We are happy to present you with the translation of an interview with Studio KHARA founder Hideaki Anno which was released in the Studio KHARA 10th anniversary celebration book.
This book was given out during Studio KHARA’s 10th Anniversary Exhibition held in November 2016. Although I didn’t attend the exhibition, I was able to get my hands on one of these thanks to the CEO of Ground Works, the company responsible for Evangelion’s branding and merchandising.
In the first part of this interview with Hideaki Anno, one of Japan’s most famous directors and founder of the company Studio KHARA, we will learn in detail how Mr. Anno ended up creating this new company and its current whereabouts.
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Dawn of the growth – The start of a new company and first developments.
Let’s start ten years ago. Can you tell us about the whereabouts of the establishment of the company?
H. Anno: I felt like I couldn’t do anything that belonged to me at Gainax anymore. Once I was done helping Imaishi and the others with establishing projects, I felt that if they were able to do what they wanted to, I would indeed become a hindrance.
At that time, I had just finished the Cutie Honey movie and was thinking about pursuing live action. That was the starting point for me to think about a personal activity aside from Gainax if I was not able to work there.
That’s why at first I wasn’t thinking about a production company but rather a personal office where I could work on my own projects. My wife found the name, KHARA, and it all started by renting a room in Nishi Shinjuku. I asked Takahashi Tsutomu from Nihon TV for advice to which he answered, “I’ll take care of it,” to which he started gathering all sorts of registration forms and fill them in. He chose the most beneficial day (Taian) to bring them to the Office of Legal Affairs. He took care of everything, and that’s how it became my company. I only had to put my stamp on it. Without his and Todoroki Ikki’s help, I probably wouldn’t have created a company by myself.
At what point have you started working on the Evangelion New Theatrical Versions?
H. Anno: Before creating this company, I was working on two anime projects, this one and another one. However, to raise funding for the company, we decided to start with the new Evangelion movies.
At first, the idea was to use a reissue of the TV Series as groundwork, but at Imagica (development lab), I asked for a 16mm negative to be scaled up to 35mm to look like a movie. But as I saw the result, I thought to myself, it was impossible. The particles had become too thick, and even with today’s techniques, I thought it’d be too hard. I don’t care too much about the defects of the image itself, and we may have reached the same result by upscaling. But if we were to broadcast it on TV next to the new digitally produced anime, the picture’s quality worried me a lot, and I felt that everybody, production, and viewers would suffer from it. That’s why I called it Rebuild at first. We were using the existing pictures and shooting the episodes digitally.
I find the result to be excellent. Is this why you needed a studio as a production site?
H. Anno: No, at first, we were thinking about contracting another studio to do the show. Thanks to King Records’ Toshimichi Otsuki (Executive producer on the Evangelion New Theatrical Version series), we visited several studios. Still, since the making of Eva is very singular, it didn’t work out well. That’s when producer Munetada Ogasawara (now at Kinema Citrus) said: “We should do it by ourselves.” He immediately found a place we could use as a studio.
I had been far-off the animation industry for a while. Meanwhile, CG, as well as digital shooting, had considerably developed themselves. We brought Shuichi Heishi (now at studio Sanzigen), Hiroyasu Kobayashi, and Daisuke Onizuka together so they could get familiar with those techniques which led to the creation of the Digital Department. We started production and recruiting, and once we had enough people, all that was left for us was to create a studio.
It’s also at that moment that the rhythm accelerated.
H. Anno: I think Mr. Otsuki and Mr. Ogasawara have brought together more than half the staff in the initial phase. I called some people too, but I wasn’t as actively involved as I didn’t intend to make it a studio. I thought that once it would become a studio, people would come and go. In the end, it became serious with KHARA’s first work, Evangelion 1.0. When I thought about the film, I thought about correcting a fourth of it and use the budget on something else. But except for about half of the key Animation, it’s a whole new work since the in-betweens needed to be remade digitally, the production costs highly increased.
Everything had already been set-up, and the people were here, so I thought we would still be able to make it. That’s how it was at the beginning of the studio.
You said: “We’ll be able to make it” is that because the company was run by itself rather than by a production committee?
H. Anno: No, this also thanks to Mr. Otsuki. He called me and said, “We shouldn’t do a production committee. We should do it all with the company’s own investment. Wouldn’t it be better that way?.” You can only do that under a Minimum Guarantee deal. As I didn’t have any money, he told me that King Record would take care of the Minimum Guarantee, and I agreed to it.
