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Redline’s Katsuhito Ishii on cars, stars and mud racing

“I had friends in Phoenix and Sedona and places like that, so I spent a bit of time in the central USA, just hanging out. I was surprised at how many people seemed to spend all the time just tinkering with their automobiles. They didn’t even seem to go to work! I thought, boy, these people must really love their cars. I started to wonder if I could make a film that would actually entertain those people, and I began to consider it terms of how it might work in an old US drive-in movie theatre.

Katsuhito Ishii is busy. At the time he answers our questions, he is knee-deep in pre-shooting rewrites on his new movie Smuggler (screening this week at the Leeds Film Festival). But the sometime commercial director, sometime live-action director, sometime animator enjoys the changing nature of his media of choice.

“I do adverts. I do screenplays. I direct. Modern art. Anything!” And some time before Redline was a twinkle in anyone’s eye, he made a short animated film with Takeshi Koike, about two talkative salvage operators, stuck in dingy spaceship.

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“Trava had some philosophical discussions embedded in the plot. I didn’t want any of that for Redline. Instead, Redline is a prequel, set a few years before Trava, when all the characters in it were racers. It’s a tale of the distant future, when we have started interacting with alien civilisations, and progressed dramatically in the field of science. Transportation is possible with all kinds of flying saucers, and classic cars are obsolete, but for the attentions of a few last classic car maniacs.

“After I’d finished working on the animation components of Taste of Tea and Kill Bill, a producer asked me if I’d come up with a project with a single condition, that Takeshi Koike should do the animation. I’ve been involved in a few animated productions, but I was often left uncomfortable by the way that my original designs were streamlined in the production process until they were just ‘easy-to-draw’. It was never like that with Takeshi Koike, though. My characters just became better and better. So when I work with him, I just tell him to do whatever he wants.

“I wanted Redline to be set about ten years before Trava. My job was setting the overall tone of the work, the character design, the science fiction itself and the overall supervision of the other creatives.” And his aim was one of imparting some sense of the experience of being a young child, watching crazy racing shows like Machine Hayabusa. “When I was a kid, even if it was stupid, a cartoon looked real. If you go back now and look at Machine Hayabusa, it doesn’t look so great, but to me then it was so real. I wanted to show that kind of heated experience to the kids of today, and to do it with animation.”

But when asked if there are any other inspirations, Ishii points to two sources: the gestures and looks of some of his real-life friends, ramped up to the hyper-real, and an obscure manga series called Dorofighter. Written and drawn by Motoka Murakami, Dorofighter ran from 1979 to 1981 in Shonen Sunday magazine, and featured a racing driver who moonlighted as a bounty hunter. His style of racing, however, was a world away from Formula One, instead driving straight into the messy, dangerous and often illegal world of American “mud racers” who take their vehicles off-road.

As for Redline itself, with audiences all over Europe and America proclaiming their love for its petrol frenzy, is there any chance of a sequel?

“I haven’t given it any thought, but if the kids want it, I’ll always consider it. I imagine that a sequel would be best presented in the form of a game.”

Redline is out next week on UK DVD and Blu-ray from Manga Entertainment. For the chance to win a framed Redline poster, check out www.mangazette.com today!

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