HN: Could I hear your intentions with the music in the film? If possible, could you please let me know some of your experiences with the creation of the music, such as your collaboration with the composer Umitaro Abe?
Hiroyasu Ishida: Music is one of the very big reasons why I’m making animation. I really love the effects of the expressive style of animation which can be made from the combination of moving images and music. Therefore, I’m very particular about what music I insert into which scene.
I prepared a music list when I asked Mr. Abe to compose music for this film. In the list, I numbered all the pieces of music like M1 and M2, and specified where in the film I want to have that music, such as “Please compose M1 for this scene”, and “Please give me M2 here.” I wrote a subject for each scene where I want music, which simply described what of the story I wanted to express in each scene. I also wrote a lot of concrete information about my requests for each piece of music, such as “The story builds up tension from this shot in this scene and then slows down from this shot”, and “The atmosphere of this shot is similar to the feel of that part of the melody in one of your past tunes.”
He sent me each piece of demo music via email when they were composed. Every time I received them, I stopped drawing to focus on listening to the music thoroughly and considered the balance between the music and the scene in the film. Then, I wrote my honest impressions and opinions about them, such as the good points of the music, and parts of the music that would have better synergy with the animation if he were to arrange them differently.
To share my vision of the music for the film and my intentions to arrange some pieces of demo music with Mr. Ueda via text was more difficult for me compared to explaining my requests to animators about the visual aspects. I carefully chose polite words by making the best possible use of my entire vocabulary when writing texts with my opinions to Mr. Ueda, to avoid any misunderstandings.
Actually, it was the first time for Mr. Ueda to take charge of the soundtrack for a feature film, but still, he composed 46 really fantastic tunes for the film by very kindly accommodating my requests more than I expected. I’m really appreciative for that.
Highlights of the Film
HN: Could you please let us know what you think are the highlights of this film?
Hiroyasu Ishida: It is always on my mind how I would feel if I could watch this film when I was a child, because I think the impression my childhood-self receives from this film is surely the attractive power of this film.
I think if I watched this film as a kid, the lively scenes of the child characters should be the easy-to-understand and fun parts of the film. Also, I would definitely enjoy the scene that I am calling the “Penguin Parade” later on in the film where we’ve animated running penguins, because it will directly connect to a sensibility that is common to children: The more it moves, the much more fun it is.
On the other hand, I think that the light-and-shadow concept of the film, which I’ve talked about before, is another highlight. When I was a child, I watched a cutout animation, which was eerie for children, in a program titled Minna no Uta (English title: Songs for Everyone) on NHK’s*10 education channel. When I was a kid and watching the TV animation series Manga Nippon Mukashi Banashi*11, which was popular among children, sometimes I came across episodes with a scary story. My feeling at that time was not fun, but I still desired to watch them because the forbidden fruit is the sweetest. I remember that it was a feeling of fascination with the unknown.
I think the shadow part of this film is in a similar sense to those animation I watched in my childhood, because I made that part by using all my feelings at that time which I could still remember. So, I think they became scenes that catches children’s eyes, the same way as those scary animation. Hence, this film has the two attractive points that have both extremes, I think.
*10: NHK is Japan’s national public broadcasting organization.
*11: A Japanese animation series (1975 – 1994). It tells about 1,500 old tales from every region of Japan.
HN: Did you hear from Mr. Morimi about the impression he had of this film?
Hiroyasu Ishida: He told me, “You showed me everything what I myself as a child wanted to see through the film.” At the same time, he also said that if he actually watched this film in his childhood, his subsequent life might be different. (laughs)
In terms of the toy vessel Aoyama used for searching “The Sea” that appears at the end of the film, he gave me his comment: “I’m okay with the animated version of Penguin Highway having that ending scene.” I was drawing the storyboards with the pure intention of cheering up Aoyama as much as possible, so it was natural for me to think of adding that shot in the ending scene, and I storyboarded them. So, I was relieved to hear that the scene was okay for Mr. Morimi.
Differences between Directing Short Films and Feature Films
HN: This is your first feature length animated film. In regard to telling a story by animation, what differences do you feel are between short films and feature films?
Hiroyasu Ishida: What I realized after quite a while from the day of its theatrical release in Japan was that what the majority of audience wants to enjoy the most, when they watch an animated feature film, is its story.
Regarding the movement of the animation and the quality of the drawings in this film, there was room for improvement because it was my first time directing a feature length film, and I couldn’t manage them perfectly. But I felt that the ratio of the audience for this film who’ve noticed those kinds of shots in the film and mentioned that “this part of the film is poorly done” was very little. As a whole, I had an impression that there were a much greater portion of the audience who expressed their emotions, like “It was fun or sad or funny”, that they got from their overall impression of the film, including the story, drawings, movement of the characters and music.
Come to think of it, it is obvious that much of the audience for short films tends to watch each film in their own preferred way, unique to them. They check the visual expressions of short films in detail. Of course, the narrative of each short film is also an indispensable checkpoint for them, I understand that.
Anyway, that is the difference I felt between a feature length film and a short film, after I made this film.
HN: You mean that there is a tendency of much of the audience for short films paying more attention to the quality of drawings or visual expressions than the audiences of feature films, and you, as a director, tend to focus more on visual elements when you make a short film, right?
Hiroyasu Ishida: Compared to feature films, I think so. I feel that the differences in the production environment between feature films and short films are affecting the creative stances of each. When I make a short film, I can stick to animating powerful pictures throughout the film with a small creative team. And as its playtime is short, the audience can wholly enjoy the short film’s elaborate visual expressions, which is crammed with information.
However, if I make all shots in a feature film on the same level of elaboration as I do for a short film, the total amount of information the audience receives from the film during its long playtime would become excessive. It ends up making the audience swamped with information from the film.
To start with, I can’t receive enough budget and human resources for a feature film project that would enable me to create each shot on the same level as a short film project. That is to say, when we make a feature film, we should intend to make a film that lets the audience judge by its overall quality, and for that we need to thin out the information in the film by managing the amount of information in each scene well.
To recap, I learned that feature films and short films are not equal on the situations of creators and audiences, and there is a special balance in viewpoint between the creative side and the audience side for feature film production.