Interview with Kanta Kamei (1)

Kanta Kamei
From key drawings to visual effects, from compositing to direction, Kanta Kamei is a multi-talented veteran in the Japanese animation industry. Starting from the key animations in Tales of Phantasia (1998), he worked in several "Tales of" series titles, and directed the movie part of Tales of Legendia (2005). His technical experience proved invaluable in many I.G's works, such as Blood: The Last Vampire (2000, visual effects and key animator), Kill Bill: Vol. 1 (2003, visual supervisor), Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence (2004, visual effects and key animator), IGPX (2005, visual effects) and Asience: Hairy Tales (2007, director of photography). Tales of Vesperia: The First Strike is his directorial debut in a feature film.

Part 1

Can you share with us you feelings now that the movie has been successfully released?
Well, soon after the movie was completed, I was feeling exhausted, and fulfilled at the same time. I was dead beat in a pleasant way. I gave all my best, I have no regrets. I'm also confident I made a movie with all I.G trademarks into it. You have a cool middle-aged bloke and a dog, to begin with. Just kidding...

How did you get involved in the project?
Actually I have been involved in the movie parts of Tales of series for quite a while, although with different roles, from key animator to visual effects supervisor, and I happen to have directed one, too. However, when it was decided to produce a full-length feature film and they asked me to direct it, I must admit that I felt honoured, surprised and a bit nervous at the same time. I was happy because it's not the kind of opportunity that knocks on your door every day, but I had never directed a feature film before.

We can imagine that directing a movie must be different from directing a short segment.
A world of difference! You have to create a real story, give it the right rhythm throughout the duration of the movie, build the characters' personality, portray their subtle changes of mood and expression, convey their feelings with minimal dialogue lines... You don't need to do all this in a short movie for a video game, that essentially is based on rhythm between pictures and sound.

Was the story or anything else already decided when you were offered the job?
Not at all. The game version of Vesperia was still in the plot stage, so once we had decided that there was going to be a movie, we needed to define the position of the movie with respect to the game. We discarded the idea of making a movie adaptation of the game storyline almost immediately, as the game was rather long and could hardly be squeezed within a 2-hour frame. Frankly speaking, I was not very interested in doing that, either. So the other options left were a side story, a prequel or a sequel. But a side story or a sequel would have required time-consuming character introductions, and the greatest risk was, to make a movie that could be hardly enjoyable by those unfamiliar with the game. Of course I wanted the game fans to watch the movie, but first of all, I wanted to make a movie anybody could understand and appreciate without being into the game. So the final choice fell on the prequel option. Furthermore, the game plot offered an interesting point, because it started with Yuri in the Guild and Flynn as an officer of the Imperial Knights. We knew they were childhood friends, and we knew that Yuri used to be a Knight too, but nothing was explained about the reason why Yuri had left the Knights. Quite uncommonly for a game of that kind, the two main characters were over 20 years old, and apparently had already made an important choice in their life. But when? Why? How? So I had plenty of material to create the untold story of Yuri and Flynn's past.

An apparently bored Yuri (right) and a very attentive Flynn (left) listen to Imperial Knight Commandant Alexei Denoia's speech in the opening titles sequence of the movie.

Any difficult point in making a movie based on a video game?
I had to be careful because I knew that each character had its own devoted fan base, and they obviously expected their favourites to act in a certain way, but nevertheless in more than one occasion I deliberately decided to adapt some aspects of their personalities when I thought it would work better in a movie.

In this respect, how important was scriptwriter Reiko Yoshida's contribution?
Invaluable, of course. I personally asked Yoshida-san (*) to join the project. Tales of Vesperia: The First Strike was my first movie and I wanted to rely on an experienced scriptwriter. We read the game script and we started developing from that together. I explained her what I wanted to do, and she started building up around that. But there's one more reason I wanted Yoshida-san. The Tales of series has a strong female fan base, and I definitely wanted -or I'd rather say, needed- feminine sensitiveness in shaping the character's personalities and their dialogue lines. Not the kind of thing a guy in his forties like me could possibly manage to do.

(*) Reiko Yoshida Her credits include Studio Ghibli's The Cat Returns, K-ON!, Kaleido Star, Romeo x Juliet, Getbackers and the live-action TV drama Satorare. Her previous collaborations with I.G include the scripts for episodes of Blood+.

(1 - to be continued)

© BANDAI NAMCO Entertainment Inc./TOV Project
Original Character Design © KOUSUKE FUJISHIMA