Tokyo: Macoto Tezka Talks Competition Redemption, 'Lion King' vs. 'Kimba' Controversy

'Tezuka's Barbara' - Publicity - H 2019
©Barbara Film Committee

The son of manga pioneer Osamu Tezuka is in competition at the Tokyo Film Festival with 'Tezuka's Barbara,' an adaptation of one of his father's works.

In 1985, the inaugural edition of Tokyo International Film Festival rejected the debut feature of Macoto Tezka, son of "the godfather of manga" and animator Osamu Tezuka. The film, The Legend of the Stardust Brothers, was not well received in many quarters at the time, but has gone on to become something of a cult classic.

Tezka's redemption takes another step 34 years later as his latest work Tezuka's Barbara, an adaptation of one of his father's most complex manga, competes for the grand prix at this year's festival.

There have been a number of works from his father's canon that Tezka has tried to film but have not come to fruition. "I was interested in this one from when I was in grade school, but when I first read it then it was too difficult for me to understand. I also felt it was close in some ways to the kind of films I've made as a director, so I could make it my own. The artistic elements, the decadence and the portrayal of the woman all appealed to me," explained Tezka

The film tells the story of a successful but frustrated writer (Goro Inagaki) and his mysterious muse (Fumi Nikaido), both of whom have acquired a tad too much taste for hard liquor.

But long before he secured the services of his two high-profile leads, Tezka convinced cinematographer Christopher Doyle, known for his work with Hong Kong auteur Wong Kar-wai, to sign up.

"Strangely enough, Christopher Doyle joined the project even before the producer; he was basically on board however it turned out. He was good enough to wait five years for this film to happen," Tezka says. "As well as the superb quality of his cinematography, I heard that he likes a drink and this film has a lot to do with drinking, so I thought he would understand it best."

The film drifts in and out of reality along with its protagonists, but the original manga is a longer story, with layers of politics and other complex issues running through it. Tezka says he cut much of it to focus it as a "simple love story," though simplicity is unlikely to be the first term to spring to the mind of audiences. Nevertheless, the director hopes the film will resonate with cinemagoers beyond Japan.

"It's shot in Tokyo, so I want people to see a slice of today's real Tokyo. And it's a love story, and a quirky Japanese love story at that, so I would like for viewers from various countries to enjoy that quirkiness," Tezka says.

Tezuka senior was back in the minds of people around the world this year when Disney's reboot of The Lion King reignited the controversy about its similarities with the Japanese master's Kimba the White Lion 1960s anime series. However, Tezka takes a philosophical approach to the issue.

"As someone who makes films, if you start talking about that in the movie business, there's no end to it. For example, Akira Kurosawa made Seven Samurai, but he was influenced by John Ford, and then Kurosawa went on to inspire some of the Spaghetti Westerns. It just goes around and around," he points out.

He also notes that two of the most distinctive and important elements of Kimba the White Lion, the lions who spoke like humans and one of them being white, didn't appear in the Disney film.

"And there were elements of Bambi that were also in The Lion King. My father was also inspired by Bambi when he wrote Kimba the White Lion, so some of the original ideas came from Disney," he says.

"But if my father had been alive when they were talking about making The Lion King, he would have definitely wanted to work on it. I think he would have come up with his own ideas for the story and it would have been an even more superb creation," Tezka says.