#36 – Saito Chiwa

Name: Saito Chiwa (斎藤 千和)
DoB: 12 March 1981 in Saitama
Agency: I’m Enterprise
Representative Roles: Lavie Head in LAST EXILE, Akemi Homura in Madoka Magica, Hinata Natsumi in Keroro Gunsou, Aika S. Granzchesta in ARIA, Senjougahara Hitagi in Monogatari series, Rebecca Miyamoto in Pani Poni Dash!, Hazuki in Tsukuyomi Moon Phase, Yona in Akatsuki no Yona

The Animate website has been running this series of interviews with former Nihon Narration Engi Kenkyujo (Nichinare for short) students for many years now. This particular interview with Chiwa was published in April 2007, by which time she was already well established in the business. Some of her roles that year included Subaru in Nanoha StrikerS and Louise Halevy in Gundam 00.

I have started out by translating the second part of the interview which delves into her background and her beginnings rather than part one, which focuses more on specific roles and anime. Still, there are some nice bits of info and stories from the recording studio in that, so I may translate some bits as an omake some time in the future.

The reason I became a seiyuu was because of a magazine my mother mistakenly bought

Q: Let’s talk about how you became a seiyuu.

A: I’ve actually talked about this quite a few times now, but I regret not having said something grander, like “I’ve always wanted to be a seiyuu since I was young!” (lol).

Q: So it didn’t start out from you being a huge fan of seiyuu or anime or anything like that…

A: But..my first love was Son Goku from Dragon Ball! (lol)

Q: What other anime did you watch?

A: Spoon Obasan (Japanese name for Mrs Pepperpot) and Kinnikuman were the extent of it. Most of my cousins who were my age were boys so I ended up watching stuff like Dragon Ball and Kinnikuman with them. Spoon Obasan was something my mother loved, so we would watch it together. Also, it’s not anime but I often watched sentai shows when I was a kid.

Q: So tell us once again about how you got started on the road to becoming a seiyuu.

A: When I was in my third year of high school, my mom mistakenly bought a seiyuu magazine instead of the fashion magazine I had asked her to. Apparently the fashion mags were being displayed in random stacks so she had a hard time just finding what I wanted. Trying to make sure that she had selected one of the “beautiful magazines”, she grabbed one from the middle of the pile and took it to the cashier to pay for it..but it was the wrong magazine (lol). Looking back now, I do wonder how a seiyuu magazine got into the pile of fashion magazines….

Q: What were your first impressions, reading the seiyuu magazine?

A: At first I thought it was an (entertainment) artist magazine, but it turned out to be about seiyuu. I’m a fan of Harrison Ford myself, so as I was reading an article in the magazine that talked about movie dubbing works, I thought to myself “I could co-star with Harrison Ford this way!”. Obviously it’s impossible to physically co-star with Harrison Ford, but I thought there might be a chance to dub the leading role opposite him instead (lol). With that in mind, I soon went for an interview for admission into Nichinare training school.

Attended Nichinare in high school and college

Q: You’ll probably have thought about your career path when you were in your third year of high school. What was the plan, if voice acting didn’t work out?

A: I was going to study abroad. When I was in high school I took up foreign studies and also went on exchange programmes overseas.

Q: When did you enter Nichinare?

A: I gained admission in July, midway through the semester during my third year of high school. Initially, the lessons were so tough that I thought I might not survive, but all my mom said was “I’ve already transferred the payment (for the lesson fees)”. At first I thought “this is scary” but once I got going I found it really fun. I got to meet people of various ages too. I was one of the youngest, so my older classmates would spoil me. It was refreshing to attend lessons outside of school. I wore my uniform to lessons, and I got scolded by my teacher Tokumaru Kan-san – “Your skirt is too short” (lol). I had lots of fun, practising plays with my classmates in the park and or at the Civic Gymnasium which we’d rent.

Q: Wasn’t it tough juggling both school and voice acting lessons?

A: That’s why I took the course that had only 1 evening lesson a week. The people who attended that course had their own reasons and circumstances for taking just the one lesson per week, so to compensate for that they would all come to classes prepared, managing their own time efficiently to ensure they had sufficient practice. I looked at everyone around me having a similar kind of attitude and thought to myself “I need to treat this seriously”.

Q: So what happened after you got the basics down?

A: I went for the internal auditions that are held around January every year, and I got attached to the agency then.

Q: How did you feel when you passed the agency auditions?

A: I don’t remember feeling anything specific, to be honest. The agency itself had just been established as well.

Q: So in the end, did you go to college or study abroad?

A: I did actually go to college – after I graduated from high school I continued to take voice acting lessons while attending lectures.

