Production I.G’s CEO Mitsuhisa Ishikawa

Production I.G is the legendary anime studio that has given us animes such as the Ghost in the Shell franchise, Blood, the Last Vampire franchise and CLAMP’s Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicles and xxxHolic. The I.G in its name comes from the names of the founders Mitsuhisa Ishikawa and Takayuki Goto. Anime UK News had the privilege to talk to Mr Ishikawa at the Hyper Japan event in Earl’s Court, London, during his visit to take part in the Japan Media Arts Festival tour.

AUKN – Can you tell us how Production I.G came into existence?

Ishikawa-san – First when I started this company 20 years ago, I started with 5 people. Today we’ve got about 120 full time employees, around 300 contractors, so roughly 450 people in total. So we can see how the company has gone from really small and now over the period of 20 years it’s a very big company. Worldwide, the animation industry is targeted at children, it’s very much limited to that kind of thing, so one of the main points we have for I.G is that we aim to make stuff that adults can enjoy as well, so that’s part of our philosophy as a company. Obviously, with the people who make adult-focused animation in Japan, they’ve have been making it for quite a long time, now these people got quite a bit older, they got families… children, so obviously there’s a trend that these people start to make more family movies. So, there’s a trend that we can see in the adult-focused anime companies.

AUKN – Ok, so that’s why you made something like Letter to Momo and Oblivion Island recently which are very much family-oriented.

Ishikawa-san – Yes, that’s right.

AUKN – Production I.G is famous for various innovations in digital animation. Have you got a team that develops its own techniques or are you just early adopters?

Ishikawa-san – Computer technologies keeps improving very very quickly, but within our company we don’t try to keep up with it. The important thing is that if there’s a certain anime we want to make that would need that, instead of specifically following the trends to make animation to go with the technology, we just look at each individual animation we make and say “Right, what kind of technologies would be good for this? What would we need for this to work?” and go with that. Because it’s very much leading to failure if we try to follow the technology first.

To deal with computers and digital animation, we need specialist computer engineers who can handle that, and obviously the bigger the company gets, the more we need. At I.G we have 10 computer engineers and because we’ve got them, we can then work with them and use what they know to develop the technology that we need.

AUKN – How did Production I.G come into contact with Hollywood to work on Kill Bill? Did they contact you first? Was it arranged through some sort of midlemen?

Ishikawa-san – It was mainly us responding to them, rather than having someone in between to that. Back in 1995 as we were doing Ghost in the Shell, James Cameron was makingTitanic at the time and he had a company working on digital effects for that. But he specifically asked for some Japanese digital animation engineers to work on certain scenes, such as the ones where people fall off the ship. So he actually decided himself to have us working in it. And that was the first time they asked I.G directly. And after that we had the Wachowski brothers who are themselves big fans of animation and Japanese anime. They approached us to make Animatrix, but as we were working on Ghost in the Shell at the time, I had to refuse that. And Tarantino himself, he saw Blood, the Last Vampire and then he said he wanted that guy for Kill Bill, so he approached I.G directly.

AUKN – About Kickstarter: the campaign for Kick Heart reached the initial target and some of the extended targets. So, how did the decision to use Kickstarter come up to fund this project? Is it going to be a trend? Will you use it more in the future?

Ishikawa-san – Basically the way that Kickstarter started was when Yuasa (Masaki Yuasa, Director of Tatami Galaxy) was in the discussion to create a new project Kick Heart based on pro-wrestling with a bit of S&M to it, which is very niche and a very strange idea. But it was a good idea, so there wasn’t going to be any funding for this in Japan, as the distribution networks in Japan would never go for it. And that’s when the crowd-funding idea came up. We would make a short film, put it out to the world and see if people abroad would appreciate it. The original target was US$150,000 and we made US$200,000, reaching the second extended target. And from that we got an idea that the customers for that kind of animation, the vast majority, would be overseas and not in Japan itself. So we got an idea of what the world is expecting from us and, that fans have really great expectations and hopes for Japanese animation.

AUKN – Any new projects you can tell us about?

Ishikawa-san – I.G produces a number of challenging movies and shows every year, but the important point here is even though we want the animators to do what they want, we can’t run a company just making what creators want to do. You could try that, but  you wouldn’t last very long, very soon the company would go bust. So we try to find the “sweet spot” – the place where what the creators want to make and the fans want to see crosses over. But we have to be very careful as we try to find that area. So, it’s this balance that we have to cater for.

So back to something new that we are working on. It is not an animation project, it’s a live-action Garm Wars with Mamoru Oshii directing and me producing. This has been done in collaboration with a Canadian company, called Gunn. The basic idea was to make a live-action using the Canadian technology and know-how to cross live-action and CG together, it’s going to be very interesting idea to try something new with that.

AUKN – Our time is up, so thank you very much for talking to us and we will be looking forward to Production I.G’s new works.

Anime UK News would like to thank Yukiko Takahashi, from Hyper Japan for arranging this interview for us.