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Kojima interview in Weekly Toyo Keizai translated

Kubricked is a professional Japanese-English translator/interpreter and MGN community member and friend was kind enough to translate this for fans. Be sure to give him a follow on twitter: https://twitter.com/kubrickedyaku

Japanese source: https://premium.toyokeizai.net/articles/-/20198


Interview with Game Developer Hideo Kojima

“The Games I Design Leave Something Foreign (¹) in One’s Mind”

Kojima (51) went independent after breaking away from Konami. His upcoming game “Death Stranding” currently in development is mesmerizing (²).

Interviewed by Toshihiro Yamada, Editor-in-Chief
Compiled by Kimihide Takasugi
March 23, 2019

Photo by Suzuki Shin Photo Studio.

Hideo Kojima was born in 1963. He joined Konami after graduating from university. In 1987, he released “Metal Gear.” Respected around the world as a charismatic game developer, Kojima went independent at the end of 2015 and established Kojima Productions. Kojima is currently developing a new game titled “Death Stranding.” His hobbies include watching films and reading books.

Hideo Kojima is the charismatic game developer who gave birth to the worldwide blockbuster franchise, “Metal Gear.” He went independent after working at Konami for 29 years. Kojima is in the midst of creating a new game under a partnership with Sony. As he continues to take on new challenges, Kojima discusses the past, present and future of gaming.


—The video game industry is one subject to rapid changes, and amidst those fluctuations you have continued to be at the forefront for nearly 30 years.

Those 30 years have come and gone in a flash, but my way of thinking hasn’t changed at all. I believe that video games are a form of entertainment that incorporates various elements, such as films and novels. And while some may say “Kojima’s games are art,” for me personally, games embody that very medium of entertainment.

—In your vision, what is this entertainment belonging to games?

My definition consists of 5 points. The first is to help you forget about the things bothering you in your daily life as you play the game. I wish that gaming experience will become a source of strength for you and help you do your best in the coming week.

The second point is to acquire new knowledge and be able to put it into practice through experiences (3). I wish to increase the player’s knowledge and education even a little through the cultural practices, sets of values and so on that exist in various countries around the world.

The third point is encouragement. I wish the player can take away what they learned through the gaming experience and translate it into their daily life in the form of kindness towards others. I also wish to be able to widen the player’s perspective and outlook even by just a little.

The fourth point is to be sociable. I want players to be able to deal with and handle social problems that we currently face. I’ve been a fan of Agatha Christie ever since I was in elementary school and read widely in the genre of detective novels. It would later come into contact with what are described as ‘social detective novels.’ One in particular is Seichō Matsumoto’s “Inspector Imanishi Investigates” (4) that deals with discrimination and prejudices toward those afflicted with Hansen’s disease (5). I noticed this book sitting on my mother’s bookshelf in my youth and proceeded to read it in one sitting. These detective stories were an eye-opening experience. Issues related to environmental destruction and ethnic conflict continue to persist in contemporary society. I wish to shine a light on these problems.

The fifth point is to stir up the player’s emotions during gameplay and push them think, “I too want to try my hand at creating video games.” I want to convince as many people as possible, though even one would be plenty, to cross over from the side of consumption to the side of creation.

—Did that idea begin to sprout after you departed Konami and went independent?

That idea is identical to the one I had when I initially joined Konami. I’m in love with movies, and Hollywood has started to churn out films on a massive scale as well as ramping up their marketing. That may be fine in itself but what I really desire is to see a once-in-a-lifetime film that I’ll remember for the rest of my life. That isn’t to say that there aren’t any films that remain incomprehensible even after repeated viewings. What’s fascinating about those types of movies is that they continue to draw you in for multiple sittings, and help you to discover and learn something new each time. In other words, these movies are intimately connected in building one’s character.

Leave something “foreign” in the person’s mind

Akin to films many video games are designed under the guise of marketing to reflect the opinions of viewers. These types of games are pleasant and relaxing for the user experience but that’s ultimately their limitation, they don’t linger and stay in the player’s mind long afterwards. For me, I set out to create a type of entertainment that will leave something “foreign” in the person’s mind.

