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AnimeFest 2012: Sayo Yamamoto Panel Report

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Sayo Yamamoto is relatively new name in the anime industry. After working for approximately 10 years as a storyboardist and eventual episode director, Ms. Yamamoto premiered with her first main directorial work Michiko & Hatchin in 2008. Michiko & Hatchin has never been made available in America before, making 2012 a very important year for her in America. Her second directorial effort, Lupin the Third: The Woman Called Fujiko Mine, premiered this year and was simulcast, and subsequently licensed for home video, by Funimation. Funimation also announced the home video license of her first work, Michiko & Hatchin, due for release in 2013. With her works starting to get recognition here in America, Ms. Yamamoto was one of the most anticipated Japanese Guests of Honor at AnimeFest 2012. She conducted two separate panels during the weekend; both of which had a surprisingly high volume of attendees.

Her first panel, held on Saturday, was conducted in a very traditional Q&A style. Her translator basically read her questions based off of a script while she provided the answers. Ms. Yamamoto was a very soft spoken woman who answered the questions as if she was having a conversation with her translator. To preserve the nature of the panel, the first portion of this article will follow in the same Q&A format.

Panel 1

How did you start to work on the Lupin project?

I was approached by producer Yu Kiyozono (producer of Lupin III: Red vs. Green –ed) and was asked to create, or recreate, a new Lupin television series. I was told I could proceed as I wanted with full creative control and the freedom to work with all the staff I wanted. So in order for me to create something new out of something that has a legacy of animation in Japan, it took me about a month to decide what the new twist should be. The approach that I took was to create the “episode 0” to the original Lupin television series. I also wanted to re-introduce to the audience the original character designs from the Monkey Punch manga. For the character designs I approached Takeshi Koike-san, who I worked with on Redline and Animatrix: World Record. I wanted to bring the focus to Fujiko Mine and this decision allowed me to create a lot of new twists that haven’t been seen in previous versions of Lupin.

Are there any stories you could share about the difficulties or challenges that took place in the show’s production?

In the beginning I started with no pressure because I had the freedom to do what I wanted, but as the characters and scenarios involved got into production, I repeatedly asked myself, is this the correct direction? Was this the right approach?

*NOTE: At this time Ms. Yamamoto showed us a digest video used in promotion of her Lupin III series.

Let’s move on to ask about Michiko and Hatchin. How did you get involved with Michiko and Hatchin?

This was a job that came to me from when I was working at Manglobe on Samurai Champloo. The president of Manglobe asked me to create a new TV series in whatever way I would like. However, I was so busy with Samurai Champloo, I left it alone for about a year to think about. One day, a few years later, I separated from my boyfriend, so I decided to take a girl’s trip with friends to Brazil. It was on this trip I came up with the idea.

It’s a very personal story then?
Yes. Actually, this is actually my second time in Dallas. When I took the trip to Brazil previously, I had my flight transferred here in Dallas.

*NOTE: At this time Ms. Yamamoto showed up a promotional video for Michiko and Hatchin from the M&H Japanese Blu-ray.

Now, Yamamoto-sensei is going to show you one of the works she did the opening sequence for. She has done a lot of opening and ending sequences for a variety of shows. So she’ll share one of those sequences now. This one is from a series called Rozen Maiden: Traumend.

*NOTE: She now plays the full opening sequence for Rozen Maiden: Traumend.

What are some of the difficulties of working on OP/ED with a shorter time frame – how do you approach them? How do you incorporate the theme of entire story into such a small time frame?

For Rozen Maiden, “Traumend” is actually the second story of the series. I asked the director if I needed to go back and watch the first series as reference, and I was told, “No, just go to work with however you want to”. But, of course, that’s hard to do, so I asked for some hints. And what I was told was that except for the main character, everybody else dies. Based off of that, I had to figure out how to express the death and beauty of the series, and the result is as you just saw.

Is there any other particular work that you would like the audience to see, if they have not yet seen it?

Samurai Champloo. I had a chance to work with Shinichiro Watanabe on this series. I also worked with Dai Sato on this series, for episodes 5, 18, and 22. I really found myself engaged and having a fun time creating on that project.

*NOTE: At this point, a member of the audience interrupted her and started barraging her with questions. She was never able to get back to the topics she wanted to talk about and the remainder of the panel became an impromptu audience Q&A.

Q. What is your personal opinion of Fujiko Mine?

Do you mean, as a character? It’s a good question, and one I get asked all of the time as director. When I was growing up watching Fujiko in the original series of Lupin, I always watched her with anticipation of when she was going to take off her clothes.

