An interview with Kimura Eriko

Kimura Eriko is a Japanese sound director born 5 July 1961. Although the bulk of her work has been in film dubbing she’s also actively involved in anime and games, particularly the recent Ghibli works starting from Ponyo up to The Wind Rises, a number of Gundam titles as well as OVA & TV anime such as Yakitate!! Japan, Yojohan Shinwa Taikei, TIGER & BUNNY and Ping Pong THE ANIMATION.

It’s always interesting to see Kimura’s choice of cast (let’s leave the Ghibli ones aside), as they are rarely swayed by commercial interests – she’s one of the few who likes to cast outside the box and pick unknowns as long as she thinks they suit the role. Though of course, she has her own biases (cough Uchiyama cough Nakamura) but those are based on voice and ability rather than any other sordid reasons.

Akiba Souken spoke to Kimura recently.

Is it necessary to make a distinction between ‘anime seiyuu’ and ‘live-action actors’?

Q: Kimura-san, you originally specialized in sound direction for foreign productions and dubbing. How did you come to be involved with animation?

A: It has been about 10 years since I first received the opportunity to work on anime. I was asked to do it as they wanted ‘someone who works on foreign shows to be the sound director’ for the anime Yakitate!! Japan (2004). I spoke with Sunrise producer Tomioka Hideyuki about the offer and he commented, amusedly; “Wouldn’t it be interesting though, to do the show even if you have no prior experience with anime?”. I knew nothing about the anime world so I had to have the mixer patiently teach me about everything from song selection to sound effects – I was just doing things blindly. The workflow of casting, recording and dubbing is somewhat similar to my work on directing foreign dubs but as I have zero sense for music, I would always have someone come along with me when it came to song selection.

Q: Apart from the points you mentioned, would you say that foreign dubbing and anime are the same in terms of your main job being to guide the voice actors?

A: That’s right, but I wouldn’t say that I spend too much time thinking about things in particular ways ie. ‘this is an anime, so let’s do this, or that ‘this is a foreign dub so it should be done this way’. Instead, I like to consider the production in itself and think how to make the show interesting if I approached it in a certain way.

Q: You’ve been in charge of various Studio Ghibli works since Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea (2008) including The Borrower Arrietty (2010) and so on. For Studio Ghibli productions, mainstream actors tend to be cast in the leading roles, right?

A: I don’t really think of there being a divide between live-action actors and professional seiyuu. For When Marnie Was There (2014), where I cast actresses Takatsuki Sara and Arimura Kasumi in the leading roles, I did have seiyuu come in to audition as well.

Q: Was it Miyazaki Hayao’s choice to cast Anno Hideaki in The Wind Rises (2013)?

A: I collected many samples in my search for a voice to match the director’s image of the character. In the end, Director Miyazaki noticed that ‘Anno’s voice is perfect for the role’. It would have been difficult to find any pro actor whose voice was similar to that of Anno’s.

Working with the 2 directors – Tomino and Miyazaki

Q: For Ping Pong THE ANIMATION (2014), Katayama Fukujuro, the voice actor for Peko, is not an anime seiyuu, correct?

A: That’s true. He’s a Kabuki performer as well as an actor.

Q: Is it unusual to be able to cast someone like him?

A: Yes. First of all, I will listen to the director’s requirements regarding the direction the casting process should take. Audition candidates would normally be sounded out on that basis but in Katayama Fukujuro’s case, I’d always found his voice interesting so I had him come in for an audition and it turned out that he was perfect for Peko.

Q: (When you’re casting), do you take into account the fact that certain seiyuu are popular amongst anime fans?

A: If the seiyuu appears to be a good match for the character then by all means, I would place them on the list of candidates and then try to tailor our schedules to match those of the seiyuu. The conditions can change depending on the director and the production itself, but I normally start off by considering what kind of image the role in question has.

Q: Is there much difference between anime-focusing seiyuu and actors who are ‘experiencing afureko for the first time’?

A: There are a few differences, from their acting approach, the way they project their voice and so on. However, the anime that I have been in charge of has been pretty lopsided in terms of genre – I rarely work on shows with a lot of female characters. The same goes for my work on foreign productions; most of it has been hard-boiled, male-oriented titles, Silmido (2004) for example. Perhaps I’m more suited towards the testosterone-filled type of show. That’s why I never receive offers to direct heart-warming anime with lots of cute girls (laughs). The director for TIGER & BUNNY (2011) too, wanted to create a Western feel for the show; so I think the people who recruit my services understand just what kind of work I can do.

I normally make notes of the names of people whose voice samples or programmes have piqued my interest. If I think that a certain seiyuu’s voice will match a certain character in the shows I direct, then I will endeavour to cast them, whether it is for anime or dubbing.