—Is it possible to incorporate this type of entertainment that leaves something “foreign” in the player’s mind even for a new franchise [new game]?

Yes, this case be applied to “Death Stranding.” I also believe that I’m not writing a kind of science-fiction story to be set in a distant future. Rather, I’m depicting a story on a meta level that’s either taking place somewhere in the world at the moment or one that’ll take place in the world in the near future.

Even at the time when I was making “Metal Gear” I was laughed at when I proposed the idea that terrorists could make a nuclear weapon if they were able to purchase nuclear weapon parts or (6) nuclear warheads sold on the black market from Russia. I actually researched and gathered materials on this subject and injected them into the plotline.

“Metal Gear Solid 2” wove a story involving social media and fake news. Prominent subjects such as a society under surveillance, drones, the digitization of information, A.I. (artificial intelligence) were also covered in the game, making it ahead of its time (7). However, that in itself carried an element of risk since it ran the possibility of having reality actually catch up to game’s story during development.

Such was the case with the catastrophic September 11 attacks that unfolded before our very eyes (8). “Metal Gear Solid 2” would proceed at a smooth pace up until its launch in November of 2011 (9). At that time, I was also engaged in promotional-related activities for the game. The depiction of game’s themes and its numerous similarities with the real-world events on September 11 rendered it unfit for release at the time. After consulting with lawyers, the end result was that the game required revisions in 300 spots. It goes without saying that we were in crisis mode and it was threatening the release and sale of the game.

I was called in to speak with the board of directors and after explaining the story details everyone’s facial expression had a look of “This is not good.” Since the plan for the game was to have a worldwide release the idea of shelving the project altogether would have a tremendous impact in terms of business.

I thought to myself, “The game shouldn’t be released at this period in time. I have no other choice but to take responsibility and resign from the company.” I then reached out to Kagemasa Kōzuki the founder of Konami through email. He responded with, “I have made up my mind. The game should be released. What are your thoughts?” I was moved by the words and I too made up my mind. I also had discussions with Ken Kutaragi the then president of Sony Computer Entertainment (SCEI). Mr. Kutaragi heard my explanation and offered his advice stating, “This is not a matter you should be ashamed of. You should go ahead and release the game.” If I didn’t have the support of these two individuals, I can’t predict how the events would’ve transpired otherwise.

The places in the game that necessitated revisions were corrected and the game’s release was postponed by a few weeks. In the end, the game would go on to receive worldwide critical acclaim with impunity.

—The company heads had guts to make these decisions.

That’s exactly right. I believe that a typical manager would’ve opted to instead shelve the game.

—Going independent at the age of 51.

I intended to work at Konami the entire time but there were circumstances (10) which led (11) me to depart. Initially, I was considering to do something else besides working on game for the time being. It would’ve also been a good year to retire. I also raised certain topics, such as wanting to make a movie and how it was even an opportune moment to start writing a novel.

However, in my circle of close friends, the Academy Award-winning film director Guillermo del Toro imparted me with some advice, saying, “You [Hideo] should continue making games of epic proportions as you have always done.” Fortunately, the world is filled with fans of my games so I made up my mind to develop a new one for all those people eagerly awaiting its release.

That’s why in the time that I have remaining in my life (12) my focus is on what to create and how video games will transform the world. I’ll be left with no choice but to shut down the company [Kojima Productions] if I’m unable to create something new. That’s why I continue to work every day in spite of my old age {laughs}.

No difficulty in coming up with material

—This new title being worked on is a deep and profound piece of work, but how do you find ideas for your stories?

This may be difficult to understand at first but I actually don’t have any difficulty in coming up with new material. When I feel that I’ve run out of material I just go to the bathroom and in no time many ideas spring to mind. Problems arise every time I work on a new game so it’s necessary to come up solutions for these issues, but I’m not troubled by them. Of course, there are moments when my mind goes completely blank and I can’t think of anything.

