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Q: What were some of the difficulties in introducing a Japanese manga character to American audiences?
A: It was interesting -- it's such a rich story, and I think its themes are universal. I think American audiences are very used to superheroes, so it's not an enormous stretch for them. The only difficulty was having it be such a beloved character and having to decide what to retain and what to get rid of.
Q: I was thankful your Astro Boy wears a shirt most of the time.
A: [Laughs] He did -- it just would have been strange to have him running around without a shirt if he thinks he's a normal kid. The moment you start running around without a shirt is the moment you know you're not a normal kid. The movie is a journey of discovery, and by the end of the movie when he is Astro Boy, then he's wearing his iconic costume.
Q: What superhero origin stories inspired you when you were developing this one?
A: I like origin stories. I think Richard Donner's Superman is still just about the best superhero movie ever made. And I think it's interesting to see where these characters come from and what their roots are. I think it would be hard to jump into an Astro Boy movie with him already fighting robots and battling aliens. Plus, I think the story, what happens to Toby and why Astro Boy is created, it's pretty compelling.
Q: You've changed a few things: The circus owner Hamegg now runs a Gladiator arena instead.
A: [Laughs] Yeah that's true. With Hamegg, I thought a Gladiator arena just suited the purpose of the story a little more. Plus, to be honest, in 2009 circuses are a little bit old fashioned. They seem a bit naff -- I don't know if that word translates [Laughs]. Just a little bit lame.
Q: Visually, the movie is reminiscent of a 1950s or '60s conception of the future. Was that intentional?
A: We called it retro-futurist when we were designing it. I wanted to make sure that the Astro Boy movie felt as fresh and new and original to audiences today as Tezuko's strips were in the 1950s. But of course nowadays they look retro and old-fashioned. So I tried to retain elements of that and the feel of it, but sort of update the style of it.
Q: This is your first true scifi movie. What tropes did you know you had to include?
A: They just happened. I think things like Star Wars and Blade Runner have just been so influential that if you make a science fiction film you can't help but include elements. But I was just after making a very cool science fiction film, so I just threw all of the things I loved into a giant melting pot and tried to make something original from it. Somebody asked me during production, "Who's this movie aimed at?" And I cited Star Wars as an example of a film I loved when I was ten years old -- I loved the robots and the space battles. And then when I came back to it as an adult, I loved Luke Skywalker's journey and his relationship with his father. So I hoped this movie too would work on different levels.
Q: Both Flushed Away and Astro Boy tell the story of a privileged society living physically above a subjugated one.
A: I know! [Laughs] I'm not obsessed with the class system, I swear. I suppose it's sort of hotwired in. I honestly can't answer why I would do that. They're just the stories I think are interesting. I like stories where people are separated by society convention.
Q: Now that you've done fantasy and scifi, are there any other genres you'd like to tackle?
A: Oh I wonder. You know I love comedy and I love science fiction. So if I could stay working in science fiction for a while I would be quite happy with that.
Q: Astro Boy 2?
A: Oh who knows. I'm crossing my fingers for this first movie to do well. We took it to Japan and there was a little bit of reluctance on their part because it was perceived as a foreigner taking over one of their properties. But in truth, everybody who saw it loved it.
Q: Astro Boy has a very interesting hairdo -- how did you make the spikes work in 3D?
A: I probably shouldn't tell you this. The graphic image is great, but in three dimensions when he turns his head one of the hair points disappears. So I swap it over every now and again. So it points left in some shots and right in the others. It's just like Mickey Mouse's ears.