Director Kenji Kamiyama on Eden of the East, Catcher in the Rye, and things to do with ten billion yen.
“Ten billion yen is a lot of money for an individual,” says Kenji Kamiyama, “but the value of the money itself isn’t enough to change a country’s destiny. You need the initiative of the individual. I thought about how much money would be right. The basic idea was to have an amount that would be very good for one person to live on, but not enough for a revolution.”
And then, in Kamiyama’s anime series Eden of the East, he dumped the huge sum (£76 million and change) in the hands of a mystery man who fraternises with NEETs, slacker youngsters “Not in Education, Employment or Training”.
“People in modern Japan, especially the young, don’t really feel: ‘I am rich, so I’m happy.’” explains Kamiyama. “People compare their own situation to that of others, and that is a deformed kind of happiness. Consequently, people don’t feel the motivation to work, and they can’t feel content.
“This led to the phenomenon of NEETs. Because these people have no excitement or passion in their lives, their lives become flat. They secretly start to wish that something exciting or surprising would happen, good or bad, just so that they can feel that they are alive.”
In Eden of the East, a Tokyo missile attack and a multi-millionaire windfall should be enough for any slacker, except it comes with a price. Leading man Takizawa and his rivals have each been given ten billion yen with which to transform Japan. The catch is, if they run out of money, they die!
“The question in Eden was, if you had ten billion yen and you could use it as you wanted, would you spend it on yourself or would you be able to think of using it to change your country?”
“It started when Fuji TV asked me to make a series,” Kamiyama says. “They knew Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, and wanted something with the same strengths in the story, like a live-action TV drama.”
“The Bourne Identity was one of my favourite recent movies, so I took inspiration from that, and it’s mentioned in the dialogue,” Kamiyama confirms. “I also liked the idea of having a big mystery in which the hero is involved but he doesn’t know why, as used by Hitchcock. I had to grip the viewer from the beginning.”
Being a movie fan, Takizawa continues an ongoing theme of cinephilia in Kamiyama’s work stretching back to an early episode of Stand Alone Complex that featured an obsessed fan of Jean-Luc Godard’s film Breathless.
“I learned a lot about life and relationships from film,” Kamiyama says. “I wanted to put that passion into the character of Takizawa as well, and to convey a message to youngsters who don’t watch movies like my generation did… to hint that there are interesting things you could learn in old films, and in old things around you, that you didn’t know about.”
Takizawa was also created with Eden’s deeper themes in mind. “When I was a student,” says Kamiyama, “I was surrounded by very interesting people who could take on the leadership of their class and organise things. But once they entered society, it was like they lost the spark that they used to have. So I wonder if society is destroying this individual spark. Takizawa is a very interesting, very brilliant guy who has got involved with this complicated game, the game of society. In the game, you have to get into society’s mechanism and recreate it for yourself.”
Hence Takizawa’s startling introduction: when he first appears on screen, he is stark naked.
“I wanted to show that he begins completely naked and then is able to change into a very active leader,” Kamiyama says. “You might say his introduction overlaps with the idea of a newborn baby, but the reason was to show he starts with nothing. He only has his initiative. The question is, can Takizawa go through society and remain himself? Is he somebody who people needs, or who nobody needs, someone who society is going to reject? How is he going to act in the social environment?”
“At least in Japan (which is the society that I have experienced),” says Kamiyama, “you grow up and you enter society, you find a job but there is this lack of motivation, of being the protagonist of the situation you are in. Since you were a child, everybody has said you are the centre of their attention, but that’s because the society is based on consumerism, not because you can take decisions. With Eden, I wanted to explore how you could take decisions and realise yourself, to be a real protagonist in your own story.”
One touchstone of Kamiyama’s thinking is the novel Catcher in the Rye, which was a major motif in the first series of Stand Alone Complex. “From when I was seventeen until I was twenty-four, I felt that I was Holden Caulfield, the main character in Catcher in the Rye,” Kamiyama says. “I was also inspired by Yukio Mishima’s way of thinking, and by an incident in Japan in 1960 [before Kamiyama’s birth].” This incident was a political assassination, when a teen boy and rightwing zealot called Otoya Yamaguchi fatally stabbed Inejiro Asanuma, the head of the Japan Socialist party.
Kamiyama says, “I was impressed by the fact that these two people, Yamaguchi and Asanuma, belonged to opposite political factions, but they had the same purpose. They were both strongly patriotic and the fact they couldn’t communicate with each other was in a way symbolic of the very tough situation in 1960s Japan. I took inspiration from it for the Laughing Man in the first season of Stand Alone Complex and the Kuze character in the second. Both are people who are trying to do good, but who are seen by others as terrorists”