Interview: Mari Iijima

by Christopher Macdonald, Mar 6th 2006
Mari Iijima was born in Tsuchiura, Ibaraki, Japan and became famous throughout Japan in 1982, when she starred as Lynn Minmay Super Dimensional Fortress Macross. Despite only ever voicing one character in an anime, over the span of 36 episodes and a movie, Iijima is known and recognized world wide by anime fans. What many anime fans don't know, is that Iijima is a successful musician and actress outside of her work with anime.

In 2006, more than 20 years after finishing recording on the last Macross project to feature her voice (1984's Macross: Do You Remember Love?), Iijima returned to Macross to reprise her role as Lynn Minmay in the first ever, faithful English language dub of the Macross TV series. In doing so, Iijima made history by becoming the first Japanese voice actress to reprise a major role (its been done with minor roles) in the English dub of a Japanese anime.

We sat down with Iijima to discuss how she felt about the original Macross project, how she felt about returning to the role 20 years later and also talk about her acting and music career outside anime.

This English dub marks your return to the franchise that originally made you famous in Japan and worldwide. How does it feel for you to be returning to Macross?
I feel great about it. I don't have any negative feelings at all. I feel great, I feel fresh, and I'm taking care of it like a brand new project.

So something kind of separate and new compared to the original?
Well, of course, I have the Minmay I played in the back of my head, but I'm not acting like I'm reprising my part. I'm creating something new.

When ADV called you and asked you to take the project, were you surprised?
I was surprised, but in a way, I kind of knew it was coming, sort of intuitively. Before they contacted me I had just finished watching the whole series again, and I hadn't done that since I first finished the TV series back in the '80s. I liked watching it very much.

So you enjoyed watching it again?
Yes, for the first few days I watched four or five episodes every day.

You have children, right?
Yes I do.

Have they ever seen Macross?
A little bit, but not like they've seen the whole series or anything. They just saw a little bit.

Do they know that you're Minmay?
[Laughing] They know I played Minmay, and they know all about it.

What do they think of it?
They think it's cool that I played Minmay, and they also know a little about the struggle that came with it. Now they're happy for me that I'm doing it again. They think it's a great opportunity for me.

On the topic of something you just said, and also one of the comments I read on your website, you referred to your experience with the original Macross as both bitter and sweet. Could you elaborate?
That was at a convention, I think, somebody explained that for me. I didn't say that, right? Somebody said that about me.

I thought I read about it on your website, but I apologize if I got it wrong.
[Laughing] Maybe I did! If I did, I wrote it a long time ago. But I can explain it because when I was first chosen for Minmay, I was ready to start my singer-songwriter career, that's how I was available. The Macross audition came to me almost like an accident. I know there are no accidents in this world and everything happens for a reason, but at that time, to me it was almost like an accident. I went to the audition, and a week later they called me and said, "Hey, you're Minmay!"

So... things changed so quickly after that, and because Macross started so huge, so popular, when everybody saw me, like if I went to a radio station or something, everybody wanted to talk about Macross. Only Macross, only Minmay, even after I released like five top ten albums. Somehow the music part didn't exactly spread like I expected. The Macross Minmay image stayed with me for a long time, so I had a little struggle about it.

That's understandable. A lot of actors complain about being typecast, and here you are, not only typecast, but people are focusing on your secondary career.
Well, yeah, but another thing, I don't want anime fans to feel offended by that. I have no hard feelings towards them. It's just, at that time, early in my career, I was expecting that I was at the record company to be a singer-songwriter, and I tried to be honest, but that created a lot of hard feelings among anime fans, too. So I really have to be careful about how I state it.

That's life in public, I guess. In 1983 you released your debut album, Rose.
Yes, Rosé.

Rosé?
It's pink in French.

So I was wondering, how did you feel when it was released and how do you feel now, looking back on the success of Rosé and the subsequent albums?
How did I feel when I released it?

Yeah, just describing your emotions about having released that album.
First of all, making that record was so much because I worked with somebody who I really wanted to work with. The producer was Ryuichi Sakamoto. I requested him, and my record company sent my demo tape to him, and he agreed to work with me, so it was a great start. It was so much fun. The musicians were also great, many of the top musicians in Japan. It was a huge production, and when I finally saw my record in the store, I thought, "Gosh, I really did it." I was so happy.

The record did very well, and so did your subsequent albums, so looking back on the first six or seven years of your career, how do you feel?
Having a successful debut album?

Yeah, and the albums after that. You did very well. You had a lot of popularity, a lot of sales success. How do you feel about it?
I feel great. Some artists have to start from small venues and concert halls to build up their careers. But I was successful from the beginning, so I guess I was lucky. I was musically talented, maybe, but I was lucky. Now I'm learning kind of the "real life." But I enjoy it, and the success is great.

You recently voice acted as CY in the Cool Girl (Cy Girls) video game. Was this your first time voice acting since Macross? How was it to return to voice acting?
I went through the audition process, so I felt like I won the part and I was confident to play that part. They didn't want me to use a Minmay voice, they wanted a deeper voice because I was a ninja fighting in the computer. I had fun playing a completely different character from Minmay.

In your 1999 album No Limit you re-wrote and re-recorded some earlier Japanese songs.
You know a lot! Thank you!

Thank you. I try to do a bit of homework. So I was wondering what kind of challenges you faced reversioning the songs for a different language and what it was like for you?
That's an interesting question. With Japanese words, it takes a lot of space to say something. So when I wrote English lyrics for them, I had to add more story.

