Interviewing old and current “Chibi Maruko-chan” narrators! What was behind the change, and what is the important technique on “narration” by two experienced narrators?
Keaton Yamada-san, who has been the narrator for the national TV anime “Chibi Maruko-chan” (broadcast every Sunday from 6:00 PM) for 31 years since 1990, retired his job after the episode broadcast on March 28, 2021. As a successor, Kimura Kyouya-san, who is known for narrating various variety shows, including “Mecha x2 Iketeru! (Mecha Ike)” and “Denpa Boys”, replaced his position.
The “Old and New narrators’ interview” became real between Keaton-san and Kimura-san. They passionately exchanged opinions from their narration styles in “Chibi Maruko-chan”, their belief in acting, up to the power of voice.
[Interview conducted and article written by: Sugimoto Hodaka, Photograph taken by=Fujita Ayumi]
“Chibi Maruko-chan” stays inside even after retirement.
Keaton: I believe this is the 2nd time (to see). I saw you for the first time at some project featuring narrators for summer vacation with Hazama Michio-san and two of us.
Kimura: I think you are right. I played together with Fuji TV’s “Lion no Gokigen-you” (Greeting from a Lion) about 15 years ago. I was so nervous back then because I was with two experienced senior narrators, but I enjoyed talking to you.
I could not tell this to you back then, but I always listened to Keaton-san’s voice in the General in “Ikkyu-san” and Jin Hayato from “Getter Robo since I was a child”.
Keaton-san showed me various styles of narration as a pioneer, therefore I kept studying to reach your level as much as possible. Honestly, I copied your styles in “Mecha Ike!” and other programs. (laughter)
So, I never expected that the offer from “Chibi Maruko-chan” will ever come to me.
Keaton: When I talked about you to my children, they quickly realized that “he is the narrator from ‘Mecha Ike!”. Kimura-kun’s voice is so familiar to everyone. I respect you because I cannot talk cool like you.
Kimura: My pleasure. By the way, I heard that you are currently enjoy agriculture while living in nature.
Keaton: I am currently living in Izu Peninsula. It is a rural area compared to Tokyo. I grew up far away from the cities, so I can relax more. I am spending more time on agriculture compared to previous years because I have time after retirement. I have been working on farms more than 15 years, but I remember that I started from making good soil because it was filled with rocks and not suitable for farms.
Kimura: Wow, you started from organizing the land. It may be because you are from Hokkaido. (laughter)
Keaton: I am producing most of the vegetables that you see often at the grocery stores. But whenever I am done with the work, I think about “Chibi Maruko-chan”. It cannot be gone so quickly.
No hesitation is needed to react with Maruko and other characters
---About 3 months have passed since Kimura-san started the narration in “Chibi Maruko-chan”, and are getting used to the work?
Kimura: Not yet. Sound director Honda Motonori-san keeps training me with passion, and I enjoy working on it every week.
For example, there are many ways to say “On the next day” during the show, and I often gets “Uh, that is not the one we want”, and that is because “on the next day” is supposed to be the response to the previous acting and plot. For instance, I need to say it with excitement depending on the previous story. I'm always surprised that anime is produced under such thoughtful plans.
Keaton: I know about Honda-san even before “Chibi Maruko-chan” began, but he is delicate, strict, or enthusiastic. (laughter) But he continues his style for 31 years. Moreover, because there was no anime like “Chibi Maruko-chan” with the narration to react to characters, so I worked in my own style on how much I should overreact.
For example, if Maruko and Grandpa Tomozou did something stupid, I say “on the next day”, as if I “gave up on them, and feeling like do whatever you want”, and I continue making some change depending on situations and my feelings.
That style was created from a scratch and Honda-san probably has that in mind, so I suppose that this puts extra work to Kimura-san.
---I heard Keaton-san continues to watch “Chibi Maruko-chan” every week even after the retirement.
Keaton: Of course, I watch it every week.
Kimura: No, please don’t watch! (laughter) Please skip the scenes that I am speaking!
Keaton: I heard that you have not yet recorded with other actors. Everyone would struggle in your situation. I gradually got used to it while working together with them. Do you listen to others’ voice while acting?
Kimura: Yes, I listen to the parts that are finished.
Keaton: I see. But that atmosphere cannot be felt easily with recorded voice. I think you will understand better if you can record together in the future.
Kimura: I agree with you. I am a newbie to the members who have been voicing for 31 years…
Keaton: I think any people can be nervous in your position. It cannot be accomplished by yourself. For me, I was acting as a narrator as if I had been swung by other’s acting .
The narrator was first called “the voice from heaven”, but I reacted to the characters from the attic high, as if I had been watching over my family because the heaven was too far away to watch them over.
