Interview with Masayuki Kusaka, Producer of HARRY ON THE CLOUDS
Kari Lindberg, on behalf of CineVue, was fortunate enough to chat with Masayuki Kusaka, producer of HARRY ON THE CLOUDS. In this bittersweet animation, a baby sheep, on his road to heaven, tries to visit his mourning mother before he crosses over for good. Director Aya Shiroi beautifully illustrates the heartbreak of parting with loved ones.
AAIFF ’16 featured this short in the program ROOTS: REMOVALS AND RETURNS on July 23, 2016.
Much thanks to our translator Toshiharu Ichikawa!
Kari Lindberg: How did the film start out as a music video?
Masayuki Kusaka: I work for Sony Music and am also a music director. I worked with the band Ram Wire and asked director Aya Shiroi to make the music video for this band. I thought the music video was great, and so the short music video became a short film…I just took out the music, put in some sound effects and then it’s [the film] pretty much the same.
KL: Why did you decide to create an animated music video?
MK: One of the band members said that [the HARRY ON THE CLOUDS] story is from their life and instead of making it a [live-action] drama, they preferred to make it an animation, as a way of translating their story better–in terms of emotion…They put this up on YouTube…A lot of people seemed to enjoy the film, so I decided to take out the Japanese music and put in some sound effects, so that everyone could enjoy the film.
KL: Was your original intention for the video to be experienced by an international audience?
MK: I never expected this to have an international audience. It was initially only intended for a Japanese audience but YouTube is international, so a lot of people stumbled upon it. Honestly, I never thought this kind of reception would ever happen, but I am happy and glad that it did.
KL: Where has the film been shown, besides the U.S. and Japan?
MK: Initially, it was shown in Spain at the Catalonian International Animation Festival. Next, we showed it in Los Angeles, Newport Beach, Dallas, Japan, and now New York. Then the plan is to go to Geneva and then Washington, D.C.
KL: How was it decided to enter this film into International Film Festivals?
MK: Together with director Shiroi, I went to a company that handles these kinds of applications to enter international film festivals. In Japan, there are a lot of directors and movie makers who don’t have the chance to have their Japanese audience to see their films…Director Shiroi had done this before and she told me about this niche industry that takes Japanese films and sends them to film festivals.
KL: What was it like working with Director Shiroi on this film?
MK: Director Shiroi has been in the field of animation for thirty years and is a very artistic individual…a hundred percent just artistic…The problem was that Ram Wire couldn’t put that feeling into their song, so they wanted to put that feeling into the music video instead…I mediated between the band and Dir. Shiroi to create this work.
KL: What are your opinions on the animation of this video?
MK: I have watched this film numerous times and every time there is something that hits me in the gut. There are only three main characters, but every single one of those characters does something that they think is the best for them and the others…It makes me want to cry.
KL: What are the director’s opinions on the animation?
MK: She drew the whole thing…Back in 2011 there was a tragic earthquake in Japan and with this work she wanted to give a message to the people that “a lot of people who are in heaven seem to be having so much more fun than people still living. They’re in a better place than those who have not passed on, so people who are living right now should be more happy, more hopeful for the future than sorrowful and grieving.”
KL: Are there differences in the way different audiences have received the film?
MK: In Spain and Japan, I definitely saw mothers and sons and daughters crying while watching the film.
KL: Japan is one of the birthplaces of animation. Has this culture of animation influenced the film in anyway?
MK: The director who drew this film has been an animator in Japan for thirty years so she is affected by Japanese animation…You could say that industry didn’t affect the film, rather the culture and the people in the industry affected director Shiroi in producing this kind of animation.
KL: How was it decided who would direct the film?
MK: Director Shiroi did a very famous animation called THE BACK OF THE ELEPHANTS and is pretty well-known in the animation industry…I really liked the drawing and artistic style of Director Shiroi.
KL: What was it about director Shiroi’s style that you liked and what was it that you liked in her style that would be able to convey the feeling desired for this specific music video?
MK: The mellowness in the soft touch that director Shiroi has in her pictures. Ram Wire wanted to show this crucial component of human relationship and thought it would be best represented by Shiroi.
KL: What is the difference between being a music director and a producer on an animated film?
MK: In music it’s about the vocals, the lyrics, the beat–using those elements you have to move a human heart. As opposed to animation, where you have to do that with pictures and story…If you combine those elements, you can create a much greater effect and feeling. That was this reason for taking up this entire project.