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Interview: Eiko Tanaka, Producer of “Children of the Sea”, after the premiere at JFF Russia

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In December 2019, the animated film, Children of the Sea (2019) was screened at the 53rd Japanese Film Festival in Russia (JFF Russia) hosted by the Japan Foundation. Ruka, a junior high school girl living in a country town in Japan, meets brothers Umi and Sora, who were raised by a dugong, and jumps into an unseen world――this work delicately depicts their summer in contact with nature, was produced by an Animation production company, STUDIO 4 ℃. We spoke with the company’s producer, Eiko Tanaka, who participated in the screenings and Q&A sessions in St. Petersburg and Moscow.

Children of the Sea

©️2019 Daisuke Igarashi・Shogakukan-“Children of the Sea” Committee

Children of the Sea was screened at the Japanese Film Festival Russia, followed by a Q&A session. How was the audiences’ reaction?

ET: It was impressive that they responded to the movements of the characters and the characters’ originalities. During the Q&A session, many asked about the essence of the film. I was impressed by the fact that they asked such questions because it meant they carefully and attentively watched this film.

You were uncertain whether the Russian audience would accept this film until the screening was over, but how was it?

ET: I imagined Russians having an in-depth understanding of philosophy, including Dostoevsky’s novels, and having a lot of patience. For this reason, I was unsure if this film would capture their interests. Mainly, I was very uncertain whether the sincere attitude toward life and death depicted in this film would be consistent with the Russian view of it.

Children of the Sea

©️2019 Daisuke Igarashi・Shogakukan-“Children of the Sea” Committee

Through the Q&A session, did you feel that the film deeply resonated with the Russian audience?

ET: It seems there were some difficulties because the story dealt with themes such as human death. People are generally negative about death, but this story intentionally depicts it in a positive way. That’s not just a Russian thing. The potential itself of this work includes something that is hard to explain.

Children of the Sea

©️2019 Daisuke Igarashi・Shogakukan-“Children of the Sea” Committee

Japanese people could probably accept this movie more easily, including a view of life and death.

ET: I agree. Maybe the Japanese accepted the theme of this movie a little more comfortably. I felt that they simply saw this film as “a story of life.” Speaking of life and death, I think Japanese people relatively accept suicide. When faced with a serious problem, the Japanese tend to consider suicide as an easy way to deal with the issue. I think there are definitely subtle differences between countries. However, this does not mean that the film was made in consideration of the Japanese view of life and death, and such cultural differences do not necessarily determine the value of the film. The more widely the film reaches around the world, the more strongly I feel human emotions are unexpectedly common, and people are not so different regardless of nationality. Perhaps it’s harder to find the differences.

First-Squad

©MOLOT Entertainment Inc., 2009.

Does it mean that subtle cultural and national differences come into play as you try to depict something universal?

ET: You can’t express ideas by imitating something that you don’t have in the first place. We have to express what we are thinking. One of the pleasures of making a film and showing it to the world is to see how it is received and perceived by people from different cultures, backgrounds and living environments.

Your previous film, The first squad *(2009) , was a collaboration with Russia. I heard the offer made to you already included the script. Were there any difficulties working on an international project with the Russians?

ET: First of all, the language is completely different. Although there was the Russian script, we had to rely on the translator’s abilities, as we read the Japanese translation of the script. You can’t just blindly accept the Japanese translation as it is, because there are cultural differences, such as the nuances specific to the Russian language, which can make it difficult to understand. For example, it is hard to judge whether a long-phrase expression specific to a language is properly translated. I guess it would have been much easier if I was bilingual and very good at Russian. That was the most difficult part.

* First Squad (2009) is a co-created animation movie by Japanese animation production company STUDIO4 ℃ and Russian film production company Molot Entertainment. It depicts the fate of a girl who belongs to the First Squad, a young training unit that uses psychic powers and intelligence in Russia during the World War II, and received the Kommersant Prize at the Moscow International Film Festival.

Certainly, if the film was entirely made in Russia, such difficulties would not arise. And even though a Japanese animation production company was involved, this film was mainly targeted for Russians.

ET: Once a Japanese perspective is incorporated into a film, it is no longer a Russian film. Because Japanese people can only express the culture we think in Japanese, no matter how hard we study about Russia and visualize them, they would be the expressions of “Russia” from a Japanese point of view.

Meanwhile, First Squad won the Kommersant Prize at the Moscow Film Festival.

ET: First Squad seems to be the first Russian animation aimed at adults, based on the history of its home country. I think that they found value in pioneering a new genre. However, the theme of “fighting against evil” described in this film is easy to understand and quite universal, so I don’t think that we necessarily won the award because we understood Russian culture.

First-Squad

©MOLOT Entertainment Inc., 2009.

I see. Would you take up the challenge of working on an international co-production again in the future?

ET: I have always intended on making world-class films. Working together with people from different countries is one way to do that, so I would like to do more if I have the opportunity.

STUDIO4℃, led by producer Eiko Tanaka, has earned a worldwide reputation with its latest film Children of the Sea, which was screened at the 53rd Japanese Film Festival in Russia (JFF Russia), and other notable films such as First Squad, Tekkonkinkreet (2006) and Berserk Golden Age Hen trilogy (2012-2013). It is not hard to imagine that Tanaka’s maiden visit to an unknown territory – Russia – where she observed and felt the local audience’s reactions has been a valuable experience and future films released by STUDIO4℃ is highly anticipated.

・JFF Russia (The Japan Foundation Moscow office official HP): https://jpfmw.ru/jp/festival-kino/

・STUDIO4℃ Information: http://www.studio4c.co.jp/topics/post/20191225.html

・Children of the Sea Article: https://www.japanesefilmfest.org/all/animation/4587/

Interviewer:Kazuya Takahashi/ Editor:Emi Ishigami

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