Children of the Sea is a visually stunning and utterly strange anime film based on the cult-hit manga series by Daisuke Igurashi, about a girl who meets a pair of mysterious brothers at the aquarium whom she's told were "raised by dugongs." The three share a connection to supernatural phenomena affecting marine life around the globe.
The animated feature is making the rounds at film festivals, and will be receiving an Academy Award-qualifying release later this year by GKIDS. CBR spoke with the film's director, Ayumu Watanabe, and its CGI director, Kenichiro Akimoto, as part of Children of the Sea's U.S. premiere at the Animation is Film Festival in Los Angeles.
CBR: Children of the Sea is a very artistic, experimental sort of anime. You've also directed children's anime like Doraemon and otaku-oriented anime like Mysterious Girlfriend X. What sort of anime do you most like to direct?
Watanabe: I'm on the search, personally, of what I gravitate specifically towards. Of the three examples you gave, I'm still in the searching phase of what I'm drawn to.
What sort of research did the animators do for portraying sea life?
Akimoto: We actually worked with Tsubaka University's marine department. Also, a lot of trips to aquariums.
What was your approach for adapting five volumes of manga into a single feature film?
Watanabe: First and foremost, to make sure the visuals from the original source carried into the anime. The other thing is, because the original manga is multiple volumes, trying to whittle that down to feature length.
Did you ever consider doing this manga as a TV show, or was the plan always to do that as a movie?
Watanabe: At the beginning of the process, having it in a series or shorts format was an idea that was floating around. After a lot of discussions aobut what direction to take the story in, this team was able to bring it down to a main scene and also just have the story center around Ruka and her summer.
Were there any scenes you cut from the film that you wish you could have kept?
Watanabe: There's actually quite a few. If I could pick out just one, going back in the timeline of the story back to when Jim meets Umi and Sora and just that whole Festival of Life, and digging a little bit deeper in that.
How do you approach blending CGI with traditional animation?
Akimoto: I think for my team, of course, the CG artists are well-versed in Maya, but also to some extent have some trainijng in handdrawing. For the CG artists, when given something that was hand-drawn, to understand the composition and understand what was good about the hand-drawing and transfer that to the CG side.
Children of the Sea has been submitted to the Academy for Oscar consideration. How involved are you awards campaigning and what's it like?
Watanabe: Neither of us are doing anything in particular. For us, we're the creators, and then there's the producers who take care of the campaigning part. I'm praying things go well, and of course I provide them whatever they need.
This movie gets very surreal and can be confusing at times. Do you have any advice for audiences in regards to approaching the film's more complex metaphysical elements?
Akimoto: So, yes, the film doesn't have a traditional third act where the murder is revealed, it doesn't have a nice little bow at the end in the traditional sense, but for us, it's more about feelings, how people are connected to each oher and the larger kind of universe, and inspiring people a certain way how they feel would then connect them into the concept of people and the universe. It's more about what you feel at the end of the movie versus what your brain can logically understand.
There were some serious Stanley Kubrick 2001: A Space Odyssey vibes to the climax. Was that an inspiration?
Watanabe: Maybe not consciously, but when I first put the rough cut together, I was actually thinking it is very 2001: A Space Odyssey-esque. It wasn't a consicous effect, but 2001 is one of my favorite movies so it probably seeped its way through my work.
One last question: Are you a fan of the Black Sabbath song of the same title?
Watanabe: Yes. I heard the song and said "Maybe we can work it into the title song for the movie?" (Laughs, that was a joke)