Akio Sugino’s Brief Reflections on a Long Career

I’ve had a book on Osamu Dezaki from 2018—the same year as the 50th anniversary of Tomorrow’s Joe—lying around mostly untouched since I bought it, and I finally decided to start reading through it recently. Inside was a short contribution from Akio Sugino, where he briefly reflects on both Dezaki and others he encountered throughout his career. After skimming through it, I figured I could translate it without suffering as much as I normally do.

I also want to shout out a potential upcoming Osamu Dezaki documentary from Joe & Silwer Productions. I would really like to see this happen so if you are interested at all please give them a follow on Twitter here (@IMPACTCINEMAS) and Instagram here (@howdezakidoesit) and spread the word!

All footnotes and links below are my own additions.

Under director Dezaki, I immersed myself and tried my best to animate Joe. I was still a naïve, inexperienced 27 year-old.
—Akio Sugino
Animation director on Tomorrow’s Joe and Tomorrow’s Joe 2.
Akio Sugino. Born in 1944. He was the animation director for many titles including Tomorrow’s Joe, Aim for the Ace!, Treasure Island, and The Tale of Genji Millennium: Genji. Together with director Osamu Dezaki, their record justifies the moniker “the golden combo.” His directorial debut was on My Son-Goku in 2003.

The day-to-day at Mushi Pro and encountering Osamu Dezaki

I entered Mushi Pro around the period of Astro Boy (1963). I recall it was specifically around the time photography work was underway on an episode directed by Chikao Katsui (Episode 84: “The Dolphin Civilization”).

During that period, Dezaki had already left Mushi Pro, and he would do key animation and direction work for Astro over at studio Art Fresh. On what was likely Dezaki’s desk were his lonely, deserted drawings on inbetween animation sheets. Even now I still remember this sight.

Actually even before then, I’ve come across Dezaki several times in some form or another. Before I entered the animation industry, I tried to become a professional manga artist and sent a few submissions to rental gekiga magazines. Among those who worked at Mushi Pro, about four or five of us had submitted work to rental gekiga magazines, and Dezaki was one of them.

His gekiga was published in Kinensha’s Matsumoto Masahiko’s Mystery Magazine and Suzuki Publishing’s X. I think I came across two or three of his works around that time. My impression of his art was that it had a touch of Tezuka paired with a hard-boiled story. I’ve forgotten the title, [1] but I recall that the work featured a murderer kind of like (Shōtarō) Ishimori’s (now Shōtarō Ishinomori’s) Android Kikaider.

I had become aware of Dezaki’s work in the animation industry starting with Astro. Among the episodes of Astro… Episode 123: “Captain Dog,” episode 132: “Prince Louis,” and episode 143: “Bird Street Story” had an uncommon dark and heavy feel. “Wow, Osamu Dezaki’s directing is amazing! There’s just something to it!” Even afterwards, I continued to look over the other Mushi Pro projects he was involved in: Goku’s Great Adventures (1967), Boys’ Detective Team (1968), and Dororo (1969).

Starting with Osamu Tezuka, I have memories of many people from the Mushi Pro era, but one in particular left a deep impression on me from the production of Kimba the White Lion (1965): my senior Yoshitaka Rachi. I was assigned to both key animation and inbetweening, and had my desk lined up next to his. We’d play catch during breaks around noon or early afternoon, and sometimes he’d stay over at my three-tatami-mat apartment and we’d drink together. When we drank, all we talked about was work… Fun times. A few months later he passed away at the young age of 27, if I recall correctly.

Struggles on the production of Joe and the people who contributed to Dezaki’s directorial style

Dezaki’s directorial debut was in 1970 on Tomorrow’s Joe, where I was the animation director. I was a fan of Tetsuya Chiba’s since Yuki’s Sun and 1, 2, 3 and 4, 5, 6, so of course I was obsessed with Joe as well.
My hope is that people today who watch Joe get a sense of our fervor at the time, which spanned across consecutive all-nighters.

My mother passed away during the production of Sabu and Ichi’s Detective Tales (1968). I was in kind of an absent state of mind as though my heart had a gaping hole. The Chiba fan in me filled the gap by immersing himself entirely into working on the Joe anime.

Regarding the tight schedule of Tomorrow’s Joe, apparently short-staffing has been cited as one of the reasons for issues during production. In my opinion however, compared to the anime production system as of late, relatively-speaking we had a lot more staff back then. The troubles with staying on schedule had more to do with us animators (myself included) not being accustomed to the gekiga touch (a more realistic style), and our lack of drawing ability.

