Category Archives: Nagasaki Yukio

Seikai suru Kado: An Interview with Sound Director Nagasaki Yukio

Seikai suru Kado (KADO: The Right Answer) is one of my favourite series of this current season. I don’t think enough people are watching it; at least not where I’m looking. It’s a shame I suppose – its political slant makes it the perfect show for the current climate.

Nizista ran a series of interviews with the staff and cast of Seikai suru Kado and this particular one with sound director Nagasaki Yukio is really interesting, with a few bones and bits regarding the casting and sound directing process being thrown in. Thanks to reader barak for the tip!

What kind of job is sound directing!?

Q: I believe there are many of our readers who are wondering, ‘what kind of things does a sound director do?”. Even if briefly, please tell us what kind of job sound directing is.

A: It’s a role where you ‘supervise everything related to sound’. There is a director who oversees the production as a whole but they can’t possibly involve themselves in everything, so for the sound-related aspects I will talk to the director first and then assemble the staff and the cast and get the final OK from the director. (Sound directors) have that kind of role.

Q: Are there any differences in things like status or the ratio of one’s involvement depending on the show you’re working on?

A: Sometimes (we’re) credited as ‘dubbing director’; this means that our involvement is limited to supervising the voice actors. I worked as the dubbing director for Genocidal Organ where I was only in charge of seiyuu casting and recording.

Q: With regards to casting – do you discuss with the director and then decide, or is it left to your own discretion?

A: I will talk everything over with the director. It’s not just the director, but the producer(s) and scenario writers may be there too. Each of us will come up with names of actors who we imagine can fill the role and we’ll call those people in for auditions, but oftentimes there will be differences in the way we each imagine the character to be so we’ll have to discuss who comes closest to that ‘image’ before making a decision. As there are many characters in [an] anime, we could end up with around 100-150 actors coming into the studios over 1-2 days.

Q: Seems like that would take its toll on a person, physically.

A: To be honest there are even more candidates at the preliminary stages of the audition. We’d have all of them record sample lines and end up listening to about a 100 different people’s voice samples for each character. Having to listen through all of that is quite the tough task! (laughs) From there, we’ll whittle it down to 10 people for the studio auditions. Even if you narrow it down to 10 people per role, you’d still end up with 50 people for 5 roles.

Q: That’s some job you’ve got to do.

A: I’m also in charge of instructing the seiyuu during the auditions. As I’m the one who has to talk the most during the process, my throat often ends up dying (laughs)

Q: When it comes to directing seiyuu, what kind of guidance do you offer? There is much that we, [as viewers], do not understand about the interactions that take place in a recording studio…

A: The acting during rehearsals on the day of recording is seen as the ‘final stage’ for each actor. In short, the recording studio is a place where an actor showcases what they’ve come up with, having learned their scripts and reflected upon their roles in the series. Of course I have my own thoughts as a director and other directors have theirs, but I do not believe in needing to teach an actor from scratch. Time is of the essence during recording, and I do not have the luxury of being able to offer acting guidance.
What a sound director basically does is to ‘control traffic’. We choose the best of whatever each [actor] comes up with; our role is to take all these individual flavours and cause a chemical reaction to happen so that we can enrich the world of the series we’re working on, within as short a period of time as possible. Regarding the dialogue – we do have discussions about it together with the actors and the director as well. The most important thing is for us to capture the passion that is present during recording without losing the so-called ‘live’ feeling, and deliver it to the viewers.

Q: So if a chemical reaction happens, it’s possible that [the acting] might go beyond the frame of what the sound director and director were thinking of.

A: That’s what I want. Acting guidance is what [I] do to elevate an actor to what I think is the point of 100%. But if a chemical reaction happens, it can go up to 150% or 200%. I’m striving to create something that is 200% so it’s actually not OK to me if you can’t exceed the 100% that I’m expecting.
In a rookie seiyuu’s case, if they can’t achieve the 100% that I want, then I must do the work to raise them to that level. If they’re terrible then I can maybe only get to around 80%. When that happens, the quality of the series will noticeably drop. In order to prevent that, (I’ll) have to be precise with the casting.
That’s why, the very first job I have to see through, is to brush off as much as possible those ‘thinly veiled interests’ and ‘unreasonable demands’ made by the producers and sponsors (laughs). I think that it’s not just me, but all sound directors who think this way but perhaps, I am the only one who dares to say it out loud (laughs).

