K-On! Movie interview: Producer Yoshihisa Nakayama

HTT Airlines, Flight JL401:

Boarding seat 8:

Producer Yoshihisa Nakayama

Nakayama-san, as a producer, watched K-On! The Movie with a serene glance as the other production staff moved forward. We talked with him on how he thought of ways to make the movie a success through promotion and marketing.

It must have a special feeling that the TV series doesn’t have!

– What went through your mind when K-On! was first decided to be turned into a movie?

As a producer, you want to make a movie from your TV series, but you worry that you won’t earn any money from your customers. As opposed to Over-The-Air TV, where a person could watch free of charge, you have to physically go to the movie theatre and pay money to watch a movie. Therefore, you need to have your advertising promote that it’s something worthwhile and charming in order to get your audience wanting to see it. That’s why I told director Yamada and all the other staff at the beginning that I wanted to create a story with a special feeling. I also wondered if people who didn’t know of the series would come see it. Thus I asked that we create a story that not only the general public could enjoy, but fans of both the manga and TV series could enjoy as well.

– After that, what did you talk about in order to make a concrete outline of the story?

I spoke with the director over what type of material would be suitable for a movie. Nothing that had to be included in the movie, but I wanted to see what she wanted the movie to consist of. After all, if she didn’t think along the same lines, then the movie wouldn’t be made. For example, if the movie was being made and we hit a point that wasn’t feasible, then you have no choice but to stop the process.  And so the director said “We never showed how the girls created ‘Tenshi ni Fureta yo!’ in the TV series, so let’s do that!” From that point, everyone started to contribute various ideas and it became what you saw.

– What topics did you discuss to make it concrete?

When we first decided to make a “movie”, it was going to be about Natsu Fest. Natsu Fest could become big and there were a lot of things that would add to the punch. However, we covered Natsu Fest in the second season already. Though there are things we could delve into with our hands, the framework would be the same as that episode, and so we wouldn’t be able to make it have that special feeling. The director felt that the home of the light music club is the music prep room, so therefore she wanted the heart of the movie to take place there, but that wouldn’t be dynamic enough to make the movie feel bigger. So after all these discussions, the idea of doing a graduation trip came out. It has that ordinary feeling that K-On! specializes in while having the sense of a movie, so we thought that was a pretty good path to go down. We thought the viewers would enjoy seeing the characters go to a place they had never been to and seeing how they would interact there. The reason we chose to go to London was because music was planned to be a big portion of the show even before we broadcasted it. Since then, there has been a lot of staff that came on who enjoy Brittish music, so we thought it would be appropriate to go there for the movie.

Not really wanting to announce they’re heading to London

– Was the movie a hit beyond what you had expected?

We had set our sights on making a hit movie, but the amount of people who saw it made it a hit beyond what we had guessed. Not only that, it was a relief to see it cross over 1 million attendees. There were about 50,000-60,000 people who purchased the TV series on BD/DVD, so we thought that they would probably come, but we didn’t think that we would have over a million people see it once it was completed. Honestly, when it crossed that mark, we all breathed a sigh of relief.


– Earlier, you talked about specializing the advertisements. What kind of advertising did you decide on prior to the movie’s opening day?

Generally, anime today goes into space or in the future with some kind of fantasy component involved, but that’s not the case for K-On!, where it depicts real high school girls. When you’re restricted within that range of activities, there’s not a lot you could put in your advertisements for people to see. Additionally, there’s also a lot of portions of the movie you don’t want people to see as well. You want people to desire to see a charming side of it, but you can’t spoil it and reveal those moments.

– What portions did you not want to show people, but wanted to show them somehow?

I wanted to keep the news that they were going to London inside me. Though it was announced, I really didn’t want to say it.

– You mean, you would be fine if it was announced that they were going on a graduation trip, but without saying it would be in London, right?

No, I wouldn’t have mentioned it was a graduation trip either. (laughs) I wanted people to go in thinking that they would be seeing an ordinary light music club episode, and then before they know it, they’re going on a graduation trip episode, and then again before they realize it, they’re in London and the audience is shocked. Surprising others is the greatest pleasure. That’s why I didn’t want to say they were going to London. But just saying we’re doing a K-On! movie has no hook to it, so I’m sure that if I were to re-do it, I would still announce that they’re going to London.

– I imagine that it was tough for you to select what scenes should be in the PV and what scenes shouldn’t be in the PV when making it.