One good aspect of Joe‘s production was that I could go back to my single kitchen room apartment once a week. On top of that, when I finally came back I was greeted by the water, gas, and electricity being shut off. With no other options, on several occasions I’d take my kettle pot and go to my neighbors’ to get water.

Over 10 years later, the sequel Tomorrow’s Joe 2 was greenlit in 1979, but Dezaki and I were still working at Madhouse which produced both Animated Travels: Marco Polo’s Adventures and the Aim for the Ace! movie simultaneously. Before that, they also simultaneously produced Manga Fairy Tales of the World (1976, Dezaki credited as Kan Matsudo) and Jetter Mars (1977), and they intended to continue this parallel production style. Ultimately, I wanted to focus solely on the Joe sequel, and Dezaki felt the same way, so we left for the new studio he established: Annapuru.

The techniques—heavily utilized in Tomorrow’s Joe and Joe 2—comprising Dezaki’s distinctive style, such as triple camera pans and repeated action scenes, were originally conceived as desperate measures to reduce the labor of animation in my view (laughs). Camerawork, lens flares, wavy glass, color gradation (a method of darkening a section of the screen), and attached multiplanes (a method that involves moving the foreground and background at different speeds to convey depth) were ideas made possible thanks to the techniques of the photography staff. Dezaki especially had complete trust in Takahashi Production’s president Hirokata Takahashi (an interview with him can be found on page 146 of this book), the cinematographer on Joe 2.

Treasure Island is packed with playful fun between director Dezaki and myself.

I’ve been involved in much of director Dezaki’s work, but the one I have particularly strong memories of is 1978’s Treasure Island. I did the character designs on those, but they were based off of Dezaki’s designs. That and the live action movie adaptation (1950, directed by Bryon Haskin)—of the same source novel—made my job a fair amount easier. The vice-captain Billy Bones resembles the corresponding live-action movie actor quite closely.

Treasure Island was packed with playful fun between Dezaki and myself in its photography and music. Thanks to this, the show was so popular it apparently spawned two or three fan clubs.

When I look back at it now, I learned a lot from working on the Japanese-American co-production Mighty Orbots (1984). In contrast to the three basic mouth shapes for character speech in Japanese animation, English has eight different ones which I just couldn’t comprehend… There’s no way the result could be considered effective animation (laughs). At the time, I felt the only merit to this work was the adequate compensation.

I’ve teamed up with Dezaki on a lot of projects, but I hardly ever saw him at the studio. He drew his storyboards at home.

However, at the post-meeting drinking parties he was always all smiles. He didn’t drink much, and could exhibit an enka performance which would put Hiroshi Itsuki to shame. I’ve also experienced this performance two or three times inside of Dezaki’s beloved car.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of Tomorrow’s Joe, and due to this occasion there are likely people who will watch director Dezaki’s Joe and Joe 2. I was a naïve and inexperienced 27 year-old who tried his hardest under director Dezaki to animate Tomorrow’s Joe. Now I’m 73 years of age, and it is too embarrassing for me to rewatch this work… But every now and then I’ll receive letters from Joe fans overseas, which as expected is quite a delight. We can no longer meet much of the staff from that time,[2] but my hope is that the audience picks up on our fervor—which spanned across consecutive all-nighters—embedded in the show.

Source: Article on pages 120-123 of the book Complete Analysis! Osamu Dezaki, the Man who Created the Tomorrow’s Joe Anime, published on March 26th, 2018. It can be found on Amazon Japan here and Honto here.

  1. He is referring to Black is Crimson Red [Kuro Ga Beniiro]. The following images are the front cover of Matsumoto Masahiko’s Mystery Magazine Volume 6, the contents page, the front page of part 1 of Black is Crimson Red, and a middle page of it.

    The rightmost page reads something like this from top right to bottom left:
    White Suit: “So even if I wanted to work, I have no parents! I entered the world of men!”
    Black Suit: “Are you afraid of death then?”
    White Suit: “Shut up.”
    Black Suit: “You’re afraid of death aren’t you.”
    White Suit: “Shut up! No I’m not!”
    Black Suit: “Are you afraid of death?”
    Black Suit: “…You are, aren’t you.”

