After the success of the dazzlingly Your Name last year, not to mention the copious amounts of buzz surrounding Studio Ghibli and their next steps it seems the western world is certainly becoming more accustomed to the phenomenal pieces of animation Japan are currently producing. Now we are lucky enough to witness director Naoko Yamada’s latest feature film; A Silent Voice in all its emotional glory.
Based on a popular book, the film follows class bully Shoya Ishida who starts picking on the new girl Shoko Nishimiya simply because she is different – she cannot hear, uses a notebook and sign language to communicate and wears a hearing aid. Although it seems after years of teasing people in elementary school, Ishida’s reputation as a bully follows him around leaving him lonely and vulnerable to the harsh reality of growing up. Yamada brings love, hope and sadness to this engrossing tale as we journey with Ishida on his path of forgiveness.
We were lucky enough to talk to the director herself to see what really makes her tick and her motivation on taking on such a human and expressive project.
What inspired you to get into animation?
I have always liked drawing and taking pictures and also I like anime and I like films. Then I came across Kyoto Animation and it went from there.
At the moment not just across the film industry but across the board, woman in general are fighting for equal rights in the work place. What’s it like being a woman in the film industry in your country?
I think I am very fortunate to be in Kyoto Animation because the studio is just great about equal rights. There isn’t many things that anything that I see that are unfair at all and I think I am quite resilient and… I want to win. When it comes to my opinion as a female director, I am like, ‘yeah so, I’m a director’, the fact I am female doesn’t really matter. Do I sound harsh? So I tend to stay away from being overly feminine and I don’t want my work to be looked at as women’s work, because everyone is different at the end at the of the day and everyone has to make an effort to create things so I think I am really fortunate to be at such a studio that supports equal rights.
Were you familiar with the comic before being involved in the film and do you recommend the comic/book?
I didn’t read the book before, because I heard it was popular and stuff. The Studio were raving about the book so I deliberately didn’t read it as I thought it was something I want to direct. So I thought if I did read it, it wouldn’t happen so I didn’t. Yes, I would recommend it but whatever you want to do. I just wanted to make a movie that stands by itself, so this isn’t a fan movie. I know it has a big fan base but it’s not to please them – the film isn’t for them, it’s a story about Shoya Ishida and that speaks for itself. I also have massive respect for the original story and loved it when I read it so I just wanted to convey the love and passion to audiences in order to give something back to the story I liked so much.
So much of this is focusing on hands, feet and expressions – Can you explain a bit about the body language and the choice of direction here?
Yes, this technique isn’t just used for animation there are loads of ways to bring out emotions to the audience from a screen. Words, sounds, colours, layouts, but with this story I was really conscious about doing that so I used different camera angels – shaky scenes, smaller cameras, blurred vision, each movement be it hand, feet, eye means something or has some sort of emotion and I really wanted to use as many techniques as possible to convey as many emotions as I can. I wanted the audience to feel comfortable, feel like they are looking at real things not animation. The people might be conscious or not conscious about it but I wanted to move the emotions of the audience.
When working on the film did you become particularly attached to one character at all?
No, I can’t really pick one character – I accept them all for who they are, I respect them and they are all important in the movie. There’s no one character that I did, didn’t like, they are just good and bad and I just loved the work so I didn’t have a particular favourite.
What’s next for you? Any other projects on the cards?
Not really anything in particular at the moment. There are lots of things that I want to do, but anything I work on in the future will be about human emotions. We have to take care of each other and life shouldn’t be taken for granted.
As the interview was coming to a close she said that she didn’t want me to think she was anti-feminism and stated that over half the staff at the Studio were actually women – hopefully something the western world can learn from and certainly implement accordingly. A powerful and confident woman that has produced an equally sure of itself film. It’s no wonder she won the Japanese Academy Award for Excellence for her animation for K-On! back in 2010.
A Silent Voice is released in the UK on March 17th