Tamako Memory’s Note Interview – Naoko Yamada

Tamako Memory’s Note Interview – Naoko Yamada

The weekly Naoko Yamada feature is back to Tamako Love Story with a direct interview including some of her best known and most fascinating comments about the film.

Tamako Love Story interviews:
Director: Naoko Yamada

We heard that you encountered a dragon during the production of Tamako Love Story. Is that true?

Yes.  I went on a trip by myself after the main points of the script had come together, before I started work on the storyboards.
I went on that trip to retune myself and to fire myself up. At first, that wasn’t what I had planned, but by chance there was a dragon where I went to. I fired myself up. (laughs)

The string phone that Tamako and Mochizou used was an irreplaceable and important item ever since Tamako Market. Please tell us how that came to life.

With both of them living across from each other and with their own families, I thought about a way for the two teenagers to have a way to talk to each other.  I wanted it to be a way that they could secretly talk to each other and not be found out, yet not really be secret at all.  It had to be something that would be so cute that they couldn’t hide it, but convey that they’re able to relax around each other.
At first, I was thinking about something else entirely, but as we were changing the creation documents and were puzzled as to what to use, (Reiko) Yoshida-san said “how about a string phone?” and that started it all. It fit the world they live in and is an amazing item.

Also my reasoning was partly personal. For instance, I think analog items are very cool; I feel like I want to save them and have others not forget about using them. Being able to talk between people is incredibly important, and while chatting without seeing each other’s faces is very convenient, it’s also somewhat lonely.  I feel like we’re gradually slipping away from those important things in life.
Because of that, I wanted the characters in the story to look at each other when they talk to them as much as possible so their communication skills wouldn’t deteriorate.  But actually doing that was quite a difficult task.

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We heard the phrase “Tamako standing at the entrance to the universe” was your idea. What thoughts are hidden inside that phrase?

It’s that kind of “secondary sex characteristic growth” period, the moment when your body and heart are growing and you can’t stay a child anymore.  You know that you’re “becoming an adult” but changes are starting without you consenting to them and you’re not able to see how you’ll end up; it’s very scary. I’ve always wanted to depict that idea. Since we were using a romance theme this time, I thought why not delve into that process and portray it as well.

The feeling of sudden unknown ups and downs and wanting to redeem yourself from everything is certainly “standing at the entrance of the universe.”
I searched for a phrase that would express something like the swaying of your heart when you’re forced to leave how you were behind and change as you’re growing up.

Characters change during Tamako Love Story. Please tell us what you were expressing for each character, what you fixated on, and points you paid attention to during the production process.

Tamako
It was important for Tamako to stay “simply cute.”  Similarly, it was crucial that you’d say she was, in one word, “cute,” and that anyone who saw her would say she feels cute to them, so her inner cuteness had to ooze out. She would be so stuffed with cute that it’d impact decisions on what to do with her. “Since she’s very cute, she’d act like this.”
In Tamako Market, Tamako herself does everything she can for everyone else and gives off an impression of taking care of herself secondary to others. I had to think “now that we’re turning our focus to her, what kind of girl would she be like?”

I thought I had a great grasp on how I pictured Tamako would be like in Market. Since she was depicted as having some feeling that she “wanted to be like her mom” and she carried the burden of the store in the show, there wasn’t any depiction of her doing something “for her own sake.”  It became important for me to feel like I switched my focus directly to Tamako as well for Love Story. In order to show her charming self in how she saw things and thought about things, we had to portray “Tamako living for Tamako” as something very important.
I’m truly happy that I was able to depict Tamako and Mochizou’s relationship in Love Story. I’d always wanted to showcase that closeness and distance when you’re childhood friends.  It was natural that the space between those two would become a blossoming love from the time Market showed, so it was wonderful that we could focus on it in Love Story.

