Itazu Yoshimi

The Concierge: We Spoke to Director Itazu Yoshimi

Dept. of Chats and Confabs


Based on The Concierge at Hokkyoku Department Store, the quirky, award-winning manga series by Tsuchika Nishimura, this delightful new anime from director Itazu Yoshimi and Production I.G. tells the story of Akino, a young concierge-in-training at an upscale, Selfridges-esque emporium that caters exclusively to animals. The Concierge, which runs at a pacey 69 minutes, is an incredibly accomplished work that is chock full of witty dialogue, beautiful character designs, expansive slapstick humour, and an overabundance of heart.

We caught up with Itazu Yoshimi, the director of The Concierge, at this year’s edition of the Tokyo International Film Festival for a conversation about this debut feature, his Studio Ghibli inspirations, and whether we’ll ever see the anime he was working on with the late, great, Satoshi Kon.

Editor’s Note: This interview was conducted in English and Japanese. Special thanks to Yukako Ninomiya for translating and interpreting what was said. It has been edited for length and clarity.

Umapagan Ampikaipakan: How did you encounter this story and why did you want it to be your first feature? 

Itazu Yoshimi: As you know, this is based on a Japanese comic by Tsuchika Nishimura. I really liked the original story and when Matsushita-san from production I.G. came to me and asked if there was anything that I would like to do, I suggested that maybe we can make an animated version of this story.

UA: Am I right in thinking that your movie takes a very different approach from the usual Production I.G. house style which tends to be rooted in realism.

IY: Yes, that’s very true. It’s quite a different style. I didn’t grow up as a Production I.G. person. For a very long time, I held a style that was a lot closer to Studio Ghibli. So when I was given this opportunity to do my own feature, I wanted to work with a style that I was familiar with.

UA: I really loved the way you chose to animate and depict the animals in your movie. Usually, when we have movies with anthropomorphic animals, there is a tendency to either make them too cartoony or too real. How did you come upon a happy balance in your movie?

IY: It makes me very happy to hear you say that. This is a fictional world, but I think in order to entertain the audience, you actually do need a certain level of reality. That said, I also wanted them to enjoy that kind of flight of imagination that can only come with animation. So in this case, it’s actually the humans in the story who are having the more “cartoony” movements, whereas the animals tend to act in a more realistic manner. As for their look, I kept my designs true to the animal’s bone structure, but decided to make them walk on two feet instead.

Itazu Yoshimi

UA: The Concierge starts of with something of a lighthearted slant, but develops into something a lot heavier and emotional towards the end. What do you hope audiences will take away from this movie?

IY: On the surface, this is a really fun and interesting story of a young girl who is coming-of-age and maturing. At the same time, however, we have a world that is populated with animals. And despite being a fictional world, I wanted to best represent the situation that we are currently experiencing here on Earth. So yes, even though it’s a fun and cute story, as it progresses, and you discover that some of these characters are actually already extinct, it will hopefully make you pause and take a closer look at what’s happening around you. That’s what is important.

UA: Going into this, I didn’t realize that the run time was just 69 minutes. I was amazed at just how much you accomplished in that time. Which is a lot! Can you talk to me about your decision to keep this movie short and snappy? Was there ever a longer version of this?

IY: Honestly, when I did the original proposal for this movie, it was going to be even shorter, but it was Production I.G. that actually suggested that I try to make it into a 70 minute movie. Which is why I went in that direction. Personally, I felt that 70 minutes would be just right, because the style of the animation is quite simple, and you do want to maintain the audience’s interest and focus throughout the movie.

So I had that strong, vertical storyline about Akino growing up and maturing, and then we had the interesting animals scattered throughout, and I felt that if I could do a movie which was fairly dense and concentrated, then it would really work, as long as I kept the tempo progressing at a pretty good pace. So that was my intent from the very beginning.

That said, when the script was ready, it probably read like a much longer film. But when we were storyboarding, we really condensed it, and that’s how we got to where we are.

UA: I get that. But after watching this, I think it would be just as great as a 10 episode series.

IY: Yes. We could have. But had we made this into a television series, then it might have been difficult to really have the story arc of the Akino’s coming-of-age story. 

Itazu Yoshimi

UA: How did Tofubeats end up being the composer for The Concierge? Was that something you decided on after seeing the finished product? Or was he someone you always had in mind?

IY: I was definitely thinking about what kind of music I wanted while making the movie. For the climax, I had already decided when developing the script that I wanted it to be a classical music concert. And so I wanted something contrasting for the rest of the movie. I wanted something more contemporary. And when I think contemporary – probably because of my age and generation – I think of electronic music. It has a certain sense of nostalgia to me. I’ve been listening to Tofubeats for quite a while and so I asked him if he wanted to do the music for this.

UA: One of my favourite sequences in your movie is the opening. That sequence, with the little girl, playfully running through the store, and then frantically trying to avoid all of the animals, tripping over herself, and getting caught by the concierge, told me everything I needed to know about what this movie was. It was also where I saw the Studio Ghibli influence on your movie.

IY: Thank you!

UA: What is the Hokkyoku Department Store to you? I read it as a kind of purgatory where humans have to make up for their sins against nature. How do you see it?

IY: It is, in essence, a place where humans atone for their sins. But if I made it just about that, then the story would be too harsh. So even though it is not verbalized anywhere, I wanted to depict it visually as an ark. As in Noah’s Ark.

UA: Oh wow. I see that now. It’s why almost all the animals appear in pairs or as a part of a pair.

IY: And I did actually take care to make sure that there would always be a pair. Or that their stories involved a pair of some sort.

Itazu Yoshimi

UA: Besides the metaphors and real world allusions in The Concierge, it also feels very much like a traditional iyashikei style anime merged with a workplace comedy. Were there any classic movies or anime that you took inspiration from when crafting the tone of this?

IY: Are you familiar with the Toei Animal Treasure Island?

UA: Yes, I watched it growing up!

IY: The old Toei cartoons were really my first impression of where animation stems from. That was my original experience of animation. And I know that they don’t do that sort of style any more. So when I had this opportunity to make my own movie, I really wanted to lean into that nostalgia and relive the comforting sensation of my youth, but do it in a modern way with the craftsmen of today.

UA: I read that your first feature was originally supposed to be The Dreaming Machine which you were working on with Satoshi Kon before he passed away. Is there a chance we might ever see that movie?

IY: That’s a hard question to answer because it’s not just up to me. But I think the feelings I had when I was working on that film, and everything that I was trying to achieve, I managed to capture in this film as well. And even though I’m not necessarily working on The Dreaming Machine itself, I am still able to channel those emotions and put it into all of my work.

The Concierge was screening as part of the Animation section at the Tokyo International Film Festival 2023. You can find out more information about the festival here.

The Concierge opens exclusively at GSC Cinemas on Thursday, October 26.

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