Interview: legendary Japanese director Mamoru Oshii

Through deeply philosophical questions, brilliant character design and fluidly-animated action sequences, Ghost in the Shell has become synonymous with anime's storytelling potential. And no scene in it rivals the invisible knife fight directed by Mamoru Oshii. 

Oshii, an accomplished director, writer, and filmmaker, shaped the interest of millions of anime fans while influencing Western filmmakers. Oshii's keen eye for quality, and his imaginative approach, inspired countless directors from The Wachowskis to James Cameron. As the visionary director looks back on his career, he partnered with to share his knowledge about filmmaking and animation with millions through the innovative Japanese Masterclass platform. 

I was lucky enough to have a chance to ask Oshii a few questions about filmmaking, his influences, and his unique perspective on visual storytelling, both live-action and animated. 

Boing Boing: Is there another form of art that moves your soul the way a good film does? Painting? Architecture? Dance? If so, how do you incorporate it into your work?

Oshii: Pop music is just out of the question for me, and my personal listening is tuned to classical music and old jazz. Mozart or Wagner in the morning, and female vocalists or jazz piano in the evening. But the only thing that influences my work is cinema. I love museums and aquariums, but I don't go to art museums.

BB: In your course, you say media can shape reality more than content. Can you elaborate on that? Is it strictly the technology associated with media, or is there another component?

Oshii: As McLuhan famously wrote, "The media is the message," and truly, it is the media itself – sadly, not the content – that has the overwhelming influence on people's daily lives. Gates was right, after all. Smartphones have certainly changed society – and if anything, for the worse.

BB: You say you can spot a boring movie in under three minutes. What qualities can a movie lack or possess that helps you arrive at that assessment? What qualities determine if a film is exciting in less than three minutes?

Oshii: Yes, I decide within three minutes whether a film is boring or a masterpiece. Ultimately, the joy of watching films is not in their story or characters but in the touch of the director, so judging whether the director is competent or incompetent, extraordinary or mediocre, is something immediate. If you can't judge a film after 3 minutes, that increases the likelihood that it's a masterpiece.

BB: Is the difference between "liking film" and "obsessing" over film tied to the ability to zoom out on the whole picture as well as zoom in on the details? What separates a knowledgeable film fan from a director?

Oshii: By "knowledgeable," I presume you mean film fans who know lots of information about the film? Information, no matter how abundant, does not constitute "knowledge," and film department professors may not necessarily be experts in film studies. Watching films and talking about the films you have seen are two completely separate experiences. You can only approach the true nature of a film by talking about it.

By the way, I don't know if I am a film buff, per se – I only go to the cinema twice a year – but I am definitely "obsessed" with movies.