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Old 14-05-2010, 06:13 PM   #1   [permalink]
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Wink FLCL - Ten Years Later

Itís been ten years since anime history was made with FLCL, one of the most inventive and unconventional series in the history of Japanese animation. A decade later, the series still has a cult following. We wanted to find out from the cast members what their memories of the series were, what it meant to them and what they have been doing since.

Unfortunately, a few cast members are no longer with us. The entire industry still speaks in shock of the death of series star Haruko Haruhara. About six months after the final episode had its first airing, and with several job offers coming her way, Haruko was found dead in her apartment from an apparent drug overdose. About a year ago, Kamon Nandabe died of a heart attack. He was about to open in a new play at the Tokyo National Theatre.

But we did get together with five of the surviving cast members. We will start with they young series star, Naota Nandaba.

Not too long after the series had its initial run, I said in an interview that the series nearly killed me. Thatís somewhat true, although with the passage of time Iíve grown more found of my memories. I was an inexperienced actor. The most I had ever done was semi-pro. I really wasnít prepared to handle the responsibility of carrying an entire series.

After shooting ended, I was hospitalized for exhaustion. There were rumors that I had a drug addition. Well, I can understand the rumors. Drug use is commonplace in the anime industry. But the rumors in my case were false. I was quite the innocent at the time. They did give me amphetamines to keep me going through the shoots. But I was not addicted. All they did was to force me to go beyond my limits. So when the series ended, I totally crashed.

And that was enough for me to quit acting. I had enough and did not want to go through any of that again. It was too much for a kid of 14. Yes, my character was only 12, but I looked young for my age. So next came my lost years.

I had trouble adjusting to a normal life. People still recognized me from the show. I grew disinterested in school and eventually dropped out. I had trouble keeping a job, but with royalties coming in on a semi-regular basis, that did not seem important. I ran with a bad crowd. There were two highly publicized run-ins with the law, but both arrests were so bogus that after an hour the cops told me to just go home.

When I was 18, I decided to set out on my own. The royalties were not enough to live on, especially since I spent what I had as soon as I got it. Things finally began to come together when I hit 20. I got a job working at a kids recreation center located in the inner city. I handed out and kept track of sports equipment, refereed basketball games, cleaned up. I actually like the job, and nobody hassled me about my FLCL years. Months later there was talk about turning an empty lot into a playground for children. I was asked if I minded using my former celebrity status to help get through the front door at city hall. To make a long story short, we convinced the city to buy the lot. Then we got local businesses to give money to clean it up and buy equipment. Thatís how I became a community activist. Thereís not much money in it, but again I do get royalties.

Looking back at the series, I have to say I liked the people I worked with. Kamon was a veteran actor who always had advice for me. People think he really was my father because we had the same family name, but actually we werenít related. Haruko was like a big sister to me. She saw I was having trouble at times, and was always there to give me strength to get through another day. She was in real life the exact opposite of her character. I overlooked her drug habit. I did know about it. I cried when I heard of her death. Everyone connected with the show misses her.

Check back in a day or two or three! There is more to come from other FLCL stars.
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Old 16-05-2010, 12:49 AM   #2   [permalink]
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Today we hear from Mamimi Samejima. Mamimi now works behind the camera as a writer/director. She has three films to her credit and is beginning work on a fourth.

For me FLCL was a learning experience. Most actors donít watch their old shows and movies. I do re-watch FLCL about once a year. I always learn something new from it.

I was sixteen when I was hosting this local kids show in Yakahama. There was me, a bunch of six and seven year olds, and some puppets. One day I came in after fighting off the flu. I was not at my best. One of the FLCL producers sometimes watched the show with his children. He saw me at my cheerful best. On this particular episode, I was at my dismal worst. He liked what he saw and called to offer me a reading.

I was actually losing interest in performing at the time I started FLCL. I thought that the more interesting work happened behind the camera. When I wasnít acting, Iíd be with the crew asking all sorts of questions on lighting, sound, camera work, and such. Iíd even show up on days my character wasnít needed. I know I was in the way, but they all answered my questions. Some of them came to work for me when I started making my own movies.

After FLCL had itís first run, I got offers for some good roles, but I turned them down. I was too busy working on the script for my first film, Samurai Brothers. I went from producer to producer, studio to studio. Everywhere I went people were glad to spend time talking with me, but at the end of the day no one wanted to finance a script written by a 17-18 year old. Then I met Hiro Akanara. Hiro is the son of an anime exec who wanted to make his own mark in the business. We agreed to a partnership. Both of us would write, he would produce and I would direct. We trashed my script and started anew. I didnít realize that I really did not know how to write dialog. Ninety percent of the dialog in Samurai Brothers is Hiroís, although the story is all mine. In our last film, Bath House, the dialog was fifty-fifty -- so I am learning. At the end of writing our first script, we were more than just business partners. We became soul partners for life. I moved in with Hiro, and then he went around trying to get financing so we could make the film independently. We called on some of the old FLCL crew, and I was surprised that several agreed to work for the minimum union wage. The only ones who said no were already committed to other projects. I also got my old cast-mate Eri Ninamouri to play the love interest shared by the two brothers. Eri and I didnít hang out together during our FLCL days, but I did admire her work. Weíre best friends now.