Q. Did you apply influences from earlier Lupin series?

The first Lupin TV series is the biggest work I’ve always admired from the perspective that it was not trying to be a kid-themed work, but aimed more for grown-ups. That has been the biggest influence I’ve had from Masaaki Osumi, the director of that series.

Q. The new Lupin looks unlike so many other anime, it looks like manga pages moving onscreen. How did you decide on this visual style?

The original character designs and original artwork from Monkey Punch was a big influence, and I tried to bring that feeling back to today’s animation.

Q. Being a female director, are there a lot of female directors working in anime? Have you experienced any difficulty because you’re a woman?

At the time that I started work on Michiko & Hatchin there were only about 5 female directors. But as I moved on to Lupin, I do feel the female influence on the industry is definitely increasing and growing.

Q. Eroticism and sensuality played a big role in Fujiko Mine? Why did you take this approach?

This was a reference again to the original manga. In almost every chapter or episode there were some sort of naked female somewhere in there. I felt that the recent TV series animation was really aimed at kids, made intentionally with kids in mind. So I wanted to go back in history and bring back the original manga, how I felt it was intended to be entertaining to adults.

Q. Lupin seems to have a lot of gothic and shoujo influences, how did you incorporate this?

*NOTE: when translating this question to Ms. Yamamoto, the words rekishi and densetsu were used to relay the word gothic. This seems to be a simple translation error as the word gothic to Americans provides a particular tone, look, and feel. Whereas the words used by the translator simply refer to history, tradition, and folklore.

It might feel that the series might have some intention in gothic, but the character Fujiko really dates back to 1960s, or 1970s era, so there’s a lot of retro feel that I wanted to bring in. Maybe that’s the reason it seemed to feel like that.

Q. The color use and modern sensibilities in the new Lupin series was fantastic; what kind of reactions in Japan did you get from using a “manga look” with modern color schemes?

I do get a lot of comments and some praise about the use of color, and the original character designs and original artwork. The original manga is in black and white, and that is why I used darker, more greyish tones for most color usage, as well as black for any shadow, as well as the hatching for shading.

Q. What do you do in your free time?

After AnimeFest, I will be in Mexico.

Q. How do you balance the narrative concerns of a series versus the art style of a series?

In my way of working, there is no balance. Story comes first, in making sure the story works, and that in the series that the plot progresses. I try and make sure the art is there to express the storyline and support the story.

Q. What anime did you enjoy growing up?

Urusei Yatsura and Ranma ½

Q. The art has a very European influence in color and design; was this a conscious expression?

The motifs I used are from a 19th century English artist, in both the opening title for Fujiko as well as Rozen Maiden. So I have had inspiration from graphic design elements from European artists.

Panel 2

Ms. Yamamoto’s second panel was held on Sunday jointly with Dai Sato. Mr. Sato was one of the scriptwriters who worked on Lupin III, so the two of them used the second panel to focus solely on Lupin III. This panel was conducted in a Q&A style between Mr. Sato and Ms. Yamamoto.

Hello everyone, please welcome Ms. Sayo Yamamoto and Mr. Dai Sato! Let’s jump right into talking about Fujiko.

Yamamoto: Yesterday we talked a lot about the content of the show, so today we’re going to talk about the show more from the perspective of the staff, and one person in particular. The reason that we both got to this point in our careers from one common individual and his name is Shinichiro Watanabe. Mr. Sato and I first met during Samurai Champloo.

Sato: I knew Mr. Watanabe from my work on Cowboy Bebop, but I wasn’t doing full-blown script writing at the time. However, he knew about me and my writing work, and he believed that if I stepped up I could do the work for Samurai Champloo. Ms. Yamamoto, how did you meet Mr. Watanabe?

Yamamoto: I actually knew someone involved with the Bebop movie. And they told me there was a job opening or request for directors or episode directors that had an interest in samurai.

Sato: So were you interested in samurai?

Yamamoto: In my earlier years I created an animation that had to do with samurai, so yes. I used Toshiro Mifune’s pieces, his films, as an inspiration, and I animated it all by myself.

Sato: The same Mifune from all those Kurosawa Akira films?

Yamamoto: Yes.

Sato: So you made that film when you were a student?

Yamamoto: Yes, all by myself, when I was university student.

Sato: Were you going to a special animation school?

Yamamoto: No, just a design school and it had nothing to do with anime, but I didn’t like the other stuff they were teaching so I did my own thing.

Sato: And they let you graduate?

Yamamoto: Actually, yeah. Doing animation at a non-animation school!

Sato: By the way, did you ever show that film to Watanabe?

Yamamoto: No way! At that point I was looking for a job after I graduated. I knew I wanted to be a director. I was fortunate enough to be able to show that work to Mr. Satoshi Kon. I didn’t realize what I was doing at the time.

