Director Yuya Ishii gained praises through works like The Tokyo Night Sky Is Always the Densest Shade of Blue (Yozora ha itsu demo saikou mitsudo no aoiro da), a film based on a book of poems. Shinsaku Nagata is a well-loved artist active in the world of picture books. The two have been close friends and worked together on the book Blue Frog (Aoi kaeru) by contributing text and art, respectively. Here is a conversation they had on the topic of “expression.”
How a movie director and picture book illustrator came to work together
Around the time I was trying to publish the Blue Frog, Nagata was struggling to launch his career and with the gap between things he wanted to do and things he could do. It’s a common place for young artists to be in that I’ve also gone through. One day, I got a call from Kaho Son, president of the publisher Little More Co., Ltd. (and also the producer of the movie The Tokyo Night Sky Is Always the Densest Shade of Blue), and he asked me for my help.
Ishii said to me simply, “If you focus on what is most important, I think you will start to gain insight.” It helped me to reexamine the unsteady parts of myself, and I was able to go on to create many picture books.
In my work with making children’s picture books, I want to value that “anxious feeling of uncertainty.” When answers to all things are already prepared for us and we can erase any feelings of uncertainty by choosing those answers, we stop using our ability to think. Children are in a world where everything they see and hear is new to them, from which they gradually acquire wisdom and knowledge.
These days, we look things up right away on our smartphones and feel reassured once we get some sort of answers. But books and videos, by definition, are supposed to deal with things that cannot be logically explained; things that are very human and at times even irrational. So, if anything, we should be bolder in letting them do these things.
Relationship between the commercial and the creative
It’s okay that there are artistic movies and commercial ones. When I used to make independent films, I was poor and totally unrecognized. That experience made me realize that unless I lead a life with some level of stability, I wouldn’t even be able to make the kind of movies that I want to. While it’s true that the more commercial your work becomes, the greater the possibility becomes of not being able to do what you want, but I have done all kinds of things to keep that from happening.
Universality and contemporariness
What I really like about movies is that you can use music. I myself enjoy picture books that conjure sounds in the readers’ minds, and so I often try to incorporate attractive elements of movies in my books in my own way.
To me, picture books are made so simply and that is precisely why the work itself can start having and expanding a life of its own. The shirt he is wearing today (made through collaboration between Nagata and fashion brand OURET) is an example of that. That kind of expansion is rarely seen with movies, so I’m quite envious. I believe an expression is something that must be expanded.
Original text was written in Japanese by Shinichi Uchida.
Photo: Shu Nakagawa
This report was made possible with the cooperation of:
GOOD MAD Exhibition of Original Artwork by Shinsaku Nagata (Friday January 5 – Sunday, January 14, 2018 at Shibuya Hikarie 8/01/COURT)