Katsuyuki Sumisawa

For this second installment in our series of relay interviews with the creative team behind “MOBILE SUIT GUNDAM THE ORIGIN” (hereafter referred to as “THE ORIGIN”) we have screenplay writer Mr. Katsuyuki Sumisawa. He has worked on many scripts, beginning with ”MOBILE SUIT GUNDAM WING” and he talked about the key points in the construction of “THE ORIGIN” story and his work with general director Mr. Yoshikazu Yasuhiko.
- What were the circumstances that led to you being involved with the screenplay for “THE ORIGIN”?
Sumisawa: Well, Sunrise managing director Mr. (Hideyuki) Tomioka came to me and said “I’d like you to write the screenplay for ”The ORIGIN”. Afterwards, Mr. Tomioka and I went to meet with Mr. (Yoshikazu) Yasuhiko at his house, and we had preliminary discussions about the structure and so forth, and that’s kind of where my involvement began. Then Mr. Yasuhiko and I just went on drinking together until dawn. (laughs)
- Did Mr. Yasuhiko give you any orders about how to rewrite the manga source material into screenplays?
Sumisawa: Mr. Yasuhiko said, “Scripts are never complete.” Anime scripts should provide better inspiration to the people who draw the storyboards, and allow the animators to realize better drawings of the characters. That is where the synergy of the work lies. I think it was wisely put by Mr. Yasuhiko. There are some directors who follow the scripts to the letter, but there are also people like Mr. Yasuhiko who think more freely and change things in the storyboarding process. Given that approach, he gave me freedom in writing the screenplay, as he would have freedom to change it in the storyboards. That’s more or less what he said, and I think that’s exactly what’s happened so far.
- Was there anything that was particularly difficult because it was “THE ORIGIN”?
Sumisawa: Well, when it comes to animation, it’s mostly either an adaptation of existing source material, or animation of original material. But this time we had the previous “MOBILE SUIT GUNDAM” material, as well as the manga source material of “THE ORIGIN,” which was based on it. In other words, it was like two levels of source material. So in the screenplay production process, the difficult part was writing them so that they assimilated both sources.
The “Chronicle of Char and Sayla” which we’re now animating wasn’t depicted in “MOBILE SUIT GUNDAM,” and was an original creation by Mr. Yasuhiko. Mr. Yasuhiko himself is drawing the storyboards for it, but if you look at the manga and the storyboards, they seem similar but are actually completely different things. So the screenplay process is what bridges the gap between manga and storyboards.
Manga is in the form of panels where time is frozen. The reader is free to read at their own pace. But in animation, time flows. So the job of the screenplay is to fine-tune the division of scenes to match the flow of time, and the length of the dialogue so that it synchs with the animation. When adapting source material to film, people often say, “You don’t need a script, do you?” But in reality, it’s a necessary job.
- Were there any scene changes from the manga that left an impression?
Sumisawa: There certainly were, but I think when you see the video it doesn’t feel like it’s changed that much. You might be able to figure out the differences if you watch it while comparing it against the source comics, but basically we’ve made it in such a way that you won’t be conscious of any changes. We didn’t want it to be obvious, where people would think “Oh, they changed this” or “This was longer in the original.” I think the best scenario is for the changes to be unremarkable, and that’s how we’ve composed it.
- Before you became involved with “THE ORIGIN”, had you read Mr. Yasuhiko’s work?
Sumisawa: I read “THE ORIGIN” from the start of its serialization, and I’ve been a fan of Mr. Yasuhiko’s manga in general since “ARION,” so I really love his work. But, when it comes to actually writing the screenplays, the sense of rhythm in Mr. Yasuhiko’s dialogue is quite different from mine. I’ve previously written scripts based on existing source material for various anime, but this was completely different. It was hard work getting it to align with Mr. Yasuhiko’s unique sensibilities.
In terms of Gundam works, when I was writing the scripts for ”MOBILE SUIT GUNDAM WING”, I did research on “MOBILE SUIT GUNDAM.” So I understood the sense of distance, and where I needed to step in deeper I did even more research.
- Was there anything memorable about how you worked with the staff?
Sumisawa: It was my first time working with Director (Takashi) Imanishi, but he was very easy to work with. He’s very good at promoting mutual understanding and teamwork among the staff. And when reading through a script, before starting, he’ll talk for 15 minutes about recent world events, or hobbies, or something else completely unrelated. He doesn’t just dive right into the script reading. He’s good at creating a warm atmosphere first. Thanks to that, the staff could understand each other’s ideas and preferences, and there was increased common understanding among the staff. It was like you knew, “Oh, this person is thinking about this kind of thing.” By doing that, I think we were able to build good human relationships as a team. Also, we did things like going together to see the Self-Defense Force’s combined firing exercises, and that’s a really great way to build a team.
Of course, with regards to the screenplays, he made apt comments so my work was clear-cut, and it was a very easy place to work.
- Mr. Sumisawa, what was your own reaction when you were asked to write screenplays for “THE ORIGIN”?
Sumisawa: I was in senior high school when “MOBILE SUIT GUNDAM” was broadcast, and it was a very busy time for me. I was studying for exams, and working at a part-time job. But of course, I still watched it. I never imagined that I myself would end up writing scripts that related in part to that so-called “First Gundam,” so it felt like finishing a game of sugoroku. And now it’s all over for me. (laughs) I think most anime scriptwriters probably harbor the wish that “One day I’ll write Gundam.” I feel sorry that someone like me got the job instead of them.
- Is there anything really special about working on “THE ORIGIN”?
Sumisawa: When I received Mr. Yasuhiko’s storyboards, I felt such a weight to them that I couldn’t believe they were based on my own screenplay. It’s weird to say now, but I was honestly moved by the fact that I got to see Mr. Yasuhiko’s storyboards. The detailed expressions of the characters, the nuances of their movements -- they really elevated the level of completeness above what I wrote. I thought they were truly wonderful.
When I’m writing the screenplays, it’s not like I can meet every single one of Mr. Yasuhiko’s requests, but I try to as much as possible, and on the other hand it makes me very happy when Mr. Yasuhiko goes along with one of the ideas I come up with. I make suggestions, and Mr. Yasuhiko makes further suggestions like, “Okay, how about this?” It’s like some kind of chemical change. When a manga is made into a screenplay, there’s a lot of work involved. But then there’s another chemical change when the original creator turns that into storyboards – the same person drew both the manga and the storyboards, but the source material has been transformed. The chemical change taking place in this work would never happen anywhere else. My own screenplays become one element of that change, and seeing the transformation in Mr. Yasuhiko’s storyboards is fascinating. Further, when comes to creating the animation, the addition of Mr. Imanishi’s tastes brings about even more change. I’m really looking forward to seeing how it looks when it’s finished.
- And finally, do you have a word for the fans who are waiting to see the completed film?
Sumisawa: Once they enter the stage of creating the artwork, the screenwriter’s job is mostly done, so it’s out of your hands. That said, it’s not like you’re completely uninvolved, and when Mr. Yasuhiko needs to consult about any of the scripts I’ll be back to work at any time. I also take part in planning meetings. I’m waiting to see the final product now too, so I’m in the same position as the fans. I’m just waiting it out at the moment.
The staff have been working hard, and, like I said before, there’s a chemical change taking place in the anime version, so I hope you’ll look forward to seeing it completed.
In the next installment of our relay interview series, we’ll talk to character designer Mr. Tsukasa Kotobuki. Incidentally, I recently realized that if you write Mr. Kotobuki’s name in kanji, it’s the same as “sushi.” We had serials together in the same magazine and we’re friends, so, truly sorry for being a bit clueless there.