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“Maquia: When The Promised Flower Blooms” – Mari Okada and Kenji Horikawa Interview

Producer Kenji Horikawa and director/writer Mari Okada.

Maquia: When The Promised Flower Blooms, the directorial debut of Mari Okada, is set to be released in the UK and Ireland on 27th June by P.A. Works in partnership with Anime Limited. Toonzone News had the chance to pose some questions to Okada and the film’s producer/P.A. Works president Kenji Horikawa.

(Note- This interview was conducted in mid-April 2018)

TOONZONE NEWS: How did the idea for Maquia originate? I believe Mr Horikawa has been quoted as saying he wanted to see a ‘100% Okada anime’.

MARI OKADA: [Laughs.] Maybe he can answer that?

KENJI HORIKAWA: No, you should answer that [He and Okada laugh.]

MARI OKADA: The two of us were talking and Horikawa-san did say he wanted to see a ‘100% Mari Okada anime’, but he didn’t actually mean that he wanted me to direct something [Laughs.]

For a Japanese anime the script writer has to take into account the views of the producers and the director, take all of that into account when they’re writing. So even though you try to bring your own flavour to it and if it’s an original work then you have to think of the story, you don’t get to dig as deep as you want to necessarily or really bring your own colour to it.

So what he meant by ‘100% Okada’ was he wanted to let me write a screenplay without having to think about what the director thinks. But I’ve never seen that happen! [She and Horikawa laugh.]

So I misinterpreted what he meant because in my head I thought “Well, if I am the director then I’ll be the one saying “Can you just change this a little bit?” “ [Both laugh.] And that’s how this project came about.

TOONZONE NEWS: What are the differences between working on an original project versus joining an adaptation? For instance, I believe you both worked on Canaan which was a spin off from the Nintendo Wii game 428: Shibuya Scramble.

MARI OKADA: Canaan was unique in that it was based on a game but not really, in that it was based more on a short spin-off story but then it wasn’t really even based on that. Not completely.

So writing that was quite similar to writing an original screenplay. But for other projects that are based on things it is different to writing an original screenplay. Because when you’re basing it on a manga or a game you only have a limited time so you have to decide what to keep and use and what to leave out. Otherwise there’d be too much.

So what I’m careful to try and do when I’m writing a screenplay that is based on something else is to try and create the same impression. Sometimes even though you use the exact same dialogue in the same scenes, the impression changes. So I try to think about what the writer of the original actually wanted to say, what they were thinking.

TOONZONE NEWS: You’re well known for writing strong, independent female characters. As a woman yourself, do you feel the need to balance the trends of moe which tend to cast women as more submissive in anime?

MARI OKADA: [Laughs.] I’ve been in the animation industry a long time and I want to create female characters who are going to be attractive to a male audience but I need to like that character as well. Even the baddies.

I want them to be a real person so I try to find something in the character that I can empathise with. Even a strong, beautiful female character will have weaknesses, have an ugly side and I try not to turn away from that but to keep a balance in the character.

TOONZONE NEWS: Continuing from that, a friend of mine is an aspiring writer and she finds the breadth of your work incredibly inspiring. Do you have any advice for young women trying to enter the industry?

MARI OKADA: I’m not sure if the situation in Japan is the same as it is in other countries, but creating anime is a joint effort and working with other people there’ll be times where you have to be careful of other people’s feelings, times where you might get hurt but  I think it’s important to expose yourself to all sorts of different emotions and to be interested in things you might not necessarily be interested in. I didn’t start off as an anime writer, I took the long way round to get there.

And I couldn’t wait to write for anime so it was tough because I didn’t know why I wasn’t getting the opportunity. But when you are a writer you have to write different characters and so it’s important to have had different experiences and have different feelings that you can use. So if you’re going to be a writer taking the long way round and having those struggles is always something you can make use of.

So hopefully one day I’ll be able to work with your friend.

TOONZONE NEWS: She’ll look forward to that [Both laugh.]

One of your recent projects was Gundam:  Iron Blooded Orphans. What are your thoughts on this project now that it’s completed and would you be interested in writing a sequel?

MARI OKADA: I’d worked with the director Tatsuyuki Nagai before on Anohana: The Flower We Saw That Day and Anthem of the Heart. With Anohana I got to write my idea, so with Gundam I wanted to support Nagai-san as much as I could with what he wanted to do. So when he was happy with the screenplay that I gave him that made me happy too and I think the finished article is really good.

It was a really deep story and so it was difficult at times to write but I think Nagai-san has still got a lot of ideas so he would probably be interested in making a sequel. And if he wanted me involved with that, then I’d do my best.

TOONZONE NEWS: A lot of your scripts show that although there is harshness in life there is also joy and comedy to be found even in dark times. Is this a theme inspired by your own experiences?

MARI OKADA: However serious or dark a screenplay I’m writing I always want there to be some kind of redemption at the end. Maybe it comes from my own experience partly but there’s always a moment of release however deep the struggle. I think there’s no such thing as 100% happy or 100% sad.

I like the moments of humour amongst the struggle and the moments of ominous prediction amongst the joy. I want my screenplays to be like a painting, full of different colours. Some bright colours and some murky colours.

TOONZONE NEWS: Your scripts are also known for the choreography of conversations. In The Lost Village specifically you had scenes with a large number of characters engaging in a continuous conversation where the atmosphere changes sharply with each piece of dialogue. Can you explain how you handled the choreography of these scenes?

MARI OKADA: In the case of The Lost Village, the director Mizushima-san is someone who puts a lot of effort into the recording with voice actors so he did the sound direction as well.

I’ll put it like this- when I’m writing a screenplay, I act it out myself. When possible I like to be there to take part in the recording myself and give my input.

TOONZONE NEWS: To conclude with a question for both of you, is there a message you’d like to impart on British audiences considering watching Maquia?

KENJI HORIKAWA: A lot of people in Japan who have seen this film have seen it not just once but two or three times. I think it’s a film where there might be things you don’t understand the first time round that come together when you see it again or new things that you realise when you see it for a second time. The first time you see it you will likely be swept up by the emotion and story and spend the whole time crying but then when you see it again you will have the opportunity to realise more of the complex emotions.

MARI OKADA: I’d been to the UK once before to do research for Black Butler and I’d been struck at the time by just how different the culture here is and what a beautiful city it is and I’m really happy now to be screening my film here.

I think that, whatever country you live in, there are a lot of emotions and feelings that we can share. So I hope that when people watch the film they will understand the emotion behind it.

Toonzone would like to thank Mari Okada and Kenji Horikawa for answering our questions, Fetch Publicity for facilitating this interview on behalf of Anime Limited and Bethan Jones for interpreting.

Read our review of Maquia: When The Promised Flower Blooms.