Todd Brown, programmer of TIFF’s cinematic retrospective Techno/Human: The Films of Mamoru Oshii, opened the session with the remark that the director’s work has “changed cinema culture and pop culture.” Mamoru Oshii is internationally known for his visionary, and visually stunning work Ghost in the Shell released in 1995. This is not a bad feat for a man who at the “In Conversation with...” admitted that his first film, which was shot on 8mm, came out black. He forgot to take the lens cap off, and claimed thus “my debut never occurred.”
At the age of 17 Mamoru Oshii decided he was going to make films, and worked a part time job to afford a 16mm camera. Despite his aspirations and his acquirement of a 16mm camera, he could never afford to fill the heavy thing with film, though this did not stop him from taking “shots” around town. Oshii recounted to the crowd his early blunders with ease, smiling occasionally, looking pensive more often. Aside from a few false starts in film, it was when Oshii was given the project Patlabor by friends that his career was "locked on."
“Where do the films start?” Todd Brown asked Oshii. Mamoru Oshii described the film making process to be like "building architecture," which he begins by first constructing the world, followed by filling this world with characters that ultimately leads to the story. Oshii recounted this from a time that he worked with James Cameron, who told him that there are only three elements that make up a movie, and which must be considered in the film making process in this order: a story, characters, and a world.
The worlds that Oshii construct are stunning in themselves. The cityscapes are reminiscent of images of the crowded city of Tokyo, Japan, densely inhabited, and lending itself to claustrophobia. Though Oshii spoke very little of Tokyo it was this city, he said, that inspired the world that we see in Ghost in the Shell.
One thing that Oshii did not fail to mention in the talk is that as a child growing up in Japan, just after the war, he remembers Japan having a happy image of technology. To him technology “was something wonderful” and to this day he finds the dichotomy of technology versus human to be unthinkable. Aside from sweeping views of unfamiliar landscapes and vast, unexplored cities, technology features heavily in the films of Mamoru Oshii. In many of his films humans appear to have adapted to technology, and though Oshii never said that technology is something humans would be happy adapting to, he sees adaptation as the only choice. In films such as Ghost in the Shell we see how the protagonists adapt, for better or worse. Mamoru Oshii looks to a future of technology, which reflects in his films, from traditional animation to the new tradition of digital animation, and in his thought: “like it or not you cannot live without technology,” he says.
Here are a few tidbits from the “In Conversation with…” that hard-core fans might be interested in knowing (if they don’t already):
1. Oshii’s first comic was Iron Man 28, a character that he drew to the point of no longer needing a reference.
2. Growing up, Oshii’s father took him to the cinema almost everyday after school, though commented that they were not children’s films.
3. Oshii is a fan of video games, his old time favourite being Virtua Fighter, a game that inspired the fight scenes in Ghost in the Shell.
4. If someone takes you for sushi on the 2nd floor, be prepared because this is where secrets are told.
5. Not a moment before Oshii was about pitch Jin-Roh, a producer pitched Ghost in the Shell to Oshii. Jin-Roh was released later, in 1999.
6. The Last Druid: Garm Wars, directed by Mamoru Oshii, is currently being mixed in Montreal.
7. The Sky Crawlers is Mamoru Oshii’s favourite of his own films.