An interview posted on February 21, 2020 to the Flash Up, Inc. website with voice actor Fukujuurou Katayama, regarding his work as a voice actor and his roles as Peco in Ping Pong and Daisuke Motomiya in Digimon Adventure LAST EVOLUTION Kizuna.
Affiliation Artist: Fukujuurou Katayama Special Interview
Fukujuurou Katayama, who played the protagonist Peco in the noitaminA timeslot anime Ping Pong, and a master of two trades as both an accredited master of kabuki1 musical performance and a voice actor. Having received the honor of playing Daisuke Motomiya in this year’s movie Digimon Adventure LAST EVOLUTION Kizuna, as he walks his own unique path, we asked him things about how he’s built up his own style of career up to this point.
Please tell us about how you entered this field.
I used to watch TV a lot and admired everyone on there, but more than anything else, ever since I was a kid, I always loved standing out, getting other people to make me laugh, and making other people laugh. Even at school, I was always trying to stand out, and I knew TV was a place where you could attract people’s attention, so I admired that most of all, and when I was in middle school, I just kept on getting more passionate about it, and from there, my parents suggested I try it out, so I applied to have an audition at this agency. I was around sixteen years old at the time.
What was your impression of Flash Up when you first joined?
I still didn’t know a thing about this field, so even hearing the word “lesson” made me happy. I was happy even just getting to read the scripts, and as I got more work, you could say that I was in a talent agency much like a high school, and I got so much joy from learning things from the lessons every week. The place where my lessons were held was beautiful and you could see all of Shinjuku from there, and there was something that felt special about it. Rather than having any concrete objective, I just did it as I went along.
What were your impressions of the lessons?
My lecturers always ran me to the ground every time, gave me clear instructions about my performance, such as methodology or how to put feeling into it, and at the time, I wouldn’t have pulled it off I hadn’t gotten myself together. When I acted out something that I thought seemed okay on the surface, I’d get back a response “this part is off!” I wasn’t a particularly resilient person…I was the second youngest person in the class, but there was a kid around middle school age who got the comment “your performance was very good,” while I was knocked out with “what do you think you’re doing?” To be honest, it was a pretty harsh thing to receive, and it was the first time I really felt the pain of failure. So I asked, in that case, what should I do instead?, and started really putting some proper thought into it.
Do you have any particularly strong memories about your auditions?
I had an audition for a photobook, and my first attempt ended in failure. After that, around a year passed, and I was called in to audition for the same thing, and the judges remembered me and said “wait, weren’t you here before?” “I was one of the last people auditioning the prior time, but something happened, and it seems to have turned out this way.” Ultimately, they said, “if you still want to do it, please do.” I had no idea what was going to happen, but in the end, they accepted me! I later heard that they gave me glowing reviews. So in that sense, I’d continue taking auditions one by one and getting rejected from them, but every time, I considered it very important to leave an impact and my best possible performance.
How did you get into voice acting?
It started when one of my lecturers told my agency “that kid’s interesting” and “that kid could make for good voice recordings.” Some days later, they contacted me and called me in to do voice recordings, so I showed up normally with my favorite Romance of the Three Kingdoms manga.
I don’t really remember what happened then, but I went in by myself into the recording room with the staff on standby, and I very much remember it being a particularly special environment that made my heart pound with anticipation, and a lot of fun. I was still in high school at the time, so I was watching anime at 5 or 6 PM, and I loved games and everything else in that sphere, so I brought out everything I’d learned in my acting lessons, putting in everything I liked from my favorite anime, and spent every day up until the recording day desperately making up new voices.
Looking back on it now, what do you think was the main reason you were recommended as a “voice actor”?
I think the biggest one was that they were looking at what characters I was playing. I was playing some unusual characters, and they might have been scrutinizing that closely. Beyond just my acting, I think they felt my characters and voice were amusing. But I also think I was just putting out that kind of voice on instinct and without consciously thinking about it. I love making people laugh, so I use high voices and squealing a lot, and I want to catch people’s eye, so during the lessons, I’d use a high voice and act out bright characters, and I think they were watching that happen. So as I was doing that, somewhere along the line it just happened on instinct, and I somehow ended up getting into this field of work.
Did you start getting jobs right after that?
No, there was quite a bit of time that passed after we sent in the tapes, and until suddenly we were contacted “we would like him to audition for this,” and I hadn’t had any kind of voice work lessons up until that point, so I started thinking “what should I do for voice work?” That audition ended up being for the Ping Pong anime…Somehow, that was actually my first audition as a voice actor.
