Interview with director Kenji Kamiyama

Kenji Kamiyama
Director and scriptwriter. Born in Saitama Prefecture on March 20, 1966. In 1985 he joined the background atelier Studio Fuga. A rare example of a background artist shifting to directorial roles, Kamiyama worked as sequence director in Jin-Roh (1999) and wrote the script for Blood: The Last Vampire (2000), then debuted as director in MiniPato (2002). International attention eventually arrived with the TV series Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex (2002) and Ghost in the Shell: S.A.C. 2nd Gig (2004), followed by the feature-length Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex - Solid State Society (2006). In 2007, after almost 6 years in the world of SAC, Kamiyama directed the high-fantasy TV series Guardian of the Spirit. In 2006 he 'acted' as a superlivemation digital puppet in Mamoru Oshii's Tachigui: The Amazing Lives of the Fast Food Grifters, in the role of Manager Kamiyama.

I've been a great fan of Director Kamiyama for some time, so when I heard about the offer, it was like a dream come true. I was really looking forward to seeing the anime to find out how he had reinvented my story. (Nahoko Uehashi)

Kamiyama-san, you have worked a lot with near future stories like GITS:S.A.C. In contrast, this anime has extensive portrayals of natural scenery, food and the everyday lives of people. Did you use a different approach for these scenes from what you were used to?
As a screen director, I'd always felt that the fantasy genre was entirely suitable for print media and had much less compatibility with animation. So I made up my mind to decline any fantasy proposals. But it was different for this one. When I first read the original book, I found out that the characters were very real, solid and down to earth. Very much so that I was impressed. I felt even a fantasy story could portray real humans. An animation work is made up of components that are all artificially made by hand. To make an animation based on a fantasy story, you have to create from a tiny pair of chopsticks to huge buildings using your own imagination. That's a lot of work.

As for Guardian of the Spirit, I was convinced that all I had to do was to try to portray the depth of the characters to make a forceful anime - never mind those design setting details. So I chose this story as the next project after the S.A.C. series. What I kept in mind was to render the background of the story. For instance, food is described in full detail in the book. But I did not show food in the anime to describe what they ate, but to show the economical circumstances of the country and how well off the people were. I worked hard on these things.
At the same time, I have changed the degree of color saturation greatly from the S.A.C. series. I have intentionally increased it. I did so to recreate beautiful natural scenes and the East Asian land of bountiful water. I wanted to recreate the natural landscape on the screen, which is quite hard in anime.

The first episode of Guardian of the Spirit reveals the sceneries of terraced paddy fields, the surrounding nature, the food people eat and the lives of the people in the New Yogo Empire. Not just the conversations between the main characters and how they move, but the down-to-earth rendering of the people in this particular world. For example, their voice tones and the way they live demonstrate the concept of the story.

Let me move on slightly to the music. A popular rock band, L'Arc-en-Ciel, did the opening song.
Yes, I was able to meet and discuss with Hyde, the vocalist. I met him in person for the first time. I went to see one of his concerts and I was impressed with the strong message he sent from the stage to the 60,000 people in the audience.

The main character, Balsa is a woman, so I spent some time contemplating how, I mean from which viewpoint, I could get Hyde, a male singer, to sing the title song. I can't really say much, because it would spoil the fun, but there is a hidden theme of the story involving a man named Jiguro. You can see the man in the background in the poster of the show. This character named Jiguro is the very foundation of the theme of Guardian of the Spirit. So I asked him to slightly distinguish the perspective of this character in the song.

The ending song, by Sachi Tainaka, who is known for her three octave voice range is very impressive too.
When I met with Tainaka-san to discuss the ending song, I told her to write a song about people-to-people connections and how people care for each other as well as the sentiments of Balsa and Chagum.

You have included a new storyline that's not in the original book.
Yes, that's what I was ultra nervous about. We were trying to do our best and putting our heart and soul into this process from the script to the coloring of the last in-between animation, so that people who'd read the original book would not feel let down by a boring episode. We have done our best so that Uehashi Sensei as well as our viewers would consider it "very satisfactory," so please do look forward to the airing.

© Nahoko UEHASHI/KAISEI-SHA/Guardian of the Spirit Committee