—The secret to always being at the forefront is keeping the spring of ideas from not drying up.

It’s definitely true that life has its up and downs, and there’s hardly anyone here in Japan and overseas who succeeded in going independent after their departure from a large company. These individuals repeat the phrase, “I couldn’t do anything once I went solo,” and mass media seems to share that sentiment as well. That’s precisely why I believe that I have to dispel and disprove that notion. My role is to first and foremost make “Death Stranding” a success because it will pave the road for future game developers who adopted this mindset in their own creative endeavors.

To develop a game that’s simpler and on a smaller scale is a way to reduce risk in the process. But since no one is successful in this regard it’s better to start off with something larger in scope. I feel my gut is telling me that the fans are hoping my thoughts are aligned with this approach as well.

Seeing as how I develop video games for a living, I feel I should utilize anything and everything that’s accessible in the world at this moment. This means that there’s a demand to adopt cutting-edge technologies, to create a story with an open-world design, to graphically show something yet unseen by anyone and to create something original that’ll even surprise and astonish filmmakers. And if I’m unable to meet these demands then we’ll be hearing critical responses, such as “I feel I’ve seen that before” or “Seems that Kojima failed too, right?” That’s why I’m desperately working hard.

—Your outlook on the world isn’t dependent on the culture of any particular country. How did that come about?

I can give one example to illustrate—the Osaka World Expo (13). I was transitioning between kindergarten and the first grade in elementary school when the World Expo was held in 1970 (from March 15th to September 13th). At that time, seeing as how I was living in Ibaraki City that was located next to Suita City, the host for the Expo, I went there about 20 times.

For me the World Expo in Osaka was an event that served as a border demarcating time into two periods—a pre-Expo era and a post-Expo era. From the time when I was in kindergarten I was seeing and experiencing cultures and scenes from around the world through television, films and books. These outlets would act as a ticket window to the outside world despite me not understanding English. I learned about the custom as tipping, twirling spaghetti around a fork before eating and that cities such as New York painted their taxis a yellow color. Of course, all that I consumed was translated into Japanese but I intended to know and learn more about the world in my own way.

—Enter the 1970 World Expo.

It was challenging for an overly-theoretical adolescent youth such as myself at that time to come into real contact with foreign cultures. Though the theme of the 1970 World Expo was “Progress and Harmony for Mankind,” the main focus was to what extent would technology enrich the world and the daily lives of people.

The Expo had amazing attractions, such as maglev train technology, robots, movable walkways and videotelephones to name a few. For the first time in my life I witnessed something up close and personal that wasn’t science fiction. I discovered the world drawn by the manga artist Osamu Tezuka, the [Japanese] science fiction television series “Ultra Seven” and the British science fiction television series “UFO” (also known as ‘Gerry Anderson’s UFO’) alongside futuristic technologies that included a roadable aircraft (also referred to as ‘flying cars’) and high-rise buildings. You can imagine that for someone young to actually see in person a “future” being grounded in real technologies as opposed to one relegated to the corridors of fiction was indeed shocking.

(photo by Suzuki Shin Photo Studio)

I want to show the “future of gaming” at the World Expo 2025 (14) in Osaka

—Mr. Taichi Sakaiya, the person most deserving for his contributions to make the Expo a reality passed away several days ago. He once said, “Pavilions were created for each of the countries at the Osaka World Expo so that the Japanese people could experience the world.”

I completely agree. What was moving and left me with a deep impression was actually having the chance to meet people from foreign countries. I had a photo taken with a person from Papua New Guinea whereas before I would only see their country on TV. To me, it was astonishing just to be next to individuals from locations that I knew only in printed form on maps.

The Osaka World Expo acted simultaneously as both a ticket window to [future] technology and a ticket window to the outside world. I finally woke up to the realization that I was a person from Japan and I could now see the world as a whole from a macro perspective. It was a learning experience that taught me all about the various types of clothing people wear, about different smells and about different ethnicities. The exhibitions weren’t merely limited to the latest and greatest attractions.

