Kenji Kamiyama grew up with Cyborg 009 . It was difficult to miss, growing up – as he did – in Japan in the ’70s and ’80s. Since the original manga by Shotaro Ishinomori was first published in 1964, there have been three anime films (1966, 1967, 1980) and three anime TV series (1968, 1979, 2001) based on it. “I became a fan with the second TV series,” Kamiyama tells SFX . “It was in colour then; before that it was in black and white. I had no idea at that time that I would direct 009 .”
But that’s exactly what this protégée of Ghost In The Shell director Mamoru Oshii has done, with the groundbreaking anime movie 009 Re:Cyborg . Not only is it one of the first animes ever in 3D, it’s also been created using a CG system that retains that distinctive anime look. “People expect Japanese animation to look hand-drawn and not like a Pixar movie,” says Kamiyama.
“For CGI you would usually have 24 frames per second and but we only have eight,” he explains. “So we use that to tone the smoothness of CGI to make it into a more cel-like animation. We also held back. For example when characters are talking in CGI or live action, the characters are always moving. In this the characters are still and it’s just their mouths that are moving, like traditional anime.”
Kamiyama who previously directed the Ghost In The Shell sequel Stand Alone Complex , admits that when he was offered the chance to make a new version of 009 , he looked at the original manga – about a group of superpowered Cyborgs from various countries who protect the world like bionic Avengers – in a new light. “When I reread them for the first time, I realised that the themes – political and religious – that Ishinomori-san had been writing about that I hadn’t really understood them as a young man. Compared to Ghost In The Shell , this was quite retro sci-fi, but I thought, ‘This can be set in the modern day and it has potential it had for deep themes.’”
Kamiyama feels that the film most benefited from the new CG-approach when representing some of the cyborg’s super-powers.
“When Joe Shimamura uses the accelerator, we use slow motion for that. We couldn’t do that with hand-drawn animation, because you need 10 times as much animation for it – 24 frames per second isn’t enough. And it’s a lot more pictures to draw and a lot more animations to be done. But with 3D CG we were able to do that. Also for example, some of the camera work, like creating the effect of a dolly in live action using animation, we couldn’t do that with 2D but with 3D it allowed us to create those camera effects.”
So where does Kamiyama stand on the thorny issue of subtitles versus dub? “ It may be that dubbing is better for stereoscopic 3D films,” he laughs, referring to the rather odd way the subtitles hang in mid air in 3D. But he has some sympathy with Hayao Miyazaki’s line that – for non-Japanese speakers – having to read subtitles distracts from admiring the animation artwork. “It’s not the kindest thing on the audience to make them look at the animations and the subtitles. It’s really difficult because the voice actors are really amazing and it’s unique to Japan and I want people to have the opportunity to listen to that. So it’s hard.”
As for his next project, Kamiyama is returning to traditional methods… for now. “We’re laying the groundwork for an original animation project and if all goes well, we should be able to tell you something about it in the not too distant future. This film was full 3D but I still think there are certain things that are better in 2D. The richness of the design, just certain things. I’d like to see high quality hybrids, that use the technology of 3D but also keep the best bits of 2D and the skill of those animators.”
009 Re:Cyborg is released in the UK on 7 June.
009 Re:Cyborg will also launch on Distrify on 7 June. A 2D version of the film will be available for £2.99 per stream. Streaming will be available via alltheanime.com/cyborg .
009 Re:Cyborg will be available in 3D at the following cinemas:
Edinburgh Filmhouse from 7 June 2013
Hackney Picturehouse from 7 June 2013
Ritzy Picturehouse from 7 June 2013
Stratford East Picturehouse from 15 June 2013
FACT Liverpool from 22 June 2013
Dundee Contemporary Arts Centre from TBC
Glasgow Film Theatre from July
009 Re:Cyborg will be available on FilmFlex Movies and iTunes from July.