09.26.2003: Interview of Jean CHALOPIN
How did you meet with the Japanese to create Ulysses 31 and you were a fan of Japanese animation at that time?
We must put things in the context of the 80s: the few cartoons from Japan arriving on our screens were classified as Japanese silliness (Japoniaiseries, in French) by the press and most leaders of TV channels. Yet we knew that we had everything to learn from the Japanese who knew how to produce series when we knew only how to design them. We had to convince the French TV channels and the press that with a cultural alibi (Ulysses) and our imagination, coupled with the Japanese skills, we could make an exceptional work that could meet a great and popular success and media agreement. Once again Hélène Fatout, with the approval and support of Claude Lemoine, agreed to trust us. The first meeting with TMS took place at the MIP. My relationship with Yutaka Fujioka and his team are quickly becoming very good. I started to work on the script for "Nobody's Boy" (Rémi). DIC company would soon open its branch KKDIC, our own society in Japan. Bernard and I went to install ourselves there, with family (in the case of Bernard) and luggage. As our Japanese staff did not speak English nor French and I could not spend my time using translators, I learned Japanese. About the same time we started working with Mitsuro Kaneko and NHK for "Taiyô no ko Esteban" better known in France under the name of "Les Mystérieus Cités d'Or."
Two years after Ulysses 31, starts a new collaboration with the Japanese on a series that we still talk about 20 years later: The Mysterious Cities of Gold. How did you get the idea of adapting the novel by Scott O'Dell and to complete it with the creation of a character like Tao, for example?
The work on the Cities of Gold series really starts at the same time as Ulysses 31, but the project, mainly because at that time all French TV channels refused to co-produce (ultimately the CLT has agreed to co-produce the series to support us), could not really start until late 1981. The idea of adapting (very, very, very free adaptation) the book of Scott O'Dell has come, once again, with the need of a cultural alibi, this time with respect to NHK. In fact Kaneko had the idea before he knew the book of O'Dell. NHK suggested the title. In fact we have used almost nothing of the book, except for the names of three characters: Mendoza, Esteban and Zia - because in fact our characters have nothing in common with the work of Scott O'Dell. In fact "The Mysterious Cities of Gold" is a work of pure imagination resulting from the joint creative work between the Japanese team of MK Prod, Studio Pierrot, and DIC - that is to say Bernard and I.
Ulysses 31 and The Mysterious Cities of Gold are your only two co-productions with Japan. Both series have an undeniable educational aspect: Greek mythology with Ulysses, and with the Cities of Gold, the history of Incas or Mayan civilizations with the documentaries at the end of each episode. Is it a coincidence or did you want to revaluate the image of japanimation?
I think I said earlier: we need a cultural alibi for TV channels to agree with our programs. Things have changed very quickly, and the ratings became the only criterion, but this did not prevent us, when we produced Inspector Gadget or Heathcliff and the Catillac Cats, for example, to add short educational and entertainment sequences at the end of each episode - on our own decision!
We keep hearing rumors of a sequel for the Cities of Gold series. You also confirmed at the Japan Expo in 2003 that everything was ready but you only need funds from French TV channels that refuse to support the project, especially because it is a series with interdependent episodes. How do you explain that the French broadcasters are more cautious than in the 80's especially after the recent succes of the broadcast of the series on France 5 (French TV channel)?
Our project for a sequel has not convinced the French TV channels, it's true. I think this type of series no longer corresponds to their expectations - and a soap opera scares broadcasters. Kaneko had found investors for 50% in Japan, but unfortunately our project collapsed. As you know, we are now planning to develop and produce an animated feature.
So what do you think about the AK video project to produce a sequel essentially based on the book behind the Cities of Gold series?
I do not know enough to talk about this project, but one thing is certain: AK or anyone can use the rights of the series without the permission of Mitsuru Kaneko, NHK, CLT, Bernard Deyriès and me - and I can assure you that none of them will agree to the AK project because it is contrary to the interests of rightholders of the original series and in my opinion contrary to the audience interest that is likely to be duped buying a product that has no relation to their expectations. The name of "Cités d'Or" can not be used by AK - nor any of our characters in their physical appearance, and none of the characters and situations we have created by writing the series. Moreover, as I told you, there is very little relationship between the book by Scott O'Dell and the series that you know well.
Behind many musics of your series, we found the team of Saban, and Shuki Levy in particular that has signed a very nice soundtrack with the Cities of Gold. Why Saban?
First, because Haïm Saban, Shuky Lévy and Noam Kamiel were and still are close friends; because working with Shuky and Noam gave me a true creative freedom in terms of sound because they agreed to write and rewrite a hundred times the music until it suited me; and finally also because Haïm contributed financially to the series by buying us the music rights beforehand, which in some series was quite welcome.
Today many of your series came out on DVD as Jayce, the Cities of Gold or even Ulysses 31. What do you think of these DVD editions and did you give your opinion?
I am delighted, unfortunately the copyrights do not belong to me any more ...
If we should keep one series amongg all those you have produced, which one would you choose and why?
Impossible to ask a father to choose between his children! Each series has its history and anecdotes. Some have failed, others have become great successes, but they were all the result of passion and pleasure to make this job with fabulous teams.