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J!-ENT INTERVIEWS PUFFY AMIYUMI (2017) by Dennis A. Amith and Michelle Tymon (J!-ENT Interviews and Articles)

March 20, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

When I first discovered Puffy AmiYumi (known as “Puffy” in Japan), they took Japan by their storm with their simple style of t-shirts, blue jeans and sneakers.  Bucking the fashion trend and dance choreography of other Japanese female music artists during the 1990’s, Puffy AmiYumi impressed audiences with their style of music and presentation.

The duo consisting of Yumi Yoshimura and Ami Onuki burst into the Japanese music scene back in 1996 dominating the charts.  And while Puffy AmiYumi would release their debut album in America and perform in the U.S., it wasn’t until their music was featured in the Cartoon Network animated series “Teen Titans” that the duo would receive recognition internationally.

In 2004, the duo would have their own animated TV series titled “Hi Hi Puffy AmiYumi”, would be featured on a GAP fashion ad and performing at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade.

And as I have interviewed Puffy AmiYumi for the next few years, our last interview with the ladies, was back in 2010 to celebrate the duo’s 15th Anniversary (view our 15th Anniversary Puffy AmiYumi special).

And here we are in 2017, celebrating the duo’s 21-year anniversary and knowing that there are not many female Japanese music artists that have had the same level of success of Puffy AmiYumi and continue to perform for audiences worldwide.

Starting on March 31st, the group will be performing at Anime Boston 2017 and on April 4th, the group will be performing at the Belasco Theater in Los Angeles, followed by a performance on April 6th at the Regency Ballroom in San Francisco and on April 9th at Trees in Dallas, Texas as part of their Puffy AmiYumi US Tour 2017 “#NotLazyTour”.

I recently had the opportunity to interview Puffy AmiYumi about their upcoming U.S. performance:


I interviewed both of you when you made your debut in the United States and I have listened to your music when you first made your single debut “Asia no Junshin” in Japan. What is the biggest difference in your approach to music today versus when you first started out.

Ami: When we debuted, we really didn’t know anything. We were always surprised by how our producer, Tamio Okuda, and other musicians made music and the various things they concentrated on. But now, we really understand how that feels.

Very few Japanese acts were able to penetrate the American music scene, yet Puffy AmiYumi was able to create an audience thanks to the theme song for “Teen Titans” and you eventually had your own animated show in the United States. You had a GAP ad and performed on the Macy’s Parade on national TV. Looking back at your success and knowing that you accomplished something that many Japanese have not done, was there a lot of pressure on for the both of you to continue that success?

Yumi: There wasn’t really any pressure. We always make sure to have fun with anything we do as a part of Puffy’s style, so when we did all of those things, I believe we did while having fun. And those were all experiences that most Japanese people aren’t able to experience much, so we are very honored.

Last year, Puffy AmiYumi celebrated their 20th Anniversary and the music scene has changed a lot in the past two decades. One difference is the popularity of social media such as YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram. Do you feel that social media has changed the way for the both of you to communicate with your fans?

Ami: I believe that the spread of social media over the last 20 year is definitely huge. I personally have my own Instagram, and because of that, I’m able to directly receive messages of support from fans. And since we can see how our fans our reacting with so little time lag, it’s very helpful to us.

You are about to embark on another tour which includes performances in the United States (for Puffy AmiYumi US Tour 2017 “NOT LAZY”). It’s been awhile since you performed in the U.S., how does it feel to be coming back?

Yumi: Even though we hadn’t traveled to America for a while, we had been constantly doing concerts in Japan, so I think we’ve powered up even more since our last visit. So right now, we’re very excited!

As you celebrate your 21st year, after all these years…Ami, what are your top three songs that you love performing in front of a live audience?

Ami: “Asia no Junshin,” “Akai Buranko,” and “Circuit no Musume.”

I’m curious to see how your musical tastes have changed.   In our very first interview, Yumi you said you were listening to Nirvana, Eels, Hole and U2 and Ami said Red Hot Chili Peppers. But what about now?

 

Yumi: Of course, I still love all of those groups. When I listen to the albums that I love, I remember things from when I first heard the albums, or feel very nostalgic.

Back in 2002, for our second interview, I asked each of you to describe each other in one word. Yumi, you said of Ami, “Serious” and Ami, you said of Yumi “Young”. In 2010, Yumi said of Ami “Relax” and Ami said of Yumi, “Older Sister”. Ami, if you had to describe Yumi, what would you say today?

Ami: For Yumi…“Hanashi ga Tomoranai” (She doesn’t stop talking)

Yumi, you told me you were playing the video game “Ryu ga Gotoku” (known as “Yakuza” in the U.S.) a lot back then.  Ami you were playing “Dragon Quest Monsters Joker II”. Any certain games that you are playing now?

Yumi: I still love “Dragon Quest” even now and continue to play. Right now, I’m trying to figure out if I want to buy a Nintendo Switch or not.

Both of you told me you love tea! But I didn’t get to ask what kind of tea that both of you enjoy? So, I have to ask…what is your favorite tea? And if there is an area in Tokyo that serves the best tea, which area would you recommend?

Ami: We like tea… Did we actually say that? Either way, I do like tea. I like chai. I think I’d recommend the café next to Saigoyama Park.

It’s funny because in our 2010 interview, both of you said that you wished Taco Bell would open a store in Japan and now you can find a Taco Bell in Japan. And now there are more Mexican restaurants in Tokyo. But with you returning back to America, is there a certain food that you have wanted to try but never yet had the chance?

Yumi: While we weren’t in America, I can now eat some foods that I couldn’t before. For example, cilantro and lamb. Because of that, I’d like to try out some places that I never got to try before.

What final words do you have for your fans worldwide?

Ami: This year, Puffy is now in our 21st year. The reason that we’ve been able to continue for so long is the countless support we’ve received from people from various countries!! We’ll continue to work even harder so we can someday hold concerts in countries we haven’t been to yet!

Yumi: Last year, we celebrated our 20th anniversary, and we are grateful to all of our fans! The upcoming concerts should be a lot of fun. Please come out and see us!

For more information, please visit their official website or their Facebook Page.

Photos courtesy of Sony Music Entertainment Japan


Read our complete J!-ENT Puffy AmiYumi interviews and articles from 1996-2010 (Click on image)


J!-ENT Interviews Wednesday Campanella (J!-ENT Interviews and Articles)

December 27, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

Back in 2012, Dir.F, a label manager at Tsubasa Records wanted to create a new music project featuring provisional female members. While the music and lyrics for the group would be created by music producer, Hidefumi Kenmochi.

The name of this group project would be “Suiyoubi no Campanella”, which translates to Wednesday Campanella.

That same year, Dir.F was at a house party for a friend and he would meet KOM_I and he invited her to join Wednesday Campanella as one of the provisional female vocalists and the group would upload two tracks on YouTube that year, “Oz” and Kukai”.

Wanting to push their album later that year, the group’s first CD titled “Suiyoubi no Campanella Demo 1” was sold at Design Festa Tokyo Autumn.

The following year, KOM_I would perform live performances with just her on stage and the group released their first mini album titled “Crawl to Saka Agari” and it was released at Village Vanguard Shimokitazawa.

But it wasn’t until 2014, when the group’s track “Momotaro” appeared on J-WAVE and would become popular.
In 2016, Wednesday Campanella would make their American debut at SXSW in Texas and would perform in July in San Francisco at J-POP Summit Festival.

While the first five mini albums were released by Tsubasa Records, the group would be signed by Warner Records and would release their first major label album “UMA” in 2016.

And since then, Wednesday Campanella’s popularity has skyrocketed. From a promotion and music video with Toyota for the Prius, multiple television performances, magazine interviews and live performances throughout Japan, KOM_I also appeared on the popular variety show “SMAP x SMAP” with SMAP (who also sung along with her).

J!-ENT’s Dennis A. Amith had the opportunity to interview KOM_I the day after Wednesday Campanella’s performance at J-POP SUMMIT.

Please click her for the full interview

J!-ENT’s Dennis A. Amith interviews Silent Siren

October 1, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

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The Japanese all-female rock band Silent Siren made their US debut in San Francisco back in July 2016.  But with a world tour in Jakarta, Shanghai, Taiwan and Hong Kong, the band performed in Los Angeles in September and on October 2nd, at Slims in San Francisco.

J!-ENT’s Dennis A. Amith recently had the opportunity to interview Silent Siren.

More Silent Siren will be featured in our upcoming J!-ENT Annual issue coming in December 2016.


J!-ENT’s Dennis A. Amith interviews Andy Quach (Web Version) (J!-ENT Interviews and Articles)

October 19, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

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He has come a long way since his musical debut, but Andy Quach has matured and has become one of the biggest VPOP stars that is based in the United States.

From his exciting, beat-driven dance tracks “Hua – Promise” and “Em Da Quen – Forgotten” or belting out romantic ballads such as “Nho – Missing You” and “De Em Ra Di – Letting You Go”, the pop star has shown how much he has evolved as a music artist but also a businessman with AQ Entertainment.

And for his upcoming duet album, the singer teams up with AQ Entertainment’s newest star, Ngo Nhu Thuy for “Forever Love”.

