Every great heroic adventure starts with love. It could be one sprouted from the girl next door, a high school crush, or -- in the case of Angelino in the new film Mutafukaz -- a cute gal in a very short skirt passing him by. What our hero didn't count on was his adventure throwing him towards the brink of death right from the get-go, resulting in him seeing the world in ways that only the late great "Rowdy" Roddy Piper saw in the cult classic They Live!
Adapted from the comic of the same name and crafted by the folks over at Ankama Animation (Wakfu, Dofus) and Studio 4°C (Mind Game, Tekkon Kinkreet), Mutafukaz is an anime feature film that is destined to be one of the most jaw-dropping spectacles in the visual medium. The film recently held its world premiere at France's Annecy International Animated Film Festival & Market, with plans to distribute the film worldwide in the near-future. Via the powers of the Internet, I had the opportunity to chat with the mastermind and co-director of Angelino, Vinz, and Willy's violently trippy adventure: Guillaume "Run" Renard!
First off, how have you been feeling? I remember you had to make an unexpected trip to the hospital a few weeks back.
Hello Evan, hello Boston Bastard Brigade! I'm doing better, thanks for asking. The last few weeks of wrapping up the film were very difficult, especially as I had to complete it at the same time as the latest volume of the first comic book spin-off of the series, so it was a very intense time, and I pushed it a little. My body couldn't quite keep up, but these things happen when you make a living from your passion. Producing an animated film isn't always an easy journey.
It's been seven years since a film adaptation was first announced for Mutafukaz. How does it feel knowing that the journey to its completion has sorta reached its end?
Yes, the film was probably announced far too soon! Seven years is a long time. The path has been difficult at times; Mutafukaz is a film that has been self-funded by Ankama, and there were high and low points during production. But the film is finally complete, and I sometimes have difficulty believing it myself. What's extraordinary is that I rediscovered it at every step of the production, and that I never got tired of it for a second, even after so long…
Studio 4ºC is known for crafting either some of the most violent (Berserk: The Golden Age Arc) and funniest (Detroit Metal City) anime around. How did you know they'd be a great fit to bring Dark Meat City to life?
It was clear from the start, and I think that there simply wouldn't have been a film if Studio 4°C had rejected the collaborative project. I knew what they were capable of, and Tekkon Kinkreet had already given a glimpse of how Dark Meat City could be brought to the screen. Anthony Roux, the head of Ankama, had laid the groundwork for this joint effort: Kimura-san on scenery, and Nishimi-san on direction, with me as backup to ensure consistency between the universe and the adaptation. In my opinion, Studio 4°C is one of the best in the world, and the people there are extraordinarily talented, unassuming, and very curious about new experiences. They're lovely people, and I realize how lucky I've been to work with them.
The original Mutafukaz comic is brimming with various visual styles, sometimes in the same panel. What were some of the challenges you found bringing the look of the comic to life?
Graphical ruptures are kind of like the comic book's trademark, that's true. And for me, we had to adapt them audiovisually – in one way or another. With Nishimi-san, we thought about what could be done, without the viewer getting lost, and while avoiding a "patchwork" effect that would have crippled the flow of the story. In the end, I think we found clear ideas so that they could remain original and discreet. These ruptures intersperse shots or link two scenes where necessary. They don't come for free; sometimes they emphasize a narrative turning point, sometimes they add some pulp or comic book references, which remind people of the project's origins.
Short teaser for Mutafukaz
As the original comic series runs for six volumes and the film adaptation goes for 90 minutes, I'm wondering if there was much difficulty with having to whittle down anything from the source without taking away the true essence of Mutafukaz.
Actually, it was a real headache at the beginning, when we had to whittle over 600 pages down to 90 minutes. But it gave me the chance to take a step back from the comic and ask myself the right questions: what kind of story was I telling that needed 600 pages? From that moment on, you go into a sort of narrative archeology: you keep digging until you reach the skeleton, then you extract the backbone of the story. Now, it's possible to adapt it within the given time. I'm not saying it was easy, but I concentrated on the main characters: what they're going through, how they're experiencing it, etc… This is in contrast to the comic book, where there are scenarios with many offshoots, involving a wealth of secondary characters, and many side events. The film is different from the comic book; it's kind of like a reinterpretation. Both projects are entirely self-sufficient; they overlap in certain places and digress in others. But there's no need to have read the comic book to be able to watch the film.
