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Interview with Naoyoshi Shiotani (1)

Delicate and unpredictable feelings of a girl and a boy who end up missing each other because of a trivial mishap. SICAF 2008 Grand Prize winner Tokyo Marble Chocolate recounts the two confusing days a young couple experiences from each person's viewpoint. In the first of our exclusive two-part interview, director Naoyoshi Shiotani will tell us how everything started.

Profile: Naoyoshi Shiotani - Born in 1977, Shiotani is one of Production I.G's most promising young creators. After becoming an anime fan by watching My Neighbor Totoro and Kiki's Delivery Service, he was blown away by Wings of Honneamise and started feeling frustrated at the idea of not being on the creative side of animation. Thus, he enrolled in an anime school, and after graduation, he joined Production I.G. His main works include Windy Tales (2004, animation director) and Blood+ (2005), for which he also directed the kaleidoscopic third opening film, Colors of the Heart (check our special feature here), selected in competition for the 11th Holland Animation Film Festival. Other notable works include Tsubasa Chronicle - The Princess of the Birdcage Kingdom (2005, key animator), Le Chevalier D'Eon (2006, episode director), Tekkon Kinkreet (2006, key animator) and Ghost Hound (2007, Ghost designer). Tokyo Marble Chocolate is Shiotani's directorial debut. He's a soft-spoken nice guy with a naughty boy inside.


First of all, congratulations for the Grand Prize at SICAF 2008
Thanks! I still can't believe it. It's just... great!

It was well deserved! But let's start from the beginning. How did everything started?
Well, it was last year (note: 2007). I was actually talking with some friends about hoping to do something together, when Producer Nakatake called me. He said, "You know that this year is the 20th anniversary of Production I.G, do you." Of course, I did. "And by coincidence, BMG Japan, with which we collaborated in Le Chevalier D'Eon, is also celebrating its 20th year." To say the truth, I wasn't exactly aware of that, but he continued. "BMG suggested we do something together for the occasion. It's going to be an authentic original video with a story and everything, and won't be anything like a music clip. Would you like to direct it?" I figured this would be my first shot at directing. It's not very common for a novice director to be asked to do an original work, so I responded, "Sure!" (lol)

You were aiming to do a love story from the beginning?
Yes, I had made up my mind from the planning stage. I turned thirty this year and while I was still in my 20's, I wanted to create a love story of two very special, but at the same time very ordinary youngsters: a clumsy, straightforward and subtle love, as you would expect from their young age. The reason was it would be difficult to render a drama if the situation was not familiar to me. I wouldn't dream of creating something similar to the works by extremely experienced directors like Oshii-san and Kamiyama-san. That wouldn't be possible even I stretched myself. So I decided to do a love story that expressed feelings we - animators and myself - had direct experience of. I wanted to make an entertaining and enjoyable film by using the elements that could only be expressed in the anime medium, but at the same time, I wanted a story which the audience could somehow sympathize with.


It's not just simply telling a love story. The concept is quite unique. You have the same story told from the two perspectives of a boy and a girl.
I wanted to present a story of young lovers who somehow miss each other and to depict their awkwardness expressed in terms like, "Were you really thinking that? I didn't really mean it..." all from two perspectives. The music that BMG Japan decided to contribute for this project fitted into the concept perfectly. SUKIMASWITCH's Full-Powered Boy is about a young man who is still somewhat childish in his single-minded quest for love and fate. Whereas SEAMO's See You Again, I thought, fitted well with the girl's sentiment. The girl is a little bit more mature and realistic than the boy. I think the song lets you fully sense her indecisiveness and the slight changes of mind.

I also put a lot of thought into the picture. I asked Kyoji Asano, a male creator, to supervise the animation for Full-Powered Boy. On the opposite side, I asked a female creator, Reina Igawa, to supervise animation for See You Again. I didn't mind if the two clips looked different. I wanted male and feminine tones to be revealed in each clip.

Reina Igawa, who debuted as an animation director in Le Chevalier D'Eon, took on the job as the animation director for See You Again. The part where Chizuru takes off her T-shirt looks plain enough at first sight, but actually, she had taken continuous photo shots of a staff member taking off a T-shirt, and asked the animators to look at the photos for the drawing.
Igawa-san explains, "In this sequence, Chizuru is getting changed before going out on a date, so she is being very careful not to ruin her bangs. I wanted to recreate that subtle movement. In a drama that recreates everyday life, you can't cheat, because everyone sees these things everyday. It's more difficult than action sequences. If I had used a scene from a film as a model for this, I don't think I could've gotten this close to the reality." As in Director Shiotani's aim,
See You Again has a precise feminine feel revealed in these little details.

Tokyo Tower seems to have a key role in the story.
When we were planning this project initially, I heard about them building a new Tokyo Tower. I thought I could use that in the story. I imagined a brand new tower in the middle of the present-day background, and I could see more things along those lines. That's how I came up with the idea for my first image board illustration of the project. It was a rough drawing of a boy and a girl with a little animal floating beside the tower. By visualizing a new landmark no one has yet to see, I thought I could present a world that's out of touch with reality and could only be expressed with animation that's neither too real nor excessively fantastic. So that's why the couple lived in a neighborhood with two Tokyo Towers.

Chizuru and Yudai fall gently from Tokyo Tower with the Mini Donkey. This scene is based on the very first image board illustration drawn by Shiotani himself. Although the sequence lasts only ten seconds, the camera pans 360 degrees, and animation director Kyoji Asano with three other key artists stayed at the company studio for three consecutive nights to complete it.

(1 - to be continued)

© 2007 Production I.G / Project Tokyo Marble Chocolate