And now for something completely different…
At Hyper Japan 2014, we discovered Vocaloid Opera Aoi, which is a Japanese opera preformed with traditional Bunraku Puppets, and takes a traditional story and reimagines it in a modern setting while using Vocaloid to sing the opera. Something like an opera or play would usually not be would usually not be related to games or anime, but since Opera Aoi is about integrating new technology like Vocaloid into traditional story telling, we found it quite interesting. We sat down with the minds behind Opera Aoi, as well as Ishiguro Chihiro, the voice actress of Yuzuki Yukari (the Vocaloid used in the opera) and EHAMIC, a leading-edge Vocaloid producer.
How did you come up with the concept [of Opera AOI]?
“So, there is a famous chapter/programme in Noh, Noh is a traditional Japanese performance art, and one really famous programme in Noh is called Aoi no Ue. Aoi no Ue is a chapter of ‘The tale of Genji’ and the synopsis is that a woman became really jealous of another woman. The main character is called hikaru, he’s really kind of a playboy and she become really close relationship with many women.
So, one woman got really jealous of another woman, about Hikaru, and she becomes a ‘living ghost’ and haunts another girl. The girl who was haunted became mad in the mind and would do bad things… So, Aoi is about that story.
So, the ‘living ghost’ and deep human emotion” could be really his inspiration is why don’t we express that kind of situation, a jealous woman becoming a living ghost and haunting another woman. Those kind of spiritual and out-worldly situations, his inspiration is why don’t we express those kind of situations in vocaloid.”
“In addition, this film’s story is very simple… Hikaru, the composer is here and the singer, Aoi is here. Boy meets girl, and then there’s no need for the vocaloid and the vocaloid gets jealous.”
“So, the synopsis is not direct Aoi no Ue, we translated that situation into a modern context. So Hikaru is not a prince but a popular, famous composer. First, he used vocaloid to create his songs, but later he found a real girl , Aoi and stopped using vocaloid and that vocaloid is called Midori… The program which was left behind becomes jealous about Aoi because Aoi took Hikaru from her/it. So it might be interesting if we can imagine if a program can become jealous of a real woman and become a kind of spirit/ghost and do really bad things to another girl.
Japanese Opera are usually preformed with storytelling and not much singing, what was the inspiration to use vocaloid instead of the traditional method of storytelling?
“Vocaloid is in the territory of western music, it belongs to the western music and instrumental world, so if we try to use vocaloid, it fits better into western style opera.”
Why did you choose not to make an anime but a dramatical theatre production?
“Vocaloid is an instrument, a program, so it doesn’t have to have an anime character. So, to characterise the voice of vocaloid it doesn’t need to be anime. So Bunraku might be another exit to characterise the vocaloid.”
“Another understanding about vocaloid is that it’s not a real human, but really near to a voice actress. A voice actress can act many characters, and a vocaloid can act many characters.”
“Our project is kind of another antithesis about the current state of vocaloid culture. we understand that vocaloid culture is too ‘pop’, people always think about anime and manga when they think of Vocaloid. When we think about vocaloid, fundamentally, it’s an instrument. So this is another antithesis attempt to use vocaloid as an instrument and not a pop star.”
Instead of traditional Japanese Opera, have you considered making a western-style musical format?
“So, this is a ‘pop’ opera and it makes little difference between musical and opera”
“So, the technical reason is that musical has songs and lines, but vocaloid is singing software, it can’t speak lines, it only sings.”
When the performance is actually happening, is the voice actress behind the scenes with a microphone and speaking while the puppets are moving?
“The lines are produced by vocaloid, and not a real voice actress. Actually, the voice actress provides the voice library for vocaloid and the creator extracts the words from the voice library, so it’s not done in real-time ”
Since there’s a lot of singing in the opera, how do you determine what type of music do you play for each scene and what songs are sung?
“The outlook of this film is very traditional, Bunraku puppets are acting; but he [the director] deliberately chose the music to be non-traditional. We want it to spread the Bunraku culture to the younger generation, so in order to attract those audiences we try to make the music more ‘pop’, like using techno. So, it sounds traditional but it’s more ‘pop-traditional’ music so it’s really close to the musical atmosphere.”
Because of the technology involved (vocaloid + sound/light effects Is this why it is debuting as pre recorded film rather than a live show?
“Advantage of the film is that we can look close up to the puppets themselves. If we preformed on stage, you can’t see the face and the small, subtle movements of the puppets and the face since it’s far away. But if we make it as a film, we can take a close up shot of the puppet and you can observe the tiny movement which looks kind of human. So, we want to maximise those advantages of film. ”
“Also, video is portable, easy to display & distribute to many people and we want many people to watch”
“We think we are in the trajectory of vocaloid culture because vocaloid culture is kind-of ‘freemium’ creators upload their songs and upload to YouTube to free … so we are kind of on that trajectory and that is another reason why we stick to a movie and not live action.”