J!-ENT recently had the opportunity to interview Andy Quach regarding his musical career and also his upcoming album.

Download the Interactive PDF version of the interview

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Before we get into discussions about your music, let’s get to know more about you.  Reading your bio, you were born in Saigon, Vietnam.   You are now living in the US but having visited Vietnam, what do you miss the most each time you come back to the US?       
ANDY:  Well to be honest, I left Vietnam at a very young age. I’ve been back to visit only three times, so I don’t really know much about Vietnam. But, if I have to pick what I miss most, I’d say the food.

What kind of person were you back in high school?  The party guy?  The Musician? Artist?  Athlete?       
ANDY:  Athlete. Because I loved to play soccer & basketball.  I was one of the high school all-stars for soccer.

Who did you listen to a lot when growing up?      
ANDY:  At a young age, I listened to the Four Kings of Hong Kong (Jacky Cheung, Andy Lau, Leon Lai and Aaron Kwok). Once I got older, I focused more on K-Pop artists like Bi-Rain and Seven.

If I was to look into your MP3/CD player right now, which artist or song would you be listening to at this moment?     
ANDY:  Ne-yo.  Because I love his voice and songs.  Most importantly, his song writing skills are really inspiring.

While growing up, at what age did you know that you wanted to pursue music as a career?    
ANDY:  At age 20.  That was when I joined a local band and started to believe that I could make it professionally.  But then again, even with talent and hard work, we still need a lot of blessing, so I thank God for granting me my 21st Birthday’s wish of becoming a professional singer.

Let’s talk about your music.  Back in 2007, you released your debut album “K.O.”.   Every first album is a learning experience.  When you look back on your first album, what memories come to mind?    
ANDY:  Well,  the “K.O.” album was a special and really good learning experience for me. It was my first solo album.  After splitting with Vpop (a boy band that Andy was a member of), I decided to go a different route, which was Hip-hop & R&B.  At that time, Hip-hop and R&B were still very rare in our Vietnamese music. But, I followed my heart and took a chance. It paid off.  After my “K.O.” album, I was established as one of the first Vietnamese Hip-hop & R&B artists.

You had a solid collaboration with Cat Tien on that album, you also worked with Linda Chou.  Musically, what was it like to work with these two talented individuals?   
ANDY:  It was really wonderful working with them. We had great chemistry musically due to our close friendships.  In addition, Cat Tien and I used to be together, so our hit songs were about our break up, and you know fans always love painful break up songs.  A broken heart is something that almost all of us could relate to. As artists, we have to be willing to be transparent with the matter of the heart sometimes.  As for Linda Chou, she’s like my little sister.  I introduced her to Vietnamese Music industry.  She knew very little Vietnamese in the beginning, because it wasn’t her first language. But, she’s always been very talented, hardworking and a fast learner.  Therefore, she picked up the language quite quickly. I really enjoyed working with her.  Seeing her establishing herself as a well known artist makes me very proud.

In 2008, you released your second album “Showtime”.  It featured a good number of Asian pop songs rewritten in Vietnamese. But it was also an album that people criticized because they wanted to see more originality from you as a musical artist.  Was this part of the reason why you made a switch to a new label to achieve creative freedom?
ANDY:  Yes, that was a big reason to why I made that switch.  The first two albums, “K.O.” & “Showtime” , were produced by Van Son Entertainment, one of the big labels that I signed with at the time.  I was still very new to the industry, still learning and especially still being controlled by the label.  And even though those two albums helped establish my name, it also made me realized that I needed to make a transition from being just a performer to being an artist. At this time, I really started to understand the difference between a performer and an artist.  So I stepped up my game by writing my own songs and getting ready to produce original material to build up the artist side of me.  When my contract was fulfilled, it was an easy call for me to make that move—for the sake of complete creative freedom. That was how AQ Entertainment was born.

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In 2010, your album “AQ3” was released.  Let’s first discuss the move to AQ Entertainment and you starting your own label.  How difficult was that for you?
ANDY:  It was an easy call for me to go independent and have my own label.  I wanted full creative freedom, and followed my vision, which is raising VPOP to the next level.  But, as to any new and meaningful ventures, it’s extremely hard to be on my own with new label. Nothing is easy especially when we want to make a difference in this business.  I can tell a lot of people don’t believe in my goals and vision, which is okay. It takes time and perseverance to instill belief, of which I am willing to invest. Thankfully, my family, friends and especially my entire AQ Entertainment team always push me, keep me on track, and keep things moving forward. When the glass feels half empty, it’s good to be reminded that it’s actually half full.  “Teamwork makes dream work” .

Your music for “AQ3” focused on originality, what was the experience of working on this album?
ANDY:  It was a huge challenge. We had to prepare for an entire year, which is quite rare for a Vietnamese album. From writing, instrumental productions, hours and hours of studio time, making music videos, working out seven days a week to get the magnificent physique. (Laughing) The entire team worked really hard on it, because we all believed that when “AQ3” dropped, AQ Entertainment would be represented as a label for new music and  Andy Quach would be re-introduced as an artist, not just a performer. So, it was the making-a-statement album, and thank God our hard work didn’t go unnoticed.

The production quality for the album was very good and the collaboration with Huynh Nhat Tan and rapper Thai Foon was also great.  What was it like working with these two?   
ANDY:  Mr. Huynh Nhat Tan is considered a big brother to me. He took me in and guided me through this arduous musical path ever since I got into the business.  In my heart, I believe he’s the best producer; therefore, all my albums were executive produced by him.  There would be no AQ  (Andy Quach) today if it wasn’t for him.  As for Thai Foon, hands down, he’s a talented rapper. I love the fact that whenever I gave him different tracks to write to, he’d always come back with multiple artistic flavors to compliment them.  Besides Mr. Huynh Nhat Tan and Thai Foon, I have to give credit to my other teammates as well.  My god-brother & co-founder of AQ Entertainment, Vinny Vo.  If it wasn’t for his influence, his vision and his advice, AQ Entertainment wouldn’t even exist.  Mic Vo & Timothy Wynn from FCI (First Class International), Long & Bill from Possessed Beats and Liby V for making me crazy beats. In addition, thanks to two
other rappers who go by the names of Higher and Vanity for their beautiful flows.  Kevin Dinh for his amazing artwork.  Last but not least, my little god-sister, Thao Nguyen, for being there for me from day one and for always lending me her ears whenever I needed to vent.

After “AQ3”, you released the compilation album “Chinese Melodies” and a remix album “Play Me”.   First, let’s discuss “Chinese Melodies”, how did you become interested in Chinese music and what was your concept for this album?  
ANDY:  That’s a great question. I’m both Vietnamese/Chinese, so Chinese music was also a major part of my growing up.  I knew that a lot of our older Vietnamese audience are familiar with and love those classic Chinese love songs.  So, I thought I should show my appreciation and do something for these particular fans, while showing my Chinese side through the half Viet & half Chinese songs in the  “Chinese Melodies” album.  And the other meaningful incentive is that the album covers most of my and my parents’ favorite Chinese love songs.  It was also dedicated to my parents. It still is their most favorite album by me (smile).  So as you can see, I had great and wonderful reasons to do this project, as a performer.

And for “Play Me”, what was it like to make your first remix album and what talent was involved for the remixes?  
ANDY:  As for “Play Me”, that was simple because it’s a remix album of all my top hit songs.  I just wanted to reintroduce them in a new and dancing light. I purposely chose the title “Play Me” to keep it fun.  It’s just a playful project dedicated to the fans who prefer to dance and go crazy a bit before the stress get them crazy, opposite of the “Chinese Melodies” album so to speak.  In terms of talent, I had young producers from Vietnam Trung Hieu, Europe Jay Wang and our own AQ Entertainment producers FCI, Possessed Beats & Liby V to add their own flavor, creativitity and perspective. Also, a great chance for us all to connect internationally through music.

In 2012, you released “Crossroads”.  Two years in the making… What was the biggest difference in the making of this album versus “AQ3”?   
ANDY:  For every album, we always aim to raise the bar or take it to the next level. And because music always evolves with time, we want every album to be better than the last.  The difference between the two albums was the combination of everything from the beats, the songs, the production, and especially the direction.  For the beats, we had more producers for “CrossRoads.”  I believe my song writing skill had improved by then, therefore the material sounded more mainstream. So the challenge was and is always about giving the fans what’s now—the sound of now. Cannot come out with new albums and only have old material on them all the time—sometimes is okay due to the nature of our industry, but not all the time.  As mentioned, at some point, after much soul searching, I have to make a decision to transition from being a performer to being an artist by promoting originality. It’s not an easy decision, matter of fact it’s extremely hard in our industry and I understand it’s not for everyone. Therefore, I feel completely blessed to be able to transition into that artist side of me—becoming that true me.

