Photo/IllutrationDirector Yuhei Sakuragi (Photo by Atsushi Ohara)

  • Photo/Illustraion

The first feature film from Yuhei Sakuragi, who directed "Neon Genesis: Impacts," and assisted anime master Hayao Miyazaki with computer-generated imagery on “Boro the Caterpillar,” hit theaters in Japan on Jan. 25.

Sakuragi, who produced "Ashita Sekai ga Owaru to Shitemo” (Even if the world ends tomorrow) entirely with CGI technology, says he pursues his style with CGI without depending on hand-drawn animators.

The action love story centers around Shin, a high school student living in present-day Tokyo. His life is upended when he meets Jin, his other self from a parallel world where the country is under a dictatorship. Shin and his childhood friend and romantic interest Kotori find themselves smack in the middle of a battle for control of the country.

All the film's characters were drawn with CGI. Their actions were created using a motion capture system to follow movements by human actors. CG animators deployed key-frame methods to generate sequences depicting human-shaped weapons and other characters in battle scenes.

Sakuragi, who also penned the film's screenplay, said using the technology to convey characters' emotions wasn't easy.

“I had a hard time maintaining unity because many animators were able to perfectly nail down showy actions but not used to expressing sensitive feelings with facial expressions,” Sakuragi said. “There are still many challenges.”

Though he's still in his early 30s, Sakuragi was tapped to direct his first animated TV series, “Ingress,” which aired last fall.

“I pursue the Japanese anime style with CGI without depending on veteran hand-drawn animators. I feel I'm supported by those who find hope for the future in that direction,” the director said, explaining his approach to filmmaking.

When asked what working with Miyazaki taught him, Sakuragi said: “To determine what you must stick to and what you should back away from. I thought it was important to tell crew members clearly to ‘aim for this’ and make them feel ‘we're making something good.’”