Time for the popular reverse interview corner! With this installment being a 15th anniversary special, I’m welcoming a person who knows me well, from 15 years ago to today: Audio Director Kazuhiro Wakabayashi. In the time since we first met for the animation that led to my CD debut, “The Vision of Escaflowne”, we’ve worked together on many productions, such as “Ghost in the Shell”, “Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex”, “Ouran High School Host Club”, and “Soul Eater”. Also, though I didn’t personally play a role in the following, this sought-after director has more famous productions in his portfolio than I can list here, like “Spirited Away”, “Howl’s Moving Castle”, “Princess Mononoke”, “Tales from Earthsea”, “[Ghost in the Shell 2:] Innocence”, and “Eden of the East”, and so I’m certain every one of you reading this has come into contact with Mr. Wakabayashi’s work at some point.
Explained in broad terms, the job of the Audio Director for an animation is to give the voice actors direction during recording as to how they should act, and direct the sound by considering which sound effects and background music should go with which scenes. From the point of view of voice actresses such as myself, the Audio Director is similar to the conductor of an orchestra. At the recording stage the art is still incomplete, and of course it lacks sound. As such you have to use your imagination to fill in the rest of the overall picture as you act. This is where the audio director gives additional explanations for physical factors like, “Try giving this scene a more distant feel,” or adds intricate emotional depictions like, “She’s a tough, steadfast girl, but just for this line show a little of her timid side,” so I rely on these to set the course of my acting.
On the job he’s this sort of dependable yet strict, but also kind “boss”. But to me, since I’ve worked under him since I was just a child, he also feels just like a father. In any case, had I not met Mr. Wakabayashi on the set of “Escaflowne”, I wouldn’t be here today. He’s someone who was there to witness what could be called the very origin, the turning point of my life.
Now then, that’s enough explanation from me, so let’s move on to hear Mr. Waka’s (so I usually call him) side of the story!
Sakamoto: I think the first time we met was in 1995, when I was 15, at the auditions for “The Vision of Escaflowne”—what was your impression of me then? I have a memory of running late and leaving for the audition in a panic….
Wakabayashi: You were late? Really? My impression of you back then was that you were a “real girl”. But you definitely had a strange sense of composure…. At the time I thought it came from your experience acting as a child.
Sakamoto: I passed that audition and was selected for the role of Hitomi Kanzaki, the heroine. What was it about me, who had almost zero experience in voice acting for animations, that led to me being chosen?
Wakabayashi: I remember back then, Mr. Akane, the director, was wondering “Are there any new, talented girls out there?” and from there opened up auditions for girls close to Hitomi’s actual age. I don’t put a lot of weight on experience, since at that time my thoughts were of choosing a lead actress the director would be happy with. You were picked as “a heroine who sounds like she lives just down the street”…that’s what I believe. Basically I have a feeling your freshness (the way you expressed your age. For instance, that aura that felt as if you had a favorite upperclassmate) was the key to your selection.
Sakamoto: If you remember any stories from when we were in the middle of recording “Esca”, please tell. The only memories I have are of desperately struggling through every session (laugh).
Wakabayashi: I remember you were practically crying during the recording for episodes 25 and 26, and that starting a little before then, when you were focused you called me “Sensei”. It was exactly the way a student would address her teacher. That caught me by surprise!
Sakamoto: Right, right, I went to recording right after school ended, and out of habit everyone above me became “Sensei” (laugh).
Wakabayashi: Also, I guess that time during a break when I told you “You already sound like an adult” and you snapped back with “I’m not a kid, you know”…. That gave me a bit of a start, and I thought to myself, “This girl’s on the edge of becoming a woman.”
Sakamoto: What?! Did I really say that when I was 16?! I don’t remember that at all…. We worked together on various productions after that, but “Ouran High School Host Club” was the first weekly show we had done in a while. For me, this is a particularly memorable series. I had always felt strongly that I wasn’t made for voice acting work, but I guess you could say that discovering this series felt like it opened a new door for me, and I had a feeling that I had finally understood the truly fun things behind voice work.
Wakabayashi: When I suggested your name to Director Igarashi, who was debating who to use for the heroine, he loved the idea. In the end, I was extremely happy that you acted so freely (?) that you went past even my expectations of how well you’d fit with an “apathetic heroine”, and I sensed you were trusting in me.
Sakamoto: And then pretty much right after that was “Soul Eater”. Crona, out of all the characters I’ve played so far, actually ranks as one of my most favorite—it was a role worth playing, and I enjoyed it.