I have to say that “Hua – Promise” was an exciting, upbeat track and your live performance and music video definitely showcased a good amount of choreography. But I’m curious about the song, how long did it take you to create and also for you and the dancers to get the choreography down?   
ANDY:  Yes I agree, this song was pretty interesting. I heard this song in my sleep, then popped up and finished writing the song within an hour. I knew it would be a hit, so I went ahead and released it before the album was even out.  We also shot a music video for it and it was quite a big production that we put in.  The challenge was the dancing. It’s a cool hip-hop song, so I had to dance.  And as you all know, I’m not a dancer. But thanks to Christopher Cuenza for his awesome choreography and extra sessions, I was able to get all the moves down.  So the whole process took about 2-3 weeks.  I consider this track as one of my top five hit songs. I even got to perform it in Vietnam on a very special big live show. Loving it so much, I even released a remix version of it.  You can find it on my youtube channel www.youtube.com/andyquachmusic.

I noticed a big difference in the production quality of your music videos from “Hua – Promise”, “Em Da Quen – Forgotten” and “De Em Ra Di – Letting You Go”.  With many artists, they leave it up to the director to come up with the video but with your music videos, do you have creative input?   
ANDY:  Since it’s important for me to have control over my own artistic image, I got involved from beginning to the end of every project.  For all the songs that I wrote, I always pictured myself in the storylines, so most of the ideas and concepts for the videos always started with me, then the director added on his input and vision.

In the making of “Crossroads”, what was the most challenging song to make in the album and why? 
ANDY:  I have to say “Hua – Promise” because of the big production that we put in.  It was financially and time consuming. But the effort was worth it because we all knew it would be a hit.

Your upcoming album to be released this year is “Forever Love.”  Can you tell us more about this album and what can fans expect?
ANDY:  The “Forever Love” album is a very special album for me and Ngo Nhu Thuy, our newly signed artist with AQ Entertainment.  It will be my very first duet album and it’s the first debut for her as well.  With this album, fans get to hear and see a softer side of me due to a good number of ballads.  It’s a different approach compared to all my solo albums; this will be more fitting and suitable for fans of all ages.

With the creative freedom you have as a music artist, what is your approach to how you deal with music now.  Are you a perfectionist when it comes to the lyrics or sound of your music?
ANDY:  Yes, I’m a perfectionist, and that’s why all of my albums take longer to be released.  I have to pick the right lyrics, the right sound and especially the right flavor for me and the fans.  Sometimes I frustrate people in my team just because of the details in every little thing. Not because I am being difficult, but more along the line of my love and respect for the art.  But thanks to their patience, hard work, and especially their understanding that my goal is to produce the best material for our fans. The fans deserve the best from me, individually, and from our team, collectively.

For the music video “Forever Love”, you introduce Ngo Nhu Thuy.  A stylish music video and a song with cool beats and a pretty solid duet.  I noticed that there are a few songs on the upcoming album in which you are working with Ngo Nhu Thuy.   How was the music collaboration between the two of you?   
ANDY:  As I mentioned, Ngo Nhu Thuy is our new artist, so I took her under my wings and tried to guide her with the best of my ability.  I know if she’s presented in the right light, then she will make the AQ Entertainment family look good and vice versa. Her musical direction is a new challenge for me as well, because in addition to being an artist myself, I have to take on the role of a producer.  So far, everything has gone well and I’m really happy with her progress.

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As 2014 is around the corner, with the new album coming out, seeing how
your career has progressed since your first album, what is the biggest difference between Andy Quach now versus the Andy Quach when you released your first album?  And what has been the biggest learning experience you have learned overtime of being a pop star?
ANDY:  The biggest difference between the AQ back then and the AQ now is wisdom and maturity.  Time has taught me to be patient, work hard, keep pushing the bar, never give up, gotta have love and respect, and above all, stay humble.

Let’s get to know more about you outside of the music industry, what are your interests or hobbies?
ANDY:  Outside of the music industry, I’m just like any other regular guy.  I love sports, video games, movies and enjoy having dinner with my friends.

If you have one word to describe yourself, what word would that be and why?
ANDY:  “Fighter” because I don’t quit.

In my interviews we do a fun fill in the blank rapid question, I’m going to give you five sentences and you fill in the blank:

a.  Each time I go to Vietnam, the food that I always have to eat is ________.
ANDY:  Pho

b.  I love to see the audience’s reaction when I perform _________.
ANDY:  My new songs

c.  The last movie I watched in the theater was __________.
ANDY:  “World War Z”

d.  The music video that I really enjoyed filming was ___________.
ANDY:  “Hua – Promise”

e.  If I have to share a guilty pleasure that my fans do not know about, it would be___________.
ANDY:  Playing a video game late at night. That is my relaxing time.

I know you have a few projects lined up to promote your upcoming album.  What projects or events would you like to plug?
ANDY:  Since my new duet album “Forever Love” has just released, we have plans to go on tour to promote the album.  Our first stop will be in Sacramento on Oct. 18th and more will follow.  So I hope that all my fans will come out, support, and get to hear me & Ngo Nhu Thuy perform live all the new songs from the album.

What would you like to say to your fans?
ANDY:  For this, I would like to address my fans directly. I like to thank every one of you from all over the world for your love, support and acceptance through all the past years and the years to come. Out of appreciation, I promise I’ll keep on fighting and improving to give you my absolute best.  AQ & AQ Entertainment will not disappoint you if great and original music is what you’re expecting.

Lastly, I would like to thank J!-ENT for giving me a chance to connect with all my fans, Vietnamese and non Vietnamese alike.  From my heart, I appreciate you!

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Photography by Kevin Dinh

J!-ENT’s Dennis A. Amith interviews Kalafina (2013) (J!-ENT Interviews and Articles)

July 11, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

Since we last interviewed Kalafina back in 2009, so much has happened with the group.  From chart-topping singles to now performing with a live band, Kalafina has become a hot group with a growing fanbase worldwide.  With a recent concert at Anime Central in Illinois,  J!-ENT’s Dennis A. Amith recently had the opportunity to interview Keiko, Wakana and Hikaru of Kalafina.

Click here to read the interview (PDF)

Perfume Fans in Los Angeles Turn to Live Viewing for “Perfume WORLD TOUR 2nd” by Nergene Arquelada and Dennis A. Amith (J!-ENT Interviews and Articles)

July 11, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

Perfume

On July 7th, fans of the Japanese techno-pop girl group Perfume in Los Angeles had the opportunity to watch the trio’s a concert in the UK courtesy of a live viewing held at Regal Cinema.

For Perfume fans, these last seven years since being signed to a major label, have seen great things happening for Perfume, which consists of members Ayano Omoto, Yuka Kashino and Ayaka Nishiwaki.  All three are  from Hiroshima, Japan and debuted back in 2001 and are produced by Capsule and Meg producer Yasutaka Nakata.

From chart topping hit singles, three successful albums and their music being featured in Disney’s “Cars 2″ animated film, in early 2012, the trio announced they were leaving their label Tokuma Japan Communications and moving to Universal Music Japan in order to focus on performing internationally.

In July 2013, the group prepared for their first European tour with “Perfume WORLD TOUR 2nd” with concerts in Germany, UK and France.

Their July 5th UK show at Shepherds Bush Empire was broadcast in Los Angeles on July 7th in front of an enthusiastic crowd of nearly a hundred people who came out to sing and dance to the songs of Perfume.  The live viewing was shown at 1:00 p.m. on Sunday, July 7th with a box office price of $25 a ticket.  The screening was not live but is a 2-day delay broadcast.

The set list for the concert were the following tracks and MC portions:

  1. SE~
  2. Spending all my time (Extended Mix)/Welcome to Perfume World~
  3. Magic of Love
  4. Laser Beam
  5. Polyrythm
  6. -MC-
  7. Spring of Life
  8. SEVENTH HEAVEN
  9. Spice
  10. Handy Man (instrumental)
  11. Daijyobanai
  12. Electro World (Intro Short)
  13. P.T.A. no Corner
  14. FAKE IT
  15. Dream Fighter
  16. Chocolate Disco (ASIA Ver.)
  17. S.MC
  18. MY COLOR
  19. ENCORE: GLITTER (Europe Ver.)

During my viewing of the concert, one thing you will notice is the fans treated it like a real concert.  Screaming to the performances of Perfume, singing a long with their songs and even the people sitting right next to me, dancing to each song and really getting into it.  But most impressive was to see people knowing Perfume’s dance moves.

The live viewing was my first opportunity to see Perfume perform live.  While there are examples on YouTube, it was exciting to not only see a J-Pop live viewing in Los Angeles, but to also see the crowd really into the concert.  And makes me wonder why Perfume has not performed in the United States yet?

The group performed a lot of their hit songs including my favorites such as “Chocolate Disco”, “Spending all my time”, “Polyrhythm”, “Spice” and “Laser Beam” but also to hear the encore of “GLITTER” (European version) was very awesome!

But it was also great to see a performance of their latest single “Magic of Love” for the live viewing.

The concert kicked off with one of my favorite songs from Perfume titled “Spending all my time”, a fantastic synth track and possibly next to “Glitter”, a track that I have listened to countless times.

