumonogatari without it. It’s like a cup of coffee without cream (laughs).
— What do you mean when you say it feels out of place?
I thought the scene might seem like it doesn’t follow logically when you look at Koyomi’s motivations as a character throughout the rest of Kizumonogatari. As a result, I spent a lot of time racking my brain over the storyboards… That being said, it wouldn’t be Kizumonogatari if you left out this scene. The solution I came up with was to say that this is the one scene where Koyomi is his much more degenerate self that we see in Bakemonogatari and onwards. That’s why we made Koyomi’s hair in Kizumonogatari be parted on the opposite side as in the TV series, and only change it back for the storage room scene. But it’s fine if viewers don’t notice that detail (laughs). It’s fine if they don’t notice, but I came up with that rationale to convince myself.
— The fight between Koyomi and Kiss-shot is a powerful scene as well.
I knew Kizumonogatari was the only place we could have a fight scene like that. The novel describes it as a torturous fight that is an endless cycle of torment, so I wanted to build upon that visual concept for the animated version, and turn it into an exciting climactic scene. I think it’s just right as a scene that the audience ends up laughing at: so gruesome that it loops all the way back around to being a little comedic.
— I was surprised to hear that the action for that fight was already quite refined at the storyboarding stage.
I’m the type to want to be in control of as much as possible. Animation is, however, a group effort that requires help from skilled animators, and your initial plans can end up changing in the process of working with them. Even so, there’s a part of me that wants myself to be the one who sets the stage.
— He’s not an animator, but Hajime Ueda shows up on some cuts.
When I read the script, I knew I wanted Ueda to do that part. There’s obviously the visual effect it brings, but there’s also the reason that for Reiketsu, I wanted to have a certain character show up. Thinking about the Monogatari series as a whole, though, we wanted to avoid openly depicting them in Kizumonogatari. The idea was that we could solve the problem by using Ueda’s art style.
— This isn’t limited to Reiketsu, but there’s some unusual cross-cutting you use in places. There are several scenes where you splice in bits from what chronologically comes slightly before or after.
There’s a method to my madness there. I think the technique is most obvious in Nekketsu when Hanekawa is wounded by Episode and sends Koyomi into distress. I wanted to express his panic through the cutting. That’s why the three events are chronologically mixed up: Koyomi desperately running to be at Hanekawa’s side, Koyomi grabbing Oshino by the collars and lashing out, and Koyomi in a daze not knowing what to do. We created those three scenes beforehand and then shuffled them to reflect his state of mind. That’s the part where it’s easiest to pinpoint the technique, but I’ve always been a fan of that kind of anastrophe via cutting.
Kizumonogatari’s music, scored to the film
— I hear the editing process was quite the ordeal.
It took 13 hours straight… (laughs) Rie Matsubara, who oversaw the process, has incredible powers of endurance. The major premise for the music was that Satoru Kosaki would score it to the film (that is to say, match the music to what’s on screen), which meant that we needed to figure out the final runtime of the film at the editing step.
— So you couldn’t go back and make changes later. Did you decide on the timing for the music at the storyboarding stage?
It wasn’t that precise, but there were parts where I wrote out some broad ideas. I wanted to decide on as much as possible at the storyboarding step.
— Does that include the type of music as well?
Sometimes it did, and sometimes it was left ambiguous. Kosaki always composes the most wonderful pieces, so really my job was just to convey the basic ideas to him. I’m an amateur when it comes to music, so my requests were pretty rude, like “do that thing that one song does”. And not only would he capture what I meant, but he would come back having added his own flourishes throughout. So all of the music was full of unexpected surprises, but the one that stands out the most to me is the track in Tekketsu used where Koyomi goes down into the subway from Ginza. It was a revelation.
— On the topic of music tracks, the one used for the Episode fight in Nekketsu felt like a curveball.
I had an idea for what that scene should sound like from relatively early on. Nekketsu has three big fight scenes, right? So the plan was to add in lots of variation, and visually we change things up by making it rain and so on. I thought we should make the effort to do the same for the music. While the animation is important, having a plan for a good foundation to create the footage really is the crucial part—even more so for action scenes. I try to put great care into that kind of detail.
A setting that recognizes “what it means to live in Japan in the years to come”
— This question is about the Kizumonogatari trilogy as a whole. What was your mindset regarding the locations in Kizumonogatari, such as the abandoned cram school?
If we’re gonna talk about the locations, there’s something I have to touch on beforehand. When I read the original Kizumonogatari, I came away thinking of it as a story about how Koyomi has his set of values and ethics that he has spent 17 years building up completely overturned. He comes to realize the hypocrisy of his actions in saving someone out of pity. He made himself out to be the victim, when he was really the one in the wrong the whole time. And that’s a really heavy topic to handle. I mentioned before that I need to put myself in a character’s shoes to draw the storyboards, so I struggled with trying to understand how Koyomi must have felt.
— How did you solve that problem?