If I had my choice, there would not be any footage at all in it. (laughs) But you have to make one for promotional purposes, so I had to show some scenes. Since fans would likely be saying “There has to be some performance scenes,” we chose scenes that only had faces in them without the hint of a performance. That way, people would go in thinking it was a story about them going to London and not think there would be any performances.

– So you used seeing London as a mask over the performances?

That would be so.

Nakayama-san himself wanted to hide the fact that they were going on a graduation trip in the advertisements. Instead, it was kept secret that they would be performing in London.

Nakayama-san himself wanted to hide the fact that they were going on a graduation trip in the advertisements. Instead, it was kept secret that they would be performing in London.

– Earlier, you mentioned that you had over a million people going to see the movie. What advertisements and tricks did you use to get people who weren’t familiar with the franchise to see the movie?

That’s especially true for late night anime; people won’t go to see it because it’s anime. Furthermore, because it’s a show about girls, it might be deemed something just for anime fans to see. That’s not the case here. K-On! is a show that depicts real high school life for those viewers; we conveyed that it’s not some fantasy world much different than our own. I thought about exposing aspects that made people think “I’m curious about what they meant” or “I cried, but it was an entertaining story” just like when they saw real high schoolers. If this were a usual anime series, we’d only advertise in Akihabara and in anime magazines, but for K-On!, we also advertised a lot in ordinary magazines and along places where people meet. It was quite effective for us to advertise like an ordinary film would.

The director’s sense overwrote what Nakayama P felt

– You’ve worked with director Yamada over the past four years on K-On!. What kind of color as a director do you think she is?

She sees a woman and is able to sympathize with her, being able to direct her and bring out real gestures for the characters. Look at Tsumugi’s expressions for example. When I first read the manga, I thought she was the stereotypical gentle, tender moe character. However, the director said “She’s different” and brought out a new character that completely differed from the stereotype. While I felt she was entertaining, she was a bit difficult for me to understand. Even now I don’t understand her. If it were Ishihara-san and I who made this show, she might have become an easier to understand character.  (laughs)

– What about how she builds images?

She’s able to create incredibly detailed pieces that are beyond what I can replicate. She creates such detailed cuts and scenes that I think “is it really necessary to be that detailed?” or “wouldn’t it be alright to leave this out?“ For an example, let’s look at the scene at the end of the A-part where Azusa calls her mom. The director said it was necessary. She said it was necessary to tell the audience “no one has talked to their parents about it.” But if I were the director, that scene would be removed; it wouldn’t be in there. This might turn into a discussion on directing, but it would be there if a Hollywood director made a movie over three hours long or if we were in a country that constantly has long movies screening, but I don’t think it’s useful in a commercial film. If you have a film that long, you’re definitely able to create some emotions for the characters. That’s why it’s so easier to create empathy for them in a TV series compared to a movie.  But for a movie, which has its amazing points, you have to compliment it to match the pre-determined length with your direction in order to create that sympathy from your viewers. Those people who do that are film directors.  That’s why you toss it out if it’s not important. So when I saw the completed film version of that scene that the director said “it’s important” to include, it was easy to understand how Azusa felt as well from her emotions and I was glad it was there. I think that’s the color of director Yamada: she’s able to see the meaning of scenes we don’t think are initially important and put them with such persuasive power and a new meaning. Also, she’s able to skillfully assemble and motivate her animation team to work on their own. That’s awfully important. If your staff don’t believe in you as a director, it’s difficult to create something. And so for that point, her staff absolutely loves her, she has amazing sense as a director, and she has fantastic balance. All of that gets applied to her works.

The problem scene where Nakayama-san was questioning its importance.  It’s one of those minute cuts/scenes that director Yamada makes that may not appear important at first glance.

The problem scene where Nakayama-san was questioning its importance. It’s one of those minute cuts/scenes that director Yamada makes that may not appear important at first glance.

– Looking back, what kind of work is K-On! according to you?

When I think what kind of work it is…. wouldn’t you agree it’s one where everyone tries their best? Over a four year period, we persevered working on it. It was difficult, but it was really fun. Also, since it focuses so much on music, it’s got a different feeling to it than most modern anime. Even listening to it now, I like the music.

– Finally, would you give a few words to the fans?

The phrase “thank you so very much” feels like what a producer should say. It makes me happy to see that this work has given everyone wonderful memories in their lives. Thank you for all your support over this long period of time.


Yoshihisa Nakayama Producer and senior manager of TBS Television Media Business Channel Videos. His notable works include producing AIR, CLANNAD, and CLANNAD AFTER STORY.

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