“In some ways the success of The Snowman worked against us. When we went to backers to raise production money they wanted us to make Snowman II. We wanted to make When The Wind Blows because it excited us and offered the possibility of delivering an important message.
“Many films have touched on this sort of situation over the past thirty years or so, films like On The Beach which featured Gregory Peck because market forces demanded a star name. The audience are aware of watching Gregory Peck, and regardless of what happens they know it is actors playing a role and they can walk away from it without worrying. In When The Wind Blows there are no well-known actors, you can’t sit back and enjoy watching Gregory Peck or Burt Lancaster, you only have two cartoon characters with which to identify. The power of the film is remarkable.
Jimmy Murakami is a Japanese/American but he was not in Japan when the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, as was reported by one newspaper recently. He was in a concentration camp in America at the time. America was not a very nice place for a Japanese person to be just after Pearl Harbour and he, his mother, father, and sisters went through a very rough time. He did have relatives in Japan who suffered from the effects of Hiroshima, and this may make good newspaper publicity, but that was not the main reason why Murakami worked on the film.
Murakimi has been associated with TVC for 28 years and when John Coates gave him When The Wind Blows to read he said he would like to direct it. He spent six months converting the book into a storyboard for the film. “Although Raymond Briggs’ book was in story panel form you can’t just take it as it stands and fill 85 minutes of screen time. Things that are fine in a strip cartoon don’t necessarily work on film,” explains Turner. “When he presented the finished storyboard the complete film was there.”
The challenge of the film was to have two people on the screen virtually the whole time, and make them hold the viewer’s interest for an hour-and-a-half. To do this the dialogue and voice performance needed to be compelling and the characters had to be seen to act.
“In some cartoons the characters are almost incidental to the action because there are no limits to what they can do. This one was just the opposite. In the first place you are asked to totally accept Jim and Hilda as real people. Secondly, and this is even more important, you have to have sympathy with their plight after the bomb has dropped. To produce that effect the development from book to screenplay is awesome.”
Originally Murakami wanted to use American animators because he did not think British animators would be able to produce the type of animation he wanted for the film. “We did not have to use one American because British animators are the best,” enthuses Turner. “The twelve animators put their all into that film and made those characters live. They gave them the kind of little foibles that everyone has, when Jim scratches his bum or whatever, it is creative animation. They act all the way through. That is nothing to do with the contribution I made to the film, it is just my admiration of the animators.
The original budget for the film was one-and-a-half-million pounds although it ended up costing two-and-a-quarter million. In March 1985 the lawyers finally got everyone together to sign the relevant papers. “It is like a lunar eclipse, it happens once every 27 years,” jokes Turner. They set up a production company under the name of Meltdown Ltd. Channel 4 had a large interest, the National Film Finance Company, which has now been broken up, were the second largest backers and there were others with a smaller stake.