Keiko Kitagawa ‘Magic Tree House’ Interview - Sailor Moon & PGSM Mentions!
The somewhat timid Jack and his little sister Annie who likes fantasies and adventures, these siblings’ great adventure across space and time and the bond between them. Four popular episodes of the popular best-seller series by Mary Pope Osborne, of which more than 100 million copies were sold around the world, has been turned into the animated fantasy “Magic Tree House” by a team representative of the Japanese animation world. Kitagawa Keiko, who took on the challenge of voice acting for the first time in the role of the protagonist Jack, tells of her amazement when she got the offer, things that happened during the dubbing, and gives a surprisingly honest look into her childhood memories.
■ Having a little sister and playing an eight-year-old boy
Q: How was it to get an offer for your first-ever job as a voice actress, and for the role of an eight-year-old boy too, far apart from the world you’re used to?
Voice acting work is a world full of professionals, and I knew how great Yamadera Kōichi-san (Jack’s father), who I’d be working with was, so wouldn’t it be ridiculous to take up the challenge to cross that fence? The director’s who had seen my former works said, “You’re just right for Jack’s voice”, but that seemed strange to me. “What, me?”, I thought (笑).
Q: Despite your amazement, how did you get into your distinctive image of Jack?
The director gave me the advice that it was fine not to try to be like an eight-year-old, or like a boy. Just letting people imagine Jack’s reliable personality with his strong sense of responsibility and his fear of leaving the beaten track with my natural voice would be nice. So I thought I’d just played him the way he felt to me while I watched Jack on the screen, and when I got an OK from the director after I spoke the first and second line I continued on like that.
Q: You didn’t act together with Ashida Mana-chan, whose voice of Annie had been recorded earlier, so how was it to hear her shout, “brother”, during the recording?
They recorded me while I listened to the earlier recorded voice of Mana-chan, but that never seemed strange to me (笑). I was earnestly trying to turn completely into Jack while I watched the images of him. I’ve got a younger brother myself, you see, so I could also empathize with having to be that much of a reliable older child. But Mana-chan didn’t have my voice as inspiration, so her dubbing must have been harder than mine.
■ Her voice alone also became an important means of expression
Q: The result is a voice for Jack with such a high degree of perfection that there may be people in the audience who do not realize that it’s you, but how did your first challenge as a voice actress turn out?
When I first heard my voice on my début work as an actress, I was surprised by how totally different it sounded from how I imagined my voice to be. Whether is was because it passed through a microphone I didn’t rightly know, but as my career progressed I learned how to use my voice to make it sound close to my normal voice. But when I consciously set out to do Jack’s voice this time, I remember the strange “What’s that!?” sensation I got from it (笑). So I worried whether people watching the movie would recognize it properly as a boy’s voice, or how they’d react to it.
Q: In this way you’ve learned from your first experience as a voice actress. Did you notice it having any effect on your activities as an actress?
I acted in a tokusatsu drama in my début, so I got familiar with yelling “Ahh” or “Uhh” during the battle scenes, and also with dubbing. However, through this work I recognized for the first time that one’s voice is also one of the important means of expression. For example, until now I showed the feeling of having your breath taken away with my facial expression and my body, I didn’t show it with just my voice. I learned this more or less, so it’d be nice if I make use of this experience and show it on screen from now on. I also realized again that professional voice actors are great.
■ She was like a quiet boy as a little girl
Q: By the way, when you were just as old as Jack, what type of girl were you?
Rather than playing outside with friends, I preferred to stay at home. I was an indoor type who liked to study, play piano, do calligraphy, etc. So as a child I lived a life relatively close to that of Jack. If pushed to say, I was like a boy, with hardly any interest in the fantastical. For example, during Tanabata, when everyone at school would write dreams like, “I want to run a pastry shop”, or, “I want to be a bride”, on their tanzaku, only I would write, “I want to be a doctor” (笑).
Q: Even so, you also did girl things like reading picture books and watch animation, didn’t you?
That’s true, yes. We had bookshelves full of books at home, so also thanks to my parents’ influence I was quite familiar with books when I was young. After starting with folk tales from Japan and the rest of the world, I read famous books like “Little Women”, “Anne of Green Gables”, and “Daddy-Long-Legs” in the lower grades of elementary school. Animation I saw were “Doraemon”, “Sailor Moon, “Cutey Honey”, etc. I liked “Detective Conan” next, which I remember watching it a lot.
■ It’s a movie that makes you remember what you forgot as an adult
Q: There’s lots in the animated “Magic Tree House” that can entrance someone like you, but do you have a message for the boys and girls who are fans of the originals?
What made the originals popular with children all over the world can be found in this wonderful work too, so I hope you’ll be excited to watch it together with friends, your father or your mother. It’d be nice if you see the importance of the bond between the siblings and of not giving up until the job is done. And I don’t mind if you don’t notice that it’s me doing the voice of Jack (笑).
Q: It’s meant for children on first glance, but it also has something that adults can empathise with, so what was it that caught your attention?
When you become an adult you tend to lose your curiosity and sense of adventure, but you still have your challenged innocence without the timidity of a child. Through this work I felt the greatness of the strength these two children have. I was happy that they made me remember the fun of going to strange places or to take on things never done before. We’ve had many bitter experiences lately, so I hope people who’ve lost their spirit or who’ve barricaded themselves will snap out of it and challenge themselves again thanks to watching this work.
In a complete change from her image as Miss Reiko in the TV drama “The Mystery will be solved after Dinner”, Kitagawa Keiko performed the difficult role of an eight-year-old boy in her first challenge as a voice actress. Her true feelings are still unknown so close before the opening day, but we can say with certainty that “Magic Tree House” is a step along the way on her often mentioned ideal of becoming an “actress who changes like a chameleon”. Even though her image and place in society are well known, we hope we’ll experience her stoic “actress spirit” as she ventures out into new fields.
The movie “Magic Tree House” opens country-wide on January 7.