Sato: What were his thoughts?

Yamamoto: He clapped his hands laughing! But he had such a kind heart. Because of that he helped me gain some assistant type jobs, and it was my first entry into non-production management type work. The name of the project was Millennium Actress. However, a lot of stuff went on politically, and I ended up stepping down partway through, but that was my first step into the industry.

Sato: Let’s bring it back to Mr. Watanabe. What were your thoughts after working on Samurai Champloo?

Yamamoto: I have worked with a lot of directors, and my main reflections are that he was so different from every other director. For one: he’s very frank, very straightforward. So I was expecting him to correct me and point out my mistakes left and right, but ultimately, that never happened. Maybe one or two things, but in the form of “hey, let’s try and make that more interesting,” not harsh, very gentle.

Sato: I have a very similar impression of Mr. Watanabe myself. With some people I can say, I never want to work with them again. But Watanabe is one director out there that if I have the opportunity to work with again, I’ll drop everything and work with him. I was a little sad he didn’t call me for Kids on the Slope. But around the same time, we were doing Lupin! And for Lupin III, Watanabe was the music director. Obviously, music director is much different from series director. What was your impression of Watanabe in the role of music director?

Yamamoto: Normally when you overlay sound, there’s not a lot of control I have over that process. In this case, with Watanabe, I didn’t even have to try and correct or change anything. I gave him the work, and he added the sound to the places where he thought it would be most effective. I feel even more indebted to him now. I have to repay him even more now!

Sato: For the series, Naruyoshi Kikuchi was picked to do the music. Mr. Kikuchi has done all sorts of music. He is a very proficient alto sax performer and performed in Yoko Kanno’s band. But he also has a reputation that he’s not very fond of anime actually. Can you tell us the reason behind his casting and what it was like working with him?

Yamamoto: One of the main reasons is that I wanted to find someone who was not so serious, maybe kind of a delinquent, a rebel, and not someone who was very familiar with anime. He lives in a famous area of Tokyo called Kabuki-cho. The people who live there are kind of known as yakuza, strippers, host club workers, and that type of crowd. When I met him, my first impression was “you fit right into that district!”

Sato: So did that kind of rebel actually work hard for you?

Yamamoto: He was a rebel in everything but his work. In doing his job he was amazing.

Sato: As a matter of fact, during a pre-meeting, when I heard rumor that Kikuchi was going to do the music, I shouted “YEAH!” causing the rest of the staff to jump. I almost added to my contract that I was to be the first person to get the soundtrack. I made a special request to production staff, so that actually did happen. So actually I listened to the music as I wrote the scripts. Many people know that Mr. Ono Yuji’s music is the traditional music for a Lupin series. Was there was a lot of controversy with not using Mr. Ono’s music, and if so what was the reaction?

Yamamoto: I was prepared to get a lot of criticism for changing the theme, but the opening was just so strong, I mostly just heard “that was a good song”, it just fits. I wanted the score be similar to Yamashita Takeo’s, who had a very similar personality to Kikuchi, so I think from that reason we were able to go along a different track. Did you know that the “Arashi ga oka” (the opening theme to Fujiko Mine) is a piece the Kikuchi’s band has been playing a long time? It’s just an instrumental version that was used for the OP.

Sato: What did you think of the song, the instrumental version, with some words overlaid on it?

Yamamoto: During one of our meetings when they sent over the 90 second edited version of music, I was just overwhelmed. Once I heard the overdub as well it was even more shocking to me, in a wonderful way.

Sato: Mr. Kikuchi is also an author with many published works. Can you tell me about when he wrote the lyrics to overlay? What were your reactions?

Yamamoto: To give you more background, when I talked with Watanabe about music for the series, I had also given the plot to Mr. Kikuchi. He had read through the plot and reflected in on himself, and put words to what the internal struggles to Fujiko herself are, and he wrote that out, and the result was amazing.

Sato: From my point of view writing scripts, I thought, “I’m going to lose out to the writer of the opening song!” Personally, I’m a huge fan of Kikuchi’s essays.

Yamamoto: The actual reader is Ichiko Hashimoto. Mr. Kikuchi had a couple of female vocalists and had them read, and she was the one picked.

Sato: She’s actually done some voice acting work in RahXephon. Did you know she had done this work?

Yamamoto: I think it’s pretty amazing, and she performs with him in his band, but I didn’t think even he knows, so it was a pure coincidence. We can’t really talk too much about the piece, though. It starts to connect to the ending of the series. So, the opening has some scenes that you may not recognize until you’ve seen the series. They’d be spoilers if you knew what to look for, or what you were looking at, and since we’re not going to spoil anything today, we’ll move on. Watch the series, and then re-watch the opening, and see if it fits for you.