Don’t hesitate to react to them. Maruko is tough and never gives up. I didn’t like to do it because I am feeling becoming a nasty old man. (laughter)
I consulted, “Is it okay to say this?”, because Sakura Momoko-san’s original script was severer, but I put my full energy because Sakura-san say that is okay if it is done by me.
Kimura: Other actors also say that I can go tougher, and I am glad that I could hear it from Keaton-san.
Keaton: I will secretly visit the recording session when you start recording together. That time, I will say “this progress to part 2”. (laughter)
Kimura: I look forward to it! I am practicing little by little, like today I will react to Bu-tarou only.
Keaton: Repetition is everything. You can get better step by step. So, you should enjoy it because it is one style of entertainment.
→Next page: The difference in “Chibi Maruko-chan” and other narrations
The difference in “Chibi Maruko-chan” and other narrations
---How different are “Chibi Maruko-chan” and other programs, Kimura-san?
Kimura: They are completely different. In the usual programs, I don’t read articles beforehand and start recording with “go”. Because fresh emotions will be gone after the 2nd trial. For example, the surprise for the 1st trial, like “This matchbox is priced at 50 million JPY!?”, should be expressed with excitement that I feel in the first place.
In contrast, the recording in anime is never accepted if not talked to the character in the screen. There is a physical direction to the voice as well. I did not pay much attention to it and read the article until this job, so it was new to me.
---I believe that Keaton-san also narrated from the perspective of the actor, because you are from the theatrical company. Was it difficult for Kimura-san to success his style because you have a different background?
Kimura: I participated in “These Snow White Notes” anime and live-action movies before “Chibi Maruko-chan” recording sessions, but I never had experience of acting. I copy Keaton-san as much as possible with resources that I collected, but Honda-san tells me “do it in your own style”. How do you express your easy-going atmosphere?
Keaton: I don’t pretend at all. I am forgiving whatever they do, even my words are tough. I tried to keep in mind that I am not serious, this all comes from my love to you. It would be failure if my words sounded cynical.
Kimura: This is another question to you. What kind of roles do you often play on the stage?
Keaton: I played comical roles because I loved comedy. But I couldn’t understand theater logical, so I thought it is ok to fail after trying over and over, because I am not skillful.
I love stage performance more than narration. I am not even good at narration. Acting allows me to perform freely because there is a script while not having article. Narration is difficult because I have read the scripts written by others as my own ideas.
Kimura: I like that a lot and I was already a narrator when realized because I was trained by radio narrations. I have a strong impression of you playing freely in “Potsun to Ikkenya”.
Keaton: It is not completely free because there is a time limit. I am not the center of the show; the people and scenes in the show are the main factors. Narration is a BGM. The people of the show are nice because they don’t rush in their lives. I was often drawn into the show while talking. I often forgot to speak because I focused too much on the show. (laughter).
Kimura: You failed as you focused on it too much. (laughter).
Keaton: Yes and I enjoyed it a lot. I could have enjoyed it more if I had not had the script to read. (laughter)
Voice can’t Lie
---Keaton-san just said that you are not good at narration, but what was the technique to build up your career this long?
Keaton: I could not allow myself to retire in 40’s or 50’s for the reason that I could not do it well, and I came this far because I couldn't find the point where I feel “this is it”.
When I became 60’s, I started thinking about what to do if I still get offers after I become 70’s. Narrators often try to keep youngness in voice, but I decided to talk like a man in 70’s as a narrator in 70’s. From then, I don’t have to force myself to do things that I have trouble doing. To be honest, I tried to talk like 70’s in all tasks after I became 65.
Kimura: The voice in 40’s has the best baritone and that is why the people try to keep youngness, but you made the unique choice. I think it was important that you had “withering charms” like Rakugo masters do have.
Keaton: Yes. I tried to think that it would be fine if I lost my job from it. This is just a decision making, so this is not my skill at all.
I tried to copy my seniors when I was young, but I tried to be myself when talking because copy can’t beat the original. That began to receive names, “Keaton Style”, so I kept it precious.
Kimura: Voice conveys honesty the most. People lies a lot in face expressions, and hand gestures. For example, if a person says “it is tasty!” in a cooking show, the audience will know that he doesn’t like it. So, I try not to lie because I am the part of the broadcast with no lies.
Keaton: The researcher of sound also says the same thing, and the personality with lies appears clearly in voice. It is embarrassing if people realize that I'm lying, so it is better to tell the real personality to the audience as it makes the thing easier. So it is the best to do without lying to myself as well.
Kimura: As Keaton-san just said, voice contains so much reality. “Voice is Person itself”, I would say.
© Sakura Production/Nippon Animation