Q: Wow, you were hardworking!

A: Really? When I reflect on that period now, maybe I was. But it was so fun (lol).

What I learnt from the teachers – humility

Q: Tell us about any interesting episodes from your Nichinare days, when you were still taking lessons.

A: I remember well the times when I’d practice for the year-end presentations..‘cos I cried during the dress rehearsals (lol). Everyone was putting in passionate performances during the dress rehearsals but I didn’t think I was up to standard (sob) so I started crying…and everybody else tried to soothe my fears. Obviously I don’t cry at recordings now but I’ve always been a bit of a weakling so sometimes during lessons, I’d run off to the toilet to cry (lol).

Classmate: “Get out of there, I wanna use the toilet”
Me: “(sniff) Just a bit longer!”

I can think of such memories fondly now.

Q: Were the lessons that harsh?

A: It wasn’t so much that the lessons were harsh, but more due to the fact that it was such a competitive industry – of course, that applies to pretty much everything. We knew that merely gaining admission into the agency wasn’t a sign that we had succeeded; in a way, we were very much aware of the fact that we were rivals, right from the start when we entered Nichinare. I’d say that I’m a bit of a sore loser; I really hate it if I don’t come out on top. Even when I knew I did well but someone else had done better than me, I’d scream “I’m not gonna lose to you next week!” (lol)

Q: Is there anything any instructor has said to you that is particularly memorable to you?

A: Tokumaru-san once said to me “Please stay humble”. People do tend to get carried away when work is coming in regularly and things are flowing smoothly. I think I felt exactly that way around the time of Kokoro Toshokan. I just didn’t have the necessary skills and it took another year and a half before I managed to land a regular role in LAST EXILE. “It’s important to have luck, but you have to hold on tightly to that luck because what comes next depends on your ability. What you have to do is to accept all things with humility” – I can finally understand this point. It was what Tokumaru-san and the seniors who gave me advice were trying to get across to me, and I can say that with a laugh now (lol).

Q: How many years were you there?

A: 4 years. But it was good that I got job assignments when I was still taking lessons. If I made mistakes during recording I could still work on them and practice during lessons, and I could apply things I learnt from lessons in the studio.

Also, I was reminded of how important it is to observe what others are doing. When you’re in the studio you’re only able to observe people who are playing other parts, but during lessons you get to see other people voicing the same part as you are so I learnt a lot from watching how others approached the same role in different ways than I did. Expanding upon that – when you’re in the studio and the image you have of the character you’re voicing differs from what you’re being asked to produce, don’t get swayed and start thinking “Maybe I should try to do things the way that other person is doing”. Lessons are where you can pick up on that kind of thing.

The dream is to “co-star” with Harrison Ford

Q: When did you start to realize that you had become a “pro”?

A: Just recently. The last time I had considered my status as a “pro” was before LAST EXILE, when I was basically unemployed. I started thinking to myself “I’ve had it with this year, I should just quit for real”, but before the year was up I had passed the audition. I have this memory of sitting in a soba shop with one of my seniors who I’d worked together with on Kokoro Toshokan, all crying as she said to me “You’ve finally got the look of an actor about you” (lol). I think I’ve always been somebody like that, having to be supported by the people around me.

Q: What are the positive aspects of your job?

A: I’d die without it! I really love working. I feel the same way about work as how I feel I’d die without my beloved pet dog (lol). If you asked me to choose between work and my dog, I’d be really troubled (lol)..but I’d probably play around with my dog for a bit, and then go to work. If I had to pick between work and a guy? I’d say “work!” straight away (lol).

Q: What do you think you’d be doing if you weren’t a seiyuu?

A: I wanted to become an interpreter. Because I wanted to meet Harrison Ford (lol). English was my best subject. My mom used to say “Kids who can speak English fluently are really cool” so I’d been taking English lessons since I was young, and (my parents) also took me abroad many times. Would it be realistic to become an actress just to meet Harrison Ford? It was more realistic to “co-star” with him as an interpreter or in dubbing.

Q: So every road leads to Harrison Ford. In some ways, that seems to be a very reasonable train of thought (lol).

A: I think this all might’ve started because I have a ‘father complex’ (lol). My dad looks a bit like former President Bill Clinton, and I think Harrison Ford gives off a similar air (lol). But Harrison Ford is getting on a bit now so I’ve got to hurry up, haven’t I? Will somebody out there please cast me in the dub of a Harrison Ford work? (lol)

Pulling out the right elements from the ‘drawer’ within me and using it in my work

Q: What ideals and goals do you have for your voice acting work?

