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Interview: The Staff of Fate/stay night Heaven's Feel

by Jacob Chapman,

On November 10th this year, Fate/stay night: Heaven's Feel I. presage flower premiered at the Ace Hotel in downtown Los Angeles to thunderous excitement from attending fans, one week before it would open in theaters across the USA. We sat down with director Tomonori Sudō and voice of Sakura Noriko Shitaya to discuss their feelings on this ambitious film trilogy of Fate/stay night's final route.

Director Tomonori Sudou

What was the thought process behind deciding to adapt Heaven's Feel as a trilogy of films?

So from the original creators down to everyone in the studio, we had kind of always decided that Heaven's Feel had to be a movie, right? So when the time came, it was like "Hey let's do a movie trilogy." The reason for this is that there were a lot of things we wanted to express in Heaven's Feel, and the movie theater was the only place that we felt the freedom to express everything we wanted. Within the confined environment of a theater, there is a specific pressure we want to able to exert, like Heaven's Feel is moving in and pressing on the fans, so that was something we wanted the freedom to do with a theatrical film.

How did you decide what events you wanted to portray to make Heaven's Feel comprehensible without repeating material from previous routes?

Obviously, we have taken the common route material into consideration, but when it comes to Heaven's Feel, we think about a story that has always taken place on the "reverse side" of Fate/stay night. So the material will be darker and you will see more of characters like Zouken. What makes Heaven's Feel more interesting and fun is the focus on this hidden side of Fate/stay night's world that's never been seen in previous routes.

So in its original form as a visual novel, Fate/stay night had a lot of sexually explicit content, which was easier to write around or just cut out for adapting the Fate route and Unlimited Blade Works. But for Heaven's Feel, the sex is more tied into the plot in ways that are harder to get around. So what was your approach to making this content more PG-13 for the movie version?

So even for me, I believe it's very important for those scenes and elements to be in Heaven's Feel. I think maybe that's another reason why we wanted to make this route for the theater, so we could properly portray that aspect of the story. For Chapter 1, we were barely able to get the rating that we wanted. Without spoiling what's coming, if it's necessary to keep the sexual content, we will try what we can to get it into the movie.

So there might be some ero content in future movies?

Well, that would be spoilers, so I cannot say.

The use of CGI and digital effects were greatly expanded for this film. What technological innovations were necessary to achieve the look and feel of the end result?

Obviously, ufotable has been working on the Fate franchise for a while, so we've been able to hire a lot more new staff in that time, and they bring new technology and new experiences with them. Within the company, there's a lot of knowledge being exchanged with each new project, even trickling down to the background staff who work on each individual scene. So our whole team evolves as a unit, and that's why we're able to create shots that incorporate much more detail in digital effects and 3DCG.

Heaven's Feel reached #1 at the Japanese box office on its opening weekend, which is very exciting. Were you anticipating this level of success, and how do you feel about fan reception to the movie so far?

For our part, we really just want to create something good. Ultimately, we're happy to be able to deliver something really well-made to the fans, and that Aniplex as a whole has been very supportive. So everyone is on board with wanting to try our best to deliver the best quality work to the fans. Our entire team is grateful that our project is able to be received by the fans so well.

Noriko Shitaya (Sakura Matou)

How did you feel about Sakura's character when you first began playing her compared to how you feel about her now, so many years later?

The very first time I played Sakura was in the 2006 anime version. At that point, the world of Fate/stay night seemed so vast and there was so much to learn about, from the Servant system to Masters, the Grail and the Grail War, what it all was and how it worked. It was all something I had to learn as I was performing, but also Sakura does not have much of a role in that route. After doing the Saber route anime, I recorded all the routes for the games. That's where I got to really learn the true nature of Sakura and all the big reveals. So I learned about her as I went on.

Since you've known the details of the Heaven's Feel route for a while now, did you have any strong impressions about how you wanted to portray certain scenes before the move was even in production?

We get to see Sakura spotlighted for the first time in Heaven's Feel. What Sakura really wants to protect is the daily life she gets to spend with Shirou, and that's what I wanted to really see done justice in a big way. I wanted that dream of protecting that life to come across, and the director also felt that way, so the team put a lot of effort into depicting the daily life of Sakura and Shirou. It's these moments of happiness that I wanted the audience to experience most.

Certainly there are also moments in Heaven's Feel that are very dark and dramatically intense. Have you been excited for those scenes, or do you find them intimidating because of the years of fan build-up for how these scenes will be portrayed?

I didn't really find it intimidating to live up to any expectations because I found it much more rewarding that Sakura finally gets her big reveal in Heaven's Feel. The dark and intense moments in Heaven's Feel are really yet to come in subsequent chapters, but not so much in chapter one. This first part is really more the setup that depicts the happy times between Sakura and Shirou, the important time that she so cherishes. But even in these places, you get to see hints of a Sakura that's not really seen in the Saber route or Unlimited Blade Works. Sakura's true nature and the future actions that she takes will be a big reveal to look forward to in Heaven's Feel.

As heroines, Saber and Rin have more pronounced strengths. Saber is obviously very physically powerful, while Rin has great magic skill and personal confidence. So Sakura's strength can often get overlooked by people. How would you characterize Sakura's unique strength as a heroine?

I really do think Sakura has great internal strength, because if you think about her background and the environment she grew up in, she endured all that, and she had the crucial strength to repel all those challenges that existed to crush her spirit. Externally, Sakura does look like this cute girl that you might want to protect, but she does have her outer strength in stubbornness and perseverance. I think it is her perseverance that makes her most strong. The key concept in Heaven's Feel is what kind of changes will become apparent in Sakura as she manifests all that she has gone through.

What final message would you like to leave for Western fans who are excited to finally see Heaven's Feel released?

This is the first movie in a trilogy for Fate/stay night: Heaven's Feel. Japanese fans have seen and enjoyed it already, and now that American fans can watch this first part, I hope everyone is looking forward to it as well. I am very much looking forward to the reactions and reviews from American fans. Fate/stay night has three routes and several anime versions, but the final reveal route of Heaven's Feel is finally being animated for the first time. It's a great story, but ufotable has also put a great deal of effort into making a high quality animation. So I hope as many people as possible can enjoy the animation as well as the story in theaters.

Thanks to Aniplex for this interview opportunity.

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