ADV: How would you describe your sound?
I usually don't say I sound like somebody, I say I sound like me, but I think my music has an adult contemporary feel. So if you like John Mayer or singer-songwriters... I'm not country, I'm pop, but I'm not Britney Spears or Tori Amos or anything. People used to tell me I sounded like Kate Bush or Carole King. I think I'm a true singer-songwriter, but it depends on the production of music. I can make it more techno, more rock, but I'm really a singer-songwriter.

We talk a lot about your musical career. But, you know, it's hard to give a sense in writing of how someone's sound is, but I thought it was interesting that it's such a different path from music to voice acting. You have a wide range.
Yes, it's true. Hmm...

Is any of your music available for fans to sample online?
Yes, if you come to MySpace.com, they can do it for free. Every day I put a new song in. My main site is MariMusic.com, and if they go there, they can get to the MySpace link.

Are you redoing any of the singing?
I don't think so. It's not because of me, but there's some rights thing.

It would have been interesting to compare that with the work you did on No Limit. Now, you're first and foremost a musician, and second an actor, right?
I don't want to think like that. It's like, my home is art, and I do anything to live in it.

How do you fit the two together in your life?
I mix everything. I don't separate everything. Taking care of kids, singing, acting, composing, everything is all one. If I separate those things in my head, I don't think I could do it, you know, raising two kids. I never retired or stopped, I just kept going because, to me, everything is life, and it's all a process.

To go back a bit... In 1989 you moved to Los Angeles. Could you tell us why?
I came to Los Angeles to make my sixth album, called Miss Lemon. I met a musician and then we fell in love. [Laughing] We're not in love anymore. But we got to know each other, and we got married, and we got kids, and that's why. My life changed when I moved here. But at the same time, I had a lot of ambition to break into the American music scene. I was really naïve to think that was easy.



You speak English fluently, but I believe this is your first major role in English.
How do you find English voice acting?

It's the same thing as usual acting, like I really have to know—I don't know if you're aware of any acting techniques. Are you familiar with Meisner Technique? You really have to know a doable action for each line, because we can't act feelings. We can't act sadness or being sentimental, so we have to know the doable actions for each line. When it's not clear in my mind, I have a hard time acting.

So I try to break down each line apart for this project, but for two lines I wasn't clear. So in the places that I wasn't clear, it obviously shows that I have a hard time with it. Sometimes because, you know, Minmay's mouth moves, and sometimes there are too many image words in one line, so I have to keep adjusting to the lines. It's constant change. I've never had that challenge before, so this is a good learning experience. Sometimes the lines are spoken in a way that I don't usually use, more formal than the way I speak, or sometimes they use some slang.

Once I get the rhythm, it goes smooth. Sometimes it's easy. Today, it started out well, and then I got stuck on this one line, and we had a hard time getting through it. But I try not to think, "Oh, I'm so bad," or, "Oh, I'm not a good actor," or anything like that. I think everybody goes through this. [Laughing] And I'm a good actress.

And you have a great director helping you out. How has it been with Matt [Greenfield]?
This is my first time working with an American animation director, so I have nobody else to compare with. He likes things big. Of course I listen to my director and take everything in, but at the same time I look for the middle ground because I really want to take care of Minmay. I think I know her, like she's part of my soul. I feel like I want to protect Minmay, so I listen to my director, but I also have my own thoughts.

My main thing is that, while I'm acting, if you know exactly what you're doing, people don't need to push lines. So I don't want to push.

At the same time, you've been dealing with lip flaps and mouth movements, working on the fly...
Believe me, the director changes each line many, many times.

To make it flow.
Yeah.

Do you think you're playing Minmay different now than you were before?
When I was first doing Minmay, I was just being myself, we were both 18. Now I'm acting the role. I think I'm doing a good job, not too old, not too young. Since I first did the role I took acting lessons and of course I can't be the same as 24 years ago.

Have you received any feedback from North American or Japanese fans since the news became public?
Since this news came out, my website traffic doubled. Everybody came from your site! They found out the news from your site, so I checked the link where they came from, and your site was the #1 link.

What about Japanese fans? Have you heard from them at all?
I thought they would give me some feedback, but they have been quieter than I expected. I don't know what they think. Maybe they have mixed feelings.

I don't know how CY was recorded in Cool Girl, but in Macross, it was recorded as a group, right?
Yes.

Was Cool Girl recorded as a group?
It was individual for a few days, and I also had a partner for a few days.

This time around, Macross is just you in a studio, right?
Yes.

How is it different for you this way?
[Laughing] The group one was very funny because we were sitting in one room in chairs, and we had to walk around the microphone so quietly without making any noise, do the line, and then come back to the chairs! It was like an after-school activity. Sometimes I learned some acting tips from the other actors during those sessions, too. So that was helpful, when I did the original Macross.

Now it's so intense. Yesterday I was doing some screaming scene, and I actually didn't say anything to the director [about losing my hearing], but in one ear I didn't have any hearing for a while.

I'm excited because this is the first time playing Minmay as an actor. When I did the original Macross, I was not really an actor, and now I know more about it. I can put my soul into it. So I hope, as much as I'm having fun, people are going to enjoy the series. Maybe people are going to find Minmay a little bit sexier! But I'm trying to put that same level of energy into Minmay, and she's a part of me. Everything happens for a reason, and because of this, maybe people will listen to my music for the first time. To them: great to meet you, and please come to my show! (Editor's Note: This was referring to Mari's concert at New York Comic-con, unfortunately we were unable to post this interview before the event. Sorry Mari!)

Visit Mari Iijima's website at MariMusic.com.

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