  2. Sadly, another one just joined the ranks. Rest in peace, Manabu Ōhashi you legend…

4 thoughts on “Akio Sugino’s Brief Reflections on a Long Career

  1. Thank you for the lovely translation. It’s hard to find Akio Sugino interviews in english, is it because he there is no interest in translating them or does he rarely gives interviews? I really hope they get him in the documentary if they are to do it.

    Are you planning to translate the Hirokata Takahashi interview? Because it seems like a good read since the photography played a big role in shaping dezaki works.


  2. Thanks for reading. I’m glad you enjoyed the article.

    From what I saw the last few times I checked online, I haven’t found any of Osamu Dezaki’s interviews translated into English besides the one on this website. I know the Animerica 1998 #17 issue contains an interview with Dezaki and perhaps there are other interviews in print I’m unaware of. Even so, I was surprised I couldn’t find any others online because at least among fans of older cel-era anime, he seems to be well respected.

    So if one of the most legendary directors of the cel-era anime industry has almost no interviews with him translated and put up online, I expect that there’s probably even less interest in translating commentary from his long-time work companion Akio Sugino.

    I noted in the preface to part 1 of a much longer interview with Sugino (https://karageko.com/2019/07/14/the-other-half-of-the-golden-combo-akio-sugino-interview-mushi-production-era-part-1/) the following:

    “I went looking for past interviews and the man seems to have stayed out of the public eye for the most part. Only in the past few years with new releases or books about Dear Brother, Treasure Island, and Tomorrow’s Joe 2 does he seem to have opened himself up for commentary.”

    When I originally started translating that much longer interview, I had originally written much more firmly that he stayed out of the public eye. What I realized later was that there had actually been quite a few interviews here and there with Sugino over the 2010s. I listed a bunch of them under “Other Resources” at the end of the final part of the long interview which you can find here: https://karageko.com/2019/07/14/the-other-half-of-the-golden-combo-akio-sugino-interview-list-of-works-and-other-resources-part-6/ . I own almost none of the books listed here, so I am unfamiliar with the contents of the interviews within.

    The “Complete DVD Books” from Pia in particular are some of the more recent ones containing interviews I’m aware of. In case you (or another reader) are unfamiliar, around the late 2010s a series of “Complete DVD Books” were being released for much of Dezaki’s work. They’re basically a series of books accompanying a series of DVD releases that contain supplementary information like character profiles, articles from critics or researchers, and interviews with staff who worked on the shows. For instance, one of these books that came out after I put out the longer interview is volume 3 of the Aim for the Ace! series (https://www.amazon.co.jp/dp/4835639707) which contains interviews with Akio Sugino and Masao Maruyama. The idea of buying several DVDs for one show this far out into the lifespan of BDs is pretty silly to me, so really the supplementary information is where the actual value lies.

    As far as the potential documentary is concerned, what I had last heard is that they really want to get Sugino on board, but he’s been very difficult to convince. In any case, while I really hope the documentary happens, it is still in pre-production and is not a done deal. There would likely need to be enough demonstrated interest from fans to get such a project greenlit, and I would be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous about whether or not enough fan support is out there for such a project.

    Regarding future translations in general, I can never really guarantee anything besides clarifying that despite the majority of the content on this website, ironically I really do not enjoy the act of translating in and of itself. It also takes me way longer to translate in general since learning Japanese has distorted my English in subtle ways, and it takes more time for me to iron out kinks—I was also never a good writer either. Another thing that makes anime interviews tricky—especially with the animators themselves—is figuring out how to translate animation or cinematography terms. I am not a sakuga (Japanese animation) fandom person and I am not particularly knowledgeable about either set of terms in both Japanese and English. Sometimes English language sakuga resources help me out, but other times I just have to spend a while trying to familiarize myself with terms in both languages.

    Regarding Hirokata Takahashi, I wasn’t familiar with him prior to reading this interview. Since Sugino gave him in particular so much credit for bringing Dezaki’s very distinctive visual style to the screen, naturally I was intrigued. I’m not sure I will actually try to translate it, but I did read over it and there were some interesting aspects here and there.