What made you choose The Toxic Avenger (no relation to Lloyd Kaufman's campy creation) to craft the soundtrack to Mutafukaz?
I'd known his music for several years, and over time, his music became more and more cinematic, reinforced by highly narrative music videos. I'd had his name in mind for a while, and I had some of his songs in my head during the entire temp tracking phase. I didn't have the audacity to contact him, but a mutual friend (Mike Tsuchinoko, who signed the cover of his last EP) convinced me to do so. I sent him the film, and straight away, he was up for it. We got along really well; he has a very intuitive way of creating sound, which acted in harmony with the way I work. What's more, as his name shows, we have shared tastes in film, which is a bonus.
The film just premiered at Annecy a few weeks ago. How was the audience reaction to the final product, and what was going through your mind as you showcased Angelino and the gang raising Hell on the big screen?
I was absent for about 80% of the screening, and extremely stressed, despite the positive atmosphere in the movie theater. I felt like I was running the New York City Marathon, whereas I was actually sitting comfortably in my seat. I said to myself: "That's it, I'm going to have a heart attack in the movie theater", just like Boris Vian watching the film adaptation of his novel I Spit on Your Graves. Luckily, that didn't happen. As the end was nearing, it was very touching: the audience applauded for a long time, launching paper airplanes toward the screen (I won't give any spoilers, but this was highly appropriate, given the film's last few seconds). It was then that I realized the film was no longer mine in any way whatsoever, and I really felt chilled out.
Do you hope to screen it in other festivals around the world before a theatrical release?
Yes, I think it's a film that needs to make a name for itself through festivals. A theatrical release without the support of festival audiences seems risky to me. I hope it'll be of interest to schedulers.
Your next step is doing the English dub for Mutafukaz. Who do you have in mind when it comes to voicing Angelino, Vinz, and Willy?
I don't have anyone particular in mind, but I think we'll need authentic actors for the American version. Angelino, Willy, and Vinz are little guys from the ghetto, in a sprawling city that's a distorting mirror of Los Angeles. I think the actors who dub the characters will need to come from the street, to know that world, and to know how to properly adapt the original text to American culture. In the French version of Mutafukaz, the humor and fresh tone come from the situations, but also from the interpretation and the way the characters interact with each other.
Official International Premiere Trailer
Besides the dubbing and possibly taking a well-deserved rest, what's next for you?
I've just finished the first spin-off of the Mutafukaz universe. Another one is being written. I'm also working on the film's direct comic book sequel (catching up with the characters five years after the film's events). At the same time, I'm thinking about the next audiovisual project: adapting another comic book series I direct and regularly author – DoggyBags.
Ankama isn't just a fantastic animation company, but also a gaming one. If given the chance, how would a Mutafukaz video game play out?
Being a gamer myself, I'd love to see a video game adaptation of Mutafukaz; there's so much to do… I find that video games bring together everything that's currently best in terms of graphics, technique, storytelling, music, etc. A Mutafukaz video game would recognize that in a way. I don't think it's a priority for Ankama to adapt Mutafukaz (they've got lots to do with priority licenses such as Dofus and Wakfu), but if the experience were to tempt an outside studio, I'd be delighted.
Right now, you're working on the spin-off comic Puta Madre. How does that fit into the Mutafukaz lore, and can the world outside of France expect to read it soon?
Puta Madre is a spin-off of Mutafukaz, written so it can be read without having to know the parent series. I won't say anything else about it for now, because I obviously don't want to give any spoilers. But I know there are many readers who go on to read Mutafukaz after having discovered Puta Madre. At the end of the month, I'll be at Comic-Con International in San Diego precisely to talk to Comixology about the most sensible way to introduce both projects to an American audience.
Finally, what sort of message would you like to send out to your American & English fanbase who've been patiently waiting for Mutafukaz to invade movie theaters in their home turf?
I don't know how many of you there are, but in any case, please know that I'll do everything I can to make sure the English language adaptation project is seen through to the end. To be honest, everything's already on the right track, and I hope we'll have an English version by the end of August. As for what's left, the best way to support the project at the moment is to give us a like on the Facebook page in order to show there's a real community out there, and to talk about about it to everyone around you, so that one day, all of it may exist, and a release will be possible. I'm counting on you!
Mutafukaz is due for release in theaters in 2018. For more information, visit the official website!
Special thanks to Ankama Animation and Nadine Rothschild & Marie Lamboeuf of Celluloid Dreams for putting the interview together!