Monday, January 4, 2021

"Masaya Matsukaze's Voice Work Started with Shenmue" | Susumu Aketagawa Interview

This is a translation of another interview part from a series published by Japanese website Anime Hack in 2019, in which sound director Susumu Aketagawa talks about his time spent at SEGA during the creation of the original Shenmue games.

About Susumu Aketagawa

Susumu Aketagawa is the president of the company Magic Capsule and a director of the Japan Audio Producers' Association. He has been involved in the field of sound since the dawn of Japanese animation, and his works as a sound director include Princess Knight, AKIRA, Legend of the Galactic Heroes, Mistin (Kasumin) and many others.

Masaya Matsukaze's Voice Work Started with Shenmue

The reason I was able to continue working on Shenmue over three years was largely thanks to meeting and working with Masaya Matsukaze, who played the main role.

This time, I'll talk about the casting process.

The movements of the characters in Shenmue were mainly created by motion capture, and when we were casting the characters, we asked if we could have the motion actors do their voices as well. Matsukaze was in charge of the movements of the main character, Ryo Hazuki. At the time, he was working as a live-action actor and played the role of Blue in a Sentai series [Denji Sentai Megaranger, as Mega Blue].

At the time of recording Shenmue, Masaya Matsukaze was also a motion actor for Mega Blue in Denji Sentai Megaranger

It was through meeting me on Shenmue that Matsukaze became drawn into the world of voice acting in earnest. Before we were at the recording stage, I asked him if he would like to audition for Kaikan Phrase [1999-2000 anime, released as Sensual Phrase in English], for which I was in charge of sound, and he was chosen for one of the main roles [Sakuya Ookochi].

Being an actor, Matsukaze has a unique way of vocalizing and building up drama, which left a good impression on everyone at the audition. This led to the decision to go with him. When the recording of Kaikan Phrase started, the producer of Oha Suta [a long-running children's show on TV Tokyo] who had come to watch the voice recording took notice of his interesting performance and decided to give him the job of "Oha Suta Bancho" [gang leader]. Shenmue was the jumping-off point for his voice work, I think.

Masaya Matsukaze at the right as "Oha Suta Bancho", with martial artist / kickboxer Nobuaki Kakuda (source: newtonpe)

While I was working on Shenmue, other people would sometimes appear in certain scenes and not in others, but Matsukaze, who played the main role, was in almost all of them, so we were always in each other's company during the three years of recording. After that, my company and Matsukaze also worked together on Heat Guy J (2002-2003). Because of this relationship, even when I was drinking with [voice actor] Unshō Ishizuka at the New Year's party I mentioned before, Matsukaze was the only one who felt comfortable enough to casually come up to us there.

Takahiro Sakurai, who played the roles of Lan Di and Goro Mihashi in Shenmue, was one of the young people whose name I proposed to the game-side staff, and who was also selected. I also asked Sakurai to audition for Kaikan Phrase, and he ended up playing one of the main roles, just as Matsukaze did. I think Shenmue must have been a turning point for him as well.
Takahiro Sakurai was the Japanese voice of Lan Di in the Shenmue series (most recently in Shenmue III), as well as a number of other characters including Goro and Yuan.

Hiroshi Fujioka, who played the main character's father, and Megumi Yasu, who played the heroine, were people who had been decided by the game-side staff. In addition, there were several people like Matsukaze who went on from being motion actors to doing the voices. 
Hiroshi Fujioka, the Japanese voice of Iwao Hazuki had already been selected for his role. (Trivia: Fujioka can also be seen in the first game advertising energy drinks).

For the other roles, we would come up with a list of candidates for each character, narrow down the candidates through tape auditions, and ask those who we thought would be good for the role to actually come to the studio and participate in the recording if they were given the green light. It was not uncommon for people to be replaced partway through the recording process.

I think the whole picture of Shenmue was inside the mind of the director, Yu Suzuki, and he was bursting with ideas. I had heard that Mr. Suzuki was considered an amazing person in the world of games, but I am not a game player, so I related to him simply as the planner and author.

I tried my best to quickly capture the image that Mr. Suzuki had in mind for the characters and the creation and reflect these in the recordings, but I don't know how far I was able to meet his expectations.

Another game creator I have worked with since then is Hironobu Sakaguchi on the game Lost Odyssey, and I felt that both of them had different sensibilities, just as anime directors do.

This topic was selected by the Phantom River Stone blog patrons via our monthly poll and was available for early access.
  • Source: Anime Hack interview series with Susumu Aketagawa Part 22 (Japanese).
Next time: Aketagawa talks with Masaya Matsukaze about Shenmue.
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  1. I always wondered about the inspiration for those machines that you could never use. Now I know, energy drinks!