Tag Archives: Japanime

How to Interview: Kristen Bell

astro-boy-kristen-bell_lAsk her about singing Disney’s Little Mermaid and Aladdin songs into a recorder at age 10. As cute as a button as she is, Ms. Bell also has a nice sense of humor about herself. Getting her start on TV as Veronica Mars, she has always played spunky, personable characters with a fair degree of fanboy in her. Now, of course, she’s a full-blown cinephile, starring in comedies such as Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Couples’ Retreat and the upcoming When in Rome. But this time around, I had a chance to sit in a room with her – and a few other journalist types – to talk about her involvement in the animated Astro Boy, a re-imagining of the Japanese manga icon.

In this modern redo, Astro Boy (Freddie Highmore) is created by robotic scientist Dr. Tenna (Nicolas Cage) after his real son is killed, but even with all his nifty hidden gadgets and powers, Astro is rejected and has to leave Metro City, a metropolis in the sky. He ends up on the Earth’s surface below, now a virtual wasteland of trash, and meets Cora (Bell), the sort of teenage den mother to a band of kids who have all been abandoned one way or another. Soon, Astro and his new-found friends must help save Metro City from a megalomaniac trying to control it … and find their place in the world.

Bell, like me, hadn’t really heard much about Astro Boy, but she thought the story was “timeless” and jumped on board. I think she secretly wanted to belt out “A Whole New World” one more time, but that’s just me. Here are some of Kristen’s thoughts on the matter:

Step 1: Become infatuated with Disney musicals … and ducks
“I was obsessed with Aladdin and The Little Mermaid. I loved all those Disney movies and on TV, I was into Duck Tales. Anyone? Dark Wing Duck? And Tailspin – not sure why many of them involved ducks. This might also sound a little weird, but since I was so obsessed with Aladdin and The Little Mermaid as a kid, I wanted to get myself on audiotape singing the songs. Feeling like that was SO necessary. I don’t know what I was going to do with them, but somewhere there are tapes that exist of me with my tiny boom box, when I was 10 or 11, next to the television, singing along into the recorder. I hope they never surface. I hope my mother has lost them.”

Step 2: Learn to like the original “cool cat”
“I’ve always knew I wanted to be part of an animated film. Then I read [the screenplay for] astroboy1Astro Boy and liked it so much. I had always known the name in my head and known it was a character from somewhere but didn’t know how iconic he was overseas and how influential he was in so many people’s lives. It was all just a learning experience for me about what a cool cat he was and how timeless the story was.”

Step 3: Then switch things up a bit
“I purposely didn’t familiarize myself with the original stuff because I was playing a new character and didn’t want to know too much about Astro going in. Because from my perspective, the story is about Cora and Astro getting to know each other. I do feel [our new storyline] provides a little more of the female perspective, little more estrogen, if you will. Cora probably ran away as a little girl, out of a rebellion that most young teenagers have, fighting with your parents and you think they don’t want you. And got caught up with the wrong crowd. But she’s a kind enough person to know she misses that sense of community and family and that’s why she’s the Peter Pan character, looking out for all the other kids. It’s a great way to show a friendship Astro builds and the rocky road it leads until they realize they are true friends.”

Step 4: Also, love the ones you’re with
“I have a couple of surrogate families in L.A., for sure. I think the idea of community, like what Astro finds on the Earth’s surface, is so vital to my way of living. I’ve had roommates before and we all lived in the same house, kind like a functioning commune. Look, switching out beds is perfectly normal, guys [laughs]. I find my friends out here are my surrogate family and I think that’s important for my sanity and well-being.”

Step 5: Do it in your PJ’s
“I shouldn’t be giving this away, but yes, we knew when the cameras would be there [for the behind-the-scenes featurettes for the DVD]. Because when they weren’t there, I was in my jammies, FOR REAL. Even if we were shooting at 5:00 pm, in principal, I’d change back into my pajamas.”

