Katsuhiro Otomo is a hugely influential manga
artist and film director, best known internationally for his groundbreaking science fiction
, painstakingly constructed over the course of the 1980s in serialised comic and animated motion picture forms.
Otomo was born in 1954 in Miyagi Prefecture, Japan. In his school years Otomo developed a strong interest in cinema. Foregoing the opportunity to attend art college, he moved to Tokyo seeking a career as a professional comic book artist, and in 1973 his first published work - Jyu-sei ('A Gun Report') - appeared in the weekly magazine Action. Over the next few years Otomo produced several more short stories for Action, covering a wide range of subjects and genres. In 1979 he started work on a science fiction serial called Fireball. Although this story remains unfinished, it marks Otomo's first exploration of science fiction themes that would resurface in his later work.
1980 saw Otomo start work on a new serial for Action that would put his work into the mainstream consciousness (at least in Japan). Domu: A Child's Dream was a psychological horror story based around two dueling psychics in an inner-city tenement block. The series, completed in 1982, was the first comic book work to win the prestigious Science Fiction Grand Prix Award.
Buoyed by this success, Otomo next began work on an ambitious project that would be his masterpiece - Akira. As with Domu, the story concerns psychics with destructive powers - in this case the psychics are children being sought by a paranoid military government to be used as super-weapons, and the backdrop is the vast metropolis of Neo-Tokyo, built on the ruins of Tokyo which was raized forty years previously by 'a new type of bomb'. The story (serialised in Young magazine from 1982-1990) eventually ran to over 2,000 pages of often microscopically-detailed draughtsmanship, with each installment featuring more elaborate settings (and imaginative - and usually spectacularly destructive - plot-twists) than the last. Akira had a revolutionary effect on manga comics.
As the comic continued to gain popularity and critical acclaim, Otomo was given the rare opportunity to oversee the adaptation of Akira to an animated film. Akira (the movie), written and directed by Otomo, was released in Japan in 1988, and was the top-grossing movie of that year. This was just as well as it had also been the most expensive animé film ever produced with a budget of over a billion Yen. Otomo cherry-picked some of the strongest concepts and imagery from the comic to tell a somewhat different story. It is a testament to Otomo's mastery of visual storytelling techniques that many key images in the film are lifted directly from the storyboard-like panels of the comic. Internationally, the film attracted a cult following through video and LaserDisc releases, and opened the floodgates for the export of other animé features and series (sadly including the dimmest of exploitation pieces) to the West.
Akira's transfer to the big screen was also Otomo's - he has rarely worked directly on comics since, prefering to direct and write for film. He directed a live action comedy (World Apartment Horror) in 1991, and penned the quirky animated film Roujin Z ('Old Man Z'). In 1995 he worked on Memories - an animated anthology of three of his early short manga stories, one of which he also directed. In 2001 he provided the script for Metropolis, based on a comic by manga pioneer Osamu Tezuka.
As with any 'superstar' director or artist, Otomo's name has received a prominent billing on some animé projects in which he has only had limited, or advisory, role. These include the sci-fi flick Spriggan, and the remarkable animated psycho-thriller Perfect Blue.
Katsuhiro Otomo has recently finished work on Steamboy, a 'steampunk' tale about a young inventor in Victorian England. This will be the second animé film in his career to be the most expensive ever made.