I guess it was Otsuka who established the production committees when I used to work on TV animation, so it’s only right that he is the one to dismantle it with Eva.
Didn’t you, however, run into difficulties to gather the necessary budget for a movie?
I think that it has been possible thanks to Evangelion’s popularity. Especially since the first film didn’t try to be a new work, the Minimal Guarantee wasn’t too high, and an autonomous budget became possible. If Eva hadn’t been an established brand already but a new original movie project, this would have been impossible.
When I have KHARA’s investment in mind, I think about the risks rather than to make a profit.
A production committee has the merit of sharing those risks, and each company takes some of the responsibility.
By producing it by ourselves, we are taking all the risk on the result. This is why, regarding Eva, we are in charge of 100% of the budget but also of the risks.
And what are the benefits of this unification?
H. Anno: Because we are taking all the risks, we can afford ourselves to go on some adventures. If we were working with a production committee, nobody would allow us to try out things like letting Todoroki be in charge of promotion all by himself. Of course, there’s some degree of freedom, but it’s about placing the competent people in the right places, aiming for optimization. By financing 100%, we can demolish the existing system.
An idea like that, looking from the outside it could be seen as a provocation.
No, it isn’t one. I instead think about it as looking for the best efficiency possible. I think it’s the most significant difference between our company and the others. The priority isn’t about freely do what we like. Obviously, we don’t discard that aspect entirely, but we want to avoid waste.
That “We’ll do it 100% through KHARA”, I’m under the impression that it is targeted at the accountants and a minority of the elite, comprising publicity and distribution.
H. Anno: For the first movie, another company was in charge of promoting it. Yet the concept here differs from a regular film. It’s a work with a 100% investment, considering the extent, Mr. Todoroki and I decided to promote it ourselves. From the second movie, we called out to some people for a minimum of advertising. That’s what we had envisaged for Eva. Not to promote it the same way as the first movie but instead have each work being advertised linked to its concept. Clockworks were in charge of distribution, but because we were financing 100% of it, we were able to have control over some theaters. The third film’s distribution went to T Joy, and it’s Muneyuki Kii, an amusing guy, who had a promotion idea even wilder than ours. None of the movie’s details had been disclosed, which ended up in a fantastic result. I was really impressed by the staff who stayed silent until the movie came out.
The span of a growing studio
Wasn’t it hard to resurrect Eva for three movies?
H. Anno: In the beginning, I was often told: “Why do you keep doing the same thing?” But myself, I was really serious about it this time. I used to avoid going on endless adventures but rather start projects once I was sure about it. Not only did I want KHARA to be a competent studio, but I also wanted to make an actual thing out of it. That meant it was essential to build strong foundations. Those foundations are mostly financial matters. My thoughts are that the studio is some kind of box, a container. Plans, projects, creators, and staff can change, but the foundations need to keep the box’s essential functions going. With Eva, I felt it was possible, and I’m of the opinion it succeeded.
After the first movie, there were many changes in the staff and producers, and during the second film producing I was under the impression that there were many more people. Being able to keep going was proof that the box was well maintained from the start.
3 Years went by between the second and the third movie. How had the studio changed in the meantime?
H. Anno: Are you talking about the fact that because the productions had become more important, the studio became too small and we had to move out? The number of people in charge of drawings and of the digital aspect increased, and we grew. Some people stayed, and after the third movie, fewer people were coming and going, and I felt some stability in the studio. Although in times of extreme activity, I think that even this new office is tight.
I guess the digital department evolved quite a lot since the studio’s set up. Can you talk about its conception?
H. Anno: Regarding the digital department, I was telling myself, “It’s the occasion to try out a system I’m not used to yet.” While I was far from Animation, I never touched that digital aspect. Re: Cutie Honey was shot and finished in digital, but the CG aspect had not been employed. However, I met Kazuya Tsurumaki, who was working on Top Wo Nerae 2 (Diebuster), and I thought CG was complicated. Its differences from traditional Animation lie in quality and system. In the end, it’s a workforce issue. I felt that if we didn’t have such a system, it would be a burden, and that’s why we have one. But it’s because a great team came together that we were able to make it.
You were also careful to go step by step regarding the use of CG.