With that being said, I admit this is their most accessible song probably for a western audience.  For one, it’s almost all in English and it’s one of their most repetitive songs (and I usually dislike repetitive lyrics).   Everything about the musical arrangement and vocals works perfectly with this track.  A little techno style with Nakata’s arrangement this time around.  The lyrics are pretty simple:

Spending all, spending,
Spending all my time
Loving you, so loving you forever
Spending all, spending,
Spending all my time
Loving you, so loving you forever

Spending all, spending,
Spending all my time
Loving you, so loving you forever
Spending all, spending,
Spending all my time
Loving you, so loving you I wanna do

The version performed was the extended mix which transitioned to “Welcome to Perfume World~”.  But what is interesting thing about “Spending all my time” is that it may have never come to be. Written by Yasutaka Nakata, the lyrics were all in English and uncomfortable because of it, they each begged Nakata to rewrite the lyrics and incorporate Japanese lyrics and if it was not accepted, to not make the song an A-side.  Personally, I’m glad that Nakata reconsidered because I don’t want to hear J-Pop performers forced to sing a whole song in English, if they can’t or feel uncomfortable of doing so.

The second song performed in the concert was their latest single “Magic of Love” and a fun and delightful pop track and was thrilled that their new song was featured in the concert.  But I did notice that their single prior to “Magic of Love”, “Mirai no Museum” was not performed but the coupling song “Daijobani” was.

The third song performed was “Laser Beam”.  A song with with cool synth and beats, catchy with that digital style, “Laser beam” is a song about a person who is excited of seeing a person you like gaze at you.  The gaze is like a “laser beam” that pierces through the person’s heart and it’s a love beam that is the color of a rainbow.

The group then performed several of their popular hits such as “Polyrhythm”, “Spring of Life”, “SEVENTH HEAVEN”.

The seventh song “Spice” featured a catchy, upbeat single that continues to feature the synth pop arrangements that Yasutaka Nakata is known for.  The single is about being excited about something unexpected and that the spice of curiosity that is within you.  The song is about being in the same room with a person you like but the excitement makes the person tremble.  But I loved how the fans reacted to the song.

While “Mirai no Museum” was not performed, it was cool to hear their quick upbeat coupling track “Daijyobani” performed.  But throughout the concert, Perfume really went all out with their hits such as “Electro World”, “FAKE IT”, “DREAM FIGHTER” and “Chocolate Disco”.

The final song (before the encore) was “MY COLOR”, a song with a permeating synth groove and a track about a person who has been waiting for a mail from the person she likes.  She wants to see the person badly and hopes that her color, which is the color of excitement, reaches the person that she likes.  Great audience participation for this track!

The encore  track was “GLITTER” (European Version) and is a catchy song featured in English that starts of at mid-tempo until it reaches the chorus.  Am upbeat dance track that may seem happy, but the lyrics are somewhat sad as the song is about how a person has a sparkling dream, both people made a promise.  But until that day comes, she won’t cry at all and will pray for the person and laugh with them.  But instead of waiting, she feels she may need to take the chance and just do it or things won’t change, but she needs “Glitter”.  It’s a bit hard to explain the lyrics but it is a song about hope and just taking the initiative.

As for the MC portions, because Perfume are not native English speakers, they kept the MC to a minimum and focused on the music.

Overall, having attended Japanese rock live viewings, it was great to see a J-Pop live viewing and I hope by the number of people that attended and their reaction to the concert, will lead Live Viewing Japan to bring more J-Pop concerts to the big screen to the U.S.A.

While I’m not sure if the East Coast will be able to see these concerts or they were exclusive to Los Angeles (it’s important to note that part of the success of the live viewings was partly because of Anime Expo 2013 which was held on the same weekend but also a few blocks away from Regal Cinema).

But the experience of attending Perfume’s “Perfume WORLD TOUR 2nd” was an amazing experience and I hope to see them perform live in the United States in the near future.

For more information on Perfume, please visit their official website here (In Japanese) or their Global Site (in English)

J!-ENT’s Dennis A. Amith interviews 7!! (Seven Oops) (J!-ENT Interviews and Articles)

July 3, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

 7!! (pronounced as “Seven Oops”) is a band that has caught the attention of Japanese music fans all over the world.

From their theme songs used on the anime series  “Naruto Shippuden”,  the band which consists of vocalist NANAE, drummer MAIKO, guitarist MICHIRU and bassist KEITA were welcomed in the USA with performances in San Jose, California and New York.

After their performance in the U.S., J!-ENT’s Dennis A. Amith had the opportunity to interview 7!!

You can download our 7!! Special Feature/Interview by clicking here (PDF, 37MB)

J!-ENT Interview with Aoi Eir and Luna Haruna by Dennis A. Amith and Michelle Tymon (J!-ENT Interview and Articles)

June 4, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

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For many anime fans, Aoi Eir (note: Eir is her first name but for the label, Aoi Eir is used) is a name that many remember for her songs featured on “Mobile Suit Gundam AGE”, “Fate/Zero” and most recently with “Sword Art Online”.

But what is fascinating is how Aoi became a music star.

Originally hailing from Sapporo, Hokkaido, Aoi was first noticed through her music videos posted on the Nico Nico Douga video sharing site.

As a person that has been interested in music at a young age, in high school, Aoi used to have a high school band.  After graduating, she continued to pursue music and by 2011, she released her debut single “Memoria” that was used on the series “Fate/Zero”.

By 2012, she would have two hit anime theme songs with “Aurora” which became the fourth opening theme song for “Mobile Suit Gundam AGE” and her third single “Innocence” was released in November 2012 and was used as the second opening theme song for “Sword Art Online”.

For music artist, Luna Haruna (note: Luna is the first name and Luna Haruna is used by the label), she is an anime fan and loves gothic lolita.

Her song “Overfly” was featured as the second ending theme to “Sword Art Online” and recently debuted at #7, a pretty solid showing since her debut single “Sora wa Takaku Kaze wa Utau” (which was used for anime series “Fate/Zero”).

A big anime and music fan, by the time she entered junior high, she became obsessed with gothic lolita manga characters and Western clothes. By the third year of junior high, Haruna Luna was auditioning for the Internet radio program of “Renta Magica” and won the opportunity to perform the opening theme.

And from that point on, her life would immediately change. Haruna Luna would become an imoto-kei amateur model for “Kera” fashion magazine and modeling for “Marui” but with anime as her passion, she would become popular for competing and becoming a finalist for the fourth All-Japan Anime Song Grand Prix.  With this new found popularity, she was signed to SME Records.

For both Aoi Eir and Luna Haruna, with their work on “Sword Art Online” and “Fate/Zero”, both performed in concert in April at Sakura Con in Seattle.  Their very first performance in the United States.

J!-ENT recently had the opportunity to talk with the duo alone and also take part at the Sakura-Con press conference:

Here is our brief interview and a transcript of the press Q&A with Aoi Eir and Luna Haruna:

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J!-ENT: Many people are probably wondering how your stage names came about. Can you please tell us?
Aoi Eir: “Eir” is actually the name of a Norse goddess. It has always been my childhood dream to become a singer, but there was a time that I had given up on this dream. And at that time, I thought about becoming a nurse. I had even started studying to become a nurse and so I became very fond of the goddess Eir, who was the goddess of medical skill and healing. So I got “Eir” from that, and as for “Aoi”, I had always been very fond of the name “Aoi” or “Aoi-chan” and always thought it was cute, and my username on the computer had always been “Aoi”. So it’s always been a nickname that I liked a lot, so I combined the two and came up with “Aoi Eir”.
Luna Haruna: As for me, I have always admired the name “Luna” since I was a child. And I have always liked the moon, so I chose “Luna”. I was also using the name “Luna” while I was a magazine model (dokusha model) and got the name “Haruna” added when I started singing. The head of my agency was the one that came up with “Haruna”, because I thought it was would nice for people to refer to me as “Luna Luna” someday, so that’s how we got “HaLuna Luna”. Also, the kanji for “Haruna” means good luck, and that was another reason it was chosen.

J!-ENT: Did you know there were many people in the US who listen to and are fans of Japanese music? And are you pretty surprised to see the support that you are receiving from fans around the world?
Aoi Eir: I had heard about it, but I had never seen it until now. I was able to experience their love of anime up close. There was a person that said they had learned Japanese through anime, so I felt their love for anime very strongly. I go to Winter Comi and Summer Comi quite often and had seen people from overseas there, so I had known that it was popular to some point. But I had never imagined the love was so very deep as I found out here… I’m very moved and I felt that I had to step it up a little myself.

J!-ENT: Is there any American food you’d like to try or places you’d like to visit while you’re in Seattle?
Aoi Eir: Starbucks is really famous, so I had some Starbucks coffee. I’d like to walk around as well, but haven’t had the chance to just yet. I’m hoping we’ll be able to do that tomorrow, and then I’m hoping to enjoy various American style foods. I was rather surprised to hear that it’s very common to eat sandwiches and potato chips together, so I’d love to do that.

J!-ENT: The first Starbucks is actually in Seattle, at Pike Place Market, so please check it out.
Aoi Eir: We totally will!
Luna Haruna: I love Subway, and I really love their oven potatoes (Note: they’re like french fries and not available in the US) and I’m wondering if they’re different in the US. I eat them all the time in Japan. So I’d love to try the US version if they’re available. I’d like to conquer that. I heard that it’s the biggest fast food chain in the US, and that there are even more Subways than McDonalds.

