Atsuko Ishizuka on Goodbye, Don Glees! & Waterfalls

ComingSoon Senior Editor Spencer Legacy interviewed Atsuko Ishizuka about directing Goodbye, Don Glees! and the difficulties that come with animating waterfalls. 

RELATED: Goodbye, Don Glees! Review: A Moving Story About Growing Up

“Teen misfits Roma, Toto, and Drop call themselves the ‘Don Glees,’ an informal name for their backyard adventures,” says the official synopsis. “One day, when the trio gets blamed for a nearby forest fire, they set off into the woods to prove their innocence. As disaster strikes their expedition, tensions flare between the friends as they realize that growing up has taken them on wildly different paths in life.”

Spencer Legacy: The film has a dream-like quality at times. What inspired you to embed that feeling in Goodbye, Don Glees?

Atsuko Ishizuka: The “existence” of Drop was the keyword. He is a boy who came from a world that’s far away and never seen. I imagined, for boys like Roma who have always thought the small countryside world where they live was the only world, Drop must have appeared as if he’s a dream or an illusion.

Which character do you relate to the most?

I depicted the characters’ emotions by truly trying to become each one of them, and therefore I can relate to all of them. But I think Toto is the most similar to me when it comes to personality. He is serious and hardworking and struggling by trying to be the good kid that people want him to be. But he doesn’t believe himself to be that good kid. The people who struggle between expectations from others and one’s self might be able to understand him.

What made you choose to create a story about boys growing up rather than girls growing up?

When writing a story about young kids growing up, gender is not really an issue. What was more important for this was the way in which children and adults are different: their age. The characters happened to be girls in my previous work, A Place Further than the Universe, so I wondered, “what if it’s boys this time?” That’s the starting point. I also had an idea about setting the wide world and all of the possibilities as the themes of the story, and so boys who change strongly through the adventure and build up their pride were congruent with my idea of the film. 

How did your past work prepare you to helm an original feature film for the first time?

As I mentioned before, the experience of directing the original TV series A Place Further than the Universe was very helpful. Creating something from scratch is really difficult, and it was a really tough process. Nobody knew what to do in order to get it to come together, and we didn’t even know what it was that we didn’t know. This time [on this film], I wondered how I got through the problems while creating the previous series and how the scriptwriter had written the plot, so I actually consulted with my previous staff and tackled the same problems over once again.

Was there a particularly difficult sequence to create?

For the last scene’s waterfall, we were doing test after test up until the last minute. Since animation is made with many pictures, it is extremely difficult to express any kind of real looking water, especially an enormous but detailed waterfall that really highlights the movement of the water. Nowadays, CGI is often used, but mixing CGI with drawn pictures is tricky; the CGI becomes obvious. I wanted to keep the attractiveness of the beautiful background picture while showing a magnificent giant waterfall that can’t be expressed only by drawn pictures. The shooting staff and I sat in front of the computer late many nights and tried to figure out a way to create realistic and magnificent scenery, but also the “hand-drawn pictures with eye-catching visuals” that we aimed for.

What message do you hope viewers take away from the film?

I would be really happy if the audience feels the world is bigger than we think and that we ourselves are also bigger than we think. I also want the audience to experience that changing perspectives can be fun and interesting. When perspectives change, what we see starts to look different. I wanted the audience to have that experience, and so I created this film so that the second time watching is more interesting than the first time.

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