My wife and I originally went to the Detroit-area Shinichiro Watanabe "lecture" (it was more like a panel discussion) at the DIA on Wednesday, but unfortunately we had to leave early to go to a concert. However, I did get a chance to hear a few things before leaving. For instance Mr. Watanabe mentioned that one of his big musical influence as a kid was the band KISS (ie, "Detroit Rock City"). On a related note, he said that he always pictured Detroit as looking like it does on the Destroyer album cover -- but of course he's glad that it really doesn't.
The panel leader then asked a series of questions. For instance he asked Mr. Watanabe why his work has such universal appeal. Watanabe said that always wondered that himself but only recently came up with an idea about it. He said that one of his big movie influences was Dirty Harry. So, he said, maybe everyone has a little bit of Dirty Harry in them and that's why people can relate to his work.
Not too long after that question, I had to leave for the concert. The worst thing was that the concert was horrible, so it wasn't even worth missing the talk. In fact, I was so upset by missing it that I skipped out of work early the next day to travel an hour-and-a-half to MSU to see the second lecture!
Here's a decent summary of that talk if you're interested in the details. One of the more amusing things from both talks was that the professors who were leading the panels kept asking these long drawn-out, convoluted questions, so Mr. Watanabe kept having to say, "Okay... so what was the question again? Can't you make it shorter?"
Luckily , I eventually got the opportunity to ask a question of my own. But when they called on me I was so nervous that my mind went blank, and I think I was just babbling incoherent nonesense at first. When I finally was able to regain some of my composure, I asked what he thought the main differences between American movies and Japanese movies were, and also what did he think it took to create a truly great film in either country. He said, "that's a good question" (to which I almost peed my pants in joy) then said that one big difference was that US films tend to have a much bigger budget than Japanese films, "but I don't think that's the kind of answer you were looking for". He followed up by saying that American films seem to feel the need to explain every detail, while Japanese try to leave some elements intentionally ambiguous so the audience will need to figure them out on their own. He said that he tries to find a happy medium between the two for his own works.
For the second part of the question, he said that he thinks that creativity is important for making a great story. He used the Dirty Harry movies as an example; saying that the original movie was great, but the after the fifth movie it gets kind of tiring. He then said that he is often approached to make shows "exactly like Cowboy Bebop", but he doesn't want to because it's already been done. He wants to make something that is original.
After the talk, he left some time to sign stuff. He signed my Cowboy Bebop movie DVD, while my wife tried to snap some pictures (I'll try to post them if I get a chance). Ironically enough, I'd left my Samurai Champloo DVD with my nephew at the Detroit lecture, and asked him to see if he could get a signature. I haven't heard yet if he was able to or not, but having two signed DVDs would be pretty sweet if he did.
Suffice to say that I was totally satisfied if not overjoyed with the experience, so it was definitely worth the trip.