2015 marks Suwabe Junichi’s 20th year anniversary as a seiyuu. When you look at the guys who have just or are going to celebrate that milestone, it’s not a bad club to be in – people like Suzumura Kenichi, Sakurai Takahiro, Kuwashima Houko, Yoshino Hiroyuki, Taniyama Kishow, Kishio Daisuke, Kamiya Hiroshi, Fukuyama Jun. How many of the class of 2015 will still be around in 20 years’ time? One wonders.
This Calpis-sponsored Geneki Interview runs on KAI-YOU.net which is a mainstream website, so the questions are generally more serious than your typical seiyuu fluff.
What kind of person is Suwabe Junichi?
Q: You’re active in various areas revolving around your profession as a seiyuu. Please tell us once again about what you do.
A: My activities centre upon the art of expression through ‘voice’. I think many will be aware of how people like myself, who provide the voices for characters in anime and games, are known as ‘seiyuu’.
In truth, (my) career has been prolonged due to my work as a ‘narrator’ for TV programmes and CMs, as well as by being a ‘radio personality’. Apart from voice work, I’ve dabbled in other areas such as the planning and production of music and video projects, lyric writing and designing. I’m involved with things that are both related and unrelated to my work as a performer.
Q: Ratio-wise, I suppose voice work still dominates?
A: In terms of the amount of work I’d say voice acting and narration work are the mainstays. Nowadays there is a wide range of work available that is derived from voice acting itself and it makes me feel like I’m a jack-of-all-trades (laughs).
Q: This year makes it the 20th year since you made your début. What inspired you down this road?
A: I hadn’t originally wanted to be a performer; instead, I wished to be a director. As I was a member of a film circle throughout both high school and college I had worked on making my own movies, but I found it difficult to assemble the acting talent that was required.
At that point, I thought it would be a good idea if I could learn a bit more about acting so that I could demonstrate what I wanted to people who had no prior acting experience. Thinking that it would aid my film-making aspirations and treating it like a visit to a cultural centre, I knocked on the doors of training schools.
Q: Did you enrol in training school immediately after college?
A: After I graduated I went straight into employment. The company I worked for produced merchandise for film and music, two of my favourite industries. Despite eventually leaving the company, I did not abandon my film-making dream. My next port job was at a production company that was technology-related and not directing, so I took up an additional role of camera assistant. At the time, an unexpected mistake led to a rather uncertain period for me and I ended up drifting from publishing companies to multimedia firms that were all the rage back then; I worked at a few of these places.
During the tail-end of my salaryman life, my weekdays were spent at the office and the weekends at training school – that went on for about 1 year. After jumping through a lot of hoops, I finally got accepted into a (voice acting) production agency. I decided to dive straight in since I had gone through all that trouble already!
And without me noticing, 20 years have already passed. Time really does fly. At the beginning, I was still working as a full-time employee while doing voice work on the side and I’d write “Going home” on the office’s schedule board when in truth, I was heading off to record some narration work (laughs).
Student days devoted to film
Q: You mentioned that you made films during your student days – where did your love for movies come from?
A: I’m not sure how exactly it came about, but I’d always loved movies since I was a child. I loved them so much that I’d watch anything and everything regardless of genre. When I was young I mostly watched movies on TV and it was only in high school that I started going to the cinema. Once I got into college I threw all my time and money into video rentals, which were getting a lot cheaper at the time.
Q: What made you think about wanting to make, and not just watch movies?
A: I was member of the broadcast committee throughout elementary and junior high. We not only produced school broadcasts, but also organized contests to create radio programmes. Maybe it was just something that suited my personality, but once I got into it I was really hooked. I began to ponder, “If there was not only sound, but video as well…”; to me, that was a very natural step to take.
One thing after another happened, and I began to harbour dreams of becoming a film or TV drama director. At the same time, I was rational about it, thinking “There’s no way I’m gonna make enough from this to put food on the table”.
Q: It’s certainly true that merely having aspirations doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll get what you want.
A: Yeah. As my family wasn’t well-off, I chose to get a very general job in order to obtain a stable income. But in the end…yeah, here I am (laughs). My parents were strongly opposed to my decision, so I promised them that if I didn’t make enough to get by within the first 3 years, I would quit the job right away. To get the results I needed as quickly as possible, I took on any offer of work I received – everything was ‘too good to refuse’.
Like I said, the path that I ended up on was different from what I had initially wanted to do so it was a case of me learning about how fun and how deep the job was as I went along. I can say right now that I do sincerely love what I do, and that I take much pride in being a professional.
Counting my life backwards, for the sake of my dreams
Q: You have a strong affinity for the visual arts including movies – was there any one work that ignited this passion?
A: I’m not the type of person who’s fuelled by a single reason, so it’s quite hard for me to come up with any film that I could say was ‘a turning point’. If I was pressed to choose, I’d say ‘everything I’ve seen up ‘til now’.
