This week’s Naoko Yamada-themed translation features a conversation between Ryousuke Takahashi and her; an old-school creator who has been part of the industry since the 60s and worked in pretty much every field involved in anime production – perhaps most known as the creator of Votoms – being fascinated by Yamada’s work and the modern trends she represents.
This is a translation of a transcription posted by Sekai of the stage greeting following a screening of the award-winning Tamako Love Story by the Japan Media Arts Festival. As it was from notes/memory, there may be some inaccuracies in the phrasing/wording of the answers, but the general theme is correct.
Guests: Director Naoko Yamada and judge Ryousuke Takahashi
Takahashi: Congratulations on winning the New-Face Award.
Yamada: Thank you very much.
Takahashi: Today I’m called a moderator, but I don’t know if that’s the best term. If I pulled out a dictionary, I’d say I’m more like a host. That aside, I’m sure there’s a lot that you want to hear today. I too have a lot I’d like to hear (from director Yamada).
First, is KyoAni in Kyoto?
Yamada: Our head office is in Uji in the Kyoto Prefecture, but we have a studio that’s one station away that’s just barely within the Kyoto city limits.
Takahashi: I know of KyoAni and their works, but I didn’t know where they were. One thing I do known now and didn’t before is that the animator (Moriyasu) Taniguchi was also from Kyoto, and that Kyoto was the origin point of fabric designs.
Anyway, in Tamago Lo….. Ah.
Yamada: You can do it. (laughs)
Takahashi: In Tamako Love Story, my favorite character is Tokiwa Midori-chan.
Yamada: Thank you for that. Actually, there’s a lot of people near me in the studio who love her.
Takahashi: Personally, Tamako is a bit too feminine, so I love Midori-chan the most.
Yamada: Thank you. I’ll be able to sleep peacefully tonight. (laughs)
When I received your comments, my senior Tatsuya Ishihara was incredibly excited to read them. Not wanting to be rude, I was burdened with appeasing him. (laughs)
Takahashi: I guess we can’t avoid talking about the awarding. I’ve had a connection to KyoAni’s works previously; I actually was an instructor at a university in the Kansai region, but one of the alumni told me “Go to Annecy (international film festival). The range of animations there is huge.”
The range of Japanese animation, if we were to present at that festival, would also be very vast with different themes and subjects like giant robot stories. It wouldn’t just be limited to kids shows or art pieces. One symbol of that is Tamako Love Story.
In an everyday setting (compared to a unordinary setting) where there is no heart-beating, heart-pounding action, you were able to find such a feeling and put it into an anime. This supposedly dull everyday life has all these kinds of emotion to it. I think this type of production supports Japanese animation.
Did you think about that when you were making it or did it come spontaneously?
Yamada: (Hard pressed to find words to say her thoughts)
Takahashi: Then let me change the question. What kind of works did you like previously when you watched anime?
Yamada: Previously I watched Doraemon, Shin-chan, and the Studio Ghibli works. I was moved by animation techniques, but I was very shocked by MushiPro’s Belladonna of Sadness. I had been shocked by foreign works as well, but that work was the one piece of Japanese animation made for a Japanese audience that affected me the most.
Japanese anime has one frame drawn as one…. I can’t explain that well. Please help me. (laughs)
Takahashi: Is it alright to boast a bit? (laughs) Hayao Miyazaki’s Studio Ghibli has taken the lead in Japanese anime, but I was raised on the Astro Boy that MushiPro made. It was called animation, but it was merely still images with lip-synced audio. And yet that was where Japanese animation truly began. Everyone instantly chased after that production (in popularity and technically).
(Osamu) Tezuka-sensei challenged himself instantly for something new and that eventually led to Belladonna of Sadness.
There’s no enclosure to the themes and motifs of Japanese animation. While Astro Boy may appear to be a kids show, Tezuka-sensei only created about 100 episodes for children of the 250 episodes that broadcast over five years. The remaining 150 episodes were anime original. Those original stories were made by people who hadn’t made a production aimed at kids previously. That’s why they deal with elements that not traditionally for children. And at that time, you didn’t watch animation unless you were a child.
