Hitoshi Takekiyo Talks About His new Film 'After School Midnighters' (Q&A)

His new "After School Midnighters" film features a skeleton and human anatomical model that come to life, as well as some gun-toting Mafioso bunnies.

In 1997, Hitoshi Takekiyo founded the KOO-KI collective of creators, designers and directors in Fukuoka, Kyushu, the most southerly of Japan’s main islands. Since then, the roster of six directors has won a slew of awards between them, both domestically and internationally. Having made his name in Japan through award-winning TV commercials and graphics sequences for major sporting event broadcasts, Takekiyo’s After School Midnight animated short was picked up by France’s Canal+ in 2007. Persuaded to revisit the project last year by producer friends, Takekiyo is currently putting the finishing touches on a full-length anime version entitled After School Midnighters. The director spoke to The Hollywood Reporter about the project, his respect for Pixar and why he can resist the bright lights of Tokyo.

THR: How did the After School Midnighters project go from being a short film to a full animated feature nearly five years later?

Takekiyo: I originally made four shorts for a music channel, kind of like MTV, using motion capture, with different lead characters in each one: Dracula, a ninja, Christ and an anatomical model of the human body. The anatomical model was the funniest one and I made a six-minute version of that. My idea at the time was to make a series of short animations, a bit like Mr. Bean, based on the naked anatomical model. I showed it to a lot of producers I knew and they convinced me it would be better to make an animated feature out of it.

THR: What were some of the challenges of making a full-length film out of the project?

Takekiyo: It was completely different, it was much harder work. The number of characters increased of course, and there was no dialogue in the six-minute short. This time, there was a script to write, scenarios to create and the quality of the animation was higher. Even though it’s a low-budget animation compared to, say, a Pixar film, the money that cinema audiences pay is the same, so we still have to satisfy them in the same way. That was really hard to do and we’ve spent a lot of time getting the look of the animation right. The aim was to create something in between traditional Japanese anime and Pixar 3D films. Getting the characters to really perform like actors was both the hardest part and the most important.

THR: The film's musical sequence is very funny, what inspired that?

Takekiyo: I was aiming for a sort of gorgeous, musical production feel by using motion capture for the dancing. I used a mix of computer-generated music and a recording of a live orchestra for the soundtrack; a digital/analogue hybrid. I thought it would be interesting to do a musical scene with the naked anatomic model dancing. With motion capture animation, you can switch between performers who have different talents, such as dancing, very easily. I do like musicals too, both Disney-type animated musicals and regular productions like Chicago.

THR: Your company is based down in Fukuoka, don’t you feel any pressure to relocate to Tokyo?

Takekiyo: First and foremost, I like the countryside, but I do get people asking me to move up to Tokyo. With live-action films, you need actors and crew, so it would be better to be up there. But the thing with animation, especially digital animation, is that you can do it from anywhere. Sometimes it is better to have face to-face meetings for the sake of communicating smoothly, but these days, with Skype and such, I can do a lot of it from Fukuoka.

THR: The short version of your film was picked up by Canal+, what are your hopes for this one abroad?

Takekiyo: It’s already going to be shown in some Asian countries and I’m hoping that audiences around the world will appreciate this. This isn’t really a typical Japanese anime, so I think regular film fans everywhere can enjoy it. That was what I had in mind making it. I’d like to be in Hong Kong for the film festival but we’re still finishing the editing, the final three percent of the film.

THR: What do you think of the state of Japanese animation at the moment?

Japanese anime is unique and very advanced, but in terms of 3D, American animation, such as those from Pixar and Dream Works, is really high level. A few Japanese 3D animations have been made but not many of them have really got it quite right yet. I’d really like to see some 3D Japanese animations hit the mark and be successful.