Foreword- A massive interview between two entertainment titans. This is without a doubt the most difficult single translation Ifve ever worked on. It was a struggle to get every last nuance nailed down with an appropriate English equivalent. My wife has, as always, been a huge help and a coworker, gMr. Ih, who happens to be a huge One Piece fan and Classical Japanese teacher helped me with one of the more difficult to understand bits about halfway through. And big thanks to freedom and dirt monkey AL of Arlong Park Forums who helped me format this properly. Outside of the Color Walks this is one of few interviews that dives directly into the molten core of eThe Odaf. Enjoy!
The conference room of the motion picture company. Against the white backdrop assembled for the photo shoot there lays a desk between Kazutoshi Sakurai and Eiichiro Oda as they chat relaxed. Comics and music, two genre that are very different, but for two men that have long helped carry the tides of Japanese entertainment, today is their very first meeting. And now, having worked jointly on this effort, one might find it hard to believe that theyfve never worked together before, and yet, more than just a chance encounter, theirs was a meeting that was only a matter of time; and that should come as no surprise to the readers of One Piece or Mr. Childrenfs listeners, for their art itself seems to have brought forth such a collaboration.
The site of their encounter, eOne Piece Film Strong Worldf. Itfs a first for the 10th film to have the original creator, Oda himself, writing the story as Executive Producer with the main theme song provided by Mr. Children. Up until now, many of the One Piece movies have been standalone original tales but now the story Eiichiro Oda has written is set to connect with the original work. Oda has put his heart and soul into this project, even leaving some gaps in the weekly serialization across the filmfs two and a half years of production. At the start of their talk, when inquiring about the progress of their collaboration, Oda recalled the revealing stories of just how eager he really was.
Int: Oda-san, you personally offered the main theme to Mr. Children, but could you tell us how that came to be?
O: Normally I wouldnft want to work on anything other than the comic. I canft make something Ifm satisfied with unless Ifm concentrating on one thing at a time, itfs just how I am. So when they first came to me asking, gWefd like you to write just a bit of the plot for the 10th movie.h, I completely refused but since I was asked by someone who has taken good care of me in the past, I wound up accepting. But, just before they broke me I said, gWell, okay, if you can get Mr. Children to do the main theme then I might just take this seriously.h Of course I knew that it might not have worked out that way at all.
Int: So that was the condition for you to accept, correct?
O: I took on this film project when things were running down to the wire and I wasnft sure how it would turn out, I just knew it was something I had to do. So I kept telling myself, gMr. Children is gonna sing for you.h, and I wrote the plot. (laughs)
Int: Sakurai-san, could you tell us how you felt upon receiving such an offer from Oda-san?
S: It was something I definitely wanted to do. Back when I didnft know what One Piece was, my daughter said she wanted to go see a One Piece movie so we went to see it on a father-daughter date. I really enjoyed it. That and Mr. Childrenfs drummer Suzuki (Hideya) and bassist Nakagawa (Keisuke) are both really into One Piece. So because of those kinds of things I wanted to do it, and also because I thought it was a chance for personal growth as well.
Int: Oda-san, Ifve heard that you sent a letter to Sakurai-san, but could you tell us about the contents of the letter?
O: Thatfd be the letter I sent after they agreed to sing the main theme. I thought it was just our job to ensure the song they let us use would at least somehow be tied to One Piecefs image; on our end we would make sure the images matched the song and wefd be set. But then I was blown away when Sakurai-san actually asked me what kind of song would be best. So, in the letter, I approached the topic with this eIfm only asking you because you asked me firstf-humility and explained the concept of my vision of a fun movie based primarily on a boysf comic. Well, that and, gSince you asked, could you please make sure itfs a really cool song too.h (laughs) gOne Piece has different kinds of scenes, and everyone comes away with something different so Ifm leaving it up to you to take what you like from it because I donft want to tell a professional how to do his job.h, thatfs what I tried to express in the letter as a response to what was asked of me.
S: I brought the letter with me today. (laughs)
O: Come on now, itfs not like I wrote anything special.
gWe realize itfs a personal letter but would you be willing to share it with us?h, after we asked Sakurai, with Odafs permission, he took out the letter contained in an envelope upon which was handwritten in bold design eSakurai Kazutoshi-samaf. The contents, two pages of stationary packed with his [Odafs] thoughts on the film. At only a glance it was easy to tell just how much Oda respects Mr. Children.
