Q: In "Mawaru Penguindrum" the image of "family" is being portrayed, yes?
A: I thought that right now I wanted to do a story about family. Though we try to sum up the idea of "family" in one word, the meaning of it changes with the times. For example, in the post-war baby boom, it was typical to have families with many siblings. Then it became normal to only have two kids, and right now we have a lot of only children being brought up.
And in response to that, the depiction of family in our culture has changed along with the times. For example, a story where "the little sister you've never met before in your life suddenly shows up at your house and becomes part of your family!"… I feel like that's the kind of fantasy story that can only be sustained because we live in an age of so many families with only children.
And so, the kind of story I want to see right now is that of a family attempting to connect. That interests me more than love stories do. "Why am I here together with him in this house? Why is she here with me?" That sort of thing.
Families are made up of members of both the same and opposite sex. I think a meaning behind that family's connection is gradually created, which goes beyond just that of the physical. Sexuality doesn't have much to do with it. Or rather, even if there are sexual relationships involved, the family relationship keeps on existing regardless…
I think, at one time, families were being captured in a negative light. Out of a desire to illustrate it was important to treasure one's own heart, there was a tendency to opt for portrayals capturing families as working against that…
But, my own feelings right now are that I want to portray the rebirth of a family, the connection of a family.
Q: There really were a lot of movies and novels in the seventies depicting the destruction of families.
A: I think there was a strong desire within the media to "break down families." But the reason for that, I think, is because family is something unbreakable.
But on that note, I have the sense Japan is being shaken up where this is concerned. The value of family as a community has suddenly changed drastically. Because of that, I've begun wanting to consider the question of, "What is family, really?"
And while portraying a family, I didn't want to take the tactic of rejecting something through it. For example, if a family were shown to be breaking down, I didn't want to take the tactic of saying, "Well, it's all the father's fault it turned out like this."
So that's why in this story, I chose not to include any bad people within the families of the protagonists.
Q: I see. For example, even if a relative commits a sin or crime, at times, real family are the ones trying to stick up for them. In a way, "family" is something that goes beyond moral questions of "right and wrong"…
A: I once saw an American documentary that followed a family visiting one of their members in prison, once every year, taking their group family photograph all together.
If it were in Japan, the mood of it would have been something like, "this little community that caused a problem shouldn't be forgiven," I suppose. A village-based society would cut off a family like that.
But in America it's the opposite. Like, "No matter what everyone else says, our community is important." I thought that was really interesting.
I wonder if Japan will become like that soon eventually too. I don't think the day is that far off where everyone will be asking, "What's the most important community to me?" And something like romantic love may cease to be portrayed as a dramatic detail at the center of life.
In the nineties there were a lot of stories with "Here I am!" as their theme, but I've had enough of those. Right now I'd rather try a story that reaffirms that sense of community.
Q: Being aware of the things that connect us all, you mean.
A: Looking at the earthquake that's just happened, you really do get the feeling that tomorrow everything could just disappear. That's the truth. Everyone's had that truth sink in. Looking at the changes of the times, the way we Japanese view things has to have changed as a result of it. I think fiction has changed as well.
"What's the community I want to treasure the most? How can I make that community secure?" That's getting to be a topic of concern.
The generation around my age who didn't take part in the student movement, we haven't really experienced that sense of community. We just had the subconscious sense of community that came from our own families. But now we're coming to a time when even something like that subconscious existence of community is endangered.
Q: I see. So for you, rather than the energy of trying to break through something, you wish to focus more on the direction of joining things together?
A: The age of the ego has continued, right? Even if one person has a general concept of happiness, families will try to force it to fit their own.
Like when people don't understand why a child is shutting themselves in their room, they simply assign a cruel naming like "hikikomori" to the issue. Then they force their own concept of "this is what family ought to be like!" on the child. And of course children will rebel against that…
But I think it's gotten to be the time to finally go beyond that way of thinking. I think it's all right to end that era of forcing your own concept of happiness onto someone else. Basically, right now is the age to search for "a new concept of happiness."
Q: Because when egos are forcing their own ideas on each other, community has no meaning.
A: Within this story as well, the beginning of the show portrays that sort of thing. Trying to force your own image of "a family's happiness" on others. Trying to force others to share it with you. The first half of the show has that aspect.