An era where SF works win over readers and are adapted for the screen

Q: What was your first impression upon seeing this project [Seikai suru Kado]?

A: I thought, ‘It’s a type of hard SF’. I do love science fiction myself; the dawn of Japanese SF arrived when I was a young child. Half a century has passed since, and as with Genocidal Organ you can see that even in Japan, these types of deeply moving SF works have managed to win over readers and be adapted into visual media formats.

Q: During the early stages of production, had you already formulated any ideas regarding the aspects of sound in the show?

A: Nothing came to mind at all. The ‘Kado’ and ‘Wam’ that you see in the series have been simplified from how they appeared at the scenario stage. Even if they seem simple, however, their respective structures are complicated – that is a thought that came to me as I watched the episodes. Pre-scoring* involves recording the sound before the visuals have been created, but [the final product] exceeded what I had imagined.

*pre-scoring (puresuko, プレスコ) is recording dialogue for an anime without the aid of visual guides/cues. It is the opposite of after-recording (afureko, アフレコ). The latter method is more commonly used.

Q: Recording without the aid of visuals – isn’t it terribly hard work not just for the actors, but also for the ‘traffic controllers’ ie the sound directors?

A: It’s the problem of familiarity – if the visuals are already complete prior to recording, then it becomes necessary for the actor to match his lines to the mouth flaps created by other people (the director & episode director). This time around we’re using pre-scoring so the actors can act from ‘within’ themselves, which I think in a way, makes things a lot easier. We’re also working on the basis of the character moving in CG, which has strangely subtle differences when compared to hand-drawn animation.

Q: Are they things you would notice when watching the series?

A: The emphasis is always placed upon matching up with the visuals, so I don’t think you would notice. I worked on another CG series, Toei Distribution’s Ashura (2012), and that was pre-scored as well. At the time we recorded temporary dialogue with different voice actors to match the animated storyboards and once the actual animation was created, we fixed and re-recorded the dialogue with the actual cast. For [Ashura], the characters’ looks are pretty close to what you see in normal anime so you don’t really feel like something is off. Following that I did the fully CG anime Captain Harlock (2013), for which we had large sets built and got actors to actually act out the roles as we recorded the guide dialogue.

Q: That’s amazing!

A: We built an interior set for the Arcadia* and had another actor perform the role; based on the recorded sound we used ‘facial capture’** to create the mouth flaps. We were going for a realistic look and not an anime-ish look but when we had the actual cast members such as Oguri Shun come in to record their lines, we still couldn’t match the mouth flaps perfectly. To have a different actor match his voice to the performance of another actor. It is difficult.

*Captain Harlock’s spaceship
**facial capture – recording facial expressions using a motion capture system to generate animated facial expressions

Q: That image is close to that of dubbing foreign films.

A: It is similar to dubbing foreign works, but even if you ‘overact’ like you do for foreign movies it still wouldn’t match. Ah, this is a common misconception but it seems most people don’t know that dubbing foreign movies requires acting that is even more exaggerated than what is required for anime. Honestly, the acting in anime is more realistic. Many people in this world misunderstand that point, first of all.
When I hold meetings with directors, they sometimes say ‘this work is going to have a bit more of a realistic feel to it so let’s assemble a cast of seiyuu who works on foreign films and overseas dramas’. But if I don’t tell them ‘if you want to make it sound real you should ask for seiyuu who work on anime’ they would not understand.
This is something I myself misunderstood until I started working as a sound director – it is hard to match the mouth flaps formed by speaking Japanese to those that are formed by speaking English. Unless you overact, you won’t be able to match the English dialogue. In the same way, a Western voice actor would not be able to match the voices in Korean dramas or Chinese dramas well. It’s because the Korean and Chinese works are close to Japan’s in terms of expressions and mouth movements, so overacting would bring up discrepancies. That is why live-action actors feel that it should sound more natural if they recite their lines as if they were acting. With the same line of reasoning, for realistic anime where facial expressions are not overly exaggerated, it would sound more realistic if one were to verbalize inner thoughts in a dramatic manner.
But a realistic CG work like Harlock differs from anime. You have to produce a performance that is slightly over-exaggerated when compared to live-action movies, but not as much as when dubbing foreign films. That is something I realized with Harlock.
Furuta Arata-san is absurdly good. Even if Furuta-san recites his lines or piles on ad-libs at a timing separate from the other actors’ lines, it still appears natural. I thought incorporating the essence of stage acting would be a good fit for a realistic CG production.

