Liz and the Blue Bird: Interview with Director Yamada Naoko

A Work Telling of Something Fundamental

— How did you feel when becoming director?

When reading the plot for the original work, I thought it was a work very characteristic of Takeda-sensei; a work telling of something fundamental.  Whilst depicting everyday life, it offers a fresh perspective which is not often taken up, so this left quite an impression on me. I wanted to adapt the translucent and genuine feeling of the work into picture.

I’ve been working with the Eupho series as series director. So because I am well acquainted with the work, I thought the perspective taken up here was a good idea. I discussed this with the director Ishihara and the staff, and so I was able to make this film

The story depicts the individual rather than the group, so I wanted to put importance on the build up of small changes.

The Shape of Love

― Could you tell me more about the two characters at the centre of the story, Mizore and Nozomi?

Nozomi is cheerful, happy and full of life. She’s a girl who plays the flute through the love of music. This Nozomi then calls out to Mizore. Mizore, always alone, is pulled out of her own world. This is instilled into Mizore, and Nozomi’s world becomes everything to her.

Nozomi’s existence is the world to Mizore and so the shape of her ‘love’ towards Nozomi just doesn’t match up with the shape of Nozomi’s ‘love’ towards Mizore. This work carefully digs down into this difference in their shape of thought. They both love each other and can’t have a relationship without being interested in the other, but the shapes just don’t match…… But I don’t think it’s just that the shapes are missing each other. It’s a bit like two cogs of different sizes coming together for just a brief moment. I wanted to depict this moment between the two in a hopeful manner.

― It seems like a very sensitive piece of work.

My first thought was to put my impression of Nozomi and Mizore’s story into something visual.  Then, when pulling myself right up-close to the problems and growth the two girls experience, I made sure to catch any small changes or realisations the two may have. I wanted this film to be in its most suitable form to match what this story wanted to depict. I talked about this with the character designer, Nishiya-san, and what he produced were these designs. Before coming to a decision, Nishiya-san drew up several designs, and within these I found one I wanted to go with. From there, nothing  big was changed. It was interesting how, with just the smallest difference – like whether the chin was pointy or round – the impression the character gave off would be completely different. The thinness of the lines….a certain sense of fleetingness; I think the resulting shape for the film is its finest.

― The colours also seem more subdued.

Like ‘the girls releasing a breath’, this time I wanted to catch and depict these softer, more subtle aspects. For example, even the slightest aversion of their eyes is something born from their thoughts and feelings. This is something I wanted to take great care of – I wanted to make sure I didn’t lose any of it. It’s like watching and quietly holding your breath, recording what you see. Like watching the girls behind a pane of glass; a single touch enough to make them disappear. I put importance in using colour to reflect this sense of fragility and fleetingness.


Each Exchange Treated as their First

― How were your talks with the screenwriter Yoshida Reiko-san?

I was very interested in the girl’s world depicted by Yoshida-san. As we already had the original work, I don’t think there was too much pressure when talking.

I really liked Nozomi’s belief that ‘a story should have a happy ending’. So I talked to Yoshida-san with the aim of aligning the story for a happy ending.

― Did you have any disagreements?

I don’t think we did. This is something obvious, but the way I look at something may be different to that of Yoshida-san… but thanks to this our understanding towards the work isn’t one-way, and so this can be implemented calmly into the work. I have been working with Yoshida-san for 10 years, but I have always comfortably kept this particular sense of distance, so everything always feels fresh.

― In what areas did you pay close to attention to whilst working on the film?

For this piece of work subtle emotions and the buildup of feeling was important. So I was careful as to not add acting that was formulaic, like ‘they’re sad so they’ll make a sad face’.

For example, the flautist Nozomi. When she lifts the corners of her mouth and narrows her eyes, it is recognised by the other that she is smiling. She’s the sort of girl who thinks like this, but looking at it the other way, by ‘smiling’ she’s maintaining the distance between her and the other. It was important to not take shortcuts in depiction, as to protect the dignity of these girls who live their lives thinking about this with every step they take.

― Were there any difficulties felt by the staff in the depiction of such acting?

Not as much as I had imagined. The staff here are good at working carefully, building up on each subtlety. So I think the discussion we had on the direction of the work managed to be very meaningful. For example with the acting during a conversation, each exchange should be treated as their first. They speak then the other listens, takes it in, understands, then replies. Sort of like this, I aimed to depict a normal conversation.


A Piece that will Filter through to the Heart

― In the film there is an original piece composed for the fairy-tale ‘Liz and the Blue Bird, and so a piece for the brass band ‘Liz and the Blue Bird’ was composed for the film. How did you find it?

It was simple, I thought it was a wonderful piece able to filter through to the heart. You only hear it once so I thought ‘I want the sort of piece that will filter through to the heart. A piece where the viewers will be able to remember its phrases after leaving’. In response to this thought Akito Matsuda-san composed a wonderful piece.