But even if you try to force that image on others, it doesn't work out. Because, after all, "wanting to be together" is an emotional choice that can't be decided by logic. Even if you try to work from the logical viewpoint of, "I'm important to other people because of this reason!" a family can't be constructed around that.
Some characters in this story start with just the shape of a family. And as a result, there's conflict and frustration. Each of them has their own image of what a family ought to be like. And they all end up telling each other, "You're the one who's wrong!"
Q: And so the Takakura siblings and Ringo are portrayed as moving forward in the middle of that situation.
A: Well, my own dream is that I want to see a story of reaffirmation, showing that children can take a terrible community that's been built, and build their own new community on top of it.
And I don't want this point to be misunderstood: I'm not trying to show that first terrible community in a positive light. But, I also simply can't accept a portrayal that shuts the door on it and says "this has nothing to do with us."
I don't want to make it a sketchy generalization like most of the media do that says simply, "This is evil."
The student movement was about rejecting the nation. But at the same time, it was a rejection of their parents' generation, a rejection of their own families. Forming your own community through rejecting another…defending your own position through rejection of the outmoded… I don't want to make a story like that.
Rather, what I want to show is the feeling of: "We still love our mother and father who did those things, even if they may have been wrong to do them."
If you feel as though you have no place to go home to, even "wrong" things can still form a place for your heart to belong to.
I didn't want to tell a story of this kind of family in a realistic way, but to tell it in the style of a modern myth. Though I don't want it to be misinterpreted as a spiritual tale, as I have no interest in that area.
Q: I see. So you're portraying a community as one kind of symbol. "Mawaru Penguindrum" is your first original work in twelve years. Would you say that there are parts you only were able to write because of the time that's elapsed since your last work?
A: There have been incredible changes in these past fifteen years. The definition of "country" is starting to change, economics are extending past the boundaries of countries… Those sorts of things rebound back onto our personal communities. The situation of immigrants increasing also results in the questioning of the current state of "family" within the nation, I think.
For a long time everyone's been saying "It's not all about money." But not everyone can find something to replace it.
That's why I think there was an age where dramas saying, "It's all about love!" were popular. Paradoxically saying, "It's not all about money, it's all about love."
So then everyone was mentally separating one from the other: "In the world of fiction, they say it's all about love. But in real life, it's really…"
But nowadays, I think people are starting to think, "It's too constricting for me to keep separating the two things mentally."
I feel like we're finally reaching the point where I want the idea of "it's not all about money" to really sink in. I want to learn what our "new definition of happiness" is.
I have my own definition inside me. I think everyone has their own inside them as well.
A: I see. It's a difficult thing to discuss "new definitions of happiness," but very important.
Q: But completely failing at finding that "new definition of happiness" to be exchanged in place of money, that's also part of the history of young people in this generation.
When you look back on it, it's not really a thing you can show positively. But, it's not fair to take the stance of "that has nothing to do with me" either.
For example, there are people to be found in any age that "say what they believe is right," but with no consideration for others. I think those kind of people will definitely always fail.
But I wanted to pay attention to "people who say what they believe is right" this time. People who say what they believe is "right," and then fail.
Regular people allow themselves to have their reasoning swayed to a certain extent, and that serves as a security function for them. Even if they recognize what is "right," they can live while pretending not to see the terrifying reality.
But there are people who, inside, absolutely are unable to go on pretending not to see that reality, and can only accept what is "right."
Those guys usually get hurt, and they just can't have an easy time of it. Or rather, they just can't have an easy time living. I don't want to simply dismiss those guys. The media certainly never speaks well of them. The media never says, "These were people who tried to live the right way, without compromising themselves." They just call them lunatics. A person who takes their thought process to extremes, without lying to themselves…
I want to portray that in this project without showing it in a negative light.
There are so many irrational and contradictory stories in this society we live in. But within them, members of the tiniest communities we have, will go through pain to save one another.
Even if that community is in a place of sin, those guys didn't have the option to live in any other place. Even if the world sees it as terrifying and poisonous, to them, it's where their memories live.
I want to portray the sorrow and extreme emotions of such people.
Q: I see. It's a big challenge to examine the things that everyone tries to pretend not to see.
A: In 2011, this really was the story I wanted to see, the story I wanted to make. Of course it's important that it be entertaining, but beyond that, I wanted to find out for myself in detail: what am I capable of doing in this day and age? What do I want to see?
And lastly: the "Penguindrum" is not an abstract concept, but something that will actually appear. Look forward to seeing it.