Famitsu.com Interviews Hidaka Noriko – First Half

From Famitsu.com 2/10/21
Written by Kobayashi Hakusai and edited by Sekai Sandai Miyokawa

In 2020, Tanaka Kouhei and Hidaka Noriko each reached 40 years of work since their debuts as composer and singer, respectively. Famitsu.com interviewed the two of them to commemorate this achievement.

Our second subject is Hidaka Noriko. With a large number of famous roles over her career, she spoke with us about her passion for voice acting, and the reason she continues to challenge herself in new ways.

Hidaka Noriko – Entered the entertainment world by starting as a child actor, and made my idol debut in 1980. In 1984 I worked for the first time as a voice actor in the television anime Super Dimension Cavalry Southern Cross. Thanks to the performance of Asakura Minami in 1985’s Touch, I’ve been able to perform in Ranma ½, Nadia: The Secret of the Blue Water, Sakura Wars 3 and many other famous works. (Text provided by Hidaka)

About her 40th anniversary compilation album, as well as her new song representing “the Hidaka Noriko of right now”

Thank you for your time today. First off, congratulations on 40 years! Here we have your 40th anniversary album [Noriko Hidaka All Time Best~40 Dramatic Songs~].

That’s right. Adachi Mitsuru-sensei provided the jacket illustration. It looks as if I’m appearing as a character in an Adachi manga.

To start, could you tell us about this 40th anniversary album?

Of course. The release of “Noriko Hidaka All Time Best ~40 Dramatic Songs~” is the culmination of 40 years. It has songs that I’ve performed as a singer as well as a selection of songs performed in character. Separate from that I’m also distributing a newly written song as well. It’s called “Drama”, written and composed by Ms. Yanai Keiko.

This song isn’t about myself as a character or a voice actress, but “Hidaka Noriko as she is now.” Ms. Yanai came up with a song that’s a realistic depiction of myself and I would love it if everyone could hear it. It’s available on a variety of digital music platforms, plus the music video is on YouTube, so if everyone would give it a listen and a watch I’d be very happy.

Yanai Keiko has a lot of connections to video games doesn’t she? She’s the songwriter and composer for Star Ocean: Anamnesis, and in 2019 she wrote the opening song, “BANANA~NA in Love” for Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz HD. Ms. Hidaka, you sing on this song as one of the Banana Fritters. Did the two of you become friendly after “BANANA~NA in Love”? 

Yes, we’d get very excited talking about games together. After that we’d regularly message each other on LINE. She’d say “Congratulations on 40 years!” and then “I want to keep tagging along until you reach 100!” (laughs)

100 years!

I’d reply with “Let’s keep trying a lot of new things together! As long as I’m still healthy!” (laughs)

I see (laughs). The songs on this 40th anniversary album make up a condensation of your journey to this point, but would you say that “Drama” represents the completion of those 40 years?

That’s right. The album contains a lot of history within it, but combine that with “Drama” and I guarantee you’ll be able to hear “The Hidaka Noriko of right now”. 

Well then, I’d like to hear next about what it was like to work as a voice actor. Could you tell us about your career, starting with back when you made your debut?

I’ll do my best.

Continuous challenges for a new actor

In 1980 you recorded the Monchichi Twins theme under the name “Itou Noriko”, but I was surprised to learn that you were only 17 years old then. Had you wanted to enter show business from an early age?

The first time I thought about wanting to become a [film] actor was in elementary school. I was a member of a theater company, and performed on stage as a child actor. Even in elementary school, when we became 4th graders and were able to choose a club, I joined the drama club. In 5th grade I became part of the school broadcasting committee. Also, I loved to read aloud in Japanese class. As a child, I really wanted to do things like that.

And then in middle school I had the opportunity to appear in NHK’s adolescent drama Challenge From the Future [based on the novel Psychic School Wars by Mayumura Taku]. Then in high school I acted in the tokusatsu series Battle Fever J. The Monchichi Twins song was released around then.

When you say that you liked to read aloud, were you conscious of liking the sound of your voice?

No, no, I thought my voice sounded weird (laughs). One time at a children’s festival or something, I put on a shadow puppet show with my friends. We’d record our lines and then move the dolls in time with them. When I heard the recording of my voice it was shrill and different from the other children’s. Ever since then I thought, “My voice is strange”.

Really! 4 years later after Monchichi you made your debut as a voice actor in the 1984 anime Super Dimension Cavalry Southern Cross.  