Of course the key scene in Samurai Brothers was when the brothers first see Eri taking a midnight swim. She walks out of the water naked with the moonlight glistening on her skin. The scene takes up less than two minutes, but we worked on it for a day and a half to get it right. Hiro was furious that we spent so much time on one little scene, but I was right. That scene set the tone for the rest of the movie. It didnít do a great box office, but it got good reviews and has a cult following.

Of all the people on FLCL, the person I was closest to was Haruko. She was a mentor to me showing me the tricks of the trade. I was taught that an actor had to treat their role as the major part, even if it is just a bit part. Harukoís approach was that even the lead actor was just one piece of the puzzle. I adopted that approach, and it really has helped me as a director.

Not all of Harukoís influence was positive, I admit. I knew of her drug habit. But she had it all together. She said it was safe if you knew your limits and did not exceed them. I believed her. Her drug habit never interfered with her performance. We had a 5 am makeup call, which meant that most of us began dragging ourselves into the studio at around 5:30. Haruko was always there at five sharp sitting waiting for the makeup artists. She never missed a line and her timing was always perfect. So I figured she knew what she was talking about. So I started smoking marijuana, and hash if it was available. Sometimes Iíd do a little coke over the weekend. When I heard of Harukoís death, from a reporter who called me at home for a comment, I got physically ill. I went into the bathroom and threw up. I then got my stash and flushed it all down the toilet. I havenít done anything since. I only smoke these seaweed cigarettes that they gave me during FLCL so that I would not get cancer. They taste like sh-t, but I need something to keep my hands busy.

Losing Haruko had a continuing effect on me. I felt that I had to know more about her. I met with her family and many of her old friends to learn more about her. Sometime after the release of Samurai Brothers, it all turned into the subject of my next movie -- Life in a Circle. I wanted to give Haruko a chance to explain her life, warts and all, and to justify herself to herself and others. Some thought it would be a rehash of FLCL, but FLCL made up less than ten minutes of a 130 minute movie. Many of the old FLCL cast were interested. And I got a major studio to finance me! I casted Kamon Nandabe as the writer who comes into contact with Harukoís spirit while researching her biography. I guess the character was a representation of myself. I was lucky to work with Eri again. Her character was an amalgamation of the various people who encouraged Harukoís drug habit. Hiro and I wrote the character as a bit of a sleaze, but it didnít work. It was Eri who came up with the idea of playing her more like the girl next door, even though Eri did consider her the villain. It was a good choice. No wonder she won the Anime Academy Award that year for Best Supporting Actress.

Well, there was one more film after that. But I need to wrap this up. Iíll just say that I am working on my fourth film. It is a sci-fi adventure about a junior officer on his first deep space mission who begins to think that everything around him is an illusion. Itís the first time Hiro and I worked with an original script that we did not write, although we are trying to re-write it changing the main character to a woman. Iíd like to get Eri to play the part.

In closing, I just attended an anime convention. During the question and answer session there were only two questions on FLCL. The rest were about my movies. Iím glad to be known now as a director. But I still am proud of my FLCL work. Looking back it was a special time.

Within the next 24 hours, another segment will be posted. I promise!
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Old 16-05-2010, 10:43 PM   #3   [permalink]
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Our third installment is from Eri Ninemouri. Following FLCL, Eri spent three years on the soap opera Years of Our Lives. She then went onto a movie career where she has played mostly major supporting roles. She has appeared in all three of Mamimi Samejimaís films, and even won a the Anime Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role in Life in a Circle.

Ten years! It doesnít seen like ten years. People still talk to me about FLCL. I remember those days well. To steal a quote from Charles Dickens, it was the best of times and the worst of times.

It was the best of times because doing the series was so exciting. It was my first major role in a major production. It was the first time I ever got to play a conflicted character. I even got to do my very first nude scene! I enjoyed every minute on the set.

It was the worst of times because off the set I was having a few personal issues. I was 12 when I got the role and 13 when we started shooting. My buds were just beginning to bloom, and I was getting that first rush of female hormones. But I was different from my girlfriends at school. They always talked about the cute guys in the class. I found myself always looking at the cute girls. I knew what this meant, and I was not to comfortable with being different.

