“My mom has been a voice actress in Tokyo for over 30 years. My narrative short film, THE VOICE ACTRESS, is about Kingyo, played by my mom, and her journey navigating the modern voice acting industry. What does it feel like to be an aging voice actress in Japan? My film offers a behind the scenes look at voice recording in Japan and explores ideas of isolation, aging, and empathy, with a little twist of fantasy.” Director Anna J. Takayama on THE VOICE ACTRESS which screens at SxSW 2022.
Welcome to SxSW and congratulations! Is this your first SxSW experience?
Thank you and as a filmmaker, yes! One of the first encounters I had with the festival was back in 2014 when I used to work as a print coordinator at a film distribution company. I had arranged the shipment of DCPs (Digital Cinema Package) and keys for a film that was screening at the festival, and I vividly remember imagining how absolutely magical it would be to see your movie on the big screen surrounded by a community of filmmakers and artists. Fast forward eight years and I can’t believe my very own film is screening at the festival. It took a while, but I’m so glad I never gave up. I’m honestly tearing up just thinking about it.
Tell me about the idea behind THE VOICE ACTRESS and getting it made!
My mom turned 60 years old this year and has been working as a voice actress for 30 years. Voice acting is such a niche world that hasn’t been captured much in film. On top of that, voice acting in Japan is very particular. In many countries, voice actors record individually and with a lot of Western animation, voices are typically recorded before the picture is created. In Japanese anime, voice actors record in groups and they time dialogue against animatics, which are like sketch animations on screen. There’s an art to it in terms of timing and imagining emotional reactions based off of story and sketches. Voice acting in Japan is also reactive because you’re in the same room with other actors and respond to their performance. With COVID, things have changed drastically now, but pre-COVID, this was the standard way of working. It’s a very high energy and exciting environment. I wanted to capture this Japanese style of voice acting through a slice of life story that also explores a sense of aging and isolation, which is a big theme in Japan. There is a big aging population in Japan and many of them have a deep sense of seclusion. This theme has been explored in Western cinema particularly with films that set Japan in the background, but I wanted to make a short film about a Japanese character experiencing this in an industry that is increasingly getting younger.
Who are some of your creative inspirations? Any particular filmmaking talent or movie that inspired you for this project?
I was influenced by the spirit of A FANTASTIC WOMAN by Sebastian Lelio. In the sense that this is a film about an actress in Japan, I was also inspired by the film PERFECT BLUE by Satoshi Kon. There is one scene in particular that I looked at closely before the shoot and points to whoever can guess which scene! Also, THE LITTLE MERMAID which is a story about a woman out of place with a fish companion.
How did you put this together from a technical viewpoint? What sort of cameras/lenses did you use and/or did you have any creative challenges in making it?
Our director of photography, Conor Murphy, shot the film with an Arri Alexa Mini and a set of Zeiss Superspeed prime lenses. It turned out absolutely beautiful, and I’m glad we went in that direction. The biggest challenge really was in transporting much of the gear from New York overseas to Japan and sourcing some lighting and grip gear locally. And of course, dealing with the natural circumstances of weather is a timeless challenge on film shoots. In our case, it ended up being a blessing. We didn’t prepare for rain at all, except for a last-minute prop I decided to buy: an orange umbrella for our main lead. We were hit with lots of surprise rain during production and the orange umbrella is now a really striking image we have come to identify with the main character.
What would you suggest to film festivals as a way to show more short films or make them more accessible to audiences across the country?
I think that getting more opportunities to screen shorts on the big screen could help. I am all for having films easily accessible to a global audience online, but limited bookings at movie theaters could be interesting too. Maybe something like “SXSW Shorts” at select theaters.
If you had one piece of advice to offer someone to get their start as a creator or filmmaker in the industry, what would you suggest?
Everyone will tell you no. Don’t do it if that stops you.
And finally, what is your favourite short film of all time?
KIMCHI by Jackson Kiyoshi Segars. It’s a beautiful short about a Japanese-American man who marries into a Korean-American family going through a period of disarray and his discovery of a hidden connection with his future grandfather-in-law. It’s a great meditation on life and the passing of time as well as our connection with past generations.
This film and many others like it will be showing at South By Southwest taking place March 11-20. For more information point your browser to www.sxsw.com!