Jan 04, 2021
14 mins read
Yesterday, NHK's "Close-Up Today" aired a special program on film director Kihachi Okamoto.
The program, titled "Series: 70 Years After World War II: Message from Director Kihachi Okamoto," focused on the works of director Kihachi Okamoto, who is known for various war films such as Nikudan and Dokuritsu Gurentai, and examined why they are attracting the attention of today's youth.
It tries to understand the message that can be understood today through war films.
Watching this program reminded me of a program that was aired on the Japan Movie Channel on February 7, 2013, called "A Talk with Kihachi Okamoto and Hideaki Anno".
Anno Hideaki, the director of Neon Genesis Evangelion, has been a big fan of Okamoto's work for a long time, and has been so devoted to him that he has included many "Kihachi Okamoto homages" in his anime (GunBuster, etc.).
The influence of "Battle of Okinawa (film)" is particularly strong, with similarities in the way the message is displayed and the cuts and transition of the film can be seen everywhere.
In addition, the lines "There are too many U.S. ships and we can't see the ocean" and "It's 70% ships and 30% ocean!" to "There are too many enemies and the universe doesn't look black enough" or "There are 70% enemies and 30% black!". It is well known that the second half of GunBuster has become "almost 'Battle of Okinawa (film)'".
So today, I'm here to talk about the original project of this program, which was published in the January 1997 issue of "Monthly Animage".
Here are some excerpts ( not the whole article) from the long article titled "Hideaki Anno and Kihachi Okamoto Talk about 'Photography (Film).
I think it is a very valuable conversation in the history of Japanese film, as only professional filmmakers can talk about the techniques and thoughts of filmmaking.
A conversation between Hideaki Anno and Kihachi Okamoto to celebrate the release of the film version.
"I'm here to talk about 'Pictures'." Hideaki Anno discussed photography (film) with Kihachi Okamoto, a director whose "personal view of life and film direction has honestly been a great influence on me" (from a special contribution to LD's "Furious Showa History: Battle of Okinawa (film)").
The discussion took place at director Okamoto's home in Ikuta, Kanagawa Prefecture.
There we found some of the secrets of filmmaking that only filmmakers can talk about.
Okamoto: I watched the video.
Anno: I'm so embarrassed.
Okamoto: This morning, I watched it again, twice in the end. I didn't see it right the first time and the...
AM (Animage staff): "Evangelion"?
Okamoto: Yes, I watched that from the end.
AM: Then you watched from the last episode?
Okamoto: Yes. Because it (the reference material) said "controversial". I saw the last episode first, so I didn't really understand what it meant at first (laughs).
Anno: I'm sorry for the trouble.
Okamoto: It was fun to watch them in order.
Anno: Thank you very much! I've been nervous and sweating since a while ago.
Okamoto: "GunBuster" is much easier to understand. The second one (the last episode) is in black and white. I thought it was probably to make the last sentence "Welcome back" stand out.
Anno: My generation was in the midst of the transition from black and white to color. I was trying to make the people of today understand the value of color (laughs). That's black and white 35 mm film.
Okamoto: I like black-and-white, and I'd say almost half of my films are black-and-white.
Anno: Recently, black and white is being used more and more in TV commercials. Even for posters, it's kind of popular.
Okamoto: And then there's partial coloring.
Anno: Yes, part color. Everyone's eyes have become accustomed to beautiful full-color images, so I guess it's a rarity nowadays.
Okamoto: But nowadays, the cost of developing is very high. In the past, there was always a developer for black and white, but now, when an order for black and white comes in, they make a new developer.
Anno: For color, we can develop the film on the same day, though. When we were working on GunBuster, we were told to give one day for black and white, which was a bit of a challenge in terms of schedule. The rushes (*1) didn't come out until two days later.
*1) An unedited positive film that is burned to show the results of shooting in a movie. A rush print.
Okamoto: But the color doesn't fade. The prints especially don't fade over time.
Anno: They turn red, don't they?
Okamoto: The whole thing turned pink, even though I wasn't shooting a pink film (*2) (laughs). But even negatives fade a little. From four or five years after "Nikudan", it was much cheaper to make color films.
*2) An entertainment film that focuses on the subject of sexuality and includes many depictions of sexual acts.
Anno: I've only seen "Nikudan" twice.
Okamoto: Seeing it twice is enough (laughs).
Anno: I can't stand it, so I can't watch it. It's very painful to watch. Instead, even though I've only seen it twice, I remember each cut vividly. I think I even remember the connections between the cuts. It had such an impact on me.