At the time, (a work like) Tamako Love Story wouldn’t exist. Nor would it about 15 years ago. Tamako Love Story represents the range of Japanese anime that we’ve reached at this point.
Yamada: KyoAni is a group of people who only want to continue making anime. Surely older anime (including kid-oriented) had more mature tones too.
Takahashi: The surface characteristics appealed to kids, but the content was more adult. There were a lot of charming leg scenes in Tamako Love Story; scenes where the state of the character was shown with only a shot of their legs. I’ve never done that. Please teach us about that technique.
Yamada: “The eyes may be the window to the soul,” but I think our legs are like that too. Usually we hide our legs under our desks or else they’ll reveal our true emotions.
Takahashi: I had heard of fingers and hands, but I had never seen legs used like that before. One of the appealing points (of Tamako Love Story) is legs. We’ll entrust legs to Kyoto from henceforth. (laughs) Personally, I like to display ears myself.
Yamada: Ears are nice!
Takahashi: Regarding the scene where Tamako falls into the river, the hotel that I used to stay at, Hotel Fujita, was located a bit south of that place before it closed. There was a nearby bar there too. A lot of movie staffers stayed at that hotel; Yujiro Ishihara and Shintaro Katsu would stay in a suite there. What I’m saying is that I’m quite familiar with that river.
Yamada: Did you step across the stones?
Takahashi: I did.
Yamada: Ah, you’re quite knowledgeable of that area! (laughs)
Takahashi: It’s a movie, so you have to use that specific angle for that shot of her falling in the river.
Yamada: I kept summoning nervousness in my nervousness until I wouldn’t be nervous anymore.
Takahashi: The model store for Tamaya is located in the Demachiyagani Shopping Street, right?
Yamada: Tokushima? (misheard Takahashi)
Takahashi: The model for Tamaya. (laughs)
Yamada: Ah. Their glass panel is to the right as you exit the shopping street. It’s definitely saying “Welcome to Kyoto” (to their customers).
Takahashi: I can’t make any models anymore; I’ll break the plastic. I was able to carve wood models, but I’ve become awful at using plastic as a material. My family will try and cheer me up by not saying they’re bad. (laughs)
I went to WonFest on the 8th and was affected by the enthusiasm of the maniacs there.
Yamada: They welcome both industry and individual artists there. There’s a lot of wonderful goods there, so I’d like to go once.
Takahashi: Let’s get back to Tamako Love Story. (laughs) Just like the KyoAni that released Tamako, I had received word from a certain city saying “can animation not become attached to this area?”, though plans didn’t work out. KyoAni releasing hit after hit is causing some nice fireworks in the rural aspects of Japan with some officers.
Yamada: There are studios in Toyama and Shikoku now. It’d be nice if more increased in the future.
Takahashi: It would be nice to increase your amount of rivals in the countryside.
Yamada: You were originally an animator, right Takahashi-san?
Takahashi: I would do anything. I couldn’t sit at my animator’s desk for too long or else I’d go dull. At first that was what I gained accreditation in, but I moved from “production assistance” to “direction.” I didn’t spend a full year with Key Animation (原画, genga): These artists draw the pivotal moments within the animation, basically defining the motion without actually completing the cut. The anime industry is known for allowing these individual artists lots of room to express their own style.. Drawing was what I originally aimed to do in this industry but I wasn’t that good at it. I still like them. I can’t draw any Gundam or Votoms though. (laughs) Were you an animator Yamada-san?