Naota was always asking me for a date. I didnít really want to brush him off. He was too sweet. He finally got me to agree to hang out with him over a weekend, just as friends. I know he wanted to be more than a friend. Somehow I felt he was one person I could talk to. So when we got together I confessed that I just wasnít into boys, and that it was a secret that bothered me. Naota didnít really respond. He just listened. He seemed to know thatís what I needed. He turned out to be a good friend after all.

I didnít come out to my family until three years later. I was finishing up my stay on Years of Our Lives, and was having my first real romantic affair with a college intern working on the show. I learned to accept and be comfortable with who I was, and I decided I was ready to push on with my career.

I was surprised when Mamimi called me to offer a part in a movie she was making. I heard she had been pushing this script for the past three years. I never hung out with Mamimi on the set. She was always hanging out with Haruko, or with the crew watching them work. Actually, I donít think I even had a scene with her, other than looking at her at a distance. Anyway, the role didnít pay much. But I was looking for an excuse to quit the soap operas and get into movies. I figured if the film was a success, it could launch my movie career. It didnít do a great box office, but it gained a cult following and got good reviews. This lead to Mamimiís next movie, the one about Haruko, and more money.

Iíve become good friends with Mamimi and her partner Hiro now. Theyíre really a great looking couple. I like working for Mamimi. First, as a former actor, she knows what her actors are going through. Anime directors who never were on the other side of the camera often donít have a clue. Second, Mamimi really listens to my ideas, and she trusts my judgment. That makes me want to do my best for her.

As far as my soap opera days go, well I enjoyed that for the three years I did it. They developed a storyline where my character would be kidnapped. About that time I told the producers that I would not be resigning my contract for a fourth year, so they changed the storyline to kill me off. I was locked in the trunk of a car, which was then hit by a semi. My body was supposed to be mangled beyond recognition. That cleared the way for my return, should I want to return. Actually, I did come back five years later for the final three episodes before the series wrapped for good.

I just finished a movie which is due out in a few months. Itís a romantic comedy. I play the other girl in a love triangle. Originally, while I didnít get the main guy, I do get some other guy. During the story conference, I got a phone call from my current girlfriend. And yes, it is getting serious. Anyway, that gave the director an idea for a new ending. After losing the guy, I end up with a girl. It did open the door for a few more jokes. Although someday I would like to play a serious gay role. Mamimi has talked to me about being in her new movie. She is changing the hero from a male to female. She would have a lover. I suggested to Mamimi that the lover be another woman. Sheís thinking about it.

I also go to fan conventions when time allows. There are more than a few Haruko and Naota fans in attendance, but I was surprised at first that there were more than a few fans of my character. I talked to one fan who said she came cosplaying my character. I hadnít realized it looking at the way she dressed because she looked just like a normal person. Then it hit me. ON FLCL, my character was sort of an every-girl -- a normal girl with family conflicts. I guess there are those out there who can identify with that.

More tomorrow!
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Old 17-05-2010, 07:08 PM   #4   [permalink]
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Junko Miyaji had a small role as the schoolteacher in FLCL. But it did make an impact. The Junko Miyaji Fan Club is still going strong. But after FLCL, Junko returned to her first love -- standup comedy. We caught up with her while taping her fifth special for the Japanese Comedy Channel.

Itís been ten years since I did FLCL, and still it remains fresh in the minds of anyone who has ever seen it. Hardly a week goes by where someone doesnít stop me in the street and say, ďOoooo! Demerits! Demerits!Ē Itís all very annoying. Thatís why I now carry pepper spray.

So how did I get casted? Well, I got a call from my agent-manager. He said he got me an audition for a short anime series. This actually came at a bad time. I was taking a break from work to plan my wedding. This was a surprise to my agent-manager, since he was the one I was going to marry. But he assured me that there would be no problem. It was a short six-episode series, I would only be in three of the episodes, and only as a minor character. So it shouldnít take that much of my time, and it was good exposure. Well, it turned out that doing one episode of FLCL took over twice as long as episodes for other series. So I had to cede much of the wedding planning to my fiancť. Needless to say, the wedding was a mess. Fortunately our marriage turned out better. Weíre celebrating our tenth anniversary later this year, and the fifth birthdays of our beautiful twin daughters.

What I liked best about doing the show was working with the child actors. They were all pretty good. Iím sorry Naota didnít stick with it. But I could tell back then that Eri Ninamouri was going to have a great career. I didnít have much screen time with Haruko Haruhara, but in the little time I spent with her I learned to like her a lot. Everyone loved Haruko. And even though I only did one scene with him, Kamon Nandaba was such a natural, he made it so easy for everyone else.