—The World Expo is returning to Osaka once again in 2025.

I wish to show the children that will be in elementary school in the year 2025 something on the cutting-edge so that it’ll become a reality by the time they reach adulthood. I also want to express my gratitude and repay the kindness I experienced in Osaka. At that time nobody ever envisioned that video games would become the medium they are today. I hope that I can contribute to the upcoming Expo in any shape or form, by showing everyone the type of entertainment awaiting the future of gaming just around the corner.

Japanese source: https://premium.toyokeizai.net/articles/-/20198

Again big thanks to Kubricked for this translation. If your interested in a professional Japanese-English translator/interpreter feel free to hit him up on Twitter.

Footnotes.


  1. 異物 (ibutsu) “foreign object/matter” means that Kojima’s games leave the player with a sense of having experienced something utterly unique, hence the word choice for “foreign.”
  2. カリスマを直撃した (karisuma wo chokugeki shita) literally means that “[Death Stranding] was directly hit by [Kojima’s] charisma.”
  3. 疑似体験 means “simulated experience” but I dropped the first part because it sounded strange. Kojima is essentially saying that we have experiences carried out from simulations as we test out new knowledge picked up along the way.
  4. The original Japanese title is『砂の器』“Suna no Utsuwa” (Vessel of Sand) and was first published in 1961. It was also later adapted into a movie by director Yoshitarō Nomura in 1974 under the title “Castle of Sand.” Reference: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Castle_of_Sand
  5. Another name for leprosy, Hansen’s disease is named after Gerhard H. A. Hansen (1841-1912), the Norwegian physician. Hansen’s disease is contagious and affects the skin, mucous membranes, and nerves, causing discoloration and lumps and, in severe cases, disfigurement and deformities.
  6. Although “parts” specifically is not mentioned, I chose not to use 核兵器 (kaku heiki) or “nuclear weapon” again in order to avoid redundancy.
  7. The Japanese 早い段階で (hayai dankai de) means “at an early stage” so a direct translation may seem confusing. I believe the message being communicated here is that Kojima envisioned these subjects playing a bigger role in the future so he brought them to the forefront before they actually became a staple in public discourse.
  8. This sentence is a combination of two separated the following sentence. I did this to prevent confusion related to the timeline. “The Document of Metal Gear Solid 2” (DVD) reveals that significant changes to the game’s ending involving New York City were made late in the development process following the September 11 attacks.  
  9. “Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty” was launched for the PlayStation 2 in North America first, on November 13th, 2001. The Japanese version was released two weeks later on November 29th. The European version was released nearly four months after the other regions on March 8th.
  10. Since this is a sensitive subject and people may end up engaging in a translation debate as to what is being said, the word 事情 (jijō) in 事情があって辞めることになった (jijō ga atte yameru koto ni natta) may be translated as “circumstances, situation or incident.” Additionally, it is important to keep in mind that Japanese does not distinguish between the singular or plural form of the word as is the case with English. Thus, we do not know if it was one incident or multiple, so I just left it as “circumstances.”
  11. The ことになった implies that some kind of decision has been made, Kojima leaving Konami in this case. However, the intransitive form is being employed here and translates along the lines of “(It has been decided that) I leave the company.” On the other hand, the transitive form ことにした [which is not used] would be used to indicate someone’s volitional decision.
  12. This is neutral and is not supposed to carry a tone of dread. It is merely attempting to be a factual statement in that Kojima will continue to make video games for as long as he is alive.
  13. The Expo ’70 was the first world’s fair to be held in Japan [Osaka]. Hence, in Japanese it is often referred to as 大阪万博 (Ōsaka Banpaku) or the “Osaka Expo.”
  14. The forthcoming World Expo 2025 has been selected to be held in Osaka, Japan from May 3rd to November 3rd, making it the second time to be hosted by Osaka.

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