Space Girls

Interview with Houko Kuwashima (voice of Yuki Mori) and former JAXA astronaut Naoko Yamazaki

From Space Battleship Yamato 2202 Newspaper 2, Sankei Sports, October 13, 2017. (See it from cover to cover here.)

“Space girls,” girls who have an interest in space, have been on an upswing lately. One of the heroines such “space girls” revere is Yuki Mori of Space Battleship Yamato. Naoko Yamazaki, who has experience in space as an actual astronaut, was one of the few who became excited about space thanks to Yamato. Yamazaki is also a fan of Yuki Mori, and talked with Houko Kuwashima, who played Yuki in 2199, about her thoughts on space and the appeal of Yamato.

I hoped to be able to go farther

Interviewer: First, I would like to ask Ms. Kuwashima, what kind of image do you have of space?

Kuwashima: It is unknown. It has both a very beautiful and a very scary feeling. When you think about it, you finally reach an overall view of it, I suppose. Then I’m stunned by returning to the small scale of human beings. That’s my image of it.

Interviewer: Ms. Yamazaki actually went to space to experience it…

Yamazaki: There was a training period of 11 years before I went to space, which meant I had the feeling of going into space at last. The space shuttle had two accidents in the meantime, so there was always some tension side by side with danger, as you can expect. Although I went to space, I only went up to 400km (from Earth) so it still had the form of crawling around the globe. If the Earth was an apple and you measured the radius, I felt like I was just outside the apple skin. I still felt that I was close to Earth, but I wanted to go to outer space like I imagined as a child. When I was a child I imagined going to Iscandar, and I think there is still much more to it. I want to live in a time when we can go really far.

Interviewer: In the story, Ms. Kuwashima was given the mission to go to Iscandar.

Kuwashima: Isn’t it the kind of thing that could only be done in a story? (Laughs)

Yamazaki: As you might expect, everyone from Japan who partakes in space flight will tell you, “I liked Yamato and was interested in space” or “I liked Star Wars and had an interest.” This is also the case for America’s astronauts. Everyone is inspired by science fiction like Star Wars and Star Trek, and I want the world to be like this, to begin with something fun. Science fiction is obviously far ahead of the real world, but it feels like we’re catching up with it fast.

The crew is like a family

Interviewer: Ms. Yamazaki, you’ve said that you like Yamato very much, and I also hear you’re a Yuki Mori fan.

Yamazaki: I like Yuki Mori, and also Captain Okita. (Laughs) I’ve always thought there is strength in gentleness, and I admire the image that comes from that.

Interviewer: Ms. Kuwashima, what is it like to perform?

Kuwashima: You might say I play catch with all of the actors when I perform, and when we’re making it, there really is a feeling on-site of being one of the crew members. Yuki doesn’t necessarily stand out all by herself. The feeling is that everyone on the Yamato crew is strong.

Interviewer: Is there any pressure on you when you perform?

Kuwashima: It’s said that Yuki Mori is a beloved character, and I listened to stories from various people before I started. I’m a bit younger than the generation that watched Yamato in real time. I adore Yuki Mori, and because there are senior voice actors who also adore her, I thought I’d gotten a great role after listening to their stories.

Interviewer: Ms. Yamazaki, when you got onto the space shuttle, was there a strong sense of the crew?

Yamazaki: Very much. You train together and you go to space together. We trust each other with our lives. There was a lot of training for emergency situations, so I felt that we were all boarding the ship together. It felt like a family.

Kuwashima: Were there other women on board with you?

Yamazaki: Out of the seven crew members, three were women, so it was quite lively and fun. There have been other cases where there were only one or two, so I think this was a lot for a space shuttle.

Kuwashima: Is the role of women in space different from men?

Yamazaki: There are no differences because we’re male or female. The work in space is exactly the same as the training. However, when you go into space, each person is given a role. In my case, I was in charge of the robot arm operation and experiments and supply transportation. We divide our roles according to our respective characteristics, but there are many cases where a person responsible for external activities outside is a larger male, and a woman performs backup with the robot arm if there’s more work to be done from the ship. But some women also do extravehicular activities, and others have been captains.

The depiction of hair is different from reality

Interviewer: When Ms. Kuwashima performs Yuki Mori, she sometimes goes swimming through space, too. Is there a part of your performance that is conscious of space?

Kuwashima: When we’re on Yamato we can perform our lines without being conscious of that. But I am conscious of the moment I leave Yamato. When I go out and do something, there is a feeling that I’m in space. There is such a scene in Chapter 3 this time, and I was very surprised and excited.

Yamazaki: Do you know the content of the story to some extent before your performance, or do you get it on the spot?

Kuwashima: I receive the script about a week beforehand, so I understand it from there. Oh, the next one will be like this. I didn’t do much in the last one and it was said that everyone was left out, so it was a surprise to receive the script.

Yamazaki: They really seem to be going on a trip together, don’t they?

Interviewer: Ms. Yamazaki, if you were performing, what kind of acting would be good for a feeling of being in space?

Yamazaki: That’s difficult, isn’t it? As you say, when we’re inside the space ship, we become gradually accustomed to it and don’t have any special consciousness. We all live together the same way we do at home. Even though we’re floating around, we eat space meals, the usual rice. We sleep in sleeping bags at night and work by day, and it gradually becomes an everyday existence. You get the feeling that it’s the world you live in.

But at night after dinner you get a little spare time and look at the scenery out the window and it dawns on you that you’re out in space. The wall of the space ship is all that separates you from the space outside.