Since I was a child I had felt strongly about wanting to ‘work at something I love’. At one point, I used to think that, with the exception of sleep, ‘work’ would be what would take up the most of my time.
In other words, time is life. That is why I wanted my pour my time into my passions. It strengthened my resolve to ‘work at something that I truly wanted to do from the bottom of my heart’. However, I was always conscious of how that choice should be compatible with the necessity of earning enough income to survive.
Q: It’s rare for anyone to be considering things like the probabilities in life from such a young age.
A: I have been a logical and objective type of person since I was young. However, at its root is the fact that I am lazy. I wish to eliminate any form of hassle, and I want to reach the conclusion as quickly as possible. To achieve that, I try as much as I can to trim off anything that seems wasteful.
If ones sets clear goals in advance and considers the elements needed to get to that end-point, the shortest path to success will naturally be revealed. However, there is also the possibility that by loosely analyzing situations, more thorough results could emerge. Being in a state of flux taught me a lot. Right now, I prefer to take on challenges in that manner.
Q: I see. By the way, did you like studying?
A: I basically liked learning things, but I didn’t really like studying in school. I was just naughty and didn’t like having homework imposed upon me (laughs).
Q: Did you have any favourite subjects?
A: Up until junior high it was math and science but once I entered high school I preferred arts subjects. I loved reading before I had even enrolled in kindergarten and as a result, I studied very little and spent most of my time reading instead. That book knowledge served me well up ‘til junior high but once I was in high school my grades fell off a cliff.
Q: You loved reading even before you entered kindergarten?
A: According to my parents, I had loved reading for as long as they could remember. The number of books I read increased by the year; for example, during summer holidays when I was in elementary school, I would go to the library and read 3-4 books from morning, then borrow a couple more to read at home – that was a standard daily routine for me at the time. I not only read children’s books, but also a lot of adult-oriented light novels and paperbacks.
My parents often told me “You should study!”. They’d also get angry with me, saying “Don’t think that just because it’s a book you’re reading that we’ll let everything else slide!” (laughs).
Q: Lots of people grew up being told off for spending too much time playing games, but you were scolded excessive reading (laughs).
A: Most kids would be praised by adults for taking up reading, but things were different in my household. Well, maybe I did take things a bit too far. After all, I did get caught for trying to read books using the light of the street lamps outside my window when it was supposed to be bedtime and my parents had already turned off my bedroom lights (laughs).
Expressing myself in society
Q: Since you like reading, do you spend a lot of time thinking about things?
A: I liked to fantasize about different things. I developed this habit of looking at certain things from various points which I think might have stemmed from my reading habits.
It wasn’t only fantasy worlds that set my mind in motion, but also documentaries and critical essays that I’d read. I think I liked to learn about the structure and issues of the society I lived in.
Q: Did your desire to express yourself through film originate from that?
A: I don’t think I’ve ever wanted to create something for the sake of fulfilling the urge to produce output. I’m not entertainment-oriented or rather, I’ve never contemplated ‘expressing myself by giving physical shape to my thoughts’. Instead, my focus is on creating in the hope that it will bring fun or enjoyment to (others). That, I believe, is what drives me.
Just because you’ve delivered a piece of work doesn’t mean that the job is done; how, for example, is the reception to the work? Were they able to get anything out of it? I’d be curious about how people respond.
Q: In order to delight as many people as possible, would you say that it is your stance to provide entertainment that suits the tastes of the masses?
A: Excitement and emotion are feelings that come from within a person and aren’t something that others ‘give’ to you – that is my theory. Unless the mind is well-equipped, one will not be able to enjoy something that should in fact be enjoyable. My stance is that I act as a curator that offers handy tools that help to flip the switch that sends (people) into “Fun!” mode. That might be close to the image I have of myself.
Of course, I do have my own intentions so it doesn’t mean that I only make what people want. There are times when I create things to provoke discussion.
Q: Is this train of thought informed by your career experiences up ‘til now, or have you always had such a balanced view?
A: I think it’s in my nature. For example, during drinking sessions – when I see someone who’s sitting by himself and looking a little lonely, I can’t help but be concerned and go over and have a chat. Maybe I’m just sensitive to emotions. Since I was a child, I’ve never been the type who would do whatever I wanted to without giving a damn about other people. Instead, I always worried about how I could bring about a situation where everyone could have fun together.
Learning the importance of “human connections” through voice work
Q: Over the span of 20 years as a voice actor, did you run into any walls?
A: There was a point in time where I was just beginning to make headway in the narration industry and was working on 5-6 regular programmes a week – out of the blue, I broke three ribs in a traffic accident. In a desperate bid to avoid losing trust and hence, the jobs I held, I continued to attend recordings while going through the pain barrier. They’re such fond memories now (laughs).
