An Interview With Child of Kamiari Month’s Toshinari Shinohe | Featured News

An Interview With Child of Kamiari Month’s Toshinari Shinohe | Featured News

July 14, 2022

Released worldwide via Netflix in February, anime film Child of Kamiari Month combines a tale of grief and hope with ancient myths and stunning animation that takes viewers on a journey through Japan. Still suffering due to the death of her mother, twelve-year-old Kanna must run from Tokyo to Shimane for an important event during Kamiarizuki, the month in which all of the gods celebrate the annual harvest at Izumo Taisha Grand Shrine. Even with the help of a trusty bullet train, the trip would normally take at least seven hours, but our heroine must reach her destination that very night.

Tokyo Otaku Mode was able to chat with Toshinari Shinohe, the original creator behind Child of Kamiari Month. Having recently participated in a panel at Anime Expo in Los Angeles, he’ll be making his next overseas appearance at Japan Expo from July 14 to 17 in Paris, where fans will be able to enjoy a screening of the film, as well as a panel and signing.

Whether you’ll be dashing over to Japan Expo or not, keep reading for insights into the creative process of Child of Kamiari Month, including steps involved in turning real-life locations into anime!

TOM: It feels like Child of Kamiari Month was made with the goal of reaching an international audience. While creating the film, did you do anything in particular to achieve this?

Toshinari Shinohe: From the planning stage, I was conscious of wanting to have people from overseas watch it, but more importantly, I wanted to translate the beauty of Japan as an island country into animation. Rather than aiming to make something that overseas viewers would like, I thought that digging deeper to give audiences a glimpse of Japan’s beauty through animation would surely allow people all around the world to have fun watching it.

TOM: What are the themes you most wanted to convey to the audience, regardless of country and language?

TS: In a word, go-en. (Note: go-en is a Japanese word that can mean “connection,” “fortune,” or “fate.”) I’m sure that everyone was amazed when they saw Spirited Away, which depicted the countless gods of Shinto (one of Japan’s religions), who are referred to as yaoyorozu. That literally means eight million. So, eight million of those gods are in one place for a whole month, and that place is Izumo in Shimane Prefecture. Surely you’d wonder, “Why? Eight million gods? Together for a month? What are they doing?” Well, the theme of this gathering is go-en. But you’d still be thinking, “What on earth is go-en?”

At the end of the film, a god called Okuninushi talks about go-en – how it’s the knot that ties causes and effects together. All Japanese people use the word go-en normally in the sense of describing something that was destined to happen or not happen. That’s one way of interpreting it, but I wanted to give it another meaning: something that can connect to a different result depending on the cause, which is the actions that you take.

When the protagonist, Kanna, is attempting to do her part by going to Izumo, she feels as though she might abandon it all. And yet she regains her love for running and moves on from constantly feeling that her mother is still looking back at her. The actions that Kanna takes connect her to a different future. So, I wanted go-en to be something that wouldn’t end with accepting that something is or isn’t meant to be. Instead, I hoped that audiences would learn of this interpretation, which is on a deeper level than what Japanese people usually think of it as – something that’s not a preordained destiny.

TOM: Were there any reactions or opinions from overseas audiences that particularly made you happy?

TS: We received many, many comments and retweets. They were even more positive than reactions from Japanese people, who already have knowledge of the setting. If you’re not from Japan, you might feel that everything about the film is interesting and unique.

We were also extremely particular about the art. Of course, this includes the characters, but we put even more effort into depicting the nostalgic, unspoilt landscapes of Japan that unfold as Kanna runs. Many people praised us for that, saying that they felt as if they’d been able to come to Japan and journey through it too. I was extremely happy to hear comments like this.

TOM: We heard that scouting for locations to depict was a particularly important part of creating the film. Were there any crucial factors that made you want to use a specific location?

TS: One factor was our desire to use the ancient myths of Japan as a base for the film. At the end, you see the god Okuninushi at Izumo, and a little before that, the god Ebisu, who reels in a sea bream for Kanna and the others. When Kanna and the others are in Nagano, they also come across the dragon god of Suwa Shrine. How are they related? Okuninushi is the parent, and his children are Ebisu and the dragon god.

This means that when Kanna leaves Tokyo for Izumo, her encounters naturally lead her down a certain path: there’s the dragon god in Nagano, then the spot where Ebisu is fishing in Matsue, and finally Okuninushi in Izumo. This route was already set to some extent when we took Japanese myths as our foundation.