On the other hand, I watched "Japan's Longest Day" and "Battle of Okinawa (film)" over and over again. For a while, I used them as background videos when I was storyboarding, and when I intended to use them as background videos, I ended up watching them, and ended up saying, "Oh, I just killed three hours" (laughs). "Battle of Okinawa (film)" is the movie I've watched the most times in my life. I've seen it more than 100 times in total.
AM: Why did you like it so much?
Anno: I think it's instinctive, not logical.
Okamoto: When I went to shoot "Battle of Okinawa (film)," the area south of Mabuni (the southernmost tip of Okinawa) was still scattered with human bones. There were monuments for the loyal souls of each prefecture were being built as if in competition with each other. I thought it would be better to spend money on collecting and mourning the bones than to build such a thing. I didn't like the area south of there, because I felt that there would be dead bodies buried where I was walking.
I feel jealous because you can have as many people as you want in your films (laughs). With live-action films, you have to pay a lot of money per person. Nowadays, extras cost 6,800 yen a day, but back then it was dollars (*3). We went to Okinawa with 19 people because we didn't have any money. Then there were more than 20 people of the press there. "Why are there so many more people in the press?" I was pissed off (laughs). In the end, there weren't enough actors, so I played the role of the watchman who said, "I can't see the ocean!".
*3) Between '58-'72, the currency in Okinawa was US dollars.
AM: So you are in the movie?
Okamoto: Yes, we were short of actors at the time.
AM: That's why you said, "If it's animation, people can be just drawn.".
Okamoto: But I'm sure you have your own difficulties.
Anno: Yes, there are. I also feel jealous of the live-action filmmaking. If I worked in animation, I would be longing for live-action, and if I worked in live-action, I would be longing for animation. So it's just a matter of asking for what you don't have.
You can't move the camera in animation. Recently, CGI has made things a lot easier, but there is still a certain "CGI-ness" in it.
Okamoto: I see a lot of hard work. For example, without moving the camera, how about using a shadow or something to make it look like the person has moved in some way?
Anno: The main camera work is fix (*4) in animation. The rest of the way, the camera can only be moved by two-dimensional panning (*5), TU (track-up) (*6) and etc. Moving the background or moving the camera around is inefficient in animation.
*4) The technique of shooting without ever moving the camera while it is fixed.
*5) A shooting technique in which the camera is shaken from left to right or right to left in a series of shots.
*6) A technique for shooting a subject while the camera moves forward.
Okamoto: I like the tempo, too.
Anno: The tempo is a direct result of your influence. I think your tempo is exactly what makes it great for animation. The charm is in the cuts and transition. I think there is a great sense of pleasure in your photographs (films), not in the content of the cut, but in the moment when the cut changes.
In other words, there is a sense of pleasure in the moment when the amount of information on the fixed camera changes. For example, the silhouette changes when the person on the right side of the screen is switched to the left in the next cut.
I think that's the only thing you can do, especially with such a Standard size (*7) frame with no special features. It's also great the way you use over-the-shoulder shot (a large subject in the foreground of the image). Especially in CinemaScope size (*8), it's great to have that effect. It's a shame that CinemaScope is not available now. Even with VistaVision size (*9), I think the frame size is too halfway. I don't like Standard size, but I also don't like VistaVision size because it's halfway. I insist the CinemaScope size is best for photography (movies).
*7) Screen aspect ratio, 1.33:1 or 1.375:1
*8) Screen aspect ratio, 2.35:1
*9) American Vista (most commonly used in movies all over the world, including Japan), screen aspect ratio, 1.85:1
Okamoto: It's interesting how you fill in the gaps between the halfway (CinemaScope) sizes screen. For example, up to VistaVision size, a full shot (*10) looks good, and a cowboy shot (*11) also looks good. But when it comes to the CinemaScope size, whether you take a full shot or a cowboy shot, you need to add some objects on both sides to make a beautiful picture. But I can use that to enjoy making pictures.
*10) A shot framed to fill the screen with a person's entire body.
*11) A shot framed to include a region from the actor's head to mid-thigh.
Anno: Also, with CinemaScope size, the audience moves their heads from right to left in the theater. That's impossible with TV. That's why I think there's no meaning to the value of movies, or pictures, other than CinemaScope size.
About the tempo of the cuts and transition
Anno: Is that kind of cut and transition tempo instinctive rather than logical? Do you cut intuitively, or do you already decide on the transition points when you're shooting?
