#122 – Tanaka Mayumi

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Name: Tanaka Mayumi (田中 真弓)
DoB: 15 January 1955
Hometown: Tokyo
Agency: Aoni Production

An interview with the legendary Tanaka Mayumi, which also serves as PR for Tokyo Dance & Actors School.
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Tanaka Mayumi talks about the difference between the performance of an actor and a seiyuu

“I dislike seiyuu’s acting performances”

This was something a certain animation director said to Ms. Tanaka Mayumi when she was young. It is certainly true that plenty of anime that use actors instead of seiyuu.

What exactly are the differences between the performance of an actor and the performance of a seiyuu?

We posed this question to Ms Tanaka Mayumi who as an actress, continues to stand on stage and as a seiyuu, is active as the voice of Luffy in ONE PIECE and Kuririn in Dragon Ball, and her answer was that seiyuu and actors are essentially one and the same.

If that is so, then why are actors hired instead? What is the meaning behind it?
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There is no such profession as ‘seiyuu’

Q: Thank you for taking time out to do this interview today. What do you think was the intent behind the words ‘I dislike seiyuu’s acting’?

A: I think it was to drive the following point home – ‘don’t you dare produce a stereotypical, interpretive performance that is rigid and has no personality or character’.

Q: Does that mean that seiyuu only give stereotypical, interpretive performances?

A: That is particularly true of the younger seiyuu; [the industry] has become good at that. It’s quite remarkable in its own way but these people will be easily replaced once other ‘better’ people appear on the scene. I personally believe that the seiyuu profession has to realize that it doesn’t necessarily have to be so.

Q: “It doesn’t necessarily have to be so”. By that, you mean…

A: Voice acting is regarded as part of an actor’s work. There are many who treat the profession of actor as being totally separate from that of the seiyuu profession but in truth, seiyuu are actors – it just happens that that the ‘voice’ is the only part that [they] take away.
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If you look at the graph, seiyuu is wholly a subset of ‘actor’, while narrators and announcers overlap at certain parts. The parts that don’t overlap require a certain level of precision within specific areas. For example, for an actor who does narration, differences in intonation are acceptable. You are expressing human [emotions] so it would be strange for a person to sound too ‘immaculate’. It is the same with songs. When an actor sings, they may be slightly off pitch and key but the most important thing for them is to convey their feelings.

Q: Why have seiyuu performances become so typical?

A: In animation, recording takes 3-4 hours – in other words, there are time constraints. For stage work you can practise diligently for a month or so, while seiyuu work involves receiving a script and finishing it off in 3-4 hours and as a result, the demand is that they produce an easily understandable performance rather than one where they can get their teeth into the role.

In reality however, there is nothing that is ‘easily understandable’. For example, drunkenness – there are people who become calm when they’re drunk but there are also others who become incoherent. In animation when the situation calls for drunkenness you’ll be asked for a performance that expresses it clearly and that’s something you’ll have to provide an answer to. If you were to stop on the spot you might be told that you’re giving a typical performance, that people like that don’t exist. Thus, what [I] desire as a seiyuu is to have as much time as stage actors have to really dig into a role.

The reason actors, not seiyuu are hired?

Q: In order to survive as a seiyuu, it is imperative that you do things such as delving into a role.

A: I’d like to believe that. That is what makes a person, who thinks and acts, facing the role thinking about he/she would do if this/that were to happen, different from the person who produces a typical performance. That is how to survive as a seiyuu. To receive job offers even when you’re advanced in age means that there definitely has to be light there.

Q: Perhaps this is a horrible way of putting it, but one can’t survive with flimsy acting skills.

A: In my case, my stage schedules mean that I often take time away from [anime] recording. People who only do voice acting don’t really do that though. It’s just an excuse that people use to make it seem like they’ve become indispensable actors. However there may be some parts of the industry that demand such mediocre acting skills. Once [the industry] gets swallowed up by that, there’ll be nothing we can do.

That’s where actors come in, don’t they? The reason us seiyuu’s habits are disliked is because of our stereotypical acting. [We] have a tendency to veer towards such acting, with fluttering voices. [We] don’t try to sound like living human beings and instead, aim to put on an easily understood, interpretive performance.

However as seiyuu, we still have to be able to do that. For work purposes. Sometimes I stop and think – wouldn’t it better to hire a young, cheap seiyuu? There are times where I have to go beyond that, but I have to put my body and soul into my acting or else I’ll keep thinking about it. I tell myself that I don’t have to think about it.

Q: What do you do to maintain your awareness of this?

A: There are quite a few people who’ll make you realize that it’s what you’ve got to do, that it’s absolutely necessary. For example, Kusao Takeshi (Slam Dunk’s Sakuragi Hanamichi etc). Watching him makes me think that I’ve got to put my body and soul into it or it won’t work. That’s what I teach the youngsters during my lectures.

Q: When you say ‘lectures’, are you referring to your role as special instructor at the Tokyo Dance & Actors School?

A: That’s right. It’s what I teach during the first lecture. There was a young student the other day who, when I asked what they wanted to be in the future, answered, “I want to be a Gundam seiyuu”. I had to explain to him that that meant becoming an actor.

If you’re OK with only being used when you’re young and cheap then that’s fine. Hence, I don’t really comprehend what a so-called ‘seiyuu idol’ is; but to me idol=young. If it’s for building memories, then fine. If it’s not so, it’ll be pointless if, when you’re an idol, you can’t even imagine what you’ll be like when you’re 50-60 years old. If you want to be a seiyuu, if you wish to demonstrate a certain something – imagination is required. I try to instil this properly [in my students].

Also, you can move sideways at the Tokyo Dance & Actors School. You might sign up for the voice acting course but discover that what you really want to do is sing or narrate, so you can then take action and slide sideways [into a different course].

I believe human beings who are full of inquisitiveness are the ones who win in life. If you obsess over one thing, you’ll never pique the interest of others. But people who are curious will always show an interest in other things/people. An overly serious person lives in a narrow world.

Voice work may not be the only avenue worthy for you to express yourself. There are various curriculum available and perhaps, a lot more for you to discover. That is why I want my students to place importance on the act of being curious.

Q: Thank you for today. We see that there is no difference between seiyuu and actors, only that there is a tendency for seiyuu’s performances to become typical and interpretive.

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