Another factor is whether we thought that reality of the location would surpass the animation depicting it when viewers actually visited. Generally, animation has the quality of being able to depict something as being more beautiful than it really is. You can imbue it with more emotion than the actual thing. However, our goal wasn’t to make such an animation; we wanted to stir up the viewers’ imagination through animation and make them think about what it would be like to go to those places. Rather than letting things end with the conclusion of the film, we aimed to create something that would become an inspiration for viewers to actually visit so they could fully experience the atmosphere and landscapes seen in Child of Kamiari Month.

TOM: That sounds like an important process. Did you run into any difficulties while you were scouting for locations?

TS: One difficult thing was the fact that Kamiarizuki is, well, only one month. Not to mention, the day we depicted in the film, is the very day that the countless Shinto deities from all over the country come together. So that means every year we were observing the locations, we absolutely had to be in Izumo on that day.

TOM: What kind of steps were there in turning a location you wanted to use into one you could actually use? For example, getting permission from the local government.

TS: At first, we didn’t know what to do so we asked the Japan Film Commission. Getting permission for every single location would be quite an undertaking, and it would also mean risking leaks, as the people we would be consulting at each spot would learn what was happening in the film. However, we were relieved to learn that while live action films require approval to shoot at certain locations, this isn’t the case for anime, as you’re depicting it in a different way, not using it as is.

That being said, we thought it would be terribly disappointing if the film was released and people at Izumo Taisha and the other shrines protested, “Hang on, that’s not right! That’s not what we believe here!” Yet asking each of them how they wished to be depicted might lead to waking sleeping dogs, so we wondered what we should do.

However, we then had the chance to speak to a Shinto priest who was involved with Kamiarizuki at Izumo and had connections to the city government. When we told him our thoughts on go-en and how we wanted to depict it, he said that he was very happy we were doing this through anime, seeing as “when we priests preach about go-en to children, it simply sounds like a sermon.” He also said that their idea of go-en was practically the same as what we were putting forward, so he very much wanted us to translate this into animation and convey it to the children. His words gave us the courage and confidence to keep making the film.

In the end, Izumo Taisha actually put a statue of Shiro-chan the rabbit within its grounds. The priests there value the film we made and have brought something from its world into the shrine, so I think things went well overall.

TOM: We’ll be sure to look out for Shiro-chan when we visit! Finally, can you recommend any spots where you can experience the beauty of Japan’s nature and its ancient mystique, as seen in the film?

TS: I can definitely recommend one place. It’s a spot in Matsue, which is also in Shimane Prefecture. In the film, the god Ebisu reels in some sea bream at Miho Bay as an offering for the feast. While we don’t show it in the film, as he’s already outside fishing, he actually has his own shrine, which is called Miho Shrine. It’s an amazing place right next to the ocean. It takes less than a minute, less than 100 steps to get to the sea.

Another thing I think visitors from overseas would definitely appreciate about Miho Shrine is the mikomai dances. The shrine maidens perform these as rituals for the gods every day of the year, at least twice a day, or sometimes even more frequently. What’s truly amazing is that they’re doing this for the gods, not for tourists, so every single day, whether they have an audience or not, whether it’s under clear skies or a typhoon, they’re going to do the mikomai, no matter what. That means that you’re guaranteed to have the opportunity to see it at least twice during the same day. If you can, please do try to visit Miho Shrine.

TOM: We’ll be sure to go when we visit Shimane. Thank you for speaking with us, Mr. Shinohe!

While it may be difficult to enter Japan at present, the team behind Child of Kamiari Month hopes to encourage people from all over the world to explore Shimane and its beauty through an event titled World of Kamiari Month. If you have the chance to visit this October and November, not only will you be able to enjoy the real experiences that inspired Child of Kamiari Month, but you’ll also find exhibits scattered throughout the cities of Izumo and Matsue, including original illustrations and more.

Details are yet to come, but first you can take a peek at what kind of pieces will be displayed. Simply head over to the online exhibition, which includes an NFT charity auction. Be sure to to check it out before it ends at 11:59 pm on July 31 (PDT).

Child of Kamiari Month is currently streaming worldwide at Netflix.

This is a Tokyo Otaku Mode original article.



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