The Puppetoon animation Chieri and Cherry was released in July 30, 2016. Chieri is an imaginative girl in the sixth grade whose father died, and she now lives with her mother. Her one and only friend is a stuffed animal named Cherry. One day, Chieri visits her grandmother’s house to attend a memorial service for her deceased father. What awaited her there is a mysterious adventure that will happen in the threshold between fantasy and reality…
Chieri and Cherry is currently showing in various theaters. It’s an original work by director Makoto Nakamura, who directed the film Cheburashka and received much praise from the original writer, Uspensky. It’s produced in hopes of the restoration of the Tohoku region, still in the aftermath of the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami, and for its children’s future.
The main character, Chieri, is voiced by Natsumi Takamori, who is known for Miku Maekawa’s VA at The Idolmaster Cinderella Girls.
We interviewed Mr Nakamura and Ms Takamori about their thoughts and asked them to share some inside stories behind the scene.
［Reported by Ayaka Kawamata］
Chieri and Cherry
■ Wishes and fragments of lives to be passed down forever
──This animation is filled with various feelings about the deceased, about the new lives to be born, about the children’s growth, and so on. How did it start out?
Mr. Makoto Nakamura (hereinafter referred to as Nakamura)
My mother passed away in 2010, and I started wondering about what it means to have someone completely gone from the world. Then the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami happened in March, 2011. It made me wonder even more strongly about life and death. Obviously those who survived and are left alive cannot tell the feelings of the deceased. But, it felt like wishes and fragments of lives would be passed down forever. Or at least believing so should help us to get over it.
──Ms Takamori has been working together since its pilot version, right? It must have been quite a long time for you to work on it.
Ms. Natsumi Takamori (hereinafter referred to as Takamori)
I did the first voice-over once in 2012 for the pilot version, and then did the recordings for the film in 2014. I had plenty of time till the recording to face this character Chieri. I appreciated the time to think carefully about what it takes for an adult to act Chieri as someone very real. It’s quite uncommon to have an opportunity to develop a character in my mind for a period of years.
──A Korean studio called COMMA STUDIO worked on the puppetoon animation. What kind of relationship do you have with them?
The main staff members that produced the film Cheburashka in 2010 started COMMA STUDIO. So, the same staff members have been working on the animation.
──Isn’t it hard to communicate with an animation studio located outside Japan?
It isn’t, as a matter of fact. Sometimes having interpreters in between makes it easier to communicate certain cheesy things that you wouldn’t be able to say to Japanese counterparts out of embarrassment, such as “This scene symbolizes LOVE!” and so on. I can’t say such things directly to Japanese staff members, but I’m fine to have an interpreter saying that for me in Russian or Korean. [laugh]
──Indeed, it is a bit embarrassing to say such to a fellow Japanese face to face. [laugh]
Actually there are disadvantages of using a studio outside Japan. For example, when we check the progress, I sometimes feel the urge to directly put my hands inside the monitor, like changing the camera’s angle a little bit. There are things that I could just easily do if I were there. But since I’m not, I have to text them to say “move it to the left, 5 centimeters”. So, yes there are times that I feel impatient, but there weren’t any problems communication-wise.
──How about the production process order? Did it go as pre-recording, animation production, and then re-recording? I see that the characters’ mouth movements are amazingly detailed.
That’s right. We first prepared all the dialogues at pre-recording, produced the animation corresponding to each of them, and then re-recorded the dialogues again to lip-sync each line. All the cast members, including Ms Takamori, managed to lip-sync lines perfectly with the pre-recorded ones. It was nothing but “amazing”!
The dialogues barely changed except for a phrase or two. It was my first time to do the voice recording twice using the same dialogues. The post production recording was tough, with all the mouth movements very detailed and unique.
It had more dialogues and VAs had to speak faster than in normal anime, too.
──Tell me about Chieri’s appeal voiced by Ms Takamori, from the director’s point of view.
There is a vague feeling of sorrow in her tone. In the beginning of the story, there are some scenes that you may find her disagreeable. But such scenes shouldn’t lead you to hate her, in order to relate to her and enjoy the story. This vague sadness that Ms. Takamori has in her tone is very important to balance out the emotions, to convince the viewers that this character is suffering from inarticulate sorrow to explain certain behaviors of hers.
──Did you plan to have Ms Takamori voicing Chieri since the pilot version?
No, not from the very beginning. But I had always thought her Chieri was very appealing since the pilot version. As I worked on visuals while listening to her, I started to think nobody else could voice her like she could.
I’m so pleased to hear that!
──Tell me, Ms Takamori, what do you think of Mr. Nakamura? I know it’s pretty awkward for you to answer in front of him…!
First of all, I think he has very delicate sensibilities. The first time I worked with him was for an anime for girls and he worked on the dialogues. So, my impression is that he has many different characters living in his mind, from a little girl to an adult woman. I believe all the characters appearing in “Chieri and Cherry” also live in his mind too. He is a man of high-caliber, especially inward.
It’s a bit embarrassing to directly hear that under my very nose… [laugh]
But it’s true. We, VAs, act out the roles we receive as our jobs, and we do not create these characters from scratch. Chieri, Cherry, Lady Emerald, and Nezuzaemon are all created by you. I relate to Chieri the most since I voice her, but I can also relate to her mother. People acquire empathy for the characters appearing in the film. It’s amazing that you create empathy through your works.
I’m very much obliged to you.
──Did all the cast members do recordings together?
Ms Takamori, Mr. Gen Hoshino and some others did. Machiko Ono for Chieri’s mother, Atsuko Tanaka for Lady Elizabeth, and two others for the sandwich men did the recording on a different day, though.
I’m grateful that I could do the recording together with Mr. Hoshino for Cherry.
──Is there a big difference whether to interact with each other or not at the recording?
I had a fatherly image of Cherry at the pilot version. But then I was so surprised at Hoshino’s Cherry and went “wow!”. [laugh]
Indeed, it was “wow!” [laugh]
──What was this “wow!” like? [laugh]
I also had Cherry as a fatherly image to some extent. But as soon as I heard Mr. Hoshino acting, I realized that Cherry was her best friend.
Yes, “the best friend, Cherry”. He stands on the same footing as Chieri and walks together with her.
The fatherly role of Cherry does not change at all from the character setting or the plot setting, as he protects her and gives her advice. But his voice added the sense of close relationship to the character. Cherry was set free as a character by his voice acting. I was convinced to see who Cherry really was.
──Could you please give some messages to our readers?
As an animation creator, I always want to create something to convey to children that they can actually receive though my works. If someone feels “it fits well as a puppetoon”, then it is a failure for me. I want the audience to forget the fact that it is a puppetoon while watching. And then, maybe after watching, on their way home, I hope they get reminded that it is a puppetoon.
I want small children to enjoy it however they like, and as for adults, I hope it evokes nostalgia for what they had in mind when they were children. It’s a cute story but the subject is very deep. The preciousness of encounter with others… My eyes are full of tears every single time I watch it. [laugh] I’m sure you all have or had someone like Cherry in your mind too, and I hope you remember your own experience to relive it again.
Chieri and Cherry
Screened together with Cheburashka goes to the zoo
Tokyo: Now playing at Eurospace, since July 30 (Saturday)
Osaka: Now playing at [email protected] Shinsaibashi, since August 20 (Saturday)
Nagoya: Coming soon at Cinematheque in August