J!-ENT: What kind of students were you in high school? The artsy student? The book worm? The prankster? The athlete?
Aoi Eir: I wasn’t the smart kid at all (laughs). I played basketball quite a bit, but I also loved music and had started getting more interested in it while I was playing basketball in high school. But I never really explored it until I got into high school. In high school, I formed a band. I started playing the guitar in junior high school, and then in high school I started a band, doing the vocals and playing guitar. I even studied the bass guitar a little bit. So it was in high school that I really started to explore music.
Luna Haruna: By the time I was in high school, I was already a complete otaku. The thing was, everyone in my class was an otaku. Not to mention, it was an art class, so everyone was really good at drawing and everyone was able to draw manga. So it was completely normal for everyone to be reading manga during class. You pretty much couldn’t find text books in our desks… so it was a very interesting class. We were able to express ourselves to the max, so it was a very fun high school life.

J!-ENT: Both of you had the opportunity to have your songs featured on two popular anime series. How was that first experience when you heard your song on an anime series?
Aoi Eir: It didn’t feel like it was real at all at first… So every week, I would be watching the episodes just to confirm that it was real. Yet still, I felt, “Is this really happening?” Now I’m a little more used to it, so now I concentrate on what I can do to repay all of my fans and how I can express myself even more.
Luna Haruna: I feel the same way. When I first saw the anime footage going along with my own song, I was so moved. My overall goal in life is to become one with the anime world, so I felt that I had come closer to that goal, and I took a picture of the footage with my phone… Even though you can’t hear it.
Aoi Eir: I did that, too! (laughs)
Luna Haruna: And then, I uploaded that to my blog.
Aoi Eir: I took a picture of when my name shows up in the credits.

J!-ENT: If there is one word to describe yourself, what word would that be and why?
Aoi Eir: I think the word “fun”. I’m always having fun. I’m having fun when I’m performing, and singing. I’m having fun all the time.
Luna Haruna: It’s not one word, but rather one phrase: anime otaku. I really believe that anime is my life. I believe that anime is the only way that I can truly express myself. So I intend to keep pulling through as an otaku.

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Last night at your concert, people seemed to enjoy your song from “Puella Magi Madoka Magica”, the collaboration, what made you pick your songs last night and do you two plan on doing anymore collaborations in the future?
Aoi Eir: I personally love ClariS and ClariS and I are actually from the same hometown. I look up to and respect them very much and so I’d like to do more collaborations with them.
Luna Haruna: I also like doing collaborations. Since I usually sing by myself, singing with various other artists is always stimulating and is also a learning experience. It’s also very exciting so I’d love to do it again.

American Robot Records has recorded various artists and found that most artists have a routine. What are things that you concentrate on before recording or during recording?
Aoi Eir: I actually work out. I think that having a strong core is very important, so I get a good night’s sleep, drink a lot of water and then do a lot of sit ups. Then I try to imagine the world of the particular song I’m recording and then I record.
Luna Haruna: Expression is very important to me, so I read the lyrics and let my imagination go to work. I love anime very much, so it’s very important that I don’t ruin that world. I keep that world very important to me and imagine the lyrics, and then go into recording with that image in my head.

J!-ENT: Before performing to an American audience, was it a bit stressful, scary, exciting? How were you feeling when you found out that you would be performing in America?
Aoi Eir: I was a little nervous, but the people of Seattle are very passionate and there are many people who are very good at having a great time. So I was also able to have a great time and perform. In the end, I was a little nervous, but my feelings of excitement were much, much greater.
Luna Haruna: I was also very nervous and excited at first. This is my first time anywhere overseas, so I was very excited about what kinds of environments I would see. And last night, I was able to perform at the concert and it almost felt like it wasn’t the first time I was here. Everyone welcomed me so warmly and I was very happy that I came.

So how have you evolved as a singer? Since you both have been singing since a young age, has your presence in the anime world changed you?
Aoi Eir: Before I debuted, I had always just worried about my pitch. But as a singer, I want to express something, to say something. That is vital in being a singer, but before I debuted, I hadn’t thought of that at all. But since I’ve debuted, I’ve always considering how much people would be accepting my songs in their hearts and how I can excite the people who come to my concerts more and more. I think about those points very much now.
Luna Haruna: I have always loved anisongs and singing in general. Now that I’m a singer myself, I am able to experience bringing smiles to the people who listen to my music and see that there are people who feel something when they listen to my songs. So I want to become an even better singer and I was able to really understand the wonderfulness of songs, so I actually feel like I was given an even bigger dream to pursue and I’m having a lot of fun. So I’d like to become an even better singer.

Aoi, how does it feel to have two top ten singles so early in your career?
Aoi Eir: Honestly, I never thought that would happen, so I was very surprised at first. It actually felt quite unreal. But I feel that was able to happen because I have so many fans who support me and I’m currently trying to figure out what I can do next so I can repay all of them for their support.

Luna, how was it working with the legendary Kajiura Yuki on your debut song?
Luna Haruna: Well, I loved the TV anime series, “Gundam SEED” which Kajiura Yuki-san did the music for and I have always loved the worlds she was able to create through her music. So when I was told I would be able to work with someone has amazing as her, it was very surreal. When I listened to the song I was going to sing, I was able to really get a feel for the world that song created and I was very happy.

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What do you like to do to relax when you’re not singing?
Aoi Eir: I play games. I absolutely love the Xbox 360, PS3, PSP and Nintendo DS and I’m playing all the time. And among all of those, the thing I’m most into right now is online gaming.

What types of online games? MMOs? Shooters?
Aoi Eir: I mainly play FPS’s. For example, I love “Left 4 Dead” and “Gears of War” very much. Well, I guess “Gears” isn’t technically a FPS, but I also like “Call of Duty” as well.
Luna Haruna: I’m very much an anime otaku. I love watching anime and walking through Akihabara. I go to a lot of events and even get on the first train to do so, so I’m very passionate about being an otaku. Anime is my everything.

Now that you’ve worked in anime, is it something you’re eager to continue with? Is there any particular anime you’d like to work with in the future? If not, what is your true passion in music?
Aoi Eir: I have always loved and grew up with anime since I was in kindergarten, so I’m very honored that I’m able to sing anime theme songs. I’d definitely like to continue singing anime songs. Also, I’d like to try even harder so the audience overseas will continue listening and enjoying my music as well.
Luna Haruna: I feel the same. I would love to continue singing anime songs. I believe that anime is a vital part of Japanese culture and I was able to feel the excitement of becoming one with anime. So I’d like to continue to convey those feelings and worlds that anime creates to the other anime otakus.

Are there any other Japanese or Foreign artists you’d like to collaborate with?
Aoi Eir: For Japanese artists, I’d have to say I would absolutely love to collaborate with Mizuki Nana-san, Nakagawa Shoko-san, and Hirano Aya-san. As for American artists, I really love rock music, so I’d love to collaborate with Linkin Park.
Luna Haruna: I would love to do a collaboration with ALI Project. I had been able to collaborate with them before for an event for KERA, a Harajuku fashion magazine, called GothLoli Revival. But this time, I’d like to collaborate with them musically. I love the fashion and the world of gothic lolita so I’d love to express that with them. It would make me very happy.

For the songs you did for “Fate/Zero” and “Sword Art Online”, how much input do they give you and how much input were you able to give? Do you try to read as much of the source material as much as possible or do you just try to go with a general feeling of the material?
Aoi Eir: Since I got the song before it’s actually an anime, I go back and read the original work and try to imagine the feelings of the characters and try to convey those into the lyrics, since i also write lyrics myself. So I do use the source material to heighten my feelings for the song I’m about to sing.
Luna Haruna: So far, I’ve been singing the songs that appear in the second season so there is already a story that’s been created. So I go back and watch that, read the original material, and if there are prior series involved, I go back and read or watch those as well. Being an otaku, I really like to delve into that world and I love each individual character and try to keep in mind what they are trying to express as well as the world of that anime itself. I then take that and imagine how to interpret that into the songs.

How does it feel to be able to start out as an anime fan and now be able to do work that is involved in these anime? Does being an anime fan give you a different perspective doing these songs?
Aoi Eir: When I was watching anime, I didn’t think much about it, but now that I’m on the side that’s involved with making an anime, it can be hard to find the right feelings, words and voice that I’m trying to express. For example, thinking about what wording would impact the fans the most and in the songs, thinking about what parts should be softer in singing to help convey certain feelings. So I discuss all of this with the director and it’s a lot of fun going through this creative process and there is also a difficulty doing so. I believe that this has all been learning experiences for me.
Luna Haruna: Up until recently, I was on the side that was watching the anime. But now that I’m on the side that is creating anime, and expressing the worlds it creates to other fans, I think it’s only natural as an otaku. Seeing my voice being connected with the visuals of an anime, I feel like the real world and the anime world have finally connected, and I feel that a lot of dreams have been answered.

Haruna-san, you’ve mentioned that you walk around Akihabara. This question is for the both of you: have you been recognized on the street, and if fans approach you, how do you react?
Luna Haruna: Well, when I walk around Akihabara, I’m dressed very plain. So it’d be pretty hard to track me down, but if a fan were to find me, I think we’d be able to get excited together about anime and such so I’d be very welcome to that.
Aoi Eir: When I had gone to Akihabara in search of a brand new game that had come out, and my album came out on January 31st so there was a very big sign with my face on it… but no one had found me. I was even eating a crepe in front of that sign, and even then, no one approached me, so I’d like to try even harder.

