Michael Arias: Tekkon really began as an extra-curricular thing for me. I was writing the Toon Shaders and I needed a test bed for my work, something to help me test and demonstrate the software's features. So I modelled a scene from Tekkon, terrible to look at actually. But a producer friend of mine (and, coincidentally, Morimoto's) looked at it and gave a copy of the video to [Black & White manga creator] Taiyo Matsumoto and Morimoto, more or less simultaneously. And they both responded to it. And that was the beginning of the Tekkon pilot project. This was originally seen as a demo for a planned Tekkon feature, with me supervising the production and directing the CG and Morimoto storyboarding and directing. We ended up with a cool CG pilot but our funding fell through shortly after we finished, Morimoto went back to 4°C, and I found myself without any clear way to pursue Tekkon.
Then the Wachowskis approached me with Animatrix. The producer of the Tekkon pilot and I, with Eiko Tanaka, president of 4°C, produced that project together. But I was still thinking about Tekkon, all the time. My best friend from college, Anthony [Weintraub], was doing some writing for me on Animatrix, and was also a fan of Tekkon. So he started writing a screenplay on spec. But when Animatrix wrapped it was clear that Morimoto had lost interest in directing Tekkon. And even more than that, it was pretty obvious when Anthony completed his first draft that Morimoto and I had very different intentions for Tekkon.
By the time Animatrix wrapped, Morimoto, Anthony, Taiyo, and others around were encouraging me to direct (possibly just to shut me up). Eiko, who was very familiar with the original manga, read our script and proposed that she produce Tekkon and I would direct, all at 4°C. And that was really the start of the movie we have now.
ET: This was your first professional directing effort, as far as I know. Did you feel a certain pressure, taking on a project that previously had Morimoto's name attached to it?
No, not as such. Morimoto has always been a very generous mentor and a good friend as well. But during the period after the pilot was completed it became pretty clear that we had very different things in mind for Tekkon. And he, along with other colleagues, strongly encouraged me to continue to pursue the project after he'd lost interest. Of course, directing a feature film is, in itself, an incredibly complex manoeuvre and, being a first-timer, I did feel the pressure to perform well, and (on top of it all) not disappoint fans of the original manga. If anything, the pressure to adapt what many feel is Taiyo's most accomplished work was much greater than any I might have felt following in Morimoto's footsteps.
ET: Tekkonkinkreet is very much unlike anything out of Hollywood or, for that matter, many other anime studios. Had you tried pitching the idea to other studios?
We (Morimoto, myself, and the pilot's producer) flirted briefly with a couple majors—shopped the project around using the completed pilot as bait—but it quickly became clear that the studios had something very different in mind. Even now, folks in North America are just getting a sense of the possibilities of non-family-oriented animation from Japan. But in those days—the summer of 2000 or earlier—no one knew how to move forward with something like Tekkon. This movie lives and dies on the strength of the original material. But Taiyo Matsumoto's work was all but unknown in the US (still is) so there was no incentive to stay faithful to the original. People didn't get it, couldn't see it, couldn't resist the temptation to get under the hood and change all kinds of details (making Black and White a teenage boy-girl couple, for example). So it was pretty key to secure all our financing in Japan, where Taiyo's name (and Studio 4°C's and my own reputations) pulled some weight. That ended up taking much longer than I thought it would, but I'm not sorry for that. The time wasn't wasted in any sense.