Wakabayashi: As with every other time, you went beyond my imagination and played that role with everything you had. From that cheerless, everyday conversation to that fierce yell…. You had me wondering if your throat was OK, it was so loud. This is where I was really surprised by your range.
Sakamoto: Outside of the productions we’ve touched on here, in the productions where we’ve worked together are there any roles that stand out in your mind?
Wakabayashi: Not a role, but your attitude—you seem to like Director Kenji Kamiyama quite a lot…. When we called you in for the role of Kodomotoko in “S.A.C.” you were in an extremely fine mood. You were practically dancing.
Sakamoto: Ahaha, that’s right. I was a big fan of the “Ghost in the Shell” TV series, and when I got called to the studio I was ecstatic. Plus Mr. Kamiyama actually has an aura similar to the first boy I fell in love with, so when I see him my heart always skips a beat! So, up until now I’ve asked you to speak about the voice acting side of me, but as for the artist side of Maaya Sakamoto…what do you think? (laugh)
Wakabayashi: I really like your voice. How should I put it…it’s the kind of voice that when I listen to it, I can feel myself relax.
Sakamoto: Is there a song you especially like?
Wakabayashi: You know, I just can’t get “I Don’t Need a Promise” out of my head. Maybe because I went to the Cultural Festival at the high school you were attending back then, and on the way home we sang it together at a karaoke place.
Sakamoto: Right, that day several people from the cast of “Esca” came to see me at the Cultural Festival (laugh). That was another unforgettable time. I was a high school girl then, and now I’m 30. Recently we’ve been able to go out for drinks together. Is there anything about Maaya Sakamoto that you feel has changed in these past 15 years? Please tell me if there’s anything that’s changed or hasn’t.
Wakabayashi: Something that’s changed… That old-man side of yours has become more visible. It’s like the side that makes assumptions about how you have to act as a woman has slipped to one side, to put it one way. Something that hasn’t changed… That feeling of trust you have in me. Looking at everything together, I feel like what’s changed is that your “accumulated experience” you’ve built up all this time in your singing and voice work came to fruition in “Ouran” and “Soul”. It made me think, “Ah, she’s showing me that she’s grown as a person…”
Sakamoto: Trust definitely might be a big force behind that. Part of why I was able to jump head-first into the challenge of new roles was because you were there watching over me, and my feelings of wanting to meet your expectations gave me a good kind of nervousness that actually helped me improve. Moving on, if you had to pick one thing you wish Maaya Sakamoto would quit doing, what would it be?
Wakabayashi: I can’t think of anything right now. If I had to choose, I guess it would be that your old-man side doesn’t show itself any more than it already does in your lines…. I have a feeling the balance you have now is just right!
Sakamoto: From your point of view, where do you anticipate Maaya Sakamoto will go from here? Also, how would you like her to change?
Wakabayashi: Surprisingly it looks like you’ll stay like you are now. If there is a big change, maybe that depends on your future companion that you’ll meet (or perhaps already have met?). If possible, should you become a mother, I’d hope you continue “spreading your wings” in voice work.
Sakamoto: Honestly, what’s attractive about Maaya Sakamoto?!
Wakabayashi: The fact you’re made up of 60% girl, 20% woman, and 20% old man. Also, your voice is good. (You’re frank, can wear men’s clothes, and you’re like a princess’s relative…you have that quality of never being uptight.)
Sakamoto: And lastly, please include anything you’d like in a message to Maaya Sakamoto.
Wakabayashi: Maaya Sakamoto is a priceless individual. This is because the things that make her attractive, which I listed earlier, are always permeating every part of her work. Most women usually put on countless faces, such as one for work, one for friends, and one for home, but I feel like Maaya is different. This is one of the best things about her, and it is the very “character” that will be accepted anywhere you go in the world. I hope you’ll never forget this.
Sakamoto: Thank you so much for your gracious and encouraging words. My message to you is that since you’re extremely busy, more than anything else I hope you’ll take care of yourself and continue to produce wonderful work with a smile on your face forever! Also, I always make many discoveries and am constantly learning things about being an actress when I work with you, and it feels like I’m constantly faced with the question of what are those moments that stir people’s hearts. I feel the recording sessions are the kind where reading your lines well is important, but there are always moments where if you draw out just the outline everyone sees through it right away, and something more pure, more elemental in your heart is called for. And that’s what I like about it! Usually in these newsletters I can’t help that there tend to be a lot of stories about the music side of things, so having a talk like this from the angle of a voice actress was something new. Thank you very much! IDS! members, if there are any [of Mr. Wakabayashi’s] productions you have yet to see, please take this chance to watch them.