For this pre-score I requested that the actors ‘act naturally, like you’re acting in a live-action film’. We would do the voice capture first, and mouth flaps would then be created to match the sound – the results were strangely realistic-looking. I thought it felt fresh.

The cast were ‘people who could produce realistic acting’

Q: For Kado, the main cast consists of Miura Hiroaki as Shindo Kojiro, Terashima Takuma as Yaha-kui zaShunina and M.A.O as Tsukai Saraka – what was discussed with the director regarding the selection of these 3 actors?

A: Director Murata Kazuya said to me that he wanted ‘people who could produce acting that is as close to real life as possible’. When you compare the days of Dragon Ball Z or Fist of the North Star to today where we’ve observed the rise of ‘slice-of-life anime’ such as ‘K-ON!’, you can see that acting methodologies have completely changed. Seiyuu nowadays can’t seem to produce acting that is ‘over-exaggerated yet realistic’. The kids of today have different starting points as they didn’t grow up watching the anime of yore where heroes would scream out the names of their special moves. Now you get kids who watched K-ON! when they were 10, wanting to become seiyuu.
Miura-san was chosen, partly because Murata-san was inclined towards him, but also because he possesses strengths that set him apart from other existing seiyuu. Initially [he] was worried about handling the dialogue but he improved with each passing episode. M.A.O-san too, is someone who is able to pull off a role that needed to sound natural yet dignified, young yet requiring a certain amount of gravitas. Terashima-kun’s role was one where we were seeking gender-neutrality, so we actually had female seiyuu try out during auditions as well. We found that he was the one who sounded the most congruent; neither too feminine nor too masculine, and he brought out a ‘this is not a human being’ feeling very well indeed.

Q: What do you think are the highlights of the ‘sound’ aspects of this series, or parts that you’d like people to pay attention to?

A: The sound of the ‘Kado’. I had to process all the raw audio to create something that was in the image of a high-dimensional world, a kind of sound that nobody has ever heard before.
For this series, I discussed with the sound effects guy about wanting to ‘make it real’ and not like sound made with synthesizers that you wouldn’t hear in normal life. We talked about the inside and the flowing surface of the ‘Kado’ and we thought of it as being similar to the ocean. It may not sound quite like the sea, but I actually did process the sound of waves to create it, as opposed to producing electronic noise.
Also, the series is kind of a discussion-heavy drama so the dialogue scenes can go on for a while but regardless, I created sound that will allow you to understand the content without getting tired. Oh, and the music was recorded with a full orchestra – it’s amazing. It must’ve cost a lot of money (laughs)

Interview & Photography: Kasai Kiriya

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Personal Comments: His “80% is the best I can do” remark sets wheels turning in the head; don’t they? I’ve always wondered, for a long time, why a no-nonsense guy like Nagasaki got on board to sound direct things like Denpa Kyoshi and the Love Live! anime franchise and how he felt about working with rookies or people who aren’t seiyuu by trade. You can play join the dots with that one and guess the names that popped up in my mind…I guess he just gave up at 40% for certain people, hah.

Nagasaki’s castings rarely show favouritism – think of some of his recent works like Gangsta., orange, Fune o Amu and Akatsuki no Yona and you’ll see next to no recurring patterns. He does seem to be the rare breed of sound director who is willing to sit through hours and days of auditions to find the 100% right person for a role – I imagine his auditions must be tough trials to go through and you’d feel like you won the lottery if you got it.