A series of interviews with the cast of Golden Kamuy kicks off with the voices behind hero Sugimoto Saichi – Kobayashi Chikahiro, and heroine Asirpa – Shiraishi Haruka. No CGI bears were harmed in this interview.
Q: Please tell us your impressions upon reading the original manga.
Kobayashi: I think that anyone who’s read the manga will agree that it’s really fun, with many different ways of enjoying the content. It’s both an adventure tale and a gourmet guide, with gags and grotesque expressions added into the mix. There’s also appeal in the way the characters aren’t drawn to be one-sided. You might think so-and-so’s scary but he turns out to have a playful side to him, or you’re sure this guy’s an enemy but instead, he’s someone you just can’t bring yourself to hate.
Shiraishi: It’s not a genre I usually read so at first, I was shocked by the extremity of some of the scenes. However, as I continued reading I started to find the comedy aspects entertaining as well. I might’ve started out being scared by what I was seeing on the pages but by the end of it I’d be laughing out loud. You could describe it as a hodgepodge work filled with a variety of elements, but the serious and humorous parts go together so well. I think that’s where the series’ appeal lies.
Kobayashi: It’s really interesting, isn’t it?
Shiraishi: Yeah. There may be quite a few graphic scenes – for example, the shocking sight of them stripping the skin off the head of a squirrel and then eating it, but to the Ainu it’s just part of their daily life. I do think that women will be able to handle such aspects much better than they expect. So I was naturally drawn to the series, and started to find the characters more and more attractive. I think that the character art is designed to appeal to women’s hearts too. They may look brutal on the outside but somehow, you start thinking to yourself, ‘Why are they so cute?’. Sugimoto is generally manly but sometimes, he does go into schoolgirl mode (laughs)
Kobayashi: Yeah he even switches to a feminine way of sitting down all of a sudden.
Shiraishi: That’s right (laughs). He sometimes tacks on ‘oh noes~’* at the end of his sentences and that really hits my strike-zone. Normally, you’d be a little put off by characters like him that have such strong personalities but strangely, I seem to find that part of him disturbingly cute. These characters display a huge range of facial expressions – do pay attention so that you don’t miss any of the subtle changes.
*oh noes = ヤダぁ～ (yadaa~). Short from of いやだ (iya da), usually used by women to express refusal, disgust, dislike.
Q: Can you each tell us about the impressions you have of your respective characters, as well as your feelings when you found out about being cast?
Kobayashi: My impression of Sugimoto is that he has a straightforward personality and is courageous but also a gentle guy. On the other hand he’s a person who bears the scars of war; a lonely man with no home to return to, the fulfillment of a promise to his dead friend his sole raison d’etre.
Meeting Asirpa-san stirs within him a desire to protect her. I felt myself drawn to the human smell of Sugimoto, a smell that is the product of who he is on the outside and what he harbours within himself. Thus, I was really happy when I was cast to play such a character.
I had a strong desire to play a part in this series ever since I read the manga, prior to the auditions. However, it took quite a long time for me to find out about the [audition] results and in my heart I had kind of given up on it, until I got the call that I’d been cast as Sugimoto. The joy I felt at that moment was immeasurable – when my manager said ‘You’ve been cast’ on the phone, I screamed AHHHHHHH!! at the top of my lungs at home (laughs)
Shiraishi: That’s just like Sugimoto, right? (laughs)
Kobayashi: I went drinking with my manager after that and we did about 20 toasts.
Shiraishi: 20 toasts!?
Kobayashi: 1 every 5 minutes or so? (laughs) That was just how happy I was feeling.
Shiraishi: Asirpa-chan may give off a level-headed, dignified impression but she also possesses a childlike innocence. Even after meeting Sugimoto she does not rely on him like a child would; instead, she resolutely protects what she inherited from her father. If she’s capable of doing something herself then she will do it in her own way, and I think that’s cool. Also, those weird faces that she pulls from time to time are hilarious (laughs). I do believe that such expressions show that she’s willing to let her guard down around Sugimoto; similarly, I’m hoping to give my all – my body and soul, towards playing Asirpa-chan.
Q: Shiraishi-san, did you explode with joy the same way Kobayashi-san did when you found out that you’d been cast in the role?
Shiraishi: Actually, there’s a bit of a story about that. The manager who was in charge of my schedule that day had summoned me to the agency office with the intention of relaying the news as a surprise. However, when I got to the office I ran into the chief manager who burst the bubble, saying, “Congratulations on Golden Kamuy!’ (laughs). I was just staring at him blankly and he must’ve grasped the situation right away and took back what he said – “Oh I’ve probably made a mistake”. I didn’t have a clue what I was supposed to be celebrating so I put the question to my manager-in-charge and he confirmed the news. So I was just like ‘Oh, yay!’ (laughs)
Q: What’s the atmosphere like in the recording studio?