Yamada: Yes. I’ve gone from In-betweens (動画, douga): Essentially filling the gaps left by the key animators and completing the animation. The genga is traced and fully cleaned up if it hadn't been, then the missing frames are drawn following the notes for timing and spacing. to Key Animation (原画, genga): These artists draw the pivotal moments within the animation, basically defining the motion without actually completing the cut. The anime industry is known for allowing these individual artists lots of room to express their own style. to directing. I love sitting at the desk. (laughs)
Takahashi: At the university I teach at, there are 70 students studying anime. Remove the ones playing hooky and we have 30 serious students. Those thirty are poor at speaking, but they love to draw. And so they’ll fail their interviews. These are people who should work in the industry! They’ll sit at their desks for 15 hours drawing peacefully.
An animator’s entrance is wide. You’ll start sitting at a desk but, if an interest in something else comes forth, then you can spread your horizons.
Yamada: Animators are important. It’s a job that feels worthwhile. While a production is being worked on, you constantly look over as the process runs to completion.
Takahashi: Surely I think watching an airplane being made from scratch would be enjoyable too, but the feeling you have in your hand for animation is wonderful.
Yamada: That’s easy to understand for anyone who’s ever made something. (At a loss of words) Is it alright for us to skip around?
Takahashi: There’s no “somehow it’ll get done” in animation. Mistakes are beautiful.
Yamada: It’s great to instantly use that reflection of your mistakes in the future.
Takahashi: Have I used those reflections to better myself?
Yamada: Anime is also a mischievous thing too.
Takahashi: The direction of anime and the representation of worlds in anime can be quite broad. Now you’ll see a lot of productions take 5-7 years to make nothing else but one work in order to show “we can do this kind of thing” by making an original work.
I believe Disney researches and researches for their works choosing to go on that direction. Well, to an extent as also they will end up making something the whole world will love.
Since Japanese anime is more tolerant, even if you make mistakes, you can still challenge yourself towards something new. That process of challenging yourself can be your engine to create something. Please continue to give it your all in the future.
Yamada: I’ll give it my all.
Takahashi: I will do. Next year, I’ll also have a TV series. I’ll be a rival for director Yamada.
Question: I really love Midori-chan. I felt she was so pitiful at the end of the film. Did you personally feel she appeared pitiful, director Yamada?
Takahashi: It felt to me that Midori-chan couldn’t get over her own feelings for Tamako. That aftertaste in the movie was wonderful. Having that aftertaste makes a good movie a masterpiece. (laughs)
Yamada: I wanted to treat Midori-chan very carefully, so that kind of development happened. She has that “adolescent fever.” It’s that feeling pushed onto all girls that you only get when you’re in adolescence.
Question: One of Tamako’s charms was the friendship between girls. Compared to HTT in Yamada’s previous work, K-On!, I felt that Tamako’s friendships were more charming and humid. Was she aware of that while working on this production?
Yamada: I’m happy to hear HTT for the first time in a while.
The original manga for K-On! was dry, but I believed they would be good friends with each other, so I consciously drifted towards jokers and characters who retorted to that joking around.
From the start of Tamako’s production, I talked with Horiguchi-san about using a different angle for friendships. Both series have true friendships. There may be a bit of a gap (in Tamako’s), but they’re truly tied together deeply.
Question: Tamako is depicted with the shopping street as the setting. What did you think about when you drew the characters without drawing them above the background?
Yamada: I don’t want characters existing as a piece of paper above the background; that backbone is very important to me. I want it to be drawn with characters with family or with friends in mind. For example, a this character may have a certain way of speaking with their family but have a different way of speaking with their friends. And then those kids were surrounded by adults (in the shopping street). That kind of motif is important; I absolutely want to depict that.
Question: What other works influenced you and what other works or creators would you welcome and acknowledge as rivals?
Yamada: Before I became an animator, I thought that I liked this person or that person’s animation, but now that I’ve gone through the process as an animator and director, I have an amount of respect for anyone who is able to finish a work, whether that’s commercial or just art, and publish it. It may appear like I’m just glossing over any names, but being able to finish a work at all is incredibly wonderful.
Takahashi: Finishing something by hand is happiness to you?
Yamada: It is happiness.
Takahashi: I too am happy being able to talk with people who think that way.