Director Feature: Gisaburo Sugii

Night on the Galactic Railroad, Gisaburo Sugii, 1985

Very few people seem to be aware of NHK World’s ImagineNation, a weekly show that features notable personalities from Japan’s anime, manga and game industry. If you have NHK World please refer for the schedule to find out what time it airs on your timezone. I highly recommend the series for anyone who considers themselves an anime enthusiast or has a interest regarding the people in the industry.

This week’s main theme is Gisaburo Sugii and his latest film project,  “The Life of Guskou Budori”. The Life of Guskou Budori is based on Kenji Miyazawa’s work of the same title.

Gisaburo Sugii has been in the Japanese animation industry for over 50 years and did in-between animation for Japan’s first animated feature film “Tale of the White Serpent”. He later took part in the Astroboy TV series, working closely with the legendary Osamu Tezuka. Of all his works, Gisaburo Sugii is most well-known for “Night on the Galactic Railroad”, a film also based on Kenji Miyazawa’s work.

Needless to say, Gisaburo Sugii’s interview was an eye opening experience. Listening to a man who’s been in the industry for more than 50 years is meant to have that effect on you.

Embracing Innovation

In 2005, Gisaburo Sugii directed the film Arashi no Yoru Ni (Stormy Night) . A story about an unlikely friendship between a wolf and a goat. I watched this thanks to Ando’s recommendation and its probably one of the more enjoyable children films I’ve had the opportunity of viewing.

Stormy Night, Gisaburo Sugii, 2005

It’s worth noting that there’s a lot of CGI integrated tastefully into the film. The characters and backgrounds are beautifully textured and still possess the charm of hand drawn animation. The dialogue is kept simple while the animation expresses most of what needs to be conveyed in the story.

Sugii also directed a fully CGI animated film called “Little Ghostly Adventures of Tofu Boy” in 2011, showing his willingness to adapt to new technology.

Universal Themes & Kenji Miyazawa

Imagine-nation describes Gisaburo Sugii’s works as ‘Universal anime’, works that do not simply target the otaku niche and aim to reach a wider audience. Gisaburo Sugii’s works feature universal themes that can be related to any time period or culture. This brings him back as to why he decided to pick up “The Life of Guskou Budori”. Kenji Miyazawa’s works  and Gisaburo’s perspective jive in such a way that it allows a magical film like “Night on the Galactic Railroad” to come into being. While the film encompasses several themes, it’s inarguable that it also serves as a meditative contemplation about life and death.

Gisaburo Sugii and Hiroshi Masamura (character designer) came upon the decision to have Giovanni and Campanella as anthropomorphic cats. In his recent interview with Imagine-Nation, Sugii believes that Night on the Galactic Railroad shouldn’t simply be one boy’s story, and as such cats were used to represent Miyazawa’s characters.

The Life of Guskou Budori follows this creative decision and all the characters are the same as from Night on the Galactic Railroad. The film tells of Giskou Budori, whose homeland is struck with natural disasters that leads him to leave and find a better life elsewhere. Later, he joins the Ihatov Volcano Department that deal with the same natural disasters.

Sugii believes the world in The Life of Guskou Budori has a larger worldview and is more grounded in reality. However, he still approaches the material with impressionistic flair, switching between dreams and reality– very much like his previous Miyazawa adaptation.

The Life of Guskou Budori opens in Japan on July 7.

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  1. I’m glad you enjoyed Arashi no Yoru ni. :-) I hadn’t realised that the director was the same as Galactic Railroad! I really need to rewatch that. Sadly I can’t get NHKWorld but I’ll definitely be looking forward to Gusukou Budori.

    • Thanks for the rec! I was really worried we’d get a sad end but I’m happy that didn’t happen (also, whoa– there’s blood!). Looking forward to see how the CG anime is, although I’m don’t have very high hopes it’ll be as good as the film.

      Sadly I can’t get NHKWorld but I’ll definitely be looking forward to Gusukou Budori.

      Yes! I’m actually surprised how this film isn’t making a huge buzz, you’d think Penguindrum would’ve helped people get into Kenji Miyazawa.

  2. This is a great feature – I love his work :)

  3. Great post – Gisaburo Sigii is so amazing!

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