Kobayashi: There are a lot of big-name veterans working on this show so the atmosphere in the studio is quite intense.
Shiraishi: (The cast list) is really amazing, isn’t it? But the studio does feel quite cosy during break times – we’re all fans of the work and it gets lively when we start discussing our favourite scenes.
Kobayashi: (Ōtsuka) Akio-san, who plays Nihei, would even do the voice for Retar during the tests. ‘Eat meat!’, stuff like that (laughs)
Shiraishi: He was having fun with that. For scenes where he didn’t have any lines, he’d be sat at the back reciting lines from the manga that didn’t make it into the script – he even added the sound effects (laughs)
Kobayashi: Also, Shiraishi-san is voicing Asirpa and we have (Itō) Kentarō-san voicing the role Shiraishi (Yoshitake). When Sound Director (Aketagawa) Jin-san was saying ‘Shiraishi-kun’ I got confused, wondering who he was referring to (laughs)
Shiraishi: I think he did that deliberately (laughs). After that, he started calling me Shiraishi-chan to make it easier to tell the difference.
Q: What were your emotions like during the first day of recording?
Kobayashi: There weren’t too many characters involved in episode 1; the latter half featured scenes with just the two of us. It seems that I looked a bit nervous so out of concern, Takumi (Yasuaki)-san, who plays Toraji, offered to stay behind. I gratefully requested him to do so and the 3 of us went out for a meal after recording was done (laughs). Nowadays it’s a different kind of pressure that I feel, being surrounded by so many other actors but for that [episode 1], my anxiety stemmed from something entirely different.
Shiraishi: Knowing that this is such a popular series, my emotions were in flux prior to recording: a mix of anxiety and the desire to live up to the expectations of the fans who would have very strong feelings about the individual characters. When I got to the studio though, I motivated and encouraged myself by thinking: I was selected for this role by Director (Nanba) and the rest of the staff, so I must do my best, and with confidence!
Q: Did either of you receive any specific directions from Director Nanba (Hitoshi) or Sound Director Aketagawa (Jin) with regards to your performances?
Kobayashi: Initially I was basing my acting upon my impression of Sugimoto being serious but gentle, but that only resulted in making him sound friendly. Jin-san said to me that he’s a lonely man who’s just returned from the war, and instructed me to make him sound more emotionally distant. So when Sugimoto first encounters Asirpa-san and also when he talks to the old man in the baths, I tried to make him seem a bit ingenuous as opposed to someone who opens up easily.
Q: Does his affinity for other people improve as the story develops?
Kobayashi: Yeah it did. Sugimoto and Asirpa-san share meals prepared from the animals that they’ve hunted and once Shiraishi comes into the picture and they start working together, the distance between the 3 of them gradually closes in. Acting-wise, you’ll see the friendly rapport among us coming increasingly to the fore.
Shiraishi: One memorable thing was during a scene where I’m behaving intimately with Retar, and Jin-san says to me “I want you to bring out more Mutsu feels”. He meant that he wanted me to be like Mutsugorō who’s famous for his appearance on animal shows, but at first I was thinking to myself ‘What the heck are Mutsu feels!?’ (laughs)
Kobayashi: I think you brought out those Mutsu feels amazingly well.
Shiraishi: I had to lift my enthusiasm levels (laughs). I mostly get directed to speak in a cooler manner than I would’ve originally imagined. Speaking of excitement, there’s this 3-pronged toy called a Kisarri that the Ainu use to scare kids and Asirpa is the one who handles it best in the village. But I was in a dilemma over the degree of terror that I should inject into my voice in order to scare [the kids].
Kobayashi: Did you practise at home?
Shiraishi: I try to visualize my acting at home and there are times when something comes to mind and I voice it out loud on the spot. So I was like “Ueerororogourororoaaaaa!!” and that gave my mom a shock (laughs). She was concerned, convinced that I was about to throw up.
Kobayashi: If you were to cry out like that out of the blue, people might think you’d been possessed by something (laughs)
Q: Did you face any difficulties acting-wise?
Shiraishi: Maybe the fact that I have many expositional lines? Every week, Asirpa-chan would have lengthy dialogue explaining Ainu customs.
Kobayashi: Once she starts talking, it doesn’t seem like it will ever end.
Shiraishi: That’s right. You could turn to a page in the script to find it filled with those lines. It’s surprisingly hard to explain such things in a matter-of-fact way yet still keep it connected to the conversation that’s at hand; honestly, it’s still a trial-and-error process for me. On the other hand, acting out the scenes featuring normal conversations comes quite easily to me.
Kobayashi: Sugimoto, Asirpa and Shiraishi may form a team, but I feel like it’s Asirpa who stands at the top of the pyramid (laughs).
