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Yomiuri Shimbun's Chieko Baisho Interview

Translated by KT without permission for personal entertainment purpose only.

Text from the Yomiuri Online.

Q: Have you seen the movie?

A: Yes, I was so taken by the movie that I almost forgot I was in it. As a member of audience, I was excited, mesmerized, and finally ended up crying. Usually, I don't see the movies I'm in so soon. I always regret like, "I wanted to do it more that way." I didn't like the idea of seeing this one either. But, at the very first scene when the castle emerged from fog, I found myself clapping my hands.

Q: What did you do after you saw the movie?

A: I firmly shook hands with the director (Miyazaki-san). I had heard that he would skip the premiere, so I asked him at once, "why?" He said because he shaved his beard.

Q: What was your initial reaction when they offered you the role (of Sophie)?

A: I was delighted. I think Miyazaki-san's movies have, never so much like presumptuous messages, but they possess very strong feeling within. I was happy to know that I could be part of such films. Ever since Hidetaka Yoshioka[1] recommended me to see "Castle In the Sky", while we were filming "Tora-san"[2] movies, I have always watched Studio Ghibli films.

Q: What do you have in common with Sophie?

A: I think I'm playful and mischievous like Sophie. Plus the way she thoroughly does cleaning, the way she gets angry.... I too often yell like, "Goddamn it!" (when I'm angry.) But I think Sophie's face looks very much like Miyazaki-san. When I asked him if that would be true, he said, "Not at all," smiling.

Q: Wasn't it quite a challenge to play the role ranging from 18 to 90 years old?

A: Initially, I prepared three different kinds of voice and I asked the director to listen to them. I worked hard to make it sound like fairly "crafted" voice, but he told me to sound more natural. I think he had a clear intention, meaning that you could use your natural voice as long as you express your character's inner psyche. Even you are 90 years old, you should never forget feeling excited about something new and retain your mind to be wondered. I think that's what he was trying to say.

Q: There were scenes you played the age somewhere between 18 and 90 years old.

A: I thought the more you make your voice crafted, the better you could capture changes coming with age. But he told me to leave it "just as it is." He was consistent about it and that's why I think he wanted me to sound natural even at 90 years old, rather than making a rusty old-age voice.

Q: What was the most difficult part?

A: When I had to say, "XXXXXXX."[3] At the beginning, I thought I would say it just cutely... But I didn't think it through. When this line comes at the end of the movie, I had to put all these emotions she was feeling before into these words. I had a very hard time to say it and recorded it over many times.

Q: What was your impression on Takuya Kimura[4], who did his first voice acting in this movie?

A: He was a quite fine man. Actually, we often recorded separately, though we were supposed to be lovers. So I demanded to see my sweetheart. I met him before, but when I saw him in studio for the first time, I immediately did, "Ayeen!," the trademark joke of Ken Shimura[5], because I couldn't bear the tension I was feeling.

Q: Did you go, "Ayeen"?

A: He looked very puzzled, but I was much more relaxed afterwards (laugh). In return, he held my shoulder tightly after I gave him a bouquet when he finished recording his part. I went like, "Wow!"

Q: When do you think Sophie started to love Howl?

A: The moment she saw him - I guess it was the love at first sight. I could tell from the way Sophie looks up Howl. Sophie is an animated character, but I can sense her heart is beating fast even in the scenes she doesn't say a word.

Q: So you could tell her inner feeling from animated picture?

A: On the first day of recording, I went to Studio Ghibli and I learned that each facial expression and movement of characters comes with dedication of numerous staff workers. Therefore myself too, the one who provides voice, is only one part of Sophie. That's what makes it so interesting. This time, the work gave me the joy of making a film as part of the entire staff and I don't think I would realize it if I didn't visit the Studio.

Q: How was the recording of theme song ("Sekai no Yakusoku," sung by Ms. Baisho)?

A: I was so nervous, but Joe Hisaishi, who did arranging of the song, at first conducted myself and musicians separately in different booths. After we fixed the tune there, we were able to record it altogether in unison.

Q: Were there any request from the director?

A: While he kept saying, "I don't understand anything about music," he actually gave me good advice. For example, the part of lyric that says "tenderness sinks into the night," I found it quite difficult, but I was able to sing it smoothly because he told me to sound "natural" just like I was recording (Sophie's) voice. Recently, I wasn't really enjoying the recording of my own CDs[6], and I was developing a phobia by hating it so much. But I went back to the very basic of creation by working together with staff members and the experience made me realize that I was just escaping the hardship of the creative process.

Q: What is this film to you?

A: The movie that led me to meet wonderful people. It was so indispensable of the work that filled a huge void I had in my heart. I also came to know that I was never as satisfied as this much before with my work and myself.

[1]: Hidetaka Yoshioka played the role of Mitsuo, the son of Sakura, the character played by Ms. Baisho in "Otoko wa Tsuraiyo" movie series. Mr. Yoshioka has grown up to be one of the most promising young actors in Japan, appearing in many films and TV series.

[2]: "Otoko wa Tsuraiyo" is the most beloved movies series ever produced in Japan, directed by Yoji Yamada, featuring the late Kiyoshi Atsumi as the main character, "Tora-san." The series started as a TV show back in 1960's and later made into the movie series starting from 1969. The series continued with the total of 48 volumes until 1995 and Mr. Atsumi passed away in 1996. Ms. Baisho later published a memoir titled "Oniichan (Dear Brother)," about her experience of filming "Tora-san" movies with Mr. Atsumi.

[3]: I didn't want to spoil it for everyone, so I decided not to translate this important line.

[4]: Takuya Kimura is a member of the super-idol group SMAP. He works as an actor and also records singles and albums as the member of SMAP. He recently made the international acting debut in Wong Kar-Wai's upcoming film, "2046."

[5]: Ken Shimura is a well-known comedian in Japan and "Ayeen!" is one of his famous lines.

[6]: Ms. Baisho too is a recording artist with respectable career. She received the Best New Artist award at the Japan Record Awards back in 1962 for her hit single, "Shitamachi no Taiyo ("The Sunshine of Downtown")."

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