Taking place in the Pacific Islands, Disney Animation’s newest work Moana is the story of a girl chosen by the ocean. She sets out on the wide expanse of the sea in order to save the people she loves. The movie finally reached Japanese shores in March 2017, and titular character Moana’s Japanese voice is provided by Tomona Yabiku. The 22-year-old Okinawan was chosen in the biggest-scale audition ever held for a Disney heroine and is definitely a new star to watch out for. She will also take part in the Disney Hawaiian Concert across Japan starting from 6 May. MANGA.TOKYO got the chance to talk to her about her first role as a voice actress, as well as her excitement for the upcoming Disney Hawaiian Concert.
I want to carefully deliver my feelings through music
――First off, could you tell us how you felt when you were chosen to play Moana?
Yabiku: Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would be chosen, so I didn’t take the audition thinking ‘Okay! Let’s get this part!’, I was just really happy that I was able to take part in an audition for my beloved Disney and aimed to have the most fun possible. Of course, I was shocked to get the part, but they took me to a studio and made the surprise announcement to me. I couldn’t believe it and was overcome with so many feelings of happiness and elation, and I just burst into tears. [laugh]
――How was your first role as a voice actor?
Yabiku: To be honest, it was difficult.I was very worried about the fact that the audience can’t see my body movements and facial expressions, and it was very difficult to express the emotions only through my voice, but I gained a whole new respect for voice actors. I learned a lot, such as how to project my voice, how to breathe in and out, how to adjust the tone and speed of my voice, and so on. It was a very valuable experience in which I learned just how much can be expressed just through our voices. I’m very thankful for that.
――What did you think when you first saw the movie?
Yabiku: I really ran into the recording headfirst, so before I saw the end product, I was very worried. I kept thinking ‘is it really okay?’ but I was still looking forward to seeing it. When I saw the finished product, I once again realized that just how Moana is supported by her friends and family, I was supported by the experienced voice actors surrounding me, including Matsuya Onoe (Maui), Mari Natsuki (Grandma Tala) and ROLLY (the monster Tamatoa). Each of them gave their all and gave absolutely wonderful performances. Then, as the end credits started rolling, I felt truly blessed to be able to take part in this project.
――What were you careful of when you were playing the role of Moana?
Yabiku: It was a work which I took part in with no previous knowledge on how to perform as a voice actor, I interpreted Moana’s feelings in my own way, and I got technical advice from the director. I really put my all into it. What I kept being told by the director was to express how strong Moana’s core is. It’s very basic knowledge, but he wanted me to take note of how we always speak from the belly. So in order to not make my voice sound too high pitched, I took care to speak right from my stomach, even when screaming.
――Was there anything you were careful of when you performed the movie’s theme song ‘Doko made mo ~How Far I’ll Go~’?
Yabiku: It’s a piece filled to the brim with Moana’s feelings. She has the internal conflict between wanting to visit the world of the ocean and her love for her friends and the island she calls her home. However, she decides to follow the voice of her heart, and I still sing the song knowing that I have to perfectly capture those feelings. As the song has been translated from English into Japanese, there may be some parts from the original that had to be left out during translation, but the Japanese version also has its own charms. When I sing the Japanese version, I put my all into just not losing to the original, but with the feeling that ‘I don’t wanna lose to it!!’
――I’m looking forward to hearing it at ‘Disney Hawaiian Concert’
Yabiku: The version that we’ll perform at the Hawaiin Concert is an especially arranged Hawaiian version. It will be a version that you can only hear there, so I do hope you can look forward to it.
――What are you looking forward to seeing at the concert?
Yabiku: I feel so happy that I will be sitting in such an amazing seat, so close to the performances of hula dancers and first-class artists as well. But I also know that I have to give a strong performance. I’m also excited to know that I’m going to be able to see so many famous Disney songs performed with a Hawaiian flair.
――Do you have any other Disney songs that you like?
Yabiku: I’ve always love Disney songs, and not only did I listen to them a lot, but I also sing them when I go to karaoke [laugh] I often sing ‘Colors of the Wind’ from Pocahontas, ‘Part of You World’ from The Little Mermaid and ‘Circle of Life’ from The Lion King. I majored in English at university, so I listened to and sang songs in English a lot of the time. However, by having the chance to performed in the Japanese dub, I discovered the charm of foreign-language dubs. Since then I’ve been listening to more songs in Japanese, and I’ve newly discovered the fun in the Japanese versions.
――What kind of music do you normally listen too?
Yabiku: I listen to a lot of Western music. I especially love the music of Ed Sheeran. I also listen to a lot of musicals. I like the music from Miss Saigon, Les Miserables, songs from the Shiki Theatre Company, The Lion King, Rent and so on. I have so many songs from musicals on my iPod.
――You won the top prize in ‘Musical Nodo Jiman’ didn’t you?
Yabiku: That’s right. I sang ‘I’d Give My Life for You’ from Miss Saigon. That song is just so powerful, and it had always been a goal of mine to one day sing that song on stage.
――Finally, do you have anything to say to the Disney fans all over the world?
Yabiku: I personally watched many movies in English, but by doing Moana I was able to learn to the beauty of the Japanese language and how interesting the expressions of Japanese are. That’s why I think it would be really wonderful if overseas fans could watch Moana and other Disney movies in English and then in other languages, and hopefully, discover something new. I would also be really happy if there were people who would gain an interest in the Japanese language, come to Japan or even come to love the Japanese people and culture.
I am in charge of development and editing at MANGA.TOKYO.
Taking advantage of my school days, where I spent a lot of my free time with music and anime, I look for new content and want to expose the fun side of Japan’s Otaku culture.
My favorite anime is Gurren Lagann!