Mochizou
This time I challenged myself because I wanted to show Mochizou as a singular person in the movie. I wanted him to face Tamako as someone who overcame that gender wall. There are a lot of feelings and worries that a boy in love feels that surely I wouldn’t know myself, but I didn’t want to just vaguely depict how those go. Also, Mochizou has to have those cute “huge sleeve shirts” girls wear! (laughs)
Wanting to depict him as simply adorable was big for me, but I wondered if there would be something that felt off. Acting, dressing, hair styling; all of those various bits are the essence that affect a character’s impression. I felt adding an image of him wearing those “huge sleeve shirts” would be a nice addition to the image you would get from him.

Midori
I also felt like I wanted to show Midori as her own person this time as well.  Since she’s the character who’s the most feminine or rather the most humid feeling of the group, I wanted to depict her very carefully in this film.  If you look at Midori now (in the film), there are a lot of scenes that make you go “that’s great drama” with how she acts. That’s due to the amazingly detailed expression sheet that (Yukiko) Horiguchi-san gave to all of the animation directors, unit directors, and animators. The voice of Midori, (Yuki) Kaneko, was also wonderful. Whenever I would think about Midori, that voice (of Kaneko) would float in my head. (laughs) I want to award best supporting actress to Midori.

Kanna
Kanna also wins best supporting actress. She supports everyone else like the central pillar of a building. I thought about how to nicely bring out what she would be thinking and feeling whenever she was on screen in Love Story. She’s keeping her eyes glancing at so many things and she won’t try to mislead you with what she says, so she’s probably the character everyone admires most.  Really, since she keeps a firm grasp on her own philosophies, she’s ideal to be in the role of supporter. I’m slightly jealous of how it feels like she’s always looking long-term. (laughs) I wanted to depict her with honorable wishes.

Shiori
It feels a bit lonely that Shiori chose a path of studying abroad. Like “Shiori-san is flying far away from us.” When she first appeared in Market, she was this shy, reserved character with no confidence in herself, but she’s become much stronger since then. She’s just not good at showing that to people. I think it’s really cool when you choose your own path and plunge into it with no looking back. I have the impression that she’s the type of person who moves forward without lying to herself about how she feels and able to skillfully balance herself through troubles. I really wanted to depict that coolness of breaking through that anxiety we have when taking a step forward. Both Kanna and Shiori have really big roles as supporters in Love Story. Please also award Shiori-san best supporting actress.

Anko
Horiguchi-san was immensely pleased with Anko in Love Story, so her depiction was greatly thanks to her own power. Anko looks at Mochizou with that serious expression from the beginning of this story until the end. (laughs) Anko may be older than Tamako in mental age, but she’s still not yet standing at “the entrance to the universe.” As she doesn’t know that “mixing up lefts and rights and abruptly giving up” feeling, I conveyed that mature sense for her. If I had to put it in words, Anko’s image is “before dawn.”  That was important for me.  Anko watches over that somewhat anxiousness between Tamako and Mochizou and experiencing that delicate tiptoeing – though Anko herself isn’t tiptoeing at all – and it ends so nicely. Anko also wins best supporting actress.

This time you mentioned that there were a lot of layouts created with a “telephoto lens” in mind. What other tricks did you use to differ the layouts of Tamako Love Story from the ones in Tamako Market?

The first has to be “direction of how the atmosphere should feel.” I considered how to balance and match anime-ish materials and live-action materials in order to have the viewers feel like cast were living, breathing people.  If I wanted it to be anime-ish, then I would use a lot of distortion and anime-ish expressions.  The coloring and backgrounds among other things were also changed little by little from Market.  I thought about the impression everything would give on the final video, but I would be happy if people would think “it really felt like Tamako was living.” That feeling is something that isn’t something you can easily make on a grand scale; it’s something where your impression gradually changes as things build up.

Bright colors are something that Market and Love Story have in common.  I worked to make those bright colors create a good feeling, but in Love Story, it was also important for me to add calming cool colors as well.
Also, as I wanted to firmly depict the various expressions of the characters, I configured the layouts immensely around the characters. For example, on an image where I used a telephoto lens, I wanted it to express “from the point of view of someone in love.” You would be able to sense like you were looking at them from far away.