It was as Musica, a green haired alien girl. She appeared in the later half of the story. The Zor race are space aliens where every set of three triplets operate as a single entity. The other senior voice actors had to each cover three roles per actor, changing their voice and speaking style for each performance, but I just played the heroine Musica while her other two parts got pushed off onto other actors.

I’ve heard that turning the pages is difficult during recording. Did you have to practice a lot when you debuted?

Well…when it comes to scripts, they’ve got those in TV and plays, so I figured it would probably be fine. But, although nowadays you can practice along with a DVD at home, back then it was all on film, and until you went into the studio on the day you’d have no idea what the footage was like. My first line was just a scream, “Eeek!”. I’ve done that on stage before, and I thought I could let out a pretty loud one. But on the day of recording I was unbelievably nervous   

As to why I was nervous, there was a lot of noise during the rehearsal. No one really pays attention to the sound of all the pages turning, and everyone’s just listening to each other’s monologue. And then comes the time to do it for real and…it’s dead silent. It was so quiet I could hear my ears ringing. Because of that I got really stressed.

Like, can they hear me swallowing? Can they hear me breathing? Is the mic picking up my footsteps as I walk up? I was already mentally drained at that point. “Eek!” was all I had to do, but I ended up having to do it over. Back then we were playing the anime in the recording studio on a film reel, so just like a movie theater the lights needed to be turned off in the room. So for that reason too it really heightened the sense of nervousness, much more than it is now.   

I see… I’ve seen how voiceover recording is done these days on TV, but it sounds like it was still very fresh at the time you made your debut.

Even when you messed up, you can’t just hit a single button and start the scene over like now. The film technician had to go *rattle-rattle-rattle* and rewind the film. Getting a sense of timing was hard too, you’d get broad directions like “The cut’s been changed so count to 3 and then start your line.” That sort of pressure added to the nerves.

With those kinds of hardships, as you were voice acting did you ever have any mixed feelings about your original dream of being a film actor?  

Actually, my excitement was stronger. I might want to play a role in a school setting for example, but as an actor past 20 those kinds of opportunities would be few and far between. But as a voice actor all I needed was a vocal performance, and I could try a lot of roles without anything else holding me back. The thought of that got me excited more than anything else.

When I got the role of Asakura Minami in Touch, I was already 22. In other words, I’d be playing a middle schooler as a 22 year old. So I had put aside the thoughts of what I had originally wanted to do, and when I was able to play the school role that I had given up on I was happier, more than anything else. 

Before I started work in voice acting, I was getting more appearances on TV. I would show up on variety programs as a reporter or a personality. It was wonderful having getting to be a regular, but it was difficult to fit in because my schedule was full of auditions for acting roles. Even so, my desire to perform was strong, so in that sense I was extremely happy being able to act through reading lines.    

So even though your work as a voice actor was difficult, there was a lot of hope that came along with it. And then in My Neighbor Totoro, you even played a young 6th grader in the role of Satsuki.

That’s right. I was doing Touch, and then I was doing Tendou Akane in Ranma ½. At that time there were lots of roles of girls in their mid teens, but I didn’t imagine I’d be playing an elementary schooler. When I had the audition for Totoro I was told “You haven’t played a little girl before right? Try speaking higher and more cheerfully than usual.” That was the first challenge I was given. Since becoming a voice actor I think I’ve been able to have a lot of first time experiences.

Aim for the Top! and meeting Tanaka Kouhei

In 1988, the same year as My Neighbor Totoro, another important work, Aim for the Top! was released. Quite a busy year.

The recording for Totoro happened a little before that I think. Director Anno Hideaki watched my performance crying as Satsuki in Totoro and told me he wanted to cast me as Noriko. It really required an enormous amount of range though (laughs).

It certainly did (laughs). You share a name with Aim for the Top!’s Takaya Noriko. For that and other reasons, did you ever think “This could become a representative work of mine”?

No…nothing as far as that. Because the concept of Aim for the Top! was “Top Gun + Aim for the Ace! ÷2. On top of that, I only figured out that it was a strange and captivating anime full of parody when I got to the scene where Kazumi Onee-sama, who has a strong resemblance to [Butterfly Wu in the 1947 movie] Madame X, runs up the stairs while wearing iron sandals… After all there are a lot of scenes like robots doing push ups or running with a tire tied to their waist that make you go, “That’s ridiculous!” (laughs)

When it comes to Noriko, because there are a lot of serious scenes where she loses confidence or has her back against the wall, I wanted to be able to portray her emotions accurately. But as far as it being a defining role, that wasn’t even in my dreams.