With both of your successes with “Fate/Zero” and “Sword Art Online”, what other series are both of you aiming for to contribute your voice to?
Aoi Eir: I love fighting and in games, I love fighting games and even when watching anime, I watched alot of shows with a lot of fighting in it. For example, “Dragon Ball” and “Sailor Moon”. So just like “Fate/Zero” and “Sword Art Online”, I’d like to work on even more series filled with intense fighting.

If you had a chance to work on “Accel World”, would you have done it?
Aoi Eir: I would have loved to! I love ALTIMA and when I hear their song from “Accel World”, I get very excited.
Luna Haruna: As for me, as long as it’s an anime, I’m very happy. As long as I can sing anime songs, that itself is a dream come true for me. So if I can work on any anime, it makes me very happy.

Are there any American or western artists that have influenced your works?
Aoi Eir: They may not all be American, but Marion Raven, Slipknot, and Evanescence. Other than that, because of my father, I love Whitney Houston. I sing her songs a lot at karaoke. Also, on our way here, I was watching Eminem’s music video.
Luna Haruna: I mainly listen to ani-songs, so I don’t listen to very much western music. But when I want a slight change of atmosphere, I listen to U2, and I used to listen to Britney Spears quite often.

For more information on Aoi Eir, please click here.

For more information on Luna Haruna, please click here.

Single/album images are courtesy of Sony Music Entertainment Japan

Convention photo of Aoi Eir and Luna Haruna was taken by J!-ENT’s Michelle Tymon

Media Q&A with Executive Director Katsuyuki Motohiro, Director Naoyoshi Shiotani and Producer Joji Wada (of “PSYCHO-PASS”) by Dennis A. Amith and Michelle Tymon (J!-ENT Interviews and Articles)

May 7, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

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In Japan, Katsuyuki Motohiro is a respected director.  From directing the popular “Odoru Daisousassen” drama and film series (known as “Bayside Shakedown” in Asia and the U.S.), “Udon”, “Shaolin Girl” and “Space Travelers”, Katsuyuki Motohiro was given a chance to work on an anime series.  And in this case, become the executive producer for Production I.G.’s series “PSYCHO-PASS”.

Working with director Naoyoshi Shiotani (“Blood-C”, “Blood-C: The Last Dark”, “Tokyo Marble Chocolate”) and producer Joji Wada (“Guilty Crown”, “Kimi ni Todoke”, “Robotics;Notes”, “Sengoku Basara: Samurai Kings”), the three were invited as guests at Sakura Con 2013 to promote “PSYCHO-PASS”.

The following is a transcript of the press conference with Executive Director Katsuyuki Motohiro, Director Naoyoshi Shiotani and Producer Joji Wada, a few of the key names behind the Production I.G. animated series, “PSYCHO-PASS”:

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Executive Director Katsuyuki Motohiro (of “PSYCHO-PASS”)

Since you started working in anime, how have you evolved and what would you say is your greatest lesson that you learned.
Shiotani: The first thing I thought about was how I could make that piece different from everything else. For example, while talking to the executive director Motohiro-san yesterday, instead of what would be popular, we like to make something we enjoy. That would be the priority.  For example, using a very unique design, since the story takes place in the near future. And as for romantic situations, we didn’t put a spotlight on that too much and let the audience think about that on their own.  We wanted to make it a piece concentrating on strong male bonds/friendships and I think that the audience enjoyed that very much.
Motohiro: My job for this project as the executive director, was to stand in between the director and the producer, so I left most of the creative side of the work to them.  I also protected the director from the producer, to protect their creativity and to protect the script.  I think this is what the position of executive director has evolved to.
Shiotani: He really did protect me quite a bit in all sorts of situations. For example, it’s required in TV animation to play an ending song but in “PSYCHO-PASS”, we used arrangements that fit with the story.  For example, there were times where we had cut out parts of the song.  But of course, the producers of the song would be concerned about this, because of one of the sponsors is Sony and it’s sung by an artist from there.  So there were many times that I would be called down to talk to the producer and I would ask Motohiro-san if he’d like to come along and he’d stand in between us.
Motohiro: That was very specific. (laugh)
Wada: Maybe a little too specific, and they won’t understand. (laugh)

 

This is primarily for Motohiro-san.  You are known for your live action work, like “Bayside Shakedown”, but how did that experience play into animation and what were some hurdles you faced transitioning to animation?
Motohiro: When I’m directing live-action, there are many references and homages to animation and this is ended up helping create popular live action series.  As a way of giving direction, I would have the actors act things out like they were in an anime from the past.  So this time around, I was able to actually able to see the world of anime, since I don’t really know much about it personally.  So I was able to go in and work with everyone and get to know more about things I thought were rather mysterious to me.  And as for my involvement working with people on the ground level, such as the animators, and the script writers, my primary job was to be their support.

 

Akane’s appearance evolves from a sweet and innocent girl to almost haunted in the final episode without any physical change. Was it difficult to plan this into the character?
Shiotani: This definitely wasn’t decided as we were going along.  From the beginning, one of the aspects of the story was how the heroine, Akane, would evolve and grow.  She as the heroine comes in between the main character, Kougami Shinya, and his main rival, and enemy, Makishima Shogo.  And up until that point where she goes in between them, they’re both veteran detec, so to have her grow and mature enough that she could actually stand in between them was a big part of the story.  That was intended from the start.
Shiotani: And another thing was Akane exists to be the audience’s perspective into this show.  So when Akane questions certain things or wonders about certain things, she is doing so from the audience’s point of view and the more the audience understands, the more Akane grew herself and eventually works herself into the standpoint of one of the main characters herself.

 

For students pursuing to become future directors, I’d like to ask Motohiro-san to give us a message.
Motohiro: The reason I decided to become a director, simply put, is because I love doing it.  So to do something that I love as a profession, there are many misfortunes, but as long as I keep it as my hobby, I can think about it happily.  But as soon as I make it into a job, I have to consider the fact that many people are going to be viewing my work so I have to make it something that many people can view and laugh and cry when they see it.  So for students, and this is how I pursued it myself, but I think of it as pursuing your dreams, I think will make you happier in the end.  I have no regrets and I think I’d be content with dying at anytime.

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Director Naoyoshi Shiotani and Producer Joji Wada (of “PSYCHO-PASS”)

Episode 16 was the true highlight of the series, but then in episode 17 and 18, there were animation issues.  How do you feel about the transition between those episodes.
Shiotani: You have stumbled upon something that is rather hard to talk about.   This is a bit difficult.  The reason that episode 16 was such a success…
Wada: This really is sort of hard to talk about…
Shiotani: You must have watched very closely to point out that very sort of thing. I do agree that episode 16 was the best episode in the series and an episode that I am very proud of.  But one thing that you should be aware of is that everyone involved in “PSYCHO-PASS”, was really pushing things to the very limit.  And this is something we did at the limit of our abilities. Right before I started working on “PSYCHO-PASS”, I was working on the movie “Blood-C: The Last Dark”, literally right up to the point where I started working on “PSYCHO-PASS”.  So just three months before starting on “PSYCHO-PASS”, I had been working on a the film, so I had to just jump right into the new series that was in full on production and there was not enough ramp up time there.  So from there, I kept concentrating on how to make this series that would run for six months a great series.   However, there was just one moment where I had run out of stamina, which was during episode 17 and 18.  And a bunch of people ran out of stamina after pushing for episode 16.  And I knew that might become apparent, so we had clear plans to work extra hard to make things great again from episode 19.  However in the end, episode 17 and 18, we ended up having to leave much of it to luck and had to ask everyone to just do whatever they could.
Wada: Episode 17 and 18 is what is great about making a TV series.
Motohiro: Are they going to get that?
Shiotani: It’s the “loose” part of the series.
Wada: Yes, the “loose” part.
Shiotani: If we want to go into some details, episode 17 and 18 were made outside of our team, and we had asked another company to help us out with those two episodes.  There was probably the aspect of us not being able to support them very well.  They might not have been able to use the same techniques we were using or may not have been able to express the near future world of “PSYCHO-PASS” very well since we were lacking in schedule time as well as being able to communicate things.  So we were able to pick things back up from episode 19.
Shiotani: But as for the retail product, we are completely remaking episode 17 and 18, so they’ll be completely different.

 

What do you like to do on your off time?
Motohiro: I love to watch movies.
Shiotani: If I consider the time working on “PSYCHO-PASS”, I’d have to say that I didn’t really have any free time.  So I would sleep for a little bit, wake up, and then continue working on “PSYCHO-PASS”… that’s how I spent a whole year.
The one thing that I think slightly comforted me while working on “PSYCHO-PASS”, was to listen to the songs of the most popular idols in Japan right now and I would even go see them live even though it meant I would lose some sleep.
Wada: I think you can mention their name.
Shiotani: Momoiro Clover Z, who is popular among our workplace staff.
Shiotani: And right at the time where I felt that I couldn’t go on anymore, Motohiro-san took me to meet Momoiro Clover Z.
Motohiro: I had gotten platinum tickets.
Wada: Indeed, he is the executive director.
Shiotani: Thank you very much for that.