Shiraishi: It seems that the dynamics of our relationship are coming across well during recordings as well, with the Director even saying he could ‘see how we were a team’.
Kobayashi: In my case, I mentioned earlier that none of the characters are one-sided and Sugimoto is no exception, so I found it pretty tough to shift gears. For example, there is quite a gap between how he behaves normally and what’s he like when he’s in schoolgirl mode. You see that in the way the story develops as well; like when it cuts away from the ‘this shit’s delicious!’ scene* right to a serious one where (Nakata) Jōji’s Hijikata is uttering ‘Those Shinsengumi…’ (laughs). If I can’t handle that switching of gears well, then I’d fail to fit into the way the acting flows.
*from chapter 20 when Asirpa is trying out sakura nabe (horse meat hot pot) that has a miso-based broth (see episode 3 of the anime for Asirpa’s reaction to Sugimoto’s miso/osoma/poop)
Q: Was there any communication [from the staff] regarding the Ainu language used in the show?
Shiraishi: I received a recorded tape from [dialect] Supervisor Nakagawa (Hiroshi)-sensei beforehand covering the Ainu words that appear in my lines, and I’d listen to it to immerse myself in the language before I headed to recordings. [Nakagawa] Sensei is present in the studio as well, so I would seek his advice.
Q: Do tell us any memorable stories from recording that involve Supervisor [Nakagawa].
Kobayashi: There are times when he tells us ‘not to be overly conscious about matching the pronunciation that we hear on the tape and just speak at a good tempo’.
Shiraishi: That’s right. The tape recordings emphasize the accent on the words so that we can better remember the pronunciations; the nuances do change when they’re used in conversations. Besides, the meaning of an individual word may differ slightly from what you imagine it to be. For example, you often hear ‘hinna’ (the Ainu word to show appreciation) spoken within the anime – at first, the way I said it was a little stiff & formal as I was conscious about the word’s usage in expressing gratitude towards one’s God. However, [Nakagawa-sensei] taught me that it was alright to say it in an amiable tone, so I switched to a slightly more casual way of speaking [hinna].
Q: Are there any aspects of the Ainu language that you find especially difficult?
Shiraishi: Rather than Ainu words or phrases being difficult, I find it tough whenever Ainu language is blended into normal Japanese [conversation]. The Ainu language possesses a unique way of pronouncing its words so I found it hard to return to speaking Japanese afterwards. On the other hand, if you take Ainu by itself, the language is such that it’s easy to connect phrases together; I actually discovered that it was relatively easy to speak [in the language].
Kobayashi: When it is mixed with Japanese, there is a need for the words to connect to each other properly.
Shiraishi: Yeah. There are syllables that are silent so I have to be careful regarding intervals between sounds. On the other hand, if I don’t close my mouth properly when I need to, the [pronunciation of the] word may sound unnatural. It’s an ‘Ahhh!’, head-in-hands moment whenever I see an Ainu word amongst the lengthy lines in my [Japanese] script (laughs).
Koabyashi: Exactly what she said. I’ll glance over whenever there is difficult dialogue and I’d see Shiraishi-san groaning and shaking her head (laughs)
Q: Sugimoto has to speak Ainu as well – Kobayashi-san, I take it that you faced no such problems?
Kobayashi: Yeah. I was given permission to be rubbish at it at the beginning since Sugimoto’s only saying whatever he’s learnt from mimicking Asirpa – I didn’t have to worry about the finer points of intonation and so on. So yeah, Nakagawa-sensei was pretty lenient with Sugimoto’s lines (laughs)
Q: The anime will begin airing soon. Lastly, please leave a message for the fans.
Kobayashi: The visuals are amazing and the cast that’s been gathered for the show is intense – there’s no need to ask you to look out for this or that in particular; it is my belief that you will naturally find your eyes glued to the screen. I know that the fans are very much looking forward to this series, and I myself as a fan will be enjoying the show together with you all the way to the end. By all means, enjoy the anime as if it were the world of the manga coming to life.
Shiraishi: Personally, whenever I find out that my favourite manga is to be animated, I’d visualize the expressions and acting performances that I would hope to see & hear and now, I feel the massive responsibility of being in a position to respond to similar expectations. It would bring me joy if I were to able to show you an Asirpa-chan that fits the image that you have of her, and I will strive ever harder to go beyond that. For fans of the original manga it will be a dream come true to see these characters come to life, and for those learning of this series for the first time through the anime, I believe you will be able to make a happy discovery and come to think, ‘Wow, such an amazing work exists!’. Do please enjoy both the original work as well as the anime.
Kobayashi: I feel the same way!
Shiraishi: That’s not fair! (laughs) But us cast members are a team; we share the same feelings and we’ll do our best to make our hearts beat as one.
For more extensive information on the Golden Kamuy series, do pay a visit to the Kamuy Central fansite!