Robot Rock: Kenji Kamiyama on 009 Re: Cyborg
Kenji Kamiyama, the writer-director behind Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, talks to The Skinny about his newest film project, the debut title from Glasgow-based distributor Anime Limited
Since 2009, October’s Scotland Loves Anime festival has been a yearly highlight for the country’s animation fans, hosting various UK and European premières, Q&A events with filmmakers, and that all important and often rare opportunity to see anime in a cinema environment. Andrew Partridge, the driving force behind the festival, has now launched Anime Limited, a new distribution company based out of Glasgow. Its mantra is to provide chances to see high quality anime films on the big screen, as well as through other media. As such, Anime Limited’s first release, 009 Re: Cyborg, will receive a multi-platform release, heading to both select cinemas and digital platform Distrify.
The film comes courtesy of Production I.G., perhaps best known on an international level for the Ghost in the Shell films and the anime sequence in Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill: Vol. 1. It is based on an influential manga series, Cyborg 009, that began in the 1960s and followed the exploits of nine humans who were kidnapped and experimented on, resulting in nine cyborgs with differing superhuman abilities. The series found some international success and has been adapted into television series form in the past. Like many a big-screen comic adaptation, 009 Re: Cyborg exists as both an expansion of the property for the familiar and as an accessible introduction for those new to the material. In the film’s mythology, the cyborg heroes had long fought for justice but eventually disappeared from memory and history. In 2013, the ageless heroes are forced to gather again to fight a new faceless menace attacking skyscrapers around the world; a world now very different from the one they once knew how to save.
The film’s director Kenji Kamiyama is no stranger to adapting established work, having been the major creative force behind the popular TV spin-off series Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex. Recently in Glasgow for an advance screening of the film, Kamiyama detailed the inspiration for reviving the franchise for a 3D movie project. “I thought that 009 had a very contemporary feel to it despite having been written a long time ago,” Kamiyama tells me. “It has these nine cyborg heroes who come from all corners of the globe, and despite being old that felt contemporary. Another reason was that despite being forty years old, it dealt with all these political themes like the Cold War, the Vietnam War, the military-industrial complex, new conservatism in the States... I felt that these would stand up to being made into a contemporary film.”
With its super-powered beings from wide-ranging parts of the world, and various political and social subtexts that arise from transplanting established characters into a contemporary setting, watching the 009 film brings to mind Bryan Singer’s first X-Men effort, itself also based on a comic launched in the 60s. Though the connection to that film is unintentional, Kamiyama understands it and does count himself as part of a notable wave that has emerged in the last decade or so. “In the States right now a lot of the old superhero comics are being brought back to life to fight against evil,” he explains. “In the same way, this film deals with the question of what justice is today. I think it’s maybe different from what it was back when these were originally written.
“Until the 1970s there was a battle of ideologies between West and East, but that doesn’t exist anymore, and at the same time as being a more globalised world each country seems to have its own ideology even more so than they did in the past. And so I think the idea of justice is very different now to what it was back then, and a new wave of writers and directors are dealing with this question of what justice is and how their superheroes tackle justice in the world today, and I’m part of the wave that has started. With 009 I’ve brought these classic Japanese characters into a new story, so there is a link.”
Prior incarnations of the 009 franchise could be considered family-oriented. In contrast, Kamiyama’s version tries to represent some semblance of the real world, with a story that involves not just Japan, but also America, Turkey, India and other places around the globe. There are also references to real world conflicts and even a visual reference to Barack Obama. “That was the intention from the planning stage,” Kamiyama says. “I wanted it to appeal to different age ranges because the age range of the fan base is very broad. The oldest fans are well into their 60s, who were fans of the original, and then with the recent anime from over a decade ago, the fans would be in their 20s. So we wanted it to appeal to as many people as possible, and the subject itself of God versus humanity is a serious topic, so we thought this style would be better suited to it.”
Kamiyama is touched to have 009 be the first title for Anime Limited, especially as it is the first release for the film outside of Japan: “This is the first time I’ve been able to come to the UK for the release of one of my films. Until now I didn’t really have an idea of how many fans I had in the UK, but now I know that people have been supporting me here since Ghost in the Shell and I’m really happy about that.”