Astro_bell coraStep 6: Recognize your animated self
“It’s different because Cora has dark hair, it was more difficult for me to envision myself since she wasn’t blonde. I don’t know why. The one thing I loved was that I was able to take myself out of it and watch it as an audience member, which speaks to how good the film is. I can’t speak for all actors, but I’m always deconstructing my performances and criticizing. So it was nice to take a step back and enjoy myself. I even cried at the end and I knew what was going to happen!”

Step 7: Go see other movies, too
“I really liked Wall-E, and I was amazed how much I liked with there being so little dialogue. It reminded me so much of Short Circuit, which I LOVED as a kid. And I loved District 9! I liked the AUDACITY of that director and those producers to make a documentary and then all of a sudden abandon the documentary, but it didn’t matter because you were still so invested. Anything that is delivered with such a sense of reality with fantastical elements like aliens and spaceships, is impressive.”

Step 8: Lure Kristen back to TV?
“I’m always on the hunt for good material, period. A frequent question I get is why have I chosen such genre projects. It’s not that I’m out to just do sci-fi stuff or fanboy stuff, that’s just the best material I’ve run across. I have done a few more mainstream movies being released this year, so I hope my fanboy fans will still like them, whether it’s their cup of tea or not. I’m just constantly looking for good material and good people, and whether that’s TV or film, I really don’t care.”

How to Interview: Hayao Miyazaki and John Lasseter

lassetercomboFirst thing, remember to bring an interpreter, because as clever as Lasseter is, he can’t speak Japanese. Sitting in the same room with these two legendary animators is quite something. Lasseter – the mastermind behind Pixar’s incredible body of work – is really just a big kid himself. He marvels at everything, even collects old 3-D cameras and is especially enamored with Miyazaki and his work. His Oscar-winning counterpart – the brilliant animator who gave us Japanime classics such as Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke and Castle in the Sky — is equally respectful but definitely more quiet and reserved. And he really isn’t all that comfortable talking to journalists.

But he makes an effort because he realizes his work is revered all over the world, and with his latest film, Ponyo, he may become even more popular in the U.S. The wildly unique animated film follows ponyoa small boy, Sosuke (Frankie Jonas), who befriends a fish he names Ponyo (Noah Lindsey Cyrus) – except this isn’t your ordinary fish but a princess of the sea who longs to be human. This English version was crafted by Lasseter and his team, his fourth of Miyazaki’s work, and uses an A-list vocal cast, including Liam Neeson, Matt Damon, Cate Blanchet, Cloris Leachman, Betty White, Lily Tomlin and Tina Fey, as well as the young kids who have some famous older Disney siblings (can you guess from their names?)

Here are snippets from the interviews:

Step 1: Get inspiration from a fish

Hayao Miyazaki: “I think John Lasseter knows as well, but hard to explain the motivation to do a film. I feel like I’m searching in my subconscious with a fishing net and [this time] I happened upon catching a goldfish in that net. There was a children’s book aimed for small children that gave me a hint at the beginning. There was a frog in that one. But as I worked on the story, it became something completely different from the original children’s book.”

Step 2: Cultivate elaborate storytelling techniques

ponyothefishMiyazaki: “I do all my work by storyboard, so as I draw my storyboard, the world gets more and more complex. And as a result, my north, south, east, west directions kinda shift and go off base. Seems like my staff and audience don’t quite realize this has happened. Don’t tell them about it.”

Step 3: Always give a good message, like the importance of our environment and familial ties

Miyazaki: “The most important thing, even within such an environment, children grow up, they learn to love. They enjoy living in that environment. Parents and children should see each other as being very valuable, precious to each other, and if they can get that out of the movie, that’s fine.”

Step 4: Study from the masters

John Lasseter: “I was so taken by [Miyazaki’s] humor and heart of his films. And the way he stages action. We’ve studied his action sequences at Pixar. As well, we are influenced by Miyazaki’s celebration of the quiet moments in his movies.”