    Takahashi originally tried to do professional live-action photography work, but no one would hire him. Instead he wound up entering the anime industry since he’d heard they needed people who could do photography work as well—the time-old tale of failing to enter another industry and winding up in anime work. Anyway, he entered Tōei Dōga and quit after a stint on GeGeGe no Kitarō and Himitsu no Akko-chan. Around that time, he saw Tomorrow’s Joe on TV and was shocked how different the directing was compared to anime prior. He basically made it his life goal to work with Dezaki one day and to do so he founded his own studio to develop worthy enough skills. Later by sheer fortune, the Tokyo Movie producer Katō Shunzō approached him with Nobody’s Boy Remi. He talks a bit about how demanding that production was, and the peculiarities of trying to reproduce the “3D” effect claimed in the marketing of the show. They were trying to go by the theory explained to them American animators when they visited Los Angeles, though he’s unsure if they really followed it accurately.

    He also touches a bit on how Dezaki basically never followed the screenplays provided to him and would get into fierce arguments with the screenwriters (the Gamba’s Adventure interview with Dezaki on this website touches on this). Takahashi also didn’t really bother reading the screenplays since it was going to get changed anyway, so storyboarding is where he would confirm what Dezaki’s intentions were.

    I would be remiss if I didn’t at least mention some of his comments on Tomorrow’s Joe 2. Near the beginning where (spoiler alert for anyone unfamiliar with Joe) he pours water over Rikiishi’s grave, Takahashi thought he should probably restrain the overexposure on the sea the seagulls fly above in the background. But Dezaki insisted, “no this is good.” For whatever reason Dezaki just favored this extreme kind of style, so eventually he would just put “use overexposure” instructions on the storyboards. Dezaki was so extreme that even with overexposure mistakes which whitened the whole screen, Dezaki would actually approve of it as a means of expressing emotion. Takahashi was always thinking about how to manipulate light appropriately for Dezaki’s stories. Takahashi contrasted the work he had done for Hayao Miyazaki as follows: while Miyazaki had everything carefully calculated, Dezaki would occasionally consider technical mistakes on film to actually be good. This gave Takahashi a lot of freedom and made working with Dezaki a particularly interesting and fun experience.

    He also mentions the scene in episode five where Yōko and Robert are having a conversation, and then the camera zooms out and rotates around them with the sparking sea in the background. Funnily enough, there weren’t even storyboards due to lack of time, and he cannot actually recall how it came about. He had recently seen a rebroadcast of the Tomorrow’s Joe 2 movie and when he saw that scene his reaction was “oh wow I did this?”

    Personally, I’ve never forgotten this scene since I saw it because of how striking the camerawork was, so it doesn’t surprise me that it specifically got discussed in this interview.

    Anyway, I’m incapable of writing concisely so if you actually read through a comment almost as long as the article itself, then you must be nothing but pure white ash at this point!



  3. Thank you for the reply. I enjoyed reading your other articles about Sugino and Dezaki, it’s very interesting how there are barely any interviews with Dezaki compared to other well-known directors of that time. Also, thank you for writing about Hirokata Takahashi’s interview. He seems like a fascinating guy. That Yoko and Robert scene is one of my favorites in Joe 2. I haven’t watched all of Remi but the camera work was definitely the highlight of what I watched of it.

    Again, Thank you for the reply, it was very educational.


  4. I just wanted to correct the record on my claim of this website hosting the only translated Osamu Dezaki interview online (not including the Animerica one originally published in English) as of when I had posted it. When I wrote that I was originally thinking about interviews published in text, but I just remembered that there have been translated video interviews with him. On the off chance anyone reading this comment doesn’t already know about them, these are the ones I’m aware of:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=btcZKMPP8Os (Neritan Anime Works interview about Tomorrow’s Joe, with English subtitles burned-in)
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=43pGIODqWLg (Interview from Vol. 2 of the French DVD release of Rose of Versailles, with French subtitles burned-in but English subtitles can be toggled on in Youtube’s interface)

    Anyway, hopefully the prior claim didn’t come off as egotistical to anyone who read it. I meant it as a neutral statement and my honest hope is that I’m dead wrong or that I will be dead wrong in the near future. I was originally motivated to translate the long Sugino interview and the Gamba’s Adventure Dezaki interview because I had previously assumed there must have been a plethora of translated resources and was shocked when I discovered it wasn’t the case.

    I really ought to check over some of the English releases of Osamu Dezaki’s work to see which of those have translated interviews included as extras. At some point it would be useful just to compile a general list of resources containing interviews with him, kind of like the one I did for Akio Sugino (although that only contains Japanese resources and is woefully incomplete I’m sure).



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