O: When I heard that Sakurai-san actually asked, gWhat kind of song would you like?h, it was like I had a first-hand experience with the kind of confidence Mr. Children carries.
O: Itfs like he was telling me it would be eokayf because no matter how much they adjust their work to fit someone elsefs wishes, it wouldnft lose their touch. The whole time I was thinking it was our job to make the images match [the music] but when he asked me like that it means they have a level of confidence where they can go anywhere and never lose the music that makes them Mr. Children, that was impressive.
S: I think it might be the opposite actually, personally I donft feel that Mr. Children is some firmly established entity. Becoming music and moving people, stirring their hearts, thatfs when Mr. Children becomes complete, so if itfs possible for us as, Mr. Children, wefd like to embrace the message and meaning of the film and to stir people from their core; just to get even a little closer to accomplishing that is why I wanted to know what the film was about.
Wefve done the main theme for a number of films now but first I always try to understand what the film is trying to say, however, if you put that message directly into a song youfre not really extending your boundaries so we try looking at messages from completely different perspectives or attempt to sing from a slightly different angle while ultimately keeping the same messagec Thatfs just always how we try to make our music; so I went through our staff to ask and we received the letter which read, gGenerally speaking Ifm going for a ecool movief so please donft think it has to be from the, ea good movie means a tear-jerkerf line of thought.h I was riding the bullet train on tour when a staff member handed me the letter and the instant I read ecool movief I heard that guitar riff ringing in my head.
O: Wow! Youfre just that goodc
S: Also the high tension yelling at the beginning was [the result of] thinking about the scenes where Luffy shouts out, and I put them to a melody in my head. After that the rest was really just a matter of having fun finding a slick way to tie all the exciting characters of the film together, I thought that would work best.
O: We just made a promo video with the main theme and Ifm impressed how well Luffyfs shouting fits the chorus. It was kind of a mystery to me how you made the song and I came here today ready to ask how you did it. I canft believe that right after reading the letter you conjured up an image just like that.
S: It was the letter that brought forth this song so Ifm very thankful for it. I donft think itfs something I could have come up with on my own.
O: I wrote about everything that happened surrounding the movie including my own mental state regarding the film and how that changed. I also [wrote out] the entire course that led me to finally decide on eexcitementf for the theme. Everything I thought about the movie. I deliberated over making eemotionf [the theme]. People all over the world are always make a big deal about, edramatic thisf and eemotional thatf right? Itfs almost to the point where people think, gThis canft be a good movie unless I come out bawling.h; eventually I realized there was this rising trend and was frustrated with myself for trying to conform to it. Because when my name was first attached to it, I thought I should produce exactly what everyone expected me to make and I prepared this sort of touching story. [The movie I wrote at first was] eThe Crystal Shipfs Logf, a piece with an entirely different title but, to tell the truth, when writing the comic, a dramatic story, or rather, aiming for one from the start, which is to say, writing for the purpose of provoking a dramatic emotional reaction from readers, thatfs something I will not do. When the characters start moving Ifll give them a hand and add some direction which can lead to an emotional story, but Ifve never once actually thought about writing just for it to be a touching tale. Since that was something I wouldnft [normally] even entertain to begin with, I started to regret what I was doing. I think it would have actually been a solid piece of work if I had just left it as it was. But I got the feeling there was something about it that was at odds with my personal policy.
Therefs another trend, gPeople dying, now thatfs we call edramaf.h Ifd call it a efuneralf. [In that respect] It doesnft seem to make [the so-called trend], gIf you cry then itfs worth it.h, seem right. If I try thinking back on my top five favorite movies, not one of them is a drama. I like cool movies and Ifm a boysf comic artist so I thought I should focus on boys and draw exactly the kind of things theyfd like. So I considered changing the theme to excitement. We had all the staff gathered at this meeting for the, gItfs too long, what should we cut?h, stage of editing after most of eThe Crystal Shipfs Logf had been completed and I just said, gI donft think I can do this.h And thatfs how the release date got pushed back.
Int: So thatfs why as each trailer was unveiled the release date kept getting pushed back.