I didnít have a scene with Mamimi Samejima. I formally met her for the first time at the series wrap party, although she was always hanging around the set even when she wasnĎt working. I didnít see her again until a few years ago when she caught my standup act. She came backstage and asked if I was interested in a small part in a movie she was making. I donít do too many movies. I donít do TV anymore, except for the Japanese Comedy Channel. But I said I was interested, since I would be reunited with Eri, who I really grew to admire as an actress.

Of course the movie was ďBath House,Ē and took place mostly in a bathhouse. I had one bit playing a customer who couldnít stop running her mouth. Basically, I was playing myself. Anyway, it took me a while to put two and two together. Customer. Bathhouse. What do customers usually wear in a bathhouse?

I expressed some reservations to Mamimi about being naked on screen. She assured me Iíd be hidden by the water most of the time. It took a while for ďmost of the timeĒ to register. Then I was assured I would be shot from behind. I told myself showing my butt would not be so bad. Then the next morning I took a look at my butt in the bathroom mirror. I certainly did not want to show that to anyone. I hit the gym, but to no avail. Ladies, once you let your butt go, it ainít coming back.

So the day comes when we shoot my scene. Iím in the water running my lines, while the extras were instructed to look annoyed. Then Mamimi tells the camera to set up in front of me, and then tells me to keep talking as I get out of the bath. In other words, now I will be showing the camera everything. I wasnít quite prepared for that, but Mamimi said that a rear shot would not work. I tried to take it all calmly. Mamimi was satisfied, but my heart was bounding the whole time. Beforehand, Eri told me not to worry. Doing a nude scene was not that difficult. Then again, Eri never breast fed twins and then turn 40. Certain body parts arenít exactly where I would like them to be. Anyway, if you havenít seen Bath House, there are some pretty interesting looking guys in the scenes shot in the menís section. So I recommend it. Just fast forward through my scene.

So why not do more movies and TV? I like the high I get working in front of a live audience. Thereís a certain excitement about hearing live laughter to your jokes. Thereís even more excitement if they have one drink too many and start throwing things.

Let me end with a bit of FLCL trivia. Remember the final episode? I was giving a lesson in chop sticks. That was actually a bit I used to do in my live stand-up act. But now that it is associated with FLCL, I really canít do it live anymore. People will think Iím ripping off the show.

One segment to go. Who will it be. Check here tomorrow.
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Old 18-05-2010, 05:28 PM   #5   [permalink]
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We wrap up with a few words from Akria Amarao, better known to FLCL fans as ďCommanderĒ Amarao. Amarao still does a bit of acting, but now mostly teaches.

Iíve been asked if I knew at the time that FLCL would become the cult legend that it is. The answer is no. I didnít make my appearance until episode 4, I believe. So the series was half-way over when I first reported for work. I saw the scripts for what happened up to that point, so I knew the story. But I had no idea what I was really getting into. And you donít know if it will become a fan favorite until you actually get aired. I should have known something was going on when I was told just to take my character and ďgo over the top.Ē

Up to that time, I had done some anime. I did wimpy characters. What made FLCL so interesting was I was playing a wimpy character acting tough. But mostly I did stage work, playing a larger variety of roles. My favorite lead was playing the psychiatrist in the Japanese revival version of Equuis.

I really liked the people I was working with. Doing scenes with Haruko was fun. We both decided to push it as far as we could. I remember talking with her at the cast party after the final scene was shot. I told her I would like to work with her again if I had a chance. She said she would like to work with me as well. She asked about my stage work, and said it had been years since she did live theater, but would like to do it again sometime. I had no idea that would be the last time I would talk with her. Six months later, she ODíed. Her drug use was known. Maybe I should have said something, but I donít think it would have made a difference. We lost a real talent there.

For about the last four or five years, I have been teaching acting and theater at the University of Yokohama. I live near campus now. I still do some acting, but mostly I spend my time passing what I know down to the next generation. Yokohama also happens to be Mamimi Samejimaís home town. I really didnít get to know her on the show, but Iíve seen her movies. Oh, she did offer me a part in Life in a Circle, but I had a conflict and missed out. Anyway, she was back in Yokohama visiting friends and family, when I ran into her. I got her to visit my class and talk about what she looks for in an actor and how she matches up actors with roles. My students got a lot out of her visit. After watching them go through a few exercises, she even took two or three of their resumes with her. You never know. I hear she is casting for her next movie.

FLCL does not follow me around as it does to some of the other actors who appeared in the show. I get new students, and they often spend an hour or so asking me about it. After that, thereís nothing more to ask so the subject does not come up again.

As far as my personal life goes, nothing sensational. I live with my wife. The kids are out of the house. They sort of followed in my footsteps. My daughter works as a set designer at the Tokyo National Theater. My son is an agent. Thatís about it.

So keep watching FLCL should it air again. I still get royalty checks, although they have gotten a bit smaller in the past few years, I can still use the money!

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