Last Thursday, we had the pleasure to see Macoto’s Tezka’s commercial debut, The Legend of the the stardust Brothers (1985), and to meet and talk to Makoto Tezuka. While Makoto Tezuka appeared somewhat intimidating at first, we were pleasantly surprised how easy he was to talk to. In this article we will highlight some aspects of our meeting with movie and anime director Makoto Tezuka.
The birth of The Legend of The Stardust Brothers
The narrative of The Legend of The Stardust Brothers was a true collaboration between musician and TV-personality Haruo Chikada and Makoto Tezuka. While Chikada approached Tezuka with a soundtrack to a non-existent cinematographical narrative and Tezuka wrote a screenplay to frame these songs in a narrative structure, the collaboration is most sensible in Makoto Tezuka’s revelation that Haruo Chikada, in response Tezuka’s screenplay, wrote more songs to add to the narrative.
The Shadow of his father, the manga legend.
The shadow of his famous father, ‘godfather of Japanese manga’ Ozamu Tezuka, follows Makoto Tezuka wherever he goes. But, contrary to expectations, Tezuka has never experienced the struggles or the complexes that being the son of Osamu Tezuka could have caused. For him – and this is his own subjective way to cope with the legend of his father – his life as son of Osamu Tezuka is work-related, a work-related identity carefully separated from his life as himself and as director (Note 1, Note 2). The lack of any complexes is furthermore subtle evoked in Macoto Tezka’s passing comment that talking two hours about his father for an interview is no exception.
Youthful naivety and the search for big names.
Even though the film was shot with limited budget, there are some famous persons acting in Tezka’s debut. The biggest name is of course the famous singer Kiyohiko Ozaki (1960-2012).
One might ask how Tezka succeeded in securing such a big name for his narrative. It all came down to Tezka’s youthful naivety or foolishness – he was 23 at the time of shooting – and lack of fear. In other words, without thinking deeply, he just flat out went and asked Ozaki to act in The Legend of the Stardust Brothers. But Ozaki confessed to Tezka that he could not act and did not know how to. While he already appeared in various movies at that time, he still regarded himself as just a singer. After Tezka explained his role to him, Ozaki was immediately on board: “If you want me to act, I’ll act for you”.
Tezka also tried to secure other big names, more specifically for the role of the politician. First, he asked Toshiro Mifune (1920-1997). While he said yes, he added that if they use one second of footage of him in their movie, it would cost them 1 million yen. Next, they asked Akira Kurosawa (1910-1998). While he did not refuse, he was unable to make time as he was busy making Ran (1985). Next up was Nagisa Oshima (1932-2013) – a director that already praised Macoto’s experimental work – but he was also busy with a new narrative (i.e. Max, mon amour (1986)). Finally he approached Taro Akamoto (1911-1997), the architect of the famous sun tower. While he was eager to help, he ultimately refused after hearing who he would be playing. As he hated politicians, he certainly didn’t not want to play one. After this long adventure to find a big name, the date of shooting was near. With no time left to find another big name willing to act, Tezka’s team settled for a Hitler-like figure.
Despite the big names, Tezka recalls that his commercial debut was not well received by the Japanese press, even though it did please the audiences. The critics criticized the low-budget nature of the narrative and the amateurish acting. At that time, a troubled Tezka tried to explain this harsh criticism by referring to his young age, the lack of mastering the technique, the lack of a big budget and his use of amateur actors. But Tzeka was saved by the words of a foreign journalist who was in Japan to explore the work of emerging directors. She explained to him that while all his explanations were true, every directors, even the most celebrated one has to start somewhere; “It is not about the budget or the technique, it’s about what you want to express to the audience” (Note 3). She went on and told him she understood the point of his narrative and recognized his talent.
Tezka also submitted his debut for the first ever Tokyo international film Festival, but his entry was not accepted. In 2016, Tokyo International Film Festival rectified this error by accepting Tezka’s radical reworking of his debut feature, The Brand New Legend of the Stardust Brothers (2016).
Tezuka’s manga-way of working.
Tezka explained that he approached this narrative is very much the same way as his student films. And this was not always easy for a crew, who was not used to his way of working. In Tezka’s method at that time, the screenplay – the manga of the narrative – was central. While this visual method made filming more fluid for certain scenes, it also created various ‘problems’ for others.
This visual method, this manga-way of approaching film, leads us necessarily to highlight one important similarity between Tezka and his father (Note 4). Besides the fact that both father and son are creators in the general sense of the word, the visual as aesthetic is as important for Tezka’s subjectivity as it was for his father’s subjectivity. Not only is this clear in his way of using the screenplay, but is also evident from the signifier that he uses on his business card: visualist.
One a side note, in The Legend of the Stardust Brothers there is also an anime-sequence. Tezka really wanted to include such a fantastical sequence, a hallucination in which the protagonist turns into an animated figure. He asked, as he was fan of his work, the now renowned horror manga artist Yosuke Takahashi to make the sequence for the movie (Note 5). While he could have asked his father’s company, it would have cost them a lot of money, money they simply didn’t have. Takahashi, for that matter, did it for free.
His father’s legacy and Tezuka’s Barbara (2019)
With the re-release of The Legend of the Stardust Brothers by Third Windows films, we also want to highlight Tezka’s next project: Tezuka’s Barbara. When I asked why he choose this particular manga, he explained that there was no specific reason for choosing Barbara. He has always been busy with projects and plans to bring his father’s work to the silver screen. Asking about Black Jack, Tezka said that he was once busy with a live-acting Black Jack movie, but that he was asked to direct the Black Jack animation series (aired from 2004-2006 on Yomiuri TV), a project that took 5 years. Barbara is, in fact, the only project that survived the years.
While talking about these various projects to bring the legacy of his father to the silver screen, Tezka subtly uttered the following rather enigmatic vocalization: “I came to understand my father”. What Tezka precisely understood about his father is something we could not find out, but it is something we will try to uncover in the future.
Note 1: This separation is also sensible in the fact that while Makoto Tezuka partially own Tezuka’s productions, he also has his own company Neontetra.
Note 2: One should also realize, as Tezuka subtle evoked, that manga came into his daily life as his father’s work as such. Of course, that didn’t stop him from reading his father’s manga’s.
Note 3: I have taken the liberty of refining my article by using the more objective transcript of the Q&A available at: http://www.fccj.or.jp/events-calendar/film-screenings/movie-committee-blog.html
Note 4: He has also inherited some of his father’s drawing talent, as can be seen from the poster he drew for the re-release of his debut-narrative.
Note 5: Later in the evening, Tezka underlined his interest in horror, by revealing that he loved to watch foreign horror movies when he was young.