Do you have any particularly strong memories from that first voice acting audition?
Firstly, I had no idea how to enter the recording room (booth). I ended up having to go “excuse me” to everyone just to have a single door opened, but the post-recording booth had yet another door, and I figured that someone would open that one, so I was waiting there in this tiny, cramped space. I was waiting there for quite a long time. At the same time, in the recording booth, there was a huge fuss over “Katayama-kun’s gone!”, and the staff was looking for me in the bathroom, and it turned into “The One-and-a-Half Minute Case of the Missing Katayama-kun” (laughs). Ultimately, someone opened the door and went “Huh?! What are you doing in that tiny little space!?” Director (Masaki) Yuasa thought that story was hilarious, and it seems that it was such a perfect fit for the protagonist, Peco, that it was a deciding factor in me getting picked for the role.
From there, you started your first job recording as a voice actor, so how did that go?
I didn’t know anything about how far I should be standing from the mic or how I was supposed to get to the mic in the first place, or how to hold the script, how to turn the pages, or how to cut off the sound. My first post-recording started off with simple greetings, and when we heard “right, we’re going to start testing, followed by the actual recording,” everyone went “understood.” I didn’t understand what was going on at all, and I was surrounded by so many veterans, so, of course, I couldn’t bring myself to go “Huh? What’s going on?”, and the recording suddenly started.
Everyone started reading off their scripts, and (Kouki) Uchiyama-san, who played my partner Smile, was next to me saying “when it’s your turn, go to the mic” (laughs). So I somehow made it through without a single outtake, watching what other people were doing and somehow making it through…and then, on my left, I heard a familiar voice…and it turned out Masako Nozawa-san2 was there! And on my right side, there was Yuusaku Yara-san, who played Hiroshi in Little Maruko-chan3, and I was actually getting to hear voices that I’d been admiring since I was a child.
I thought, “what on earth have I gotten myself into!!!??” (laughs).
What were your impressions of your co-stars from that time?
I have all kinds of different memories about each of my co-stars, but every time I went to the recording site, Uchiyama-san would always say something nice to me. At first it was “if there’s anything you don’t understand, feel free to ask.” Then “if you fold the script like this, it’ll be easier to open.” Or “If you don’t want noise to come out and have to be close, you can stay in this area.” “You’re the main character, so it’s okay for you to stay with that mic.” I was constantly nervous all of the time, but every time, he’d always find a way to say something to me. Uchiyama-san was already someone who was used to doing recording and very comfortable with it from the very first recording session, so he helped support me.
Masako Nozawa-san also kept coming to talk to me somehow. “So you play traditional Japanese instruments!” I was so amazed by her coming to talk to me that I just went “Whoa, it’s Masako Nozawa-san!!!” (laughs). I was really nervous, but I had a great time there.
Yara-san kept coming to talk to me many times, saying things like “This is your first time, right? You did a wonderful job, you’re amazing,” or “I think you did a wonderfully amusing voice there.”
Please tell us about the other side of your work as a performer of traditional Japanese instruments.
I became an accredited master4 of the Sumita style of traditional Japanese music under the name “Fukujuurou Sumita” when I was in my third year of high school. Being an accredited master means that you’re allowed to work professionally and take your own students. But as a musical performer, I still hadn’t fully established myself as a professional yet. When I was in my first or second year in the Japanese music department of the Tokyo University of the Arts, I was still dealing with my pride from having been doing this since I was a child, and my father was a professor there, so I was in the awkward position of being his son, and I kept putting on airs, so things were getting really bad. At that time, one of the Living National Treasures of Japan5, Kisaku Katada-sensei, called me in and started giving me proper work, and from there, I started taking on more jobs, little by little. For a while, whenever I’d go to the job office, nothing would come out of it, and things were becoming impossible. I had to keep all of these songs memorized at the same time, too, and it was getting difficult. So that kept going on, and in my fourth year, I was called in to work on Ping Pong.