Step 5: How to Americanize Ponyo

ponyoandsoskukeLasseter: “First, I don’t ever want anything in the English version to change Miyazaki-san’s story. So we get a direct translation to know what exactly is being said … The goal is to make the film feel very natural. We don’t want it to be a dubbed Japanese film but want everyone to get swept away by the story. But in some cases, there will be things Japanese audiences will understand visually and American audiences will not. So, what I strive to do is to make sure the American audiences will be at the exact level of understanding … and in casting the voices, we really aimed high for this one. And once they heard it was a Miyazaki film, they all wanted to do it.”

Step 6: Stick to what you know

Miyazaki: “At [my] studios, we dissolved the computer graphics section before we started production on Ponyo, so we had decided at that point to stick to hand-drawn animation. The difference between computer animation and hand-drawn, just as John Lasseter and I are different, I think I can leave the computer animation to him.”

Step 7: Lasseter loves 3-D; Miyazaki does not

Miyazaki: “I don’t think I’d do a movie in 3-D.”

Lasseter: “I’ve loved 3-D for a long time. I have a collection of old 3-D cameras, took my wedding pictures in 3-D. In 1989, Pixar pioneered 3-D with one of our shorts, Knick Knack. Problem was there were no theaters to show it in. There was one old, old revival house in San Francisco that had 3-wallpapers-beauty-beasta silver screen. We would go down there and try to get the two projectors lined up. It was such a pain. So for 16 years, we never saw it in 3-D. So, we’ve sort of been making 3-D movies for a long time but have been looking at it with one eye closed. When you do 3-D right – and I think Up is an example of our philosophy – is to show a window into this three-dimensional world and it envelopes audience into the story that much more. From the enclosed space of Carl’s house to going up in the air with balloons to these grand vistas that go on forever …  we are actually doing a 3-D version of Beauty and the Beast. It’s very compelling. And for me, it’s get the movie back into the theaters.”

Step 8: Pick a common ground

Miyazaki: “Watching John Lasseter’s films, I think I can understand better than anyone that what he is doing is going straight ahead with his vision and working really hard to get that vision onto film. I feel my understanding this of him is my friendship toward him.”

Lasseter: “For me, I’ve been wanting for a long time for American audiences to discover Miyazaki-san’s films. They have been for very special to me and my family. My five sons have grown up with his films, in their original Japanese form. One of my mentors, Chuck Jones, the great Warner Bros. director, always said great animation is when you can turn the sound off and still tell what’s going on. And I think [Miyazaki’s] films are a great example of that, how they communicate whether you know the language or not.”

How to Cast: Cinematical’s Gift

I really like Cinematical.com. The writers have the same sensibilities as I do, maybe a tad more fanboy than me but that’s what makes them more fun to read. For example, they found this trailer to a new Japanime show called Cat Sh*t One (aka Apocalypse Meow in the U.S.) It’s one of the more disturbing and hilarious things I’ve seen in awhile. It’s not even cats but giant gun-toting military rabbits! Check it out … and laugh your ass off …

Anyway, I can be just as big a movie geek and Cinematical fits my bill. Here’s a few things I’ve learned from their site today:

Harry Potter and the HalfBlood Prince is now opening two days earlier on July 15, instead of July 17. Woohoo!

Brian Austin Green — from the old Beverly Hills 90210 — wants to throw his name into the hat to play The Green Lantern in the upcoming adaptation of the comic book. Why, because his last name is Green?

Will Ferrell and Adam McKay’s Funny Or Die.com just keeps getting better. They even got Lindsay Lohan to make fun of herself in an eHarmony video spoof.

Hottie Chris Pine, who is going to thrill the hell out of us as a young James T. Kirk in the upcoming Star Trek movie, wants to play the dude Murdock in the upcoming A-Team film, directed by Joe Carnahan. OK, whatever floats your boat, Chris.