You mentioned that the you record the voice of the voice actress [Ishiguro Chihiro] for the Vocaloid, How long does it take to create each note to construct the vocaloid voice library
“10 hours recording each day and we can do it in 10 day, so around 100 hours. We use her [Chihiro-San’s] voice library, called Yuzuki Yukari. It’s technically possible to shorten the recording sessions, but the quality may be lower. The voice library of Yuzuki Yukari is created really skilfully, it’s a high quality vocaloid and that’s why we chose this voice library.”
“Which vocaloid do you like? ”
Aisha: I Like the blonde one with the keyboard [Kagamine Len]
“We’re kind of imagining that Miku or other vocaloids are popular now-a-days, but in maybe in 100 years, people have forgotten them and those songs will be forgotten, people are enjoying different kinds of entertainment. What will the vocaloid feel about that situation? So, that’s sort of the imagination behind the source of this piece. ”
Since there are other vocaloid, have you ever planned to do a collaboration for songs or opera?
It is possible, The interesting part of the vocaloid culture is to continue creating new things. So the challenge to make new stuff is an interesting part of the culture. Our team is actually , we kinda met first, before forming this team, we are kind of strangers and we met. We kind of knew each other, but this was out first time to collaborate. We are the team to provide a new culture of vocaloid but we expect people outside of vocaloid also use it to create the new form of entertainment. So, this time we collaborated with Bunraku but we are also looking forward to collaborate with, for example, UK creators through vocaloid, and that’s the reason we came here to Hyper Japan. We’re looking for the new creators to collaborate and make something special.
It would be interesting to see how the music will differ when you have a bit of Eastern and Western mixed together.
“In Japan in fact, most people don’t see Bunraku, most people are not interested in Bunraku because it’s too traditional, they think it’s too old. but when it comes to vocaloid, many people got interested because it’s new. So, we can use vocaloid as a creator, maybe we will be able to collaborate with many other people in completely different areas and ‘revive’ those areas through vocaloid.”
“The younger generation have never watched Bunraku before, but vocaloid became a good gateway to access Bunraku. So that’s the power of popular culture.”
“Bunkraku was originally, when it was established hundreds of years ago, popular culture.”
“The script of Bunkraku is really old, but the way the puppet moves is like human, but sometimes transcends human movement and that’s the same as vocaloid, it’s based on human voice but it can produce a singing voice a real human cannot. So that’s an interesting area for the two to overlap.”
Since this is a pre-recorded film, how long did it take to make the production?
“3 months. It was just completed yesterday actually, before departure. Shooting took 2 days.”
Do you plan for any new operas?
“He [the director] has many things he wants to do, many creative projects in his mind, but we need to have the resources to realise that. He wants to make a real stage show rather than a film. But in order to do that it’s really heavy thing to do. One puppet is controlled by 3 people, so if you wanted to make it with 3 puppets, you need 9 people. So if we want to do a live stage here, we’d need to bring 9 puppeteers, and those puppets are national treasures, so you can’t just put them in a suitcase.”
“So this time it’s a little bit of horror, the puppet is haunted by the ghost, it’s kind of a scary story but maybe next time we can do a more comedy-type story.”
Chihiro is the voice actor for the Yuzuki Yukari vocaloid, and there are several videos where people are using her voice to make songs with these videos. How does she feel about people using her actual voice to make these songs?
“Firstly, she’s really happy, but the vocaloid itself is based on her voice but is not actually her, so it’s a strange feeling to. She’s originally a vocaloid fan and was doing uploading by herself, so she’s really happy to participate in that culture more intensively and has made many new friends.”
She [Chihiro] mentioned that she was a vocaloid otaku, what is her favourite vocaloid that she liked using?
“Yuzuki Yukari first, of course. And the first she used was Leon, an English vocaloid. Then next, Hatsune Miku. Leon was an older version of Vocaloid released before Hatsune Miku.
How does she find the older version compared to the newer one?
“The big difference is that Leon is an English vocaloid, so it’s difficult to make Leon speak or sing Japanese, but the process of modifying those pronunciations is really fun!”
“She was doing midi creation but didn’t have any friends who would sing with her songs. So she was happy when she found Hatsune Miku and could use Miku to sing for her songs. When she was doing midi songs, she was still a Junior High student.”
“EHAMIC is a popular vocaloid creator in Japan, and those two [Chihiro & EHAMIC] are doing the stage show [here at Hyper Japan]. Chihiro-san is performing the song and EHAMIC is playing the keyboard. Yuzuki Yukari and Ishiguro-san are doing the chorus on stage.”
Will there be videos of people to view the show online, for people who can’t come to Hyper Japan?
“The live performance of those two [Chihiro & EHAMIC] is the first attempt here at Hyper Japan, so we have no DVDs. but EHAMIC-san has his own music albums which he brought here but they sold out. Unfortunately, we don’t have them, but you can buy them on Amazon. and you can also find him on YouTube. ”
Have you seen any Vocaloid Cosplay today?
“Yes, many cosplays. we really impressed by their passion to make the costumes themselves.”
The fundamental nature of vocaloid culture is the same. If you encounter vocaloid, you feel like doing something; The girls we met today wanted to make a costume and we felt like making an Opera. ”
To find out more about Vocaloid Opera Aoi with Bunraku Puppets, take a look at the official website, twitter and facebook pages.