Kuwashima: I read the story that your hair was long and had to be clipped down. Yuki also has long hair, and it would be great if that was actually depicted. I can’t keep mine down. That’s why it’s like anime. (Laughs)

Yamazaki: There is gravity on Yamato, but even outside of the ship, somehow everyone’s hair stays down.

Kuwashima: That’s not right at all.

Yamazaki: That’s right. It actually spreads out like Medusa. So if you’re female you either shorten it or tie it down in the back if it’s long.

Kuwashima: So you have no choice but to gather it up.

Yamazaki: And even if you do, your bangs stand up. (Laughs) Senior veteran astronauts fasten it neatly with pins, so I decided to borrow that and do it with mine, too.

Yamato leads to an interest in space

Interviewer: How would one portray in anime what happens to you in space in real life?

Yamazaki: Another funny story about being in a space ship (the Space Shuttle or International Space Station) is that it’s a world of weightlessness with no artificial gravity, so you’re floating. When you communicate with the ground you can’t keep your composure even if you move a little, so you hook your feet or legs somewhere to face the camera and talk in a manner as if you’re standing. It’s very difficult to stand because you feel your body bobbing up and down. (Laughs)

Kuwashima: Does it feel like you’re on a ride?

Yamazaki: You’re naturally shaking somehow, so it becomes a habit. When we do simulation training on the ground and practice communication, we often rise and fall to get a feeling of space even though we’re on the ground. (Ms. Yamazaki imitates the movement.)

Kuwashima: I see. If I did that in a voice recording, bobbing up and down while at the mic would be a problem. (Laughs)

Yamazaki: It might be better to do a calmer up and down, like this.

Interviewer: Does that seem useful for a future performance? (Laughs)

Kuwashima: I’ll remember today’s story to try and feel like I’m in space.

Interviewer: Recently, there has been a considerable increase in “space girls” or “space women,” women who are interested in space. I think the role of science fiction stories like Yamato is important in getting women interested in space. What do you think?

Yamazaki: I think it’s very big. Space is the stage for Yamato, of course, but it is a very human drama. The connection between people is strong. It’s also never simple and there are various unusual circumstances, even among enemies. Everyone has their own viewpoint and their own thoughts about why they have to fight. I like human dramas that are set in space, and I’m happy if that inspires an interest in space and in the Earth itself.

Since I myself am like that, I think that an even younger generation is drawn to the grandeur of space. However, I have a feeling they’re given energy and courage from seeing people in it who are doing their best to protect something.

Kuwashima: I’ll do my best. (Laughs)

Yamazaki: I’m looking forward to it. (Laughs)

There may be a Starsha somewhere

Interviewer: After hearing the various stories from Ms. Yamazaki, how interested are you in space, Ms. Kuwashima?

Yamazaki: I’m also happy to hear that Ms. Kuwashima is fond of [poet] Kenji Miyazawa’s work.

Kuwashima: Kenji also liked space, so I think there’s a connection. What do you think is at the end of space? What do you think is outside of it?

Yamazaki: I really don’t know. I read in a book long ago that as telescopes advance we’ll be able to see more distant stars. The story goes that as we make progressively better telescopes, the last thing we will see is the back of our own heads. That fascinated me as a child. Therefore, I think space is boundless. It’s our sense that space is widely three-dimensional, but surely there is a higher dimension somewhere, and the farther you go the more you are connected back.

For example, senior astronauts talk about an ant who lives in two dimensions and does not fly, living his life on a ball. If you keep walking along the surface of the ball, you think you’re going far, but when you go far enough you just return to your starting point. Going from there, we both figured that even if you traveled a long distance, from that other viewpoint, you’d just going in circles.

Although we live in three dimensions, if there are people or higher beings who can see things in higher dimensions, it would surely look to them like humans are going round and round in three dimensions. That’s what I think. But I can’t really imagine an end to space.

Kuwashima: Do you think there are extraterrestrials?

Yamazaki: Space is large, so I think there are, somewhere. I want someone like Starsha to be out there somewhere. What do you think, Ms. Kuwashima?

Kuwashima: I’d also like to go.

Photo posted on Twitter by Houko Kuwashima, September 27, 2017

From now on, it is important to protect the Earth

Interviewer: I’d like to hear your impressions of today’s talk.

Kuwashima: It went so fast. I want to ask you a lot more. I didn’t think I’d ever have an opportunity to meet Naoko Yamazaki like this, so I’m glad Yuki Mori allowed me to do it. I heard some valuable stories, so this will be a reference for my acting in the future. I feel like I’ve met the real Yuki Mori. Thank you very much.

Yamazaki: Thank you very much, too. I was able to meet Ms. Kuwashima, who is making the world of Yamato that I see on the screen. I’m glad we met. I think that as time goes on, many more people will probably travel to space, and when they get there they will look back at the Earth, and I think that will lead to the protection of the Earth. I feel that sense of values very much in Yamato, which influenced me not just to go off into space, but now I feel that it’s vitally important to protect our homeland in the future, our hometown of Earth. So I’ll support Yamato from now on. I’m looking forward to it.

Interviewer: Finally, Chapter 3 is about to be released, and I’d like Ms. Kuwashima to help promote it by encouraging space girls.

Kuwashima: Chapter 3 has arrived, and since there are some who haven’t yet seen the package of Chapters 1 and 2, I hope you can get a taste and you’ll really feel like you’re traveling in space with Yamato‘s crew. And by all means, please enjoy Pure Love Chapter in a movie theater. I’ll be very happy if you’re hooked after that.

“Space Girl” is a registered trademark of Vixen Co., Ltd.

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Crew photo, STS-131

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