 

Do you feel that “PSYCHO-PASS” is an anime series that can receive a live-action film or drama series adaptation?
Motohiro: Of course!
Shiotani: He told me from the beginning: Please don’t make anything that we can’t make into live-action.
Motohiro: Now that we have 22 episodes of the animation complete, and now that it’s being distributed in the US as well as the series being novelized, but I believe this is all material for my live films. (the three are laughing hard)

 

What actors would you consider for the live-action?
Motohiro: There’s already quite a bit of buzz on the internet on who should play who.
Shiotani: Do you look at all of that?
Motohiro: Yes, I do.  But right now, with the Japanese economy, I don’t think a live-action would be possible at this moment, unless Hollywood wanted to step in.

 

Now that you’re here in America, are there any foods that you have wanted to try or any shops that you have been wanting to visit in Seattle?
Motohiro: Right now, I feel… like I’d like to have some more seafood.  Especially the crab where you have to actually smash it with a hammer.  It was really good!
Wada: There is something the three of us are currently regretting.  When we got the clam chowder, we all ordered a cup, but we should have gotten the bowl! (all three are laughing)

 

Is there any American media that influenced your work?
Motohiro: One of my favorite directors is George Roy Hill, who directed such movies like “The World According to Garp” and “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.”
Shiotani: I have many, many influences, but for “PSYCHO-PASS”, one of the biggest influences was “Seven”.  I like David Fincher a lot, so in the opening, there is some influence from “Fight Club” and “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”.

 

If you recieved more funding to produce more episodes of “PSYCHO-PASS”, would you create more episodes of “PSYCHO-PASS” and include a fan service episode, for example when they all go to the beach?  Also, I heard that you wanted to lose “moe” so you purposely made the world of “PSYCHO-PASS” a rather dark world with very little cuteness.
Shiotani: In Japan, we call that the “Onsen Episode”.  It pretty much happens because things get hard on production, so if we put in an episode where they go to the onsen, it’ll get high ratings and it’ll be easy to work on.
Motohiro: Would we do it if we had money?
Shiotani: Those episodes are made because of the lack of funds.
Motohiro: In a similar case for TV dramas, we take all of the cast and staff to an onsen and we wrap up all the shooting in one day.  Since the actors take off their clothes, the ratings go up and the staff gets really excited as well because they get a short vacation.  However, this was the first time I heard that it was done in anime as well.
Motohiro: We did want to lose the moe and focus on a show where the guys could be passionate about something.  But because the guys were so passionate and on fire, in turn, the female audience totally got into the show.

 

This is a question for Motohiro-san, but what is your next goal as a director?
Motohiro: Right now, I have a lot of kouhai/juniors right now, so right now, I’d like to give them some great movies to work on.  Mr. Shiotani is one of those people as well.  Right now, the directors that are making hit movies, are all my juniors, and so I start to feel a sense of urgency as well and work harder as well.  Then I start to feel that I need to make an even better movie and feel like I need to liven up the Japanese movie and entertainment world.

 

Where did your limits come from in limiting the violence in the show?  Were they clearly defined going into production and how did that affect your execution of the series.
Shiotani: The story itself is quite violent and involves a lot of body horror, for example, like a person’s legs and arms being attached oppositely and a head being within a head, or there being a face on a stomach.  So as to how to deal with that in the TV series, Gen Urobochi-san just let us deal with it.  The reason any of that is in the series is not because we wanted to make a violent series, but we wanted to make an artistic series that just happened to have some violence included in it, and we wanted people to view it like they were looking at some piece of art.  There were parts that were done off camera and if it needed to be seen, it was seen as well.  And when it involves the main characters, we wanted to do it very beautifully and dramatically and make it very memorable.  However there were two instances we were told by the TV station that we had gone overboard and so we had to fix those instances so they could be aired.

 

If you three had the chance to collaborate again in the future, would you like to and what genres and projects would you like to explore?
Motohiro: Well right now, if we were going to do something again, “PSYCHO-PASS” is doing rather well and gaining quite a bit of popularity, so I would like to work on a continuation of the series.
Shiotani: I feel the same.  That was the short answer. (laughs) The series is an original and it finally felt like what we had all worked very hard on had just taken shape and we had created something very big.  And the way the story was written, it feels like we had only covered just a part of a story that has much more episodes that have yet to come to light.  So it’d be great if we could pick up the series from any of those other episodes.

 

What type of personality does it take to do the jobs that you all do?
Motohiro: As a director, I need to make sure that things aren’t too concentrated but not too loose, either.  There are aspects that I personally concentrate on, but I know there are parts I can leave up to the rest of the staff and I think that is very important.
Shiotani: There are many different kinds of people so it’s hard to say, but I think having a very distinct on and off switch is very important.  I think people who can become idiots are great.  I think it’s best when people are super serious when they’re working, but when they’re not, they can totally turn that switch off and dumb themselves down, otherwise you sort of lose your mind.  I think your body holds up better when you can separate the two, working seriously and having fun, and can think about it positively.  If you become an idiot, those around you will do the same, and it’s easy to get along and then you can see what they are like on the inside and it’s something that can be applied to my work.  So in the end, it’s actually a very serious approach.
Wada: The most important thing about being a producer, is to not give up.  I had heard that many people wanted to create an anime with Motohiro-san and he has had a lot of offers, but I think we’re all here now because I was the only one who didn’t give up.

 

What sort of process do you go through to achieve the results that you want on a project?
Wada: The most important process or procedure is in the beginning, all of us: Motohiro-san, Shiotani-san, Urobuchi-san, and Amano-san all decide on what exactly we want to work on together and to not forget that up until the very end.
Shiotani: I usually make sure I say, “Yes, I can.” to whenever I’m asked if I can do something, but then I go and panic about it when I’m by myself.  I make sure to try not to decline anything.  Accept everything… and then worry about the details later. (laugh)  I think there are a lot of people who say they can’t do something because they’ve never done it before, but I think it’s more fun to do things that you’ve never done before.  It’ll be super hard, and you might be killed, but it’s super fun to do.
Motohiro: In Japan, there’s a saying, “Accept those who come to you, and do not chase pursue those who leave you”, so I accept all of those who come to me, and make sure I just say goodbye to those who leave me and see them off.  I think this is important in many aspects.  This means that many people with a lot of talent come to me, including Shiotani.  And there are also a lot of people that things don’t work out with and they end up leaving.   This way, I end up making great things with other people that can see eye-to-eye with me and I think this process has been very successful so far.  I always make sure I have a beacon or antenna up, looking at and studying various things, I think that’s important as well.  That would be my process.

 

What’s your criminal coefficient?
Wada: Yesterday, a fan of PSYCHO-PASS calculated this for me, and I was told it was 300.  Apparently there is an app out that can calculate this..
Shiotani: While I was making “PSYCHO-PASS”, I would have to say it was too big to measure, judging what those said about me and how I looked making it.  But right now, I’ve calmed down… but my dream is to be so calm that it can’t be measured, like Makishima.  That is my goal.  I want to become just a brain. (laugh)
Motohiro: I’ve reached the enlightenment level.  Once you reach the enlightenment level, your criminal coefficient becomes unreadable.  So no matter when I’m measured, it will be low.  I am always calm and never get angry… I make sure that they can never find out the coefficient.

 

I know that “Odoru Daisousasen” ended with the final movie in 2012.  But what are the chances of a spin-off series with the characters of Shunsaku Aoshima, Shinji Muroi, or Sumire Onda?
Motohiro: Sadly, there are no plans for any spin-offs.  The movie that was released last year was indeed the final of the whole series.

 

For more information on Psycho-Pass, please visit the following website

Photos are courtesy of Michelle Tymon, J!-ENT

Media Q&A with Animator/Director Atsuko Ishizuka (of “Nana”, “Supernatural: The Animation”, “Sakura-so no Pet na Kanojo”) by Dennis A. Amith and Michelle Tymon (J!-ENT Interviews and Articles)

April 22, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

ishizuka

In Japan, most of the time when you meet an animator or director of anime series, those in the industry were big fans of anime or are very familiar with the genre.

For animator/director Atsuko Ishizuka, she is the opposite.

Studying at the Aichi Prefecture University of the Arts, Atsuko never watched anime and her interest was more in music and graphic arts.  And how she would work in the anime industry was not for an interest in anime but for the sake of art.

While at art school, Ishizuka would create short animated films tied to music.  One of these animated shorts titled “Gravitation” was featured in the 2005 Tehran International Short Film Festival which would capture the attention of NHK and Madhouse.

Madhouse would offer Atsuko a chance a job as a production assistant, while NHK would contact Atsuko to animated a video segment for their “Minna no Uta” program, which highlights upcoming independent animators and musicians.  But because she was already employed by Madhouse,  the studio allowed her to work with NHK and in the process, she created her first professional film titled “Tsuki no Waltz”.