O: You see, even before that point I was already causing a lot of trouble for everyone. But I knew if I wanted to turn in something that I was satisfied with and actually enjoyed writing, [The Crystal Shipfs Log] would have been a lie. Up to that point I held back a bit because of JUMP. I think maybe because I took the project too lightly I wasnft willing to neglect my main job and spend any extra effort [on the movie]. But then, having set my heart on making a eboyfs comic movief I finally immersed myself in the project to the point where JUMPfs main editor actually told me, gMind doing a little work on this end too?h Thatfs how it has to be for me to create something, but really, when I switched to eStrong Worldf I just kept pushing forward and pulled up feelings of excitement from way back, the things that boys are really into and packed all the stuff I loved as a kid [into the story]. Thatfs why I really hope you [Sakurai-san] enjoy looking forward to itc Thatfs what I explained to Sakurai-san in the letter.
S: When I read that and understood what you meant by a ecool movief I was like, gIfm totally onboard for this!h I switched my brain into gear on the spot.
Inspired by the letter, Sakurai wrote the main theme which he called efanfaref. Carried along by a guitar riff with verve and Sakurai [himself] who is even more emotional than usual, the melody is constantly developing, majestic and even aggressive as a piece that is aptly fit to the start of an adventure, a blessing for the first step of a journey. gI wanted to make some exciting and intense music.h, Sakurai said as hefs switched into an even higher gear since his album eSupermarket Fantasyf; this [particular song] being the personification of rock musicfs intense feelings condensed into a single piece, even the lyrics are scattered with keywords like eanchorf, enavigationf, etreasuref, ethe deepf and esaile all linking it to the world of One Piece.
S: It seems that when therefs an aspect of society thatfs unstable, words that have deep meaning and stories that are easy to understand tend to have more value than just the sensation of excitement and thatfs probably true for the world of film just as much as it is for music, but especially for the implication of words in music; I think there was a period up until just recently where sincerity [in emeaningf] was front and center. I started to vaguely feel that and worried about what direction Mr. Children should face but just as I found myself lost for an answer this link was established and I thought, gWhoa, thatfs it. I should probably put a little more faith in eemotionf to face projects.h And thatfs something Ifm working on even now for making my latest songs. Exactly why we feel the rush of a thrill or why our hearts can pound with excitement, itfs something so important, so huge, that it canft just be explained in words. Music is an amazing tool, because even before [you listen to] the words or the story, music allows you to experience those feelings of excitement. Thatfs why I went back one more time and reevaluated what music is and from here on Ifd like to believe it has a power beyond words. That letter I received [from Oda-san] was probably the spark that got me thinking along those lines [in addition to helping me write the song].
O: Music echoes with so many people. There are a lot of individuals in [the business of] ecreationf that listen to music, in fact Ifm one of them; for example with One Piece one of the things Ifll do is make a play-list that fits the arc and listen to that music continually as I draw the arc, there are all kinds of ways Ifm influenced by music. That means unless youfre able to see where the times are heading, youfre not cut out to be a musician, and whatfs more is, musicians canft listen to music to create [new] music. If that were the case then how can those new phrases and melodies be conceived, Ifd love to know what mechanism [makes that possible]. Because earlier you mentioned something about eringingf right Sakurai-san?
S: Yes. It might be a quantity of feelings or maybe something welling up in onefs heart but in my case those things turn to music. I imagine for you Oda-san, they become pictures. If I tried to prepare beforehand by having an image of myself wanting to write a particular kind of song in advance, Ifd end up making something that bores me. Thatfs why I try to keep my mind free.
Int: Oda-san, in what form did you first encounter Mr. Childrenfs music?
O: Boy, youfre talking about Mr. Children, for my generation theyfre a group everyone listened to. Ifm from an age group, right in the middle of it actually, thatfs always following Mr. Children. I mean ever since eCROSSROADf was a huge hit when I was in high school. This is a little off-topic but when Mr. Children took off in popularity and became a hot topic, I could only see one trend in the world of music; lots of different people made two or three hits, put all of them on an album and that was the end of them, that trend continued for the longest time. I thought, gWhy donft they just hold back one [of the hits so they can sell more]?h Just thinking about it so negatively. (laughs) And then the Mr. Children boom really caught fast and, if I remember correctly, the first album was eAtomic Heartf (e94).
