Mamoru Oshii

23 September 2004
picture: Mamoru Oshii


In the already varied landscape of Japanese animation, Mamoru Oshii has carved out an entirely singular niche for himself. Taking his work far beyond the requirements of the science fiction entertainment in which he is so often categorised, he poses questions about the genre's fundamental corner stones, laying bare the links between sci-fi and our contemporary daily lives. Oshii combines this with an approach to visuals and style that pushes the boundaries of the animation format, as can be witnessed in his overwhelming sequel to Ghost in the Shell, Innocence.

Your works are heavily influenced by European pre and post-war architecture, especially the eastern block countries. Where did this develop out of? What significance is it to your view of the world as expressed in your films?

I have always watched and enjoyed European films since I was young. I was always intrigued by the classic styles and old designs of the architecture and atmospheres of Eastern Europe because they are serene, beautiful, and nostalgic.

Continuing with this theme, your films reference Western cyberpunk fiction and film works from the late 1970s and the 80s, like William Gibson's Neuromancer or Ridley Scott's Blade Runner, which were themselves inspired by Japanese architecture, landscape, and technology. The question is, then, are you trying to re-appropriate this language or is there a larger goal and point you are trying meet with these elements?

People tend to classify my movies as cyberpunk fictions but I personally don't think they are. There are some films that I really enjoy such as Blade Runner, and they may have been helpful in shaping my movies to a certain degree. When you create a film dealing with humans and cyborgs, you have no choice but to refer back to Ridley Scott's Blade Runner, as this movie is probably the foundation of movies with this theme. Whether I'm trying to re-appropriate his language or not may not apply to my movies, because my goal is to always make a new movie that nobody has ever seen before. I think I've proven that with Innocence.

picture: scenes from 'Innocence'

Your films have a lot of qualities that are reminiscent of Tarkovsky, particularly in films like Avalon. Are his films an influence?

I used to like him a lot, but not anymore. Although I still like some of his movies such as Stalker, Solaris, and The Mirror.

As I understand it, Mr. Oshii, you prefer the companionship of dogs to people. Would you say that this lends to your thematic choices of souls, or the 'spirits of human consciousness,' no longer needing their human form?

I personally may prefer my companionship of dogs, but it may be different to some people. Since people are all starting to lose parts or all of their 'bodies', they need to associate themselves with something else to identify themselves. It could be dogs like in my case, or it could be cats or other animals. It doesn't need to be living things, either. It could be machines, cars, computers, cities, just about anything but yourself. That's how you find your lost 'bodies'.

Do you think that the human form is anachronistic? Or will become so?

I'm not sure what you mean by that, but people are definitely losing their human forms. Animals have always stayed the same, and continue to do so in the years to come, but humans are always changing, and they need to change, with the development of technology. However, they should not fear change or evolution, but rather accept it and learn to live with it.

What do you start with first when making a movie? Do your ideas arrive out of a striking image, a book, music? Do you start with a script before anything else?

I always have plenty of different ideas in my head. It's how I utilize them in my movies. When a project comes along, I usually have something on my mind already. Many ideas come about by reading novels and photo books, and through speaking with various creators, but the concrete idea or the foundation of the movie has already been decided before I make a movie.

picture: scenes from 'Patlabor', 'Avalon' and 'Ghost In the Shell'

Do you always work with the same people on each project?

Not always, but generally yes. It depends on whether I'm making a live action or animation movie, but the core group of creators is usually the same. They are whom I believe to be the most talented and patient artists, although a lot of them are selfish and stubborn, and I trust them all dearly. Without their contributions, my movies would never get made.

How long is pre-production? What does it encompass?

I take one year for pre-production. It basically decides what the film is going to be all about.

How long did the regular production period take on Innocence? And post-production?

Two years for the actual production, and one year for post-production. Four years in all.

Who are your biggest creative influences? And how did it inform your making of Innocence?

My beloved Gabriel, my pet basset hound. This movie is about me and my dog.