One of the moments that I can say marked a before and after for me, was watching Hibike Euphonium when it aired in 2015. From that moment I could not stop paying attention to how the animation could say so much without real-life actors or actresses being involved. How could you create such an environment where you really know that they are communicating so much, while from a technical point of view they are not really exaggerating in the use of anything. I got to be able to assimilate things from the anime to situations that had happened to me but I never knew how to express it accurately.
But someone else came, nailing it over and over.
That someone behind everything was called Naoko Yamada.
I was amazed, and from that point on I did not stop following her trace.
Words, visuals, sound. The attention and detail put into each of these aspects were incredible.
When a novel is turn into a movie, the first thing a person who has read the book before would say is that a lot of what was written was lost in the adaptation The movie script for the characters is pretty simple at first. But it is in what they do not say where the most important thing is most of the time. And the duty of the director is to let us know.
The problem comes because the variations of the feeling of the characters can be lost in translation according to the way the director exposes it to the audience. There are those who save this labyrinth by explaining it through a direct conversation between the characters in an explicit way. But unfortunately this same fact makes that feeling lose its weight of being something personal and intimate.
Naoko Yamada’s pleasure is to give a set of subtleties, the sound of the surroundings, to show the routines of the characters, body expressions, and the use of camera and light effects to give the sense of the scene, direct where we should focus on.
Not forgetting her tendency to focus more than once on the way of walking or how the characters stand during defined scenes, something strange and what her fellow studio teammates have laughed about before. The fixation she has on focusing on the expressiveness of the legs of the characters is almost at the same level or even more as the expressiveness of the face. “Eyes may be the window to the soul but I think our legs are like that too” she herself says. And yes, looking at the works in which he has participated, she has made a point by showing that it does serve as a way of transmitting emotions in an honest way.
The use of focusing on legs is a signature of hers, they give us a look into the character’s psyche and what are they feeling. It’s one of the most important things that defines how Yamada tells stories. She wants us to understand the subtly different shades that make us human after all
Always in motion, they are often subconsciously moved by our own reflexes than tell us truths than words cannot. They act showing power or unsureness, they peer into our insecurities and even can give the context to our dynamics with a group of people. Legs walk away but also can go forward confidently.
Our human experience is captured by her attention to detail.
To be honest, in her direction, each scene is a whole where nothing is left behind. There isn’t a more precious way of communication than other. Everything forms an integral part of understanding between characters and how us, the viewers, understand them too. As she said during her interview about the production of Liz and the Bluebird “I don’t remember what I said specifically, but since it was going to be a work where even the pettiest little movement of the girls would be ladled out, we did talk about not trying to fail catching one and every strand of hair or eyelash.”
And a pretty important aspect that I realized after listening to the Liz and The Blue Bird soundtrack is the fact that almost the entire soundtrack was made up of rhythmic ambient sounds. Footsteps, sound of metals, wood, even moments of silence. And it was something that I had overlooked. Naoko Yamada, to give that sense of reality in her animations makes use of the sounds of the environment where the characters are, more than a soundtrack composed of musical instruments even. It is an immense simplification of the environment musically speaking compared to most productions.
But it is in simplicity where Naoko Yamada finds her strength. One where we can all relate to each other because it comes to touch the very essence of who we are as human beings.
It does not always mean an already settled plot or fact, but to capture a truth from your experience, expressing the value that one feels is its most intimate fiber. Words, visuals, and sound … when the spectators experience the amount of information that they bring together, their feelings can go back and forth.
Yamada is indeed, a genius. At 35, she is one of the few women in anime industry and one of its big youngest debuting directors now even being one of the main directors in KyoAni. Her goal, showing the meaningfulness of simplicity.
Her knowledge in human subtleties allow us to see the real depth of the characters she is trying to portray. She opens a window to their souls in a different way than most directors. The smallest moments, the smallest details, her tool to evoke everlasting feelings.
In the end that’s what she gives us, something authentic to our hearts.