RIYADH: The history of the Arabian peninsula, and the conquest of Makkah in particular, is at the heart of new movie “The Journey,” the first Saudi-Japanese anime.
The film is a cultural collaboration between Saudi Manga Productions Company and Japan’s Toei Animation Studios. Set 1,500 years ago, it tells the story of a warrior, called Aws, who rises above his troubled past to redeem himself and his faith by leading a team into battle to defend the holy city of Makkah.
Anime, and Japanese culture in general, have long been popular in Saudi Arabia. It is hoped that “The Journey” will pave the way for more co-productions that combine the rich heritage and culture of the Kingdom with the distinctive Japanese style of animation.
During production of the film, Saudis flew to Tokyo to work closely with Japanese experts to learn the skills and techniques needed to bring “The Journey” to life.
“This was our first movie ever, and for Toei Animation, they are veterans, they are experts in the field,” Abdullah Alhusaynan, the assistant art director and background designer on the film, told Arab News. “However we are experts in Arab culture; it is our playground and they are beginners in that, meaning we were teaching each other and it was a mutual educational journey.”
He said that the very different backgrounds and experience of the Saudi and Japanese members of the production team created a “clash of cultures” at times during the making of the film.
“The Japanese have a very high culture and they are very attached to it, so now we are coming with our culture also and we are very attached to it, so that was an interesting clash between us,” said Alhusaynan.
Ultimately, he explained, this cross-cultural collaboration between the two studios enriched the creative process and helped to bring to life in Japanese style a story steeped in Arab heritage and tradition.
The Saudi team was determined to get as much hands-on learning experience in Tokyo as possible, working with and learning from industry experts to ensure the quality of the groundbreaking film. Great attention was paid to every aspect of the animation process, including the vibrant color palette, the art style, character development and design, and the intricate storyline.
At all stages, care was taken to ensure that Arab traditions and heritage were authentically portrayed on screen. During battle scenes, for example, the way that the characters draw and use their swords is distinctively Middle Eastern.
“Body language is different from country to country,” Noor Aljijakli, the film’s associate producer, told Arab News. “For example, how they fight with swords. The Japanese have Samurai and they can’t help but to draw (sword fights that way) but these movie characters are Arabs — we act differently, we fight differently, the shapes of our swords are different.”
The production team chose four different art styles to tell the stories in the movie that highlight the main character’s development, including flashbacks.
“These stories are very important for the main character Aws,” Aljijakli said. “They mean a lot for him and his wife and his family and beloved ones, because Aws has struggled. His faith was tested many times and those stories helped him to stand on his feet one more time.”
The music in the film also reflects the cooperation between the two studios and the melding of cultures. The carefully crafted score blends traditional anime-style music with Arabian instruments, including strings and drums. Japanese composer Kaoru Wada spent time in various parts of Saudi Arabia, including Jeddah, Taif and Riyadh, listening to local musicians playing Arab instruments such as the oud, goblet drum and mijwiz.
“The Journey” is in cinemas across the Kingdom now. It can be viewed in Japanese or Arabic, with English and Arabic subtitles.