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Junichi Sato Reflects on Making Anime With Women, For Girls

posted on by Kim Morrissy
Plus other insights about directing anime for children

Looking for Magical DoReMi film director Junichi Sato participated in an extended talk with animation critic Ryota Fujitsu at the Expanded Animation Exhibition presented by Japan Media Arts Festival Overseas Promotion in association with Annecy Festival 2021 / Annecy International Animated Film Festival and Market. The talk was posted on YouTube with live English interpretation on Monday.

In the talk, Sato reflects on making the Ojamajo Doremi anime and its 20th anniversary film Looking for Magical DoReMi. The original Doremi anime was created for young girls, and Sato mentioned that when conceiving the original plot, he and the staff drew on their own childhood memories. The producer also did research on the reality of childhood in contemporary Japan. Although they did not set out to create a magical girl series that was markedly different from others, family structures such as single parent households were included as a natural part of depicting stories and characters that children could relate to or witness for themselves.

A similar logic was applied to the creation of Looking for Magical DoReMi, which tells the story of various women struggling with young adult problems. Sato said that the film draws upon the experiences relayed to him by the various women who worked with him on the project. When portraying experiences specific to women, Sato frankly acknowledged that although he knows about such things as part of his knowledge base, he feels a gap with his own experiences as a man. Therefore, he defers to what his female colleagues tell him, especially when it comes to depicting emotional catharsis.

The talk also addressed other anime Sato worked on such as Hugtto! Precure and A Whisker Away. Despite the 20-year gap between the works, Hugtto! Precure is like Ojamajo Doremi in the sense that it is focused on portraying things that children can relate to. The reason why the anime portrays inclusive messaging and tackles contemporary issues is because it reflects that dimension of modern childhood. Sato said when working with Fumi Tsubota, the series composition writer, this aspect came about naturally. As for A Whisker Away, Sato remarked that its depiction of a young teen girl reflected the sensibilities of screenwriter Mari Okada, who poured a lot of her own experiences into the film.

Speaking generally about creating anime for children, Sato emphasized the importance of communicating with them on their level, without condescension. It is also important to portray various experiences that children may encounter while growing up, so that even if they may one day forget the title they watched, the experiences will still linger with them in some way.

Looking for Magical DoReMi was selected as an official program for Annecy International Animation Festival's screening event. The film opened in Japan on November 13 after a COVID-19 delay.

The story follows 27-year-old Tokyo office worker Mire Yoshizuki who just returned to Japan, 22-year-old fourth-year college student Sora Nagase who aspires to be a teacher, and 20-year-old boyish, part-time Hiroshima okonomiyaki shop worker and freelancer Reika Kawatani. What draws together these three women from completely different walks of life are Magic Spheres. A "New Magical Story" begins when they are mysteriously brought together by chance and embark on a journey.

Junichi Sato (Sailor Moon, Aria, Princess Tutu), the director of the original Ojamajo Doremi anime, directed the new film alongside Yū Kamatani (Precure franchise episode director) at Toei Animation. Midori Kuriyama (episode scriptwriter for Lovely Complex, Heartcatch Precure!) and Yoshihiko Umakoshi (Boys Over Flowers, Mushi-Shi) also returned from Ojamajo Doremi as scriptwriter and character designer, respectively, and Umakoshi is credited as chief animation director. Shōko Nakamura (Doukyusei -Classmates-) is credited as animation director for the film, and Hiromi Seki served as producer.

The first Ojamajo Doremi anime series premiered in Japan in 1999, and 4Kids began broadcasting a heavily edited version of the series in the United States in 2005 under the title Magical DoReMi.

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