Sato: Let’s switch gears from music to art. Koike has a very unique touch. Can you tell us about him and why you chose him?

Yamamoto: Mr. Koike is a very talented guy. I met him at Madhouse on the Trava project; which was my first real opportunity to do storyboarding. When I first decided to approach Mr. Koike about the Lupin project, it was right when we were premiering Redline for the first time. So, Mr. Koike spent 6 years working on the Redline project, and that’s a long time to be working on one project; so I figured it was now or maybe never to ask him. Maybe it’s a breach of etiquette to ask such a thing at a debut screening, but I did approach him and he did agree. He always said he admired Castle of Cagliostro. I thought maybe if I approached him to do a Lupin film he might accept, and he did. There was a little luck involved because just about that time Koike was ready to quit Madhouse and make some changes in his career, and things just fell into place.

Sato: At first when I was asked about working on Lupin, I thought it was going to be difficult, especially from the art perspective, but when I saw the pictures Koike-san did, I felt comfortable accepting the job. I was very happy to work in collaboration with such talented people on this project! I also want to touch on the casting for scriptwriter. Much like with Cowboy Bebop, I only wrote 3 of the episodes of the series myself. It was the ever-famous Okada Mari who was responsible for the overall series composition. Can you tell us about the experience and the casting of Ms. Okada?

Yamamoto: I had several different opportunities to possibly work with Okada in past years, but for some reason or another, the staff around me always stopped it from happening. They said we were “two birds of a feather”, or “north pole plus north pole is not going to work out well, working together”. TMS entertainment is most famous for children’s series such as Anpanman, Hamtaro, and Detective Conan (Case Closed). I bet they didn’t know too much about myself or Miss Okada when they realized they were going to choose us! So surprisingly, when I decided to give the offer to Miss Okada nobody stopped me this time. It just went through.

*Translator speaking directly to the audience* You may not realize that Miss Okada is considered the topmost rated scriptwriter in Japan right now, she’s done AnoHana but also AKB0048, which is a tie-in with a very popular idol group, so she’s immensely popular.

Sato: So even though she’s so extremely busy with so many projects, was it really so easy to send a request and she said “I’ll do it”?

Yamamoto: Well…yeah.

Sato: When you worked with her, did you feel your dreams or wishes had come true having to work with her?

Yamamoto: Yes, she’s a very interesting person. It’s not always the case that an interesting scriptwriter can write interesting scripts. But I was really pleased with how amazing the script ended up being, which far exceeded how interesting Ms. Okada is, the script was even more so. She has an amazing reputation for memorable punch lines and memorable quotes that characters say. We felt that we needed to be able to execute good punchy lines, which is critical to a Lupin piece. And I think that we’ve been able to add so many of those punch lines inside the show is really just thanks to Miss Okada.

Sato: So we just talked about the amazing staff, and what we’d like to do is show you this digest video. You can still see the names of all of the people we just talked about appear during this promotion.

*NOTE: This digest video was a different promotional piece for Lupin III that highlighted the entire staff who would be working on the project.

Sato: And of course, I hope the audience is aware that Funimation has licensed Lupin III for release and it is currently streaming. Do you have any hopes for how it’s received in America?

Yamamoto: I think really everyone views and perceives differently, but as long as you can enjoy it, I’ll be very happy myself.

Sato: I feel the same way.

*NOTE: The floor is now opened to the audience for Q&A

Q. How did you come up with idea for Oscar? He appears to have been influenced by Rose of Versailles or Song of Wind and Trees.

Yamamoto: We thought of Oscar on the fly and not something that we put a lot of deep thought into. Since the series took place in the 70s we wanted to get that feeling in, though maybe not specifically from those pieces. At the beginning we called him the “Beautiful Young Man Rose Detective”. We wanted to be able to add that line into the story itself, but in the process we kind of forgot. But, Pataliro was a main reference for the character himself.

Q. Have you seen 1969 pilot film?

Yamamoto: Of course.

Q. Do you want to remake the pilot film?

Yamamoto: Actually, one of the things we’ve been busy for the past few months working on is the corrections and fixes and retakes for the DVD and BD release of the Lupin series. So far I can’t even think about wanting to do anything else, I’m so involved with trying to complete this project.

Q. Do you feel that being able to gather this team has increased your stature as a director? Elevated your status in the industry?

Yamamoto: Absolutely not.


What do you think about Ms. Yamamoto’s panels? We were able to learn a lot about both her and Lupin III (a series of which both Chris and Thomas are ardent fans of). Do her remarks change your perspective on the series? If you haven’t seen the series yet, does it make you more inclined to check it out? Tell us about it in the forums!