This video would give attention to Atsuko Ishizuka and not long after working for Madhouse, getting her chance to work in the animated series such as “MONSTER”, her first assistant director role for “NANA” followed by “MapleStory”.Then episode director for “Top Secret ~The Revelation” and “Moryo no Hako”.  And in a few years, she was directing two episodes for “Aoi Bungaku”, co-directing for “Supernatural: The Animation Series” and in 2012-2013, her major directorial role for “Sakura-so no Pet na Kanojo”.

On April 1st, Atsuko Ishizuka attended her first anime convention in the U.S. in Seattle as a Guest of Honor for Sakura-Con 2013 to promote her work for “Supernatural: The Animation” and “Sakura-so no Pet na Kanojo” and took part in a media press conference.

The following is a transcript of the press conference with Atsuko Ishizuka which J!-ENT took part in.

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J!-ENT: Before we discuss your career, let’s get to know you a little better.  I read that you didn’t watch much anime growing up but you listened to music and were into design.  Were there any designers that inspired you?

Atsuko: I don’t have any awareness of any specific thing or artist that inspired me.  I attended a technical school, so the things that I saw and heard there inspired me.  So, I built experience overtime of things that I made myself and saw how they turned out.

 

Because of your different background in art and music, how does that education and background in graphic design affect animation.  Especially styles and concepts since they are different from animation.

Atsuko: When I entered the company, at first I thought it would be a weakness because of my unawareness of animation.  But now that I have progressed in my career, I now consider that as a strength.  So I can create these new experiences and adventures with a point of a view of one who hasn’t had exposure to anime and I think  it was best expressed in the “Tsuki no Waltz” short film that I did.

 

Building upon that, of all art forms, which is easier for you to work on now?

Atsuko: I think the easiest for me is expression through animation.  I did try my hand once in live action, but it turned out that the things that are in my head can only be realized through fantasy and pictures, so for me it’s drawing of what I am imagining is the easiest way for me to realize my vision and realize what I wanted to do.  So, for me it’s not limited to a certain particular genre.

 

What challenges did you face in creating the “Aoi Bungaku” series for which you were director, writer and storyboard artist?

Atsuko: She strived for vivid and clear images, not so much old looking but something fresh and vivid and clear for the images and backgrounds.

 

As you have never watched anime growing up, now that you work in the field, do you now have a favorite?

Atsuko:  For anime, even now that I am part of the industry, I don’t watch much anime. I do for study but not really for just a hobby. I personally think that there is a lot of people in the anime industry who don’t really watch much anime when they are creating it.  At some point, you won’t be able to enjoy it for its own merits.

 

J!-ENT: In 2010, you had the opportunity to co-direct “Supernatural: The Anime Series” with Shigeyu- ki Miya. Because the series was based on an American drama series, were there strict rules that you had to face on working on the anime adaptation and how was the experience to work on this anime version?

Atsuko: For the “Supernatural the animation”, there was a great deal that I left to the scenario writer.  In an overseas drama outside of Japan has very dense scripts and 45 minute plus running times.  In Japan,we have only 20 minutes, so it was very difficult that the scenario writer faced many challenges.  But I gave the person my full support and told them to do their best.

 

Being a person in the industry who wasn’t a fan before and even now of anime, are there any series or any franchise that you really want to work on now as an animator?

Atsuko: “Doraemon”.  Please promote that I would love to work on a theatrical version of “Doraemon”.  I think it’s a great work with real vision!

 

Are there any works in classical literature that you want to work on?

Atsuko: Works by Kogo Abe,  to read his stories and novels, I would think those would be great visual works.

 

Since you don’t necessarily watch anime, do you read manga or friends and family who reads manga and suggest titles for you to work on?  Or possibly reading manga that you get ideas in your head of wanting to create an anime?

Atsuko: One in particular was Chie Shinohara’s “Sora wa Akai Kawa no Hotori: Anatolia Story”, which is a very unusual work that I would love to revisit some time.

 

J-ENT: Is this your first time as a guest at an anime convention in America? Now, that you are in America. Is there a certain food that you always wanted to try? Or certain shops that you are excited to visit?

Atsuko: This is my first convention as everything up until now has been more interviews and events.  This is a world that I can not enter, it’s all people who know much more about animation than me.  I feel I should apologize, even though I am an animation director.  As for food, in Seattle, clam chowder which was recommended by Takahiro Yoshimatsu (character designer and animation director for the “The Slayers” and “Future GPX Cyber Formula” films), who is a regular of Sakura-Con and he recommended to try the clam chowder.  So, I tried the clam chowder and it was great!

 

You worked in a lot of horror genre and supernatural. Even your first “Minna no Uta” video was creepy but in a good way.  Is that a genre you would like to continue working in?

Atsuko: People ask me that a lot. Maybe it’s because of “Tsuki no Waltz” because it has that supernatural style to it.  I do think it’s a genre that I’m good at.  But it is something that when I pursue the supernatural world, it feels I am pursuing the art world almost.  And it can be very exhausting.  I feel that sometimes I am trying to wring something out of myself, that maybe I don’t have enough of.  So, I want to continue doing it from time-to-time, but it’s very draining if you continue to do it.  Recently, I started to think that maybe I should continue to pursue this kind of warmth which is only possible through anime with works such as “Pet Girl of Sakurasou” and in between pursue areas that I’m good at in regards to art and fantasy.

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I really loved your episodes of “Aoi Bungaku”.  Would you ever consider possibly doing “Yotsuya Kaidan” or classic kaidans?

Atsuko: Japanese horror is very interesting.  I think it would be interesting to try and express the fear and horror of Japanese classical horror through these visual works because there is no reality, it would be a challenge!  Very good question…thank you!

 

What are your future goals as an animator?

Atsuko: There is a lot of people that hoped that I would create supernatural worlds but I’m currently searching for my next project and I think it may diverge away from the art world, for kids or some other genre where I can use my strengths.  So, one thing I am aware of recently is to not fully pull out from my own work.  To really go into areas and not do things that I have done in the past.

 

How have you evolved as an animator from the beginning to where you are now.  And what lessons have you learned?

Atsuko: So, my career actually started not as an animator but part of production of Madhouse.  It was actually through “Tsuki no Waltz” which was through a personal connection at NHK, a  producer,  that I was able to realize and move on to my current direction.  I’ve learned so much.  So, when I was faced the challenge to work on a storyboard, I didn’t know how to approach it, so I took Masayuki Kojima’s storyboard, because he’s such a good creator and set it down right next to mind and created what he had done in the past. I really have built my experience by imitating other work of people but I always love drawing.  So, I’ve always loved drawing and there is no special direction, so I’m good at drawing illustrations.  The quickest shortcut is to imitate people.

 

Has there been an artist that you imitate the most?

Atsuko: Not really so much of an artist but Morio Asaka, the director.  I really find myself looking at his works.  And also Aya Furuichi at that area for influence for storyboards.  And it seems that from time to time and I see something that I need.  So may it be photos or movies, I’ll gradually build experience from the things around me and once that new world has been created inside of me, that’s when I begin production.  And so I will build up so much information so quickly that there will be movies that I will see that I don’t remember the title, the cast or director of the film but I will absorb it.  And so there are things in films that I have to capture all this information, but I forget what the title is, so I will not be able to see it ever again.  My folder is full of images and my PC is a total mess.

 

Because you have all these ideas, if you have an unlimited budget and wanted to create something you really like, what message would you like to convey?  It may be difficult to achieve, but it’s still back in your mind?

Atsuko: So, thinking about the viewer, I think that 90 minutes is long enough to do anything I want to do.  Or a TV series that will go on forever and will be 30-minutes long.  And as far as the content, the hero must be energetic and maybe a touch of fantasy, psychic powers or supernatural elements.  And I think the story would be a hero who is helping people and following his own dream.  A hero following the straight path.  So, the viewer would protect him in his journey and grow along with him.  So, this is something that I want to do, so I will do my best to create this original work.  I don’t think it would be an expensive project or something flashy but something that is well loved for a long period of time.  If you have high production values, then it will go 3D (laughing) and end up being a very popular and using actor that would be motion-captured and put real into a visual work.  Another aspect of animation is that it’s not done in real time or live, but it would be great to create animation that feels like it’s live but in order to do that, it’s better not to expect too much from it.  Animation from live painting maybe?

 

Do you drink anything to get you through a deadline?  What is the longest that you have not slept?

Atsuko: Caffeine.  I continue to take in caffeine.  After consuming your caffeine, then you don’t sleep, so you can stay there for days and not take any breaks.  My maximum is three days, if I go more than three days, really strange images start to appear.  Like with “Tsuki no Waltz”, that was a state I was in, so that’s why the world looked like that.

 

J!-ENT:  If there was one word you can describe yourself, what word would that be?

Atsuko: I wonder… I absolute have no idea.  What am I really?  I can say with conviction that I am an earthling.

 

Your next anime can be “What am I?” and a character that takes a lot of caffeine.

Atsuko: Yeah, you can really make something unique and strange.

 

Do you have any final words?

Atsuko: I will try to find myself through making a lot of new animations, so I thank you so much for your support!

 

For more information on Atsuko Ishizuka, please visit the following website

Top photo courtesy of Sakura Con / Bottom two photo by Michelle Tymon, J!-ENT

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