This piece ‘Liz and the Blue Bird’ will be connecting the film to director Ishihara’s film covering Kumiko’s second year. That is why I asked Matsuda-san, in charge of the series music, to compose the piece. I look forward to presenting this to everyone.

― How was it listening to the practice and recording?

I was already touched by the programmed music, but the live performance was just so warm… and I could feel a sense of space. Sometimes the players would take a deep breath and at others they would sing out with their instruments. My chest felt tight listening to such a performance filled with so much emotion.

― What did you talk about with the two playing the flute and oboe?

The two of them listened to me so attentively, I ended up feeling too comfortable and talked much more than I had meant to (laughs). As these two were musicians and not actors I thought it would be best if I talked in specifics like “play the first two notes then stop”. But in reality they really managed to get on board emotionally and did a great deal of acting. For example there’s a moment where Nozomi doesn’t want to lose but just can’t fight back. They had really broken down and understood this moment, so the expression in the music was so good. The animation can’t lose to this, I thought. It really made me excited.

It had been a while since I last attended a recording session, but I did notice that the bond between Oowara Masahiro (supervising director of the brass band) and Saito Shigeru (music producer) had grown much stronger. When imagining how they were able to talk to each other through the Eupho series, it really made me feel how nice it was to be able to work around the Eupho series multiple times.


Watching whilst Quietly Hiding

― Ushio Kensuke-san is supervising the music. What lead you to asking him to take part in the film?

Whilst Ushio-san can layer notes in a manner that is delicate, subtle and inhuman, I think he is also able to compose music in a way that can face feelings honestly even when they lean more towards the dramatic. Inside Ushio-san is an overall ‘quietness’. I feel he is a musician that constantly holds this impetus, just waiting for this explosion. If such a person were to put music to the world of these girls, just what sort of musical world will it become? I imagine I won’t be able to say anything, it’ll just be so pretty. So thinking all this I decided to ask him. For our previous work Ushio-san said “let’s work together again”, so this is also a result of me taking his words literally (laughs).

― How were your talks with Ushio-san?

When reading the scenario I think he first said something like “it was like I was watching the characters whilst quietly hiding”.

From there we shifted our focus onto the objects around. As a result we decided to use the sounds of objects found in the school as music! So we then went to a real school and Ushio-san went around doing things like tapping or stroking objects like the wall or the glass window. What a strange person I thought when going back first after finishing location hunting for my own job.

― What sort of discussion did you have with the cast?

Whilst it has been three years for those appearing since the first season, I asked them to approach acting with the feeling of “starting anew”. I talked about how whilst the essence of the characters won’t change, I wanted them to ‘tune’ themselves in line with Liz.

― What about the sound department?

I had various fun discussions with the sound team. For example we talked about how to interpret the handling of the school as a container. Also, with the film there is a sort of story within a story in the form of the fairy-tale ‘Liz and the Blue Bird’, so we talked about how we could separate this from the main section of the film.

We are currently very diligently working on this. I think it’s a very good story so I’m looking forward to seeing it take shape.


In the Middle of Adolescence

― Homecomings are providing the theme song for the film. What lead to you giving them the offer to take part in the film?

With their chord progressions seemingly marching forward, there’s a certain sense of bittersweetness to their music. Rather than furiously rushing ahead, looking back from time to time whilst moving forwards just fit perfectly into this groove of being in the middle of adolescence. If I could get the things they liked and their sound into Mizore and Nozomi’s story, I thought it would become an incredible teen film. Thinking all this, I decided to ask them.

― As for the making of the theme song, did you order for anything in particular?

Order… Hmm, well I think the conversation I had with them went something like “I really like your music! I like this bit and that bit, this bit over here, that bit over there, and that here as well!”….. And within that I shared with them what this piece of work will be trying to convey. Once the conversation had settled down a bit, one of the members Fukutomi (Yuki)-san said “It’s become clearer now” so I obediently went back to my seat (laughs).

― What were your thoughts on the finished theme song?

I had a listen to a demo at the studio they usually record in. I can’t think of a good way of saying this, but the studio had this feeling of a home of a friend you’d hang out with from university. So just like the music, it had a very homely feel to it. Whilst I was there I had a listen to the music provisionally recorded by a tone generator, and the sound obviously wasn’t very good. Fukutomi-san said she was going to the toilet…. and so went to hide in another room…. and so the atmosphere of the room and everything was all just so incredible. Adolescence full throttle! so to say. It was like I had entered the world of one of John Carney’s films. Not good or bad. It’s just… it’s just this! To say it simply, I was deeply moved.

― Lastly could you please provide a message to all those looking forward to the film.

The film ‘Liz and the Blue Flower’ depicts the story of Mizore and Nozomi, right to the small details . I think it is able to convey something within everyone’s heart, ‘thoughts’ everyone has felt even if in a different shape. If 100 people saw the film, no one opinion will be the same. It’s the sort of film you’ll feel like talking about after watching it. Please look forward to its release!

― Thank you very much!

Many of my translations, including this one are not commissioned. If you would like to support the blog, please consider buying me a coffee here:


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