Q: Another franchise that has been integral to your career is the Gundam series. Mobile Suit Gundam Thunderbolt (2015) stars Nakamura Yuichi & Kimura Ryohei.

A: The director Matsuo Ko is someone who also does sound direction so he had a clear image of the voices he wanted. Thunderbolt uses jazz BGMs and its art is also more mature. The themes in the show are heavy as well. With of all of this in mind I decided that in order to pull off the roles adequately, the casting had to be adults who had tasted the bittersweetness of life.

Q: For Mobile Suit Gundam UC (2010), your leading man was Uchiyama Koki.

A: I knew Uchiyama-kun from when he was a child actor. During the final day of auditions for UC I kept thinking ‘I feel like I’ve forgotten someone…’ and Uchiyama-kun, who I had not met for many years, suddenly came to my mind. He was at the right age to play Banagher as well. That morning, I gave his agency a call and he managed to make it in time for the end of the auditions. Uchiyama-kun had little prior knowledge of Gundam but he put on a fine, natural display that was appropriate for the image of Banagher.

Q: You cast Uchiyama Koki as Smile in Ping Pong as well. That was another interesting one.

A: Yeah, I’d thought he was perfect for the role right from the start but when he came in to audition I was feeling a bit naughty and asked him to read for Peko instead (laughs).

Q: You served as sound director for Thunderbolt, UC and Reconguista (2014) – are you interested in any of the Gundam theories?

A: No, I had little knowledge of Gundam myself so Sunrise producer Ogata Naohiro had to get all of the Gundam Universal Century series of DVDs for me. I watched them as if I was preparing for an exam, making notes on the character names, the terminology and the storyline, in addition to studying the UC novels and scripts.

Q: I believe Kimura-san is the only sound director to have been involved with both the Gundam and Ghibli series…

A: Is that so? I was never really aware of things like that. I have to say though, that Tomino Yoshiyuki and Miyazaki Hayao are both remarkable people. They have the ability to think of things that an average person like me would never be able to imagine, and the time I spent with them was inspiring and invaluable. They may have vastly differing styles but what the 2 share is passion that flows through their veins.

The pleasures of sound production are similar to the appreciation of classical music

Q: Are the directors whom you have worked with mostly the type who’d say “it’s okay to not have acting that sounds too ‘anime-like’”?

A: Hmm. For Ping Pong and Tatami Galaxy (2010), director Yuasa Masaaki was not at all concerned about whether or not the acting sounded ‘anime-like’. On the other hand, UC director Furuhashi Kazuhiro, Thunderbolt’s Matsuo Ko and Kekkaishi’s Kodama Kenji were of that type (to not want to have acting sound anime-ish).

Q: Do you watch late-night anime apart from for work purposes?

A: When Osomatsu-san airs late at night, I can’t help myself but watch. All of the seiyuu seem to be having so much fun acting without any inhibitions. It’s also good to see the spirit of the staff who don’t forget to respect the original Osomatsu-kun works. I’m impressed by the bustling young talent on display.

Q: Most of your work now is on dubbing foreign works, is that right?

A: Yes. Just recently I worked on Purple Noon for Star Channel. It is a new dub version, and I cast Nakamura Yuichi in Alain Delon’s role. After Nozawa Nachi’s passing and almost 60 years on from the film with this 2016 version, I felt that Nakamura was a perfect fit.

I like listening to classical music. You can hear how Beethoven’s symphonies and concertos sound different depending on the conductor, orchestra and soloists. The conductor’s interpretation and the personality & techniques of the soloist allow you to enjoy the same piece of music in different ways. In film, there are video versions and TV broadcast versions; for the latter, there will be different dubs depending on the station it airs on. It may be based on the same piece of work, with the same conclusions, but with different production staff comes alternative Japanese versions. Directing dubbing works brings its own kind of enjoyment to the table. It was definitely so for Purple Noon.

Q: What advice do you have to give to young people who are thinking of becoming sound directors?

A: I entered this industry without even knowing about the existence of a profession called ‘sound director’. Hence, one of the ways you can get your start would be by joining a sound production company. Even if you can’t become a sound director right away, it would be a good idea to start off by getting involved with the production side. Having a good grasp of the workflow and experiencing the production process where you have to connect with the faces of the audience – these are important aspects.
Actually, before young people become working members of society, I would hope that they gain a lot more life experiences first. There are plenty of things that you can only experience during certain times at certain places. It won’t be sunshine all the time but the experiences of youth are true treasures, so do go out and challenge yourself.
Directing is akin to spinning the threads of a person’s life into a story. Thus, it really is important to get to know as many people as possible so that you can see, and learn about life.


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