My horribly limited knowledge of fundamentals and my narrow field of vision that I’d been cultivating up to that point began to expand, and I started to mentor some juniors and my position started to change a bit, I started taking each and every important point into account and became someone who could reliably take on serious things, and I developed a better sense of judgment about what I should do next. Kisaku Katada-sensei is normally a very calm person, but since he’s the absolute best in his field, when it comes to music performance, he’s very strict. Normally, there are designated parts in traditional Japanese music performance, but under him, he would be the one to decide the parts, and it would never be fully determined. So whenever he had me do something, I’d have to practice every single part and be able to take on any of them for the rehearsals and the actual performance, and I’d often have to redo it two or three times over. If he asked me “can you do the taiko6?” and I responded “sorry, I can’t,” he’d get angry at me and turn his back on me, so I had to prepare for everything so that wouldn’t happen. Of course, there were times when I did have to say “I can’t do this,” but the range I of things I was able to do expanded so greatly, and because I was so close to losing my job there, I put that effort in my voice acting work now, too.
Do you have a difficult time keeping a balance between your voice acting work and your music performance work?
Right now it’s incredibly, well, I wouldn’t say it’s completely and utterly calmed down now, but back when I was on Ping Pong, I was suddenly picked to be the protagonist, but it didn’t go entirely smoothly from there and it felt rather sad all of a sudden. I didn’t get too much work, and there were times when I ended up in a pretty dangerous position, but I was fortunate enough to also get musical performance work, so I didn’t completely lose everything, and I didn’t back down. In the end, I started gradually getting more and more work again, because I’ve been getting good roles. Right now, I have a proper balance between my voice acting work and my traditional Japanese music performance, and I also have a good sense of how to craft emotions and how to deal with work.
I don’t know when will be the day when they pick me for a voice acting role and I won’t get completely flustered, because this still happens to me with music performance, too, even after all of my time spent on it. If, sometime, if my voice acting work and my musical performance work came into conflict, I’d be in a situation where I’d have to pick which one to turn down, and in the end, I’d lose both, and my spirit would shatter (laughs). “Ah, I really wanted to be in this work…” or “ah, I’ve been working for this event every year, but now I can’t go…” It’s just a hypothetical, but in reality, when I have to turn down a job, I think, how on earth am I supposed to turn my back on them…That’s a completely probable situation. But that part is just a bunch of unnecessary worries that I’ve piled up on myself. Right now, I just think, the most essential thing is that I bring out the performance the other person needs from me the most.
What do you think about the fact that you ended up becoming a voice actor through this talent agency?
I thought about it deep within myself, and came up with the clear answer of “well, it’s fine.” The majority of voice actors went to voice acting schools and built their careers by working out of major companies, but I’m going at this from a completely different direction. I haven’t been to a voice acting school, and I’m just walking this path in my own way. When I got my current job (Digimon Adventure LAST EVOLUTION Kizuna), I finally got a proper glimpse of that path, and began to really think that this was for the best, and that I’ll use my own approach to refine my skills my own way, the way I always have. I realized, I do it my own way, it’ll connect me to my work.
At the beginning, I was just doing things as they came. Even when I ate lunch with my senior voice actors, I’d be the only one who didn’t know anyone else. When we went out to eat, nobody would be at my level of experience…In general I’d have to start smooth conversation by going “senpaaaaai…” with my seniors. We’d get in a group of five or six people. They’d ask “what happened at this recording site the other day?” and I’d be the only one who was never at that site, I’d end up with nothing to say, and, to be honest about it, I was very troubled about what to do, but when they picked me to be in Digimon, I was able to make a breakthrough. I realized, I’ve been able to get approval by walking my own path and doing things my own way, so I’m doing this right, and it’s fine this way.
What did you do to prepare for your audition to be in Digimon?
The role that I took on, Daisuke Motomiya, was, of all things, a character I’d been watching when I was a child, and when I was told that I might get to be in this movie if I go to the audition, as a single fan, my passion for it just flared up, and I listened closely to the whole thing from the very first episode, thinking about what kind of voice I should do, and although he was a young boy, he had a pretty deep voice. My specialty was in high voices, so the audition requested that I do two voices, one that would show off the best qualities of my own voice, and one that paid closer attention to the original character. But since the series is such a popular one, I figured that they’d have a preference for the deeper one, so I tried putting more emphasis on that one. But then, after I’d done the first one, they requested “please show us a more energetic voice, more like (something)”. I don’t know if that (something) was “Peco”, but from there, I completely forgot about everything else, like something had hit me with a bang, and when I tried it the way I liked with my own feelings, I think that’s what made it resonate with them.
What was it like communicating with your co-stars?