S: Yes, it was eAtomic Heartf.
O: eTomorrow never knowsf was missing from that wasnft it?
S: Oh, eTomorrow never knowsf was on a later album. (1997fs BOLERO)
O: [At the time] I thought some really sneaky guys had appeared on the scene. (laughs)
S: Hahahahaha (laughing)
O: Really I thought, gThese guys are definitely gonna stick around.h That was a smart move.
S: But the truth is we made eTomorrow never knowsf while the album was in production and completed it right after the album was finished, thatfs why it wasnft included.
Oda: I thought that was some kind of strategic move. (laughs) I was like, gThese guys are shrewd!h But I was happy too. I loved you guys so I knew that meant I could continue to listen to you for a long time.
Int: At one point, in JUMPfs authorfs comment corner, Oda-san, you praised the lyrics of [songs from the album] eI *heart* Uf.
O: Right, Sakurai-sanfs lyrics are so beyond sincere that sometimes they shock me. The one that hit me the hardest, do you remember the lyrics to eRunning Highf?
O: When I heard that song I thought to myself, gSakurai-san, you canft just say something like that.h
O: The lyrics Ifm talking about are, and I donft know if this is on the mark, they were, gEven though Ifm carrying a heavy eburdenf, Ifm [doing it] alone, and none of you understand this eweightf.h I think what you were trying to say in song was, gShut up, amateurs.h (laughs) I thought, gWow, to speak out like that as a man of his standing, thatfs really cool.h Since everyonefs got a different job and we carry different kinds of eburdensf, I think that song saved a lot of people, because actually it saved me. I decided that even if there were a lot of things people didnft understand about me, Ifd do my best. It helped me think that even if I was a laughingstock, Ifd keep going. Itfs really amazing. I think itfs generally the same with your other songs as well, when you listen to the lyrics, itfs as if we can understand your [private] life. Donft you think youfre just a little too honest?
S: I donft know. I think to myself, gThis part is just made up.h, and gThis is real.h However, I deliberately choose words that hide that distinction. Also, I think Mr. Children is a very successful band but when you ask someone if theyfre happy because they have success, they probably arenft. Thatfs why I present myself facing the troubles of my own life, seemingly with all this success, as I show how demanding it is and along with the listeners, I want to live in the moment, thatfs more or less how I feel.
O: Yeah, I think you really show it too. Thatfs why I like [Mr. Children] so much.
Int: Regarding One Piece, are there any [similar] instances where you reveal yourself through drawing?
O: While I might say, gIfm writing everyonefs dreams.h, I think Ifm actually writing, emy dreamsf. So in that sense those impulses of mine are revealed. But even if I exposed my private life, therefs no way I could reflect that in my characters. I think what makes comics so interesting are their eoverboardf nature, and therefs no way I lead that kind of crazy life (laughs), it wouldnft even be worth trying to base it on me. My job is to recreate things for everyone that come from our imagination, things that I think people would like to be able to do, gIf this or that happened Ifd be so happy.h, or, gIfd love to be to do that.h, those kinds of things. Itfs enough if it just helps everyone relax.
S: Is there anything about the term ecamaraderief that you feel is special?
O: To be perfectly honest, at the time I began serialization, ecamaraderief as a theme was something very new. Now theyfre a dime a dozen but back at the start there werenft any compositions that used camaraderie as a theme, a style of picking up different main-level-characters, I started with a completely new approach. But I think ecamaraderief is very important in real life.
Int: So the both of you enjoy soccer?
S: Oh, you like soccer?
O: I was on the soccer team [in school].
S: Is that so. (laughs)
O: But I donft follow it much anymore.
Int: Do you think the eteamf characteristics of soccer might have found their way into your work?
O: Yeah I think so. Maybe there was some bigger reason why I didnft go for baseball.
Int: For both of you, when you were children was there any comic or animation that influenced or left a big impression on you? For example, Sakurai-san, were there any works you experienced while they were in their original run?
S: I was a kid who never read anything. I didnft read comics and certainly not books (laughs). But there was a cartoon that I really liked, eBan Banjouf.
O: eSamurai Giantsf. Baseball right, and yet.
S: Thatfs right. (laughs) I only got into soccer after I grew up.