It’s common for people to get depressed nowadays when things just don’t seem to be going their way. Fortunately, this business often involves working on several projects simultaneously so you can take a break and change things up ie. throwing off the stress from job A by working on job B, the stress from job B on job C, and so on.
All the same, it is difficult to make any progress if you only look at things from the same viewpoint. There will always be walls that you can’t climb over so why not try going around them? Oftentimes, the solution to overcoming these difficulties can be found by not thinking about things too deeply.
Q: At what point did you start to develop this method of confronting issues?
A: When I first started working in this job the Internet was still in its infancy and there weren’t many avenues for me to make my name known to people, let alone receive feedback etc.
On top of that, nobody watches TV programmes just to hear the narration. No matter how much work I produced, there was zero opportunity to have my work evaluated by an audience.
Q: You’re right – the choice to watch a programme would be made based on the celebrity guests and content.
A: I got really busy with work, with barely any days off – the non-stop round-trips between my home and the studio lasted about 5 years. Gradually, my emotions became like a stone being dropped down a well where it’d take forever to hear the little “splash” sound when it hits the bottom…back then, recordings would take place at any time of the day be it late night or early morning, and it was impossible for me to even go out for a drink with friends.
Living such a daily life made me feel pretty down but fortunately, I started to get anime-related work on a steady basis. It’s different from narration work that is mostly done alone – I got to work with a lot of co-stars and started to receive letters with feedback on my work etc; these things all helped to revive me.
It was then that I realized that what I was craving was communication. And I also realized how important it was. I could not live without human connections no matter what. Through these experiences, I understood that I associated the chance to cherish the memories that I had of working with people, with working at my job wholeheartedly.
Bittersweet days of youth…are a mystery to me?
Q: This interview is part of Calpis’ Geneki Interview series – did you ever experience the Calpis-like bittersweet* taste of youth?
A: “Youth” is quite hard to define but well, if I had to describe a period of time as being bittersweet…perhaps, my high school days?
*甘ずっぱい literally translates to ‘sweet and sour’
Q: Was that where you experienced first love etc?
A: I don’t recall ever thinking “I want a girlfriend” until I was in junior high.
Q: Was that because you were obsessed with reading?
A: It’s true that I did read a lot but at the same time, there wasn’t really anyone around me who I thought I’d like to be friends with. Ah well, I think the biggest problem was that I was eccentric (laughs).
When I started high school the number of female friends I had increased, and I’d hang out with a mixed-gender group. I was particularly close with one of the girls and our houses were in the same direction so we used to go home together. She already had someone else whom she liked, and she would ask me for advice. That’s why I never made a move on her, and we remained good friends right until the end. Ah, good old times they were (laughs).
Q: Hearing that tale makes it seem like your student life was very peaceful, but were there ever any periods of explosive love for you?
A: I’ve never experienced love at first sight, nor have I ever fallen in love with a person based on their looks. I’m the type that only starts harbouring romantic interest in someone once I’ve gotten to know them through conversations, and after spending some time with them and ensuring that our feelings are compatible in various aspects. Besides, I’m the kind of person who won’t cross a bridge unless I’m absolutely sure it won’t break apart if I pound on it.
Since I’m the type of person who has so many requirements of a potential partner to begin with, there’s no way that I’d ever experience some exaggerated thing like ‘explosive love’.
Q: What kind of woman ignites your passion?
A: I think it’s wonderful if we’d only have eyes for each other and if we’d always know what the other was thinking, but the thought of my life revolving around that kind of passionate romance is a bit… (laughs). I prefer a gentle type of person myself.
The importance of happiness in creation
Q: You’ve been involved in content creation from your days as a salaryman right up ‘til now – is there anything in particular, work-wise, that you’d love to turn into reality in the future?
A: I think I’d like to make something that is meaningful and doesn’t just drift around aimlessly. Also, I’d like for that ‘meaning’ to be one that makes people happy.
I’ll strive to create content that brings joy to both the makers and the audience. On a personal level, I hope that through my work, I can become someone who is meaningful to society, even if only on a small scale.
Q: What kind of ideas or approach should one have to become someone who can move hearts by telling a story?
A: It’s difficult to give a clear answer to that. From my own experience, you should try your absolute hardest no matter what you do. Nothing will come to fruition without hard work.
‘Spending money’, ‘giving up your time’ and ‘putting your life on the line’ – if you can put any one of these into practise then you might just surprise people but (to have the capacity to move hearts), I think you should do all three earnestly.
I personally believe that in order to gain or accomplish something, you need a certain amount of resolution and perseverance. Risk management is important too but nothing will happen unless you take the first step. I want to tell young people in particular, that “If you have enough time to feel lost, you should just stop thinking about it and run”. I myself have followed this philosophy and as of this moment, I have no regrets.