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The scenes like Mochizou’s confession scene and the one where Tamako drops the rock she called “like mochi” in the water were some of the moments that emotionally touched all of the fans. As there were a lot of these kinds of “visually conveyed direction” scenes in the film, please tell us about the scenes that you were very fixated on direction-wise in the movie.

When we were working on Love Story, “visually conveyed direction” was my number one goal. For example, I thought how best to present something indispensable like how Tamako drops the rock and then not only loses it, but loses her ability to appreciate mochi as well.  Usually in that kind of cut, you wouldn’t show her face, but in Love Story, the scene is directly opposite of the face as well.

Also, I concentrated on the tone of the video.  For example, in evening scenes, my utmost attention goes to things like how evening colors can help cure a person’s heart.  I’m still in the middle of researching, but I strive to do things like not use colors that are soothing when the final video image is meant to feel uneasy when you view it.  I devote everything to making (the work) feel good enough that you want to see it. There’s a lot of parts that I’ll entrust to the unit directors like the drama and such, but I won’t hand over the color checks to anyone else. (laughs)

Now that Tamako Love Story has been screened, were there any entertaining stories looking back at the production time?

After watching (Love Story), I heard that a few people went to drink black coffee by the river bed. After one gulp, everyone wanted to say “bitter.” (laughs) They created a small coffee boom.

What kind of existence is “Tamako” to you?

An ordinary girl!….. or so I think, but I’m always looking at Tamako with envy in my eyes. (laughs) Her girlish presence is so dazzling. That’s why I’m so fascinated with her. I find charming things about her that she doesn’t realize she has and then I gradually want to pull it out of her! She’s that kind of girl. For me, there’s no one like her near me. Not in my family, relatives, or friends.  It’s like that feeling when you board a train and suddenly this “Ah, there’s a cute girl sitting over there!” feeling comes over you. You just want to keep looking at them. She’s someone you fall in love with at first sight.

Please tell us an episode and character from the Tamako series that you have a big emotional attachment to.

Personally, I was devastated by Hinako-san’s existence due to everything about her.  In Market episodes 4 and 9 where you get to come in touch with her, I was pierced by everything about her in my soft side. (laughs) That’s due to her personality charming people over.  From there, Hinako-san fell in love with Mamedai and raised two good girls in Tamako and Anko. There are a lot of “Hinako-san transmissions” and I love that about her.

What kind of work is the Tamako series to you, Director Yamada?

I had an extraordinary amount of anxiety being able to create an original production, but thanks to going through various experiments this series was created and it became an irreplaceable experience.  When we began to make this series, I would talk to the staff about what kind of work it would be, but since I’m not able to speak well with others, I was very anxious about being able to communicate what I wanted and Horiguchi-san came as my lifeboat. There were many helpless bits like that. I would feel like I would give in to my own weaknesses, but by being able to always snuggle close to Tamako, and entwine myself with her for eternity, I’m able to sigh in relief now.  I was taught so many different things; the experiences with everyone at Usagiyama were like nothing I’ve ever experienced before or since.  Looking back at it, Love Story was a kind of work like that for Tamako. She had to face her own feelings and look at herself and think what to do to heal herself.  It wasn’t that bad at all.

And apart from that, the people who say they love the Tamako series give me so much energy. I’m incredibly thankful for their love.

As someone who participated in the Tamako series, please tell us your impressions of it.

I think it was truly an amazing experience. Thanks to the girls, I was able to experience “humanity” so I feel it was definitely a good series.
Each and every script from Yoshida-san was so tidy and yet so full of warmth. It always rose from the script when I read them, so I enjoyed that part too. And also I was truly happy being able to have Horiguchi-san’s gallant characters move around in this tale. Everyone in the cast felt like they were people living in Usagiyama Shopping Street, so it was a great finish to the work.

Please give a message to all the fans of the Tamako series.

Tamako is a work where I’m truly surrounded by loving fans. I feel like I’ve received the warm feelings everyone has towards this series.
I think they’re people who know it’s important to take care of everyone’s hearts and themselves. I’m very happy I was able to create something that would draw in those kinds of hearts. Please keep the Tamako series in your heart from here on. Thank you for all your love.


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