Thank you for coming. Today, we’re going to talk about Ridge Racer 3D, of course, but I’d also like to talk about a number of other things, including what serves as the backbone for you in your work.
It’s my pleasure to be here.
Before you joined NAMCO (now NAMCO BANDAI Games Inc.)1, when and how did you first encounter video games? 1NAMCO (now NAMCO BANDAI Games Inc.): A company founded in 1955 that develops video game software and operates video arcades. In 2006, it merged with the video game development division of BANDAI Co., Ltd. and restarted under the name NAMCO BANDAI Games Inc.
I first encountered video games at a video game arcade. But I had always loved films. My house was in Nishinomiya in Hyogo Prefecture, but I would go all the way to Osaka to see films.
About how old were you then?
That started roughly when I was in my last year of primary school and continued until about my fourth year of secondary school. My school had a rule that primary and secondary students couldn’t go from Nishinomiya to Osaka for fun, but my father was running a sushi restaurant in Osaka, so I could go if I said I was going to help out at the restaurant. I saw Jaws2 once, and that made me love films, so I started going to the cinema all the time, without even bothering to check the film times. 2Jaws: An American film about a giant man-eating shark. Directed by Steven Spielberg and released in 1975.
Really? You went to the cinema without even checking when the films were going to start?
Yeah. My father had shareholders’ complimentary tickets from a film company, and they only had the names on them of certain cinemas where they were valid.
So as long as you went to a certain cinema, you were able to watch films.
Right. Most of the time, the film had already started when I got there, but I didn’t like to start watching part of the way through, so I’d go and kill time at a video arcade.
Ah, I see. So that’s how this is connected to video games. (laughs)
Yes. Sorry for the huge digression! (laughs) But that’s how I encountered video games.
What kinds of games did you play while waiting for the films to start?
I was obsessed with Xevious.3 But I wasn’t any good at first, so the game would be over right away. I gradually got better, and was able to play for around one hour... 3Xevious: A shooting game developed by NAMCO Ltd. (now NAMCO BANDAI Games Inc.). The arcade game appeared in Japan 1982, and the Famicom (NES) version appeared in Japan in November 1984.
You got to where you could play for a whole hour on just 100 yen. Would you watch just any kind of film?
I was omnivorous. After all, it depended on the tickets! (laughs)
Oh, right. You couldn’t choose what you watched. (laughs)
Right (laughs), so I watched a lot of B movies!
I imagine, however, that watching all those films proved helpful later on.
Yes, very helpful. I saw lots of films, without being picky, so I absorbed the elements of a wide variety of genres.
So, while you learned the appeal of video games, you watched lots of films and became enamoured of their appeal, so it’s no wonder you went into the film industry.
Exactly. I decided to go into the film industry. I found a job with a video production company, so whether it was films or news...
That company handled a wide variety of material?
Yes. They had lots of staff members—cameramen, lighting experts, sound technicians, and so on. I was a newbie, so I was always sent to filming locations all over. My life was pretty crazy then.
What exactly was it like?
I’d go to the company about five in the morning and prepare the filming equipment, load it up in the van, then drive to the location. I’d be exhausted when the shoot was over and return to the company only to be told to go assist editing some other program.
As a newbie, you couldn’t refuse.
Right. And that editing would finish at, like, two in the morning.
You’re saying you finished work at two and then had to go back to work at five, that means...
No, I really only got about three hours of sleep! (laughs) I wanted to become a film director someday, but working on video production all the time like that, I came to have rather significant doubts about the industry in Japan. It was during the bubble economy and we had to record things one after the other—and fast. For example, when we shot a music video, we’d use whatever was popular at the time for the theme and then be like, “All right, all done!”
You weren’t in an environment where you could take your time to produce something of high quality.
Exactly. I was wondering what it was that I really wanted to do when I happened to see a documentary program on NHK about a chimpanzee named Kanzi.4 He was a really smart bonobo chimpanzee. When he wanted a banana, he would indicate the panel with “I want a banana.” written on it (in English). 4Kanzi: The name of an exceptionally intelligent chimpanzee raised by a research institute at an American university. He could use a talking keyboard to communicate with humans. The program aired as a special on NHK (Japan Broadcasting Corporation) in March 1993.
He could recognise words.
Yes. And he could play Pac-Man!5 5Pac-Man: An action game developed by NAMCO Ltd. (now NAMCO BANDAI Games Inc.). It appeared in arcades in Japan in 1980.
What? A chimpanzee was playing Pac-Man?
That was one of the experiments. Once it started playing Pac-Man, it gradually learned the rules and then played all the time.
Do you mean to say it actually understood that if you ate the power pellets, the ghosts would turn blue and you could eat them?
Yeah, yeah! When I saw that, it was like being hit by lightning.
It is quite shocking.
Yeah, really shocking. I realised then that if even a chimpanzee can enjoy video games, then they must have universal appeal, regardless of race and culture.
You had begun work in the film industry because you wanted to make something that could be communicated to the whole world, but the reality was far from that, and you lost sight of how to reach that goal. So then, when you saw a chimpanzee enjoying Pac-Man, you realised that video games had worldwide appeal.
Yes. I also realised, “This is what I wanted to make all along!” A big wall came crumbling down inside me. Previously, I had thought that visual media included films and television, but I hadn’t considered video games as an option.
But video games are a visual medium as well.
Yeah. That was the moment I made that connection.
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