INTERVIEW: Goodbye, Don Glees! Director and Writer Atsuko Ishizuka on How Her Mother Inspired Her
GKIDS has licensed the heartfelt movie Goodbye, Don Glees! and just played it in American theaters. Atsuko Ishizuka, the movie’s writer and director, has been working at the prestigious anime studio Madhouse since 2004. Otaku USA spoke to her about her inspiration for this movie, her creative process, and what she’d like Western fans to know about her.
How did you move up at Madhouse, starting as a production assistant and working your way up to director?
While working on anime like MONSTER and NANA, I watched and learned about the directors’ and producers’ work. In my case, I was especially blessed to receive an opportunity to be the director of “Minna no Uta” for NHK right after I joined Madhouse. I was a rookie who did not know anything about production but thanks to all the amazing staff at the Madhouse, I was able to create a music clip “Tsuki no waltz”. It grabbed the attention of a lot of people and it opened up more opportunities to direct while learning to make animated films.
What was the inspiration for Goodbye, Don Glees!? Are there any autobiographical aspects?
While I was working on my previous film A Place Further Than the Universe, I already knew I wanted to create a story about growing up where the characters make their way to the ‘new world’ in my next film as well. Since the previous one was about girls and their friendship, what would it be like if I made a story about boys and their adventures? They walk on their own two feet and head for the edge of the world, and have discoveries that will change their lives forever… I was imagining a story like that and remembered my own life-changing story. It was a few years before this project had started, when my mother was given only a little time left to live by a doctor due to her illness. My mother entrusted me with a lot of things. She wanted me to be the living proof of her life and legacy. I never thought she’d think of me as a treasure who can carry on the entire existence of herself. Of course I’ve received a lot of love from her and I know that she treasures me. But when I actually realized it as a fact, the world looked different from before. My normal everyday life might actually be extremely valuable and it could be holding possibilities. If so, how big is the world outside of it? It’s hard to put it into words but I slowly became aware of the door with unlimited possibilities being opened for me.
What was your process for making this film?
While working on my previous film, A Place Further Than the Universe, I was already consulting with the producers about my next project. After finishing work on the production of my previous film, I had some time to let my brain cool down for a little bit (because the previous film was my first original film and I really had to work very hard on it!). I slowly eased myself into the process of plot meetings. The idea went back and forth several times and sometimes we even had to throw everything out and start from scratch. So when we finally finished the script, I felt very relieved. From that point on, I just focused on making pictures. We gathered many staff members and we focused on creating beautiful visuals, music and depiction of the characters.
What do you hope audiences take away from this film?
The person who decides where the world ends is one’s self. Nowadays, with technological advances like the internet, we tend to think that we know everything and that we understand a lot of things. But the truth is, we don’t even know the true nature of our surroundings and the worlds out there that we haven’t yet seen. If you are feeling uncomfortable in your current community but you are taught that’s the place for you to be, I think it’s okay to question it once. By watching this film, I’d be happy if the audience starts to want to believe in the possibilities of themselves and the world around them and to want to see something new. By the way, my mother is fine now. Actually, she is going to the gym enough to make me worry about her physically. She also believes in the possibilities and moving forward.
What has been your experience working in different aspects at Madhouse?
Actually, I was lucky enough to be producing films right after joining Madhouse, and so most of my experience here is directly connected to what I’m currently doing. It almost makes me think that it’s my weak point to not have much experience managing and facilitating the connecting of many staff together.
Is there anything about yourself you’d like Western fans to know?
Rather than me, I’d prefer them to know and love the movies I have worked on. [laughs]
However, I’m a fan of western movies and series and I wanted to be able to watch them without subtitles or voice overs so I started to study English. I’d love to get to see the western animation industry one day too.
Danica Davidson is the author of the bestselling Manga Art for Beginners with artist Melanie Westin, plus its sequel, Manga Art for Everyone, and the first-of-its-kind manga chalk book Chalk Art Manga, both illustrated by professional Japanese mangaka Rena Saiya. Check out her other comics and books at www.danicadavidson.com.