Okamoto: Well, it's decided when we are shooting. The minimum is 2 frames, but one blink needs at least 8 frames. That's why I think we need to keep the 8 frames in mind.
Anno: I've heard that 8 or 7 frames are important. 6 frames to leave without letting the viewers confirm. At least 9 frames to make sure the them understand something.
Okamoto: I use a tempo of 4 frames. It's not 8 beats, but I believe "8 frames" is the key. For example, if an actor with large eyes blinks, I should use 12 frames.
Anno: 4 frames and 7 frames.
With drawings, even 2 frames can leave a lasting impression on the viewer.
Okamoto: Was it said 2 frames bring a subliminal effect?
Anno: I don't think that's true.
In anime, the amount of information is limited because it's a drawing after all. So if the drawing is familiar to the viewer, even 2 frames are enough to leave an impression.
For a picture with movement, about 7 frames are enough. If it's a still picture, even 3 frames could to be too much for me. In the case of a still picture with a lot of cell area, it's hard to tell if it's a single frame, but 2 frames are enough.
Okamoto: For running, I use 8 frames, or 8 steps. For walking, I feel that 4 steps are usually enough, so I decide to use 4 steps. Also, for example, by changing the number a bit, or using odd numbers, you can create a "slightly panicky" atmosphere there.
Anno: When it comes to battle scenes, I use 7 frames.
Okamoto: I think it's better to use a halfway number in a battle scene.
Anno: I use 7 frames with the insert. In reality, I shoot the film at about 12 frames, and then drop 3 or 5 - 6 frames on the process of blocking of the scene.
In the case of animation, except for AC (action cuts), I mostly decide based on the picture, where to cut. The only thing I use as a basis for transition is the tempo and rhythm of the line.
It takes me about 12 hours to cut 20 minutes off from a film. The longest one is about 24 hours, and it was done over two days.
Okamoto: In my case, I only have about four days for editing. Last year, I was given the same four days to edit "East Meets West," but the overall tempo wasn't really mine.
I found out afterwards that I had had a stroke, and I've been a little strange since around February last year. If I had known that I was sick, I would have asked for one or two more days to fully examine and rework the piece, and I think I would have been able to achieve my current tempo. That's why I had to re-edit it this spring, because I couldn't stop thinking about it.
AM: You care about it that much, I understand.
Okamoto: I couldn't find my tempo last year, so much so that I had to re-edit. It couldn't be true. That's why the re-edited version was jammed at 1 hour, 44 minutes and 40 seconds. The first one I did was 2 hours and 3 minutes, but it was shortened to 1 hour, 44 minutes and 40 seconds.
Once I shortened it that much, it looked so much better. I realized that this was my tempo. I think the next time TV Asahi broadcasts it, a shorter version will be released.
Anno: Well, I'm looking forward to that one. To be honest, I thought you might be aging (laughs).
Okamoto: As well as my age, when I go to America, I tend to take it easy. I guess it's partly because of my age, but I don't think age has much to do with the tempo.
Anno: It's all about rhythm, yes.
Okamoto: I have a bit of a temperamental personality. For example, when I'm shooting a scene, sometimes a three or four minute scene in one cut, I'll cut off the beginning part and the last part based on the limit of my frustration.
Anno: I always cut off the last part of the cut, too. It's called "three closed frames(*12)". So I always cut at the end of the line. It's a very tight cut.
Okamoto: But if you cut it off at the end of the line, it doesn't have a good tempo. If you leave just one or two frames after the lines are finished, it becomes much better.
For example, if you say " Oda Nobunaga" and then cut it off at the "ga," it would become "Oda Nobuna".
Anno: I see, you shouldn't cut right at the end of the line. You have to leave a few frames after the lines.
Okamoto: Leave just one or two frames.
Anno: Do you cut at the moment the actor's mouth closes after the line?
Okamoto: Rather, I cut based on the sound. After the "ga" in "Nobunaga," I leave just one or two frames before cutting. I think it works.
Anno: It's really nice to see a scene change at the same moment as the end of a line. I think it was Okamoto's photography (film) that taught me that kind of tempo, and it became ingrained in my body. But mine is just an imitation after all, and I'm embarrassed to be seen by you.
Okamoto: I think you're right. You can't get that kind of sense unless you've been messing around with it for a long time.
Fundamentally, if you don't enjoy yourself, the audience won't either.
Anno: Yes, I agree.