A: I’d like to master all aspects of my work. Nowadays you see plenty of cases where a single production can lead to extra activities such as singing and events – I consider ‘voice’ and ‘technique’ as being the two aspects where I am most confident that I am as good as anyone else at, so I’d like to polish those particular skills. Up ‘til now I’ve been having “fun” being a seiyuu, treating the work both as a hobby and as having practical benefits, so to suddenly change my mindset right away would of course be tough to do.

Instead of merely working in order to receive a wage, I believe you should produce work that is worth what you’re being paid to do, so I do feel strongly about doing my work seriously. I hope to “level up” as I continue to scale this (career) staircase, so that I can be a seiyuu for the rest of my life.

Q: As you build up your career it seems that you’re showing the versatility of your voice through your characters.

A: Really?? To me it seems I always sound the same though (lol).

Our work as seiyuu would appear to be purely to provide a ‘voice’ for a character but in my opinion, it’s not just about that. There was a point in time where I worried a lot about this – let’s say I’m doing role A in a certain show, and on another show I’m doing role B; there are times when the setting and the character share similarities. At first I used to think that “They’re too similar, I should do different voices for each one”, but it occurred to me that such actions would be disrespectful towards the character of B, the show and all the staff involved.

“The reason I was offered this role because I have the type of voice contained in my inner ‘drawer’ that is best suited towards this character so that’s why I have to utilize it” is my reasoning. Sometimes, the voices might overlap but I just keep in mind that the characters live in different environments and will walk different paths in life, so they don’t necessarily have to end up becoming one and the same character. It’s my own negligence that has led to me treating them the same way. Acting is something that is fluid so there are times when the character becomes totally different in episode 10 compared to how he or she was in episode 1 (lol), but the gist is that I now understand that characters will always end up different and hence, I stopped obsessing over trying to make each one sound unique.

Never think of yourself as ‘the special one’, just put in more effort than others

Q: Do you have any advice for people who are hoping to become seiyuu?

A: I’d like for all of you to think of yourself this way – “You’re not a special person”. This is what I have always kept in mind myself – for example, sometimes you might think “There’s no one else suitable for this role but me”, but that’s absolutely not true. If you weren’t the one voicing that one character, there would be somebody else in that position saying the same thing. You have got to have that kind of competitive mindset. You should think of the seiyuu world as a gathering of geniuses; people who are born with different types of natural abilities, people who have innate talent. When you start working in this industry, you musn’t waste time wondering “What special thing can I do that nobody else can?”. Instead, you should put in as much effort as possible so that you won’t get left behind. Some of your seniors, they don’t just have talent – they also work twice as hard as anyone else. The more of these people you meet, the more you will realize how easily you can be replaced – so what you have to do is to work hard, steadily.

It is true that sometimes it seems easy to be a seiyuu, especially when you’re just starting out. You might have a good run of luck; sometimes the character is just right for you, sometimes the timing is perfect. To keep that run going is however, extremely difficult. Maybe some of you are thinking “My goal is to make my (acting) début”, but I think that alone might not be enough. You should always look further ahead, and think of the future.

Sometimes, when everything goes well in your training school or vocational school lessons you might start to think “Wow, I must be a genius!”. I can tell you that once you actually get into a recording studio, you will be operating at a completely different level. Don’t think too highly of yourself and most importantly – continue to put in as much effort as possible, all the while remaining humble.

Q: Lastly, do you have any message for those who are about to enter Nichinare?

A: I started off as a general student learning the basics before I managing to gain admission to my agency; I gradually progressed from regular courses to the training programme and now, with a bit of luck, I have been able to make a career out of voice acting. In Nichinare there will be others who enter with production-related scholarships so you may feel that you face certain resistance if you enter as a general student, but don’t let that get to you. What truly matters is the effort you put in and the way you approach things once you are there.

When you become a seiyuu and happen to work together with me in the studio, please let me know that you too, used to be a general student. I might just say to you, “Really? Let’s go for a drink then!” (lol). I look forward to the day I get to meet all of you in the studio. Please do your best!

– Chiwa initially became attached to 劇団ヴォアレーヴ, a subsidiary of I’m Enterprise.
Tokumaru Kan-san, an actor/voice actor who was attached to Artsvision sadly passed away in 2011 at the age of 69.

An interview with Chiwa during her Kokoro Toshokan days (2001). I think you could already tell she was going to be a star back then.

Well…7+ years on and Chiwa still hasn’t fulfilled her dream of co-starring with Harrison Ford. Though I kind of think that if dubbing with Harrison Ford was her #1 dream, she obviously chose the wrong agency to go to – she should’ve tried for Mausu Promotion ww


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