Behind the Scenes Part 3: Yoshiki Sakurai (Scriptwriter)

In this third special feature on Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex - Solid State Society (S.S.S.), we interviewed Yoshiki Sakurai, who wrote the script with Kenji Kamiyama and Shotaro Suga. The scriptwriting for S.S.S. sustained the unique method adopted throughout the Stand Alone Complex series. We asked him to tell us some episodes from the script development process and also his impressions after finishing the project.

Part 3: Yoshiki Sakurai (Scriptwriter)
"This work is Studio 9 at its best today. Each one of us had the ambition to make a 'feature-film' grade TV anime."

Born in Tochigi Prefecture on June 9, 1977. As scriptwriter, he has worked on several popular anime including, the Ghost in the Shell: S.A.C. series and the movie xxxHOLiC - A Midsummer Night's Dream. He was also story supervisor for the TV series Otogi Zoshi. Sakurai is one of the most-watched young scriptwriters in the industry.

The S.A.C. series marked his debut as a scriptwriter, so he has some special sentiment towards this work.

"Director Kamiyama's great premise for this new production was to follow the same theme from the S.A.C. series. The first season illustrated a theatrical crime mediated by a network. In 2nd Gig, we tried to present Stand Alone Complex phenomena by relating to the refugee issues. This time, we tried to address the same theme by illuminating the issues of aging society and domestic violence."

"I think it turned out to be quite in tune with the TV series. At first, we thought the title was too long and some even suggested to drop the "Stand Alone Complex" from the title, but we made a good decision not to."

As with other TV series, the scriptwriting for S.S.S. started with writing notes on 13 cm by 18 cm cards about essential factors that should be woven into the story.

"I always jot down what I would include in my script on these cards. The first entry was the kidnap. Then we elaborated two more key elements. They are all separate incidents at first. Then I would ponder to see if they could be linked. The most unforgettable challenge was to look for a probable way to do a kidnap in that era, which I finally conjured up after trial and error."

Portraying the psychology of characters to make a convincing story. For Sakurai, the portrayal of characters gave him more headaches than constructing the story. He had to maintain the flow of emotion, but also create a situation that triggered an emotional switch.

"For instance, I questioned myself, 'could Togusa be calling home at this time?' Or 'is he the kind of guy who would call home in the middle of a case?' You know. And 'what would his reaction be if someone sees him make a call?' If I make a mistake, the story would fail to be convincing."

"There is a scene where you'd like him to go home, but at the same time there was another incident he had to take care of. He is the section chief. Can he just head home not thinking about it? I had to invent an excuse for him to go home or include a diversion, which he can utilize to get away without worrying about the incident. This had to be done as naturally as possible, so I paid extra attention to pick that sensitive moment."

And for this series, the characters keep relatively somber throughout the series, so I had to make sure each scene kept that tone. In the S.A.C. TV series, the Tachikoma acted as comedy relief (*), so I could just insert a joke and reset the serious tone of the scene. That was easy, but not applicable again for this project. It was really difficult for me to keep that seriousness all through the series."

In the S.A.C. TV series, the time spent in script development was much more compared to other anime works. And so it is for S.S.S. They started working on the script in the spring of 2005 and the final version was completed on July 31, 2005. First, they came up with various plots, then constructed the initial script, which was used to pick up the main elements of the story and finally, these elements were reconstructed into a new script. These steps were repeated over and over.

"It's embarrassing in a way to have spent so much time writing scripts! (lol) Especially, we put in a lot of effort in the first half and the middle of the series, so we felt like we were running out of time in the latter half. But I'm confident that the quality of the script and the picture expresses the culmination of what we had been doing until now. It might sound like this is the last of the series. (lol) I can say for sure that the director as well as the entire staff at Studio 9 had exhausted all of our energy for this project."

(*) Comedy relief: a method or a character used in a very serious scene to bring out laughter to relieve the tension.

The Kamiyama team uses the cards as groundwork to develop scripts. Elements to be included into the story are written down as bullet points. The photo shows a card from S.A.C. 2nd Gig production. These cards will be sorted out and put in order to develop scripts.

"Kamiyama had said he definitely wanted a scene of Togusa with his daughter. I feel very lucky to have created the script for that part."

"I think S.S.S. will be interesting for those who have watched the entire series behind this movie. I have talked with the director Kamiyama about how we could make it appealing for those who haven't. In the Kamiyama team, we talk about a sense of "contiguousness" that connects the present world with the S.A.C. world. We hope you will look at the issues that are portrayed in the series with that in mind. Of course you don't necessary have to be too serious, but these are not just somebody else's problems. It's an SF story, but we are raising points to consider in modern society. I think you will enjoy it more if you pay attention to these things." (Yoshiki Sakurai)