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Samurai Jack is back, so we go in-depth with animator Genndy Tartakovsky

by Charles Solomon with John Rabe | Off-Ramp®

Director and animator Genndy Tartakovsky in his office at Sony in Culver City, March 6, 2017. John Rabe

Off-Ramp and Filmweek animation expert Charles Solomon interviews director Genndy Tartakovsky about the return of Samurai Jack. The 10-episode epilogue to the original series debuts Saturday on Adult Swim.

A noble, handsome warrior (left) trying to save the world and get back home. An ugly evil demon (right) who thwarts him every time. This was the simple premise of "Samurai Jack," which ran four seasons on Cartoon Network starting in 2001.

A scene from the original Samurai Jack
A scene from the original Samurai Jack Cartoon Network

"Samurai Jack" was directed by Genndy Tartakovsky, also known for "Dexter’s Laboratory," "Powerpuff Girls," and "Star Wars: The Clone Wars." After it debuted, "Samurai Jack" rapidly became one of the most respected and influential animated TV programs in recent history. The rapid-fire action sequences, stylized graphics, and original stories earned both affection from fans  and respect from other animators, winning imitators along with its 4 prime time Emmies and 6 Annie Awards.

Samurai Jack/Adult Swim

Although many series have attempted to emulate the ground-breaking work of the UPA studio during the 50's, Tartakovsky understood that stylized characters should move in stylized ways. The animation is "Samurai Jack" was limited, but its staccato rhythms echoed live action and animated martial arts films, from "Enter the Dragon" to "Rurouni Kenshin." And unlike the talk-your-ear-off illustrated radio format of many animated TV shows, much of Samurai Jack was done in mime. Minutes might pass without a character saying a word: Tartakovsky understood how to tell a story visually.

When it concluded in 2004, Jack walked off into the sunset; he hadn't yet vanquished the shape-shifting demon Aku, which meant there could be more adventures…someday.

Samurai Jack/Adult Swim

Someday is finally here! On March 11, Samurai Jack returns to Adult Swim in a series of new adventures.

Charles Solomon spoke with Tartakovsky about returning to "Samurai Jack" in his office at Sony in Culver City:

On Samurai Jack's influence in the industry:

Tartakovsky: Not to be super egotistical about it, but yeah, I see it. A lot of artists really respond to the graphic nature of it. The storytelling is really more our own thing, that people haven't caught on. Because to do stories without dialogue is difficult. 

Solomon: Particularly these days, when a lot of television animation has gone back to the kind of illustrated radio format of the 1970s. Whereas you still use silence so effectively, and will go a minute or more without a word of dialogue.

Tartakovsky: For me, I'm not a great wordsmith, and so maybe from lack of great dialogue writing, I thought it's easier and better to express a story through visuals. And what I realized was that people are really more interested in it. It captivated the audience because you have to think a little bit more.

Why bring back Jack?

Tartakovsky: Since that time, I've done a lot of traveling, a lot of press for movies, and no matter where I went, the first question was always "Samurai Jack." "Are you going to do a movie? Are you going to bring it back? Are you going to finish the story?" And so for a while, it was fine. But then it felt like every year, it got more and more popular. And I felt like it was time. The main thing was, we wanted to finish the story. It's got a great story that needed a finish.

Samurai Jack/Adult Swim

You don't know (the new) Jack.

Solomon: The new Jack has this great mane of hair and beard. What's he been doing since he walked off into the sunset leaving that baby at the end of the last season?

Tartakovsky: Jack's been stuck. It's 50 years later, and we reveal that he hasn't aged. Aku's destroyed all the time portals, and what do you do if you're just walking aimlessly amongst this hell? And so he's let himself go, and that's the theme: he's this lost soul. And what's great is we've got these ten episodes, that's one story, and he's got to earn his way back ... if he does.

Hear much more of Charles Solomon's interview with Genndy Tartakovsky! Listen to the audio player.

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