At this years annual Frame by Frame animation seminar in Oslo one of the guests were Aya Suzuki, a british-japanese animator, that gave us a talk about her experiences working on anime in Japan. Aya has had the pleasure of working with both Hayao Miyazaki and Mamoru Hosoda on such films as The Wind Rises and Wolf Children.
Mangapolis didn´t miss the opportunity to have a chat with Aya Suzuki. Quite naturally the conversation started off with Hayao Miyazaki and Mamoru Hosoda; how many times do you talk to anyone that has worked with the two names anyway? The topic had to come up at some point, and there can´t be a better topic to break the ice.
Having worked with both of the famous directors Suzuki could tell that Miyazaki and Hosoda couldn´t be more different in the way they work. Where Miyazaki likes to have full control and is involved in all the stages and aspects of the movie; Hosoda manage to rely more on the people around him and he trust them to do their part. Miyazaki will redo everything himself if he´s not satisfied; while Hosoda gives animators a very brief instructions of what he wants, and trust the animators to produce the best possible result.
Aya Suzuki´s dream to become an animator started when she was a teenager. In Japan “everybody” watch anime and the interest doesn´t end in childhood. While in Europe most people will stop watching animated series when they enter the teenage years the Japanese has a completely different culture; there is an anime aimed at all ages, so when you grow out of one series, there is always another waiting. In Japan no one ever has the chance to grow out of anime, it´s a brilliant business strategy, Suzuki laughs.
Of the animators between the age of twenty and thirty the majority are female animators, but the numbers even out as many of the female animators marry and “retire” as they enter their thirties. Suzuki feels that Miyazaki´s movies influenced both girls and boys of her generation in a great way; so Suzuki was not the only one that developed a dream of becoming an animator.
Every animator has his or hers speciality within animation, Suzuki reveals, there are basically two main categories that animators fall into: There are those that grew up with Bruce Lee movies (she smiles as she says this) and are extremely good at animating action scenes. For those in this category action scenes comes naturally and they master the movement of the action like they are choreographing a dance. But usually the same animators come short when asked to do “every-day scenes”; these scenes are the other category where Aya Suzuki feels more comfortable.
Aya Suzuki tries to challenge herself and develop as an animator by taking on projects where she has to animate action. Even though she claims that action scenes is not her speciality I was extremely impressed by her action scene from Death Billiards (2013) that she screened at the Frame by Frame seminar.
Like most animators in Japan Aya Suzuki works as a freelance and has been involved on many different projects for many different studios. At the same time is very usual for freelance animators to work exclusively for one studio even though they are not directly employed by them. It is extremely hard to get into the big studios, like Studio Ghibli, and it is impossible to get a job there by normal means. You will have to be recommended by someone.
Suzuki was recommended to join the team working on Wolf Children because she had worked on Sylvan Chomet´s The Illusionist which is a movie Hosoda happens to be influenced by. And from there she was recommended to other studios, and this is the usual arrangement between the big studios in Japan, Suzuki says. To be recommended by one studio is a sign of quality and in this way freelance animators can jump between the studios.
These days Aya Suzuki has a permanent job in Europe on the weekdays and works as a freelance from her bedroom in London in the weekends. She has often planed that she will have to say no when they call from Japan, but usually she somehow ends up accepting more projects instead. There is always some project that sound tempting, she laughs.