In 2011, we had the terrible earthquake on 3.11, and I think the modern world in a lot of ways has become a hard place to grow up in for young people. And yet they still have to live in this society, in Japan now… I think the first time I began to understand Koyomi was when I started thinking about that. That’s why for the locations, I thought about “what it means to live in Japan in the years to come”. For example, the reason why we reference buildings designed by Kenzo Tange is that to me, his works somewhat embody this country at its peak. So I wanted to have a setting where his buildings look like colossal tombstones—and this imagery of the bygone days eventually leads back to the Tokyo Olympics. That’s the course of action I had imagined for the setting, which is why we reference the National Stadium for the stage of the climactic fight.
Getting away a bit from the locations, the use of French has the same reason. Bakemonogatari was made with influences from French New Wave, but we’re working with Japanese films this time around. Instead, we wanted it to have the feel of a 60s Japanese film that was shaped by New Wave, so there are still nods to French cinema in there.
— I heard that the theme of “Japan” shows up in the key visuals for all three Kizumonogatari movies as well.
The composition for all 3 images are meant to conjure the image of the flag of Japan. For Tekketsu, Kiss-shot’s blood forms circles, and for Nekketsu, the table that Kiss-shot is sitting on is circular. And for Reiketsu, the umbrella that Hanekawa is holding evokes the flag of Japan. That’s how we tried to incorporate the concepts used in Kizumonogatari even in the key visuals.
— Going back to the topic of the locations, a lot of the setting is changed from Bakemonogatari, but there are also scenes that intentionally call back to Bakemonogatari in their setting. For example, we see the Dream Bridge at the end of Reiketsu, which was also in Bakemonogatari.
There was a wait until the movies were officially announced, but for me, the work for Kizumonogatari started immediately after Bakemonogatari, with no gap in between. In other words, although the events of Kizumonogatari chronologically take place before Bakemonogatari, as a creator, it’s a work that follows after. If I had to say what Kizumonogatari is to be, my answer would be “Tsubasa Cat, Part 6”. In the last episode of Bakemonogatari, Koyomi and Hanekawa face off on the Dream Bridge, and so I wanted to evoke that finale and put them there for the ending. To me, Kizumonogatari is the continuation of Bakemonogatari, and at the same time, Kizumonogatari carries things over to Bakemonogatari… That’s the kind of idea I wanted it to be.
What I realized as I kept exploring Hanekawa’s character
— Let me ask about the characters. You mentioned having trouble putting yourself in Koyomi’s shoes, but how about the other characters?
I had some regrets about the way Hanekawa was portrayed in Bakemonogatari, so I wanted to treat her carefully as a heroine in Kizumonogatari. Originally, I wanted to show her as more than friends with Koyomi, but less than lovers… But as I continued to delve into Hanekawa’s character, I realized that there was no way she would get together with Koyomi in the end… I guess you could say I slowly began to see the madness lurking beneath the surface in Hanekawa. If she were to keep approaching Koyomi more and more aggressively, the more she would end up pushing him away. I would end up thinking, “Wait, I was trying to make Hanekawa look good here…”.
When I started work on Kizumonogatari, the idea was to depict Hanekawa and make viewers ask, “How come Koyomi and Hanekawa never got together?” But… well… (laughs) Her line, “If I can’t die for their sake, I wouldn’t call that person my friend” is probably the perfect example of why.
— Moving on from Hanekawa, what about Kiss-shot?
I worked on the movies with the intent of treating all of the characters with respect, but for Kiss-shot, I wanted people to come out of the theater feeling sorry for her. Even after her long, grueling fight with Koyomi, I wanted the audience to empathize with her as a tragic heroine, to the point where I almost want them to walk out of the theater feeling gloomy after the movie was over. To accomplish this, I tried to make Kiss-shot come off as not pure evil but taking a neutral stance, in her own way.
— How about Oshino?
When I first read the original novel, I had actually imagined Oshino as this slightly chubby old guy (laughs). And then I saw VOFAN’s model sheet, as well as Akio Watanabe’s designs, and my mental image of him completely changed. Since then, my goal has been to portray him as a cool adult who’s always one step ahead of Koyomi. I feel like I succeeded at doing so in Kizumonogatari, where he has the job of presenting the cruelest of solutions at the very end. Takahiro Sakurai’s delivery at the end is really quite spectacular.
— Did the casting for the three vampire hunters match what you had imagined for their voices?
I did think it would be great to have Hochu Otsuka on board. Miyu Irino showed up in the TV series first, if I recall. All of them, including Masashi Ebara too, really got into their roles and gave great performances. We really did manage to have a star-studded cast.
— Finally, how do you feel now that production on Reiketsu has wrapped up?
As I mentioned at the very beginning, I didn’t get too many chances to see the first two movies in theaters, so for Reiketsu, I’d like to make up for it and watch it in theaters again and again. In particular, I’d like to go to theaters outside Tokyo and see everyone’s reactions to the film in person.