Interview: Takahiro Omori (dir. Natsume Yuujinchou) and Yumi Sato

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We had the privilege of speaking to Natsume Yuujinchou, Hotarubi no Mori e, Durarara!!, Baccano!, and Kuragehime director Takahiro Omori along with Brains Base producer Yumi Sato at Fanime 2013. Below is a transcript of our interview with them. Questions were asked by Jeremy Booth; transcript translation by Rome. Video (shot by gendomike) is forthcoming —gendomike

Jeremy: do you have particular works you like that you’ve been involved in? Why?

Omori: I like all of them, [but] the one I worked really hard with challenge with the sense of achievement was Baccano.

Sato: I also like all of them, but the first anime that got approved as my project that I submitted was Natsume Yujincho. So, it is Natsume.

What is like working on a project together, day by day?

Omori: If we are making something together, we fight, and there are a lot of hard feelings. It is pretty common. (Laughs) But if we finish perfectly and get good reviews, then that is great.

What happens when you have differing opinions? Do you decide with rock-paper-scissors (jank-ken-pon)?

Omori: (Laughs) We don’t do jankenpon, but we do discuss a lot. If we have to decide in an either/or situation, then the final decision will be mine, but of course we talk a lot.

What are some points of conflict?

Omori: Well, regarding the story, the scenario writer will be the center of the discussion, A lot of people are involved, so it’s not about conflict between me and Sato. The discussion between us is more about staff to choose for production and work processes, arrangement.

You’ve often directed two works by the same original author.* What keeps you coming back? 

Omori: First, we get good reputation from works, and original manga writer and editor that arranges original manga writer function as a same team for production, so it’s already established the team work. For Hotarubi, it was Sato-san, she had a strong desire to do this work.

Natsume and Hotarubi are about people being friends with spirits/yokai. What’s appealing to you about stories with yokai?

Omori: Through spirit and yokai, we try to depict what happens in real human life. So for me, it is that point when i try to depict that.

Sato: For me, I think it just happens to be a interaction between human and yoke, like these interactions, they get sad and happy, these emotional interactions are just this time happen to be yokai, and i was very touched by that part, and in me, it just touched my koto (japanese string instrument) string.

Which character(s) did you feel a connection to or felt were most important? What did you gain from that experience?

Omori: Isaac and Miria from Baccano!. I made them, but I think they gave me more than I gave to them…of course, they are already defined in the original novel, so I didn’t create them initially. But as I was adapting them into anime, they grew as characters by themselves. I didn’t think they would end up holding the whole series together, until I finally realized that they held the key to almost every story. When I understood that, I was convinced: “this is it.”

Sato: For me, it’s Natsume-kun, but he was very difficult character: how do you choose his clothing, his word choices? Those can makes a huge difference in the viewer’s impression…and how does he interacts? I paid close attention to this character, and I think that was also the case for Kamiya-san, who played Natsume, who was giving the attention while reading the script at the same time. Actually, once, Takada-san, the character designer, got into a huge fight with Omori over that performance. “Natsume is not like this! This is not his personality!”

Omori: If a character is growing, it means that he can’t stay in the same place forever.

Which is more important, the artistic/visual style or story?

Omori: Both story and visuals are important. But fundamentally, it’s important that a character’s personality, visuals, and role in the story not be a mismatch from the original story. So, it’s a balancing act.

What’s the most challenging part of adapting manga to anime?

Omori: As much as possible, I want to recreate the original manga’s “taste.” It doesn’t have to be exactly the same, but I want to recreate its atmosphere. That job is more for the character designer though, and my role is just to give a judgement. Rather my struggle was—in manga, it depends on the readers where their mental impression of the work comes from. Especially like Natsume or other shoujo mangas use multiple visual expressions: in the same frame, a character can express two different emotions. But on the motion picture, because the time axis is continuous, I have to cut one of the expressions out. Or, we express those multiple emotions by changing the dialogue. We do that often, and that balancing act is where we always have struggled.

Sato-san, tell us about your first experience as an animation producer.

Sato: My first work as a producer was actually Kamichu!. I had gotten into a fight with the owner of the anime studio, and he assigned me to do this work: “Do this!” And that become actually my first produced work, but I didn’t know what to do. So my first experience was one filled with desperation.

What was the challenge?

Sato: I didn’t know too many things. Everything was the first time for me, so I didn’t know what I did was right or wrong, and that was the toughest. I wasn’t confident, so I couldn’t really lead and direct my staff, and that was the most painful part.

You’ve came a long way since then.

Sato: Ever since I started working with Omori-san, I’ve developed a really thick skin.


*Omori directed Natsume Yuujinchou and the short film Hotarubi no Mori e, both whose manga were written by Yuki Midorikawa. The light novels of Baccano! and Durarara!! were written by Ryohgo Narita.

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