I (the interviewer) only saw it after it was already viewed as a masterpiece by the public, and I found some parts unexpected, but now that you mention it, it is really like that isn’t it.

At the time I took the role, it seemed like there was the possibility that I’d be able to see the entire story from beginning to end, but I received the scripts one episode at a time. That’s why I had the impression that it was a laid back and fun anime. And then around episode 5 there’s a huge development, and as for the last episode, you know how that goes… I can’t help but wonder if the people on the production side had a change of heart (laughs).

In the midst of recording we’d go from light hearted to heavy. Like the death of the boyfriend, or about her father. The humorous parts were clearly separated from the serious parts though, so performing them was extremely fun and stimulating.

Some time after that, it began to circulate as a work that everybody loved. Even with Minami or Satsuki, the characters weren’t the kind that took the top spot in anime magazine popularity polls. Thanks to Aim for the Top! I was suddenly being called “Queen of the Otaku” (laughs). “I’m climbing to the top too!” I thought. It’s thanks to that anime that I was able to support myself as a voice actor you know.

Aim for the Top! is the first time you worked together with Tanaka Kouhei. Is there any interaction in particular you remember?

 We first met during the recording for “Aim for the Top! ~ Fly High ~, the insert song that plays during episode 5. I had a practice session scheduled before the actual recording, and I went together with (Amano Kazumi actor) Sakuma Rei. When we entered the studio Mr. Tanaka was playing the piano. “Oh, you’re here. Shall we practice then?” He gave off the impression of being very mellow.     

So, his impression hasn’t changed much from then and now.

Right. But since I had spent time as a singer, meeting the composer I was like, “My name is Hidaka Noriko, I’ll try my best. Please be patient with me.” And then he was all “It’s fine, it’s fine. This is easy!” From the beginning I had a very good impression of him.

Just before this I asked Tanaka about the same thing, and he said he recalled thinking “Oh, it’s Hidaka”, like he was seeing a celebrity.

Is that so. I’ve asked him too “What did you think when you first met me?” and he said the same thing. “Like a feeling that you saw me on TV?” “Yeah, exactly.” (laughs) But despite thinking that, I think he made an effort to treat me normally. 

Was it unexpected that he would know your work from Touch or another show?

I didn’t really think about what Mr. Tanaka knew about us. I recall it as being the same as other instances where I meet someone I’m working with someone for the first time.

Peter Pan, Jean, Soujirou…the joys and struggles of playing male roles

Speaking of your work, the role of Jean Roque Raltique from 1990’s Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water, is a famous one, but the first time you voiced a boy was the lead role in 1989’s Peter Pan: The Animated Series. Is there something you try to keep in mind while playing a young boy?

Peter Pan was the first time I was playing a boy as a regular cast member, and I had to be careful to keep my voice as low as possible. I was often warned a lot that “Even if you keep your voice as low as possible if you’re gentle with your inflection it’ll sound feminine.” To avoid that I would stand as imposingly as possible and speak with as much force as I could, like the words were coming from the pit of my stomach.

So I’d end up needing an incredible amount of endurance, and by the end I’d have steadily lost weight. A lot of heroines just speak delicately, so the amount of stamina you need is completely different. Because of that the next time I played a boy I wanted a part that was a little less demanding. I really went after the role of Jean when that part came up. It’s the same for the roles of boys that I’ve tried since then as well, but I’m always trying to develop myself further.

Speaking of male parts, when I looked over the songs included on “Noriko Hidaka All Time Best ~40 Dramatic Songs~” I was surprised to learn for the first time that you have a character song as Seta Soujirou from Rurouni Kenshin.

The song “Journey” is the second of Soujirou’s character songs. It’s a song about his feelings as he leaves to the north. The first song, “innocence” is about his fight with Kenshin, about killing people without a thought. When it came to decide which song to use for the album I thought the more positive “Journey” was a better fit, so I went with that one (laughs).

Seta Soujirou was the first time I played a young man. But the female fans were extremely welcoming. I’d get postcards from doing radio with pen names like “SoujiLOVE”. I have a lot of happy memories about the amount of support I received. 

Even so there are a lot of people that aren’t aware it was me, and if they get this album and go “Whoa, she played Soujirou too!?” I’ll be just as happy. “Whoa, Dodge Danpei too!?” (laughs)  

Continued here

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