H. Anno: In terms of system and quality, I faced CG for the first time in the first movie, where we restricted its use. From the second film, the use of CG was done progressively, and I tried to use it cleverly by incorporating it more in-depth in the anime. Whether it is the Eva, the installment of the 5th machine during the introduction, or the battle against the 8th angel, it was all done in CG basically, and the running Eva too. We kept on pushing the limits by using CG when we couldn’t do otherwise, and for the third movie, we used a virtual camera. Obviously, we ran into a lot of difficulties. Still, there was a response, and I thought digital animation was about to progress in the animation industry and was about to enhance it. The Digital Department also works on its own projects, and it’s a field we will have to focus on in the future.
To sustain the studio, it’s also essential to train employees.
Doga training has begun as we moved to the new studio, thanks to Yasuhito Murata’s coming. He gives interviews to new employees together with Mr. Tsurumaki, and once they complete their Doga training, they move on to Genga. This is also something we’re able to do thanks to Mr. Murata. A good thing about KHARA is that if you think something will be necessary for the company’s future, someone will come to take care of it. I think that’s because there really are a lot of people.
Regarding the digital department, if we don’t employ people, it will be hard to expand the number of people. Unlike animators, there aren’t many freelancers in Digital. That’s why if you don’t keep the staff, there’s a point where you can’t work on projects anymore.
An activity entirely directed towards contributing to the industry
Can you tell us about your activities outside of cinematography? You edited books about the two first Evangelion movies, the Complete Records Collection.
H. Anno: I’m following Office Academy’s steps with Space Battleship Yamato (at the time) and Sunrise with Mobile Suit Gundam. Yamato has Space Battleship Yamato Complete Records (宇宙戦艦ヤマト全記録集), and Gundam has the Mobile Suit Gundam Records Collection (機動戦士ガンダム記録全集), I named it Complete Records Collection (全記録全集) out of respect. I gathered all the documents I possessed about those projects. Once done, I felt I needed a personal compilation about them. If you call out to a regular editor, you can only direct the publication. By editing it ourselves, we can be strict about the content we consider important enough to be released and left behind. That’s part of Fan Service.
I find it essential for these archive books to be whole new works by themselves. This is the reason why when I was involved in co-directing Shin Godzilla. I took the same approach when I compiled my working archives and made a book out of it at KHARA. I called it The Art of Shin Godzilla as a callback to Ghibli’s works. Regarding the third Evangelion movie, it will depend on the content, but I’ll think about it by the time of Shin Evangelion.
What about music?
H. Anno: CDs sadly don’t sell anymore, and it will become a massive issue for the music industry. That’s why I’m thinking about music production at KHARA. Wanting to do it, although it won’t sell, it’s the same as production committees and risk. KHARA owns half of the music masters to Shin Godzilla. Regarding the Package Maker, I intend to increase my acquaintances regarding visuals and music, so please spread the word.
In 2012 there was the Hideaki Anno’s Tokusatsu Museum exhibition, which started the conservation of the materials for cultural purposes. Could you tell us more about it?
H. Anno: It started as something which wasn’t related to the studio. I heard Haraguchi Tomo, a special effects specialist, say “Models will disappear” I thought I had to act now before it’s too late. That’s why we repaired, restored, and conserved all those models as a cultural contribution. Although we couldn’t keep moving them all the time, which brought me to ask Mr. Toshio Suzuki at Studio Ghibli for advice, which resulted in this Tokusatsu Museum. It was supposed to be only about Tokusatsu, but seeing that as veteran animators died, their documents and drawings disappeared, I thought we should do something about it.
Because I got where I am thanks to Tokusatsu and Animation myself, I want to give back to it by preserving models and documents. Currently, we are establishing ATAC (Anime Tokusatsu Archive Center), a non-profit organization. The cultural industry is nearly in the red. As long as the company has some energy left, we should strive not to let our work disappear. It’s not only about leaving something behind. It is also important to hold public exhibitions to spread the knowledge so that it can keep on as a cultural activity. If an NPO can function and develop the routes and systems, then it could be taken over by the country or an autonomous organization, and it may end up having support from an official organization. That’s what I hope for.
As a company, I’d like to broaden this cultural contribution to the public. Thanks to Mr. Masahiro Miyoshi from Studio Ghibli joining us, I think we will be able to do much more regarding this cultural aspect.
Translation by Fabrice Renault
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