After the initial script reading ended, I went out drinking with my co-stars, but Hawkmon’s voice actor, Tohchika-san, said to me “Katayama-kun, you were nervous during the reading, weren’t you? But we could tell that you were thinking very hard about this, and I get a good feeling from your drive to do this.” The four of us playing human characters were participating in Digimon for the first time with this movie, but the four of them playing their Digimon partners were the same ones that had been in the previous work, so they told us, “you four are Chosen Children, so you should go for it without worrying too much about it.” Afterwards, at the drinking party, we got much friendlier and closer. Among all of the cast members, Junko Noda-san, who plays my Digimon partner, V-mon, was the one whom I felt I absolutely needed to get along with the most, so I made a personal invitation to her and said, since the movie brings up ramen, so why don’t we go out for ramen? Also, I knew it would be bad if we showed up at the live event and our relationship came across as strained, so she was the one I needed to get along with the best, and I took a very active approach in communicating with her. Noda-san was truly a very friendly person to work with, and in the end, I feel that the friendly relationship between us ended up becoming a huge topic.
What was it like experiencing the passion from the series fans at DigiFes 2019?
At DigiFes 2019, the four new members of the cast went up on stage to make their first appearance. We were secret guests. They introduced us with “these people will be playing these roles!” The cheers of joy from the crowd were incredibly huge, and I don’t think I’ll ever forget it in my life. It was incredibly huge cheers and passion from the crowd. You could truly feel how deep their love for the series went. I think it was the highest possible honor I could ever have, to be chosen as a cast member for a role I’d been watching myself as an audience member, and I wonder if maybe I’ve used up all of my good fortune as a voice actor, but I think it truly was for the best that I did this, and to put it simply, it was like a dream. I’d been watching and admiring this series for long, and yet I was standing up on that stage at that moment with that dream having come true, and I truly give my thanks to Director (Tomohisa) Taguchi and the other staff who chose me for this.
Also, I want to give myself credit for having prepared myself so thoroughly for the role, and from now on I’d like to keep doing that.
Now that the movie has finally been released, how do you currently feel?
Now that it’s been released to the public, it just feels like “finally, it’s here.” It’s been a long time since the recording, so before anything else, in any case, I’m just truly happy from the bottom of my heart that it’s finally been released, and I’m very interested to hearing what kinds of reactions will come from both those who will be watching something from both existing fans, and from people watching this for the first time!
What kind of voice actor would you like to be from here on out?
At first, I thought I wanted to be in a ton of works, or that I wanted to be famous, but now, it’s not so much as I want to become the kind of voice actor who makes people think “we should ask Katayama-kun to do this role.” Having that kind of presence, where they see a role and think “let’s get Katayama-kun,” is my goal right now.
Please tell us what kind of advice you would give for those aspiring to be voice actors.
I’m just starting out myself, too, so I don’t want to get ahead of myself, but I think the most important thing is to figure out what it is that you want to be. I want you to figure out what you want to do and what you’re happiest doing, and it’s very important to like what you’re doing. On top of that, I think it’s good to have a concrete goal and direction. If you can have those two things, that kind of power will get you through anything, and I believe that will allow you to see your path for real. Make a clear effort to define what you like, where you’re willing to fight to get to, so you’ll think, right, this is the right thing to do. You need to right have the right passion, you need to prepare well, and if you can push on aggressively towards your concrete goal, I feel that will be like your personal god watching over you.
Digimon Adventure LAST EVOLUTION Kizuna
The newest Digimon work that depicts a time shortly before when the “Chosen Children” become adults. Taichi, now a university student, is once again gathered with his friends as strange incidents start occurring around the world. And so begins the end of their long adventure that had begun in the summer of 1999. The final story of Taichi, Agumon, and their friends.
- Kabuki = Traditional Japanese dance theatre.
- “Masako Nozawa-san” = A famous veteran voice actress known for many well-known roles, including Son Goku in the Dragon Ball series. Digimon fans reading this may also know her as Guilmon in Tamers, among others.
- Little Maruko-chan = A famous anime series that had an initial run in 1990-1992, followed by a second series that has been running from 1995 to (as of this writing) now, and is considered a rather ubiquitous anime for young children in Japan.
- Katayama is a natori (名取), or someone who bears a certified title to perform a certain style of traditional Japanese music or dance. This kind of accreditation comes with a specialized stage name.
- Living National Treasure of Japan = Someone certified by the Japanese government as having mastered a traditional art to the extent of being considered a protector of an intangible cultural property.
- Taiko = A traditional Japanese drum.