O: Oh really? Ifm from what you might call soccerfs golden age.
O: You bet. I started soccer in fifth grade but Captain Tsubasa was popular when I was in fourth. Everyone my age wanted to join the school soccer club in fifth grade. It was so abrupt, there was this massive increase of club members that year. That was what got me to join.
S: How long did you play?
O: Until my first year of high school, I quit telling the coach, gIfm going to focus on studying from now on.h, and proceeded to draw comics (laughs).
O: But at this point, sports are something I literally cannot even attempt. Ifm always sitting down for work so I canft even run now, seriously.
S: Yeah I imagine. Do you do any other kind of exercise?
O: Not at all. I mean I want to, there are times I really just want to get my body moving but therefs nothing I can do about it.
S: Does sitting down all the time hurt your hips [or back]?
O: Yeah I do get a lot of lower back pain, but I manage, with some help of the chiropractic variety. (laughs) Do you play soccer?
S: I played before coming here today. Itfs a lot of fun.
O: I bet it is. Just playing soccer means youfve gotta have a lot of stamina.
S: Thatfs true.
O: Because youfre constantly running in that sportc Whatfs your position?
S: Ifm a Forward. Itfs not like Ifm good or anything, everyone around me is really good so they let me play there. But they can really get angry at me. Some of the people there are former J-Leaguers so you know. Once you reach my age, most people donft talk down to you right? Having someone chew you out is actually a pretty good stimulus. (laughs)
O: Yeah because you put aside things like personal standing during matches. Even back in [soccer] club there was this strange rule where it was like, gYou can call upper classmen by their first names.h
Int: During the photo shoot earlier you were speaking about your children and as entertainers I believe you have a number of opportunities to come in contact with children but is attempting to express [ideas] to children something youfre mindful of?
O: Well, I have a daughter. So I canft really use her for research. (laughs) I write a boysf comic but of course my daughter likes girl-things and that dismays me. Therefs the torment of buying ePretty Curef for her (laughs), things like that. Ifm the worst offender since I learned how to draw those kinds of pictures just for her. (laughs)
S: When you draw, do you try to keep a vague idea of the age of your readers?
O: I think middle-schoolers are the core readers that could enjoy it the most. Of course when I was in elementary school I read comics but I realized later that I didnft really understand any of it. So there are probably a lot of points that donft get across to elementary schoolers. But, on the surface, youfve got Luffy whose body can stretch and similar strange elements and they enjoy the images they see. As they reach middle school, they can slowly grasp the story and when they get even older they can start to see the themes. Every age group has a different way of reading the story but personally Ifve set the target age at fifteen. Every week I determine whether or not my fifteen-year-old-self would enjoy it. If not then it doesnft qualify to be called a boysf comic. Lately [One Piece] has a lot of adult readers but if I tried to adjust the story just because of that, it would lose the value of its existence. How about for music?
S: I donft think I can feel what itfs like to be a kid. With my spirit as it is now, for me to sit down and try to make something that would thrill or move teenagers, that could only produce something fake; so it might be best to focus on what people closest [to our age] would want, but I definitely think therefs something there that can be understood regardless of age, people behind us that are much younger and even the opposite, older women and men, lately Ifve tried to picture them [when writing].
O: Songs are like, itfs like they move in ripples, no matter where theyfre aimed they resonated everywhere, even children listen to you, right. If adults like something kids are bound to like it too. Maybe because part of them wants to be an adult.
Int: So the lyrics of efanfaref are written from an adultfs perspective.
S: What Ifm saying through the song is, gTo those of you who turned into an adult before you knew what was happening, letfs go look for that treasure you lost.h I wonder what that treasure is; for me I think itfs the feeling of heart-pounding excitement or the rush of a thrill.
As the interview came to a close, Oda inquired of Sakurai, who had just seen the completed film yesterday, gHow was it?h Laughing, Sakurai replied, gThe animation and colors were so vibrant. It had an incredible feeling of speed too, and as for the end, even though you said, eItfs not an emotional piece.f, itfs very stirring.h An apparently happy Oda replied, gIfm glad your favorite scene is followed immediately by Mr. Children.h From behind him it was impossible to see his expression but itfs possible that at that very moment, the smile on Odafs face was no different from that of a fifteen year old boy.