Interview with Naoyoshi Shiotani (2)

SICAF 2008 Grand Prize winner Tokyo Marble Chocolate recounts the two confusing days a young couple experiences from each person's viewpoint. In the second and last of our exclusive interview, director Naoyoshi Shiotani will tell us about how those lovable characters were made, and the challenges in making a movie with such a unique twist.

Profile: Naoyoshi Shiotani - Born in 1977, Shiotani is one of Production I.G's most promising young creators. After becoming an anime fan by watching My Neighbor Totoro and Kiki's Delivery Service, he was blown away by Wings of Honneamise and started feeling frustrated at the idea of not being on the creative side of animation. Thus, he enrolled in an anime school, and after graduation, he joined Production I.G. His main works include Windy Tales (2004, animation director) and Blood+ (2005), for which he also directed the kaleidoscopic third opening film, Colors of the Heart (check our special feature here), selected in competition for the 11th Holland Animation Film Festival. Other notable works include Tsubasa Chronicle - The Princess of the Birdcage Kingdom (2005, key animator), Le Chevalier D'Eon (2006, episode director), Tekkon Kinkreet (2006, key animator) and Ghost Hound (2007, Ghost designer). Tokyo Marble Chocolate is Shiotani's directorial debut. He's a soft-spoken nice guy with a naughty boy inside.


Tokyo Marble Chocolate could rely on a screenplay written by a professional coming from the TV drama world. Then, Fumiko Tanikawa, a renowned shojo manga artist, participated as a character designer. This is also unusual.
Through project planning meetings and discussions with screenwriter Masaya Ozaki, we sort of settled on the direction of the project and then wondered who should do the character designs. That was when producer Nakatake-san brought us a pile of books to go through and see. And right away, I found what I was looking for. That was a manga book by Fumiko Tanikawa.

It had a natural and savory flavor, but it was also sophisticated and sharp. I felt that her drawings easily penetrated into the readers. That was exactly what I wanted for this project and I felt we had no choice but to ask her to do it. I later learned that Kyoji Asano, the animation director for Full-Powered Boy, and who eventually designed the sub characters, was a great fan of Tanikawa-san. In fact, there were quite a few freelance animators who participated in the project because they were Tanikawa fans.

I had to give detailed requests including the eyelashes and chubby lips, which are a bit unusual for animation standards. But Asano-san cleverly retouched and cleaned-up the designs to adjust them for animation, and designed the sub characters, and I was quite impressed with his great job in recreating Tanikawa sensei's style.

We have three character designers for Tokyo Marble Chocolate. The two main characters, Chizuru and Yudai, were done by a manga artist, Fumiko Tanikawa. The mischievous Mini Donkey was created by Director Shiotani himself. And the rest of the characters were done by Kyoji Asano who was also the animation supervisor for Full-Powered Boy. Asano-san cheerfully recalls, "Director Shiotani told me to recreate Tanikawa-san's drawing style using Egon Schiele-like lines. I loved the director's outrageousness."

You specifically designed Mini Donkey yourself. The donkey doesn't speak, but is portrayed as a very pushy and over-ambitious character. Now, we are obviously very curious to hear the reason you included Mini Donkey in the story!

Now, I don't remember exactly... (lol) I saw a photo of a fashion model walking a real donkey on the streets in a magazine. It was funny because it wasn't a dog or some other familiar house pet. And at about the same time, I saw a brochure of a film called Peau d'Ane (Donkey Skin) that had a picture of a princess with a donkey skin on her back. Donkeys' eyes look cocky, but with the long eyelashes and their tendency in looking downward, I think they are somehow cute. So donkeys left me with a strong impression and I decided to create a character. When I showed it at a staff meeting, there was a short silence at first (lol) then someone came to my rescue and said, "It's sort of cute!" If everyone said no, this whole project might have been dropped... Just to avoid any misunderstanding, Mini Donkey is a fictional animal. It's totally my invention. Don't go and look for it in pet shops.

Designed by Director Shiotani himself, the Mini Donkey tangles, mixes and connects Chizuru and Yudai, playing a key role in the story. Shiotani-san also drew the key art for the sequence where the donkey chases off Yamada. The director comments, "I tried to create a character that people would feel annoyed with in the beginning, but gradually find irresistible as the story progressed."

Let's move on to the two main characters. Could we consider Yudai as your alter ego?
To be more precise, he represents the type that best describes the boys I've known. Yudai is to some extent a negative thinking character, but I prefer positive thinking people. So I let him dash off when he feels he has to do something right away.

How about Chizuru?
She is a pondering type. I feel this type would loose the chances to do things a lot of the time, because they take too long to decide. Anyway, this project consists of two separate stories that progress simultaneously. One story focuses on the perspective of a boy who's always dashing off and the other story focuses on a girl who can't make up her mind. I think we were able to portray the characters with depth because we divided it into two stories.

In order to take full advantage of the characters created by Fumiko Tanikawa, red gradation was used for fingertips and cheeks, so that they look slightly blushed. The borderline was drawn between the regular skin color parts and the red gradation parts. Then the paint software was used to color with a slightly darker color, which was then gradated. Changes of color tones were recreated to match each sequence. For instance, darker red was used for the cheeks in the sequence where the character runs. No wonder Idumi Hirose, who was responsible for the color design, had to work many nights in a row. Incidentally, the sequence when Chizuru gets drunk and violently slaps his boyfriend, is reportedly inspired by Idumi's behavior when she has quaffed too much booze. Otherwise, she's a sweet girl and a talented color coordinator.

What were the challenges in this project?
I really wanted to show two stories with a simultaneous timeline, but for this very reason, we faced some difficulties related to the continuity, especially when the same background had to be used in both stories. For example, in the café scene, the background artist would draw the interior of the café for us, but since the two stories actually progressed simultaneously, we obviously had to match even little things such as the way the chair was put sideways and the way the scarf was laid down folded. As the Mini Donkey makes his appearance in the See You Again version, he almost destroy the café. In the Full-Powered Boy version, you see the same place after the Mini Donkey has acted up, with the table he overturned lying on the floor of the café. But since we worked on Full-Powered Boy first, the background artist didn't know how the Mini Donkey moved about in his fit at the time, so we had to wait for the donkey to do his part in the See You Again version before the artist could draw the background for Full-Powered Boy. (lol)

That must have required a lot of patience. In a way, this project turned out to be quite different in taste from previous works at I.G.
You might have a point there. But to me, I.G has always been a group of innovative people who freely create a variety of different genres without being bound by existing frameworks. So to mark I.G's 20th anniversary, I wanted to create something unusual for I.G that would symbolize its versatility.

I think it emerged as a work that anyone in their 20s as well as in their 30s would fully enjoy. The feelings of a boy and a girl - although they are in the same room, their thoughts are miles apart. How do they come together at the end? I hope something warm and cozy lingers after watching this anime.

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© 2007 Production I.G / Project Tokyo Marble Chocolate