Hirano Aya was interviewed on the famitsu.com website about how she was playing Chiko in Daughter of Twenty-Faces (Nijuumensou no Musume). Here is a rough translation.
Question -- You’re playing quite varied characters in 2008. The character you play in Daughter of Twenty-Faces has a very quiet air about her. She seems to be different from any character you’ve played before.
Hirano Aya – She has a quiet strength. All the time I’m playing her I think how difficult she is to play (laughs). You find something new in her in every episode.
Q -- It seems difficult to play a character whose feelings rise and fall so quietly.
Hirano – The basic line cannot be broken. Her ups and downs can’t go very far, and when they do, they have to be portrayed very quietly. It’s hard to do.
When they were talking to me about my voice, the director and sound director said: “If you just change the nuance slightly, the changed expression will immediately come out in your voice. You have to restrain yourself more than you think.” And in fact, when I see the show on air, there are still places where I haven’t suppressed the emotion enough. But there are also places where I have suppressed it too much.
After that, you have to bring out the flavor of the times in which the show is set. This was a theme of the show from the start. Daughter of Twenty-Faces is set in the Showa Thirties [1956-65]. When recording started, the sound director brought me a book called something like “Japan in the Showa Thirties.” I really absorbed a lot from the book, about the war being over and Japan’s revival coming on. One of the themes of how we’re playing this is the feeling of how people’s rising power is concentrated in the character.
Q -- How do you show “the flavor of the time” in your performance?
Hirano – It’s in small things. For instance when you hear the way people pronounced the “e” sound in eiga (movies), and the intonation, they were slightly different. I was asked to pronounce the endings of words fully and carefully [….] To be honest, I hadn’t been very aware of the differences in eras up to now [….] In this, too, the show has been a good education.
Q -- It seems that this role requires you to stretch your sensitivity in many ways.
Hirano – That’s why I can’t play other roles while I’m doing Chiko. I have to change completely. In Daughter of Twenty-Faces, there are a lot of scenes that are like a foreign film, but that have to be given an anime treatment. I think we feel those subtle points in all that.
Q -- It seems as if you have to do a lot of learning.
Hirano – Yes, indeed. If one reaction is wrong, you know it. I’ve only dubbed one foreign work, and that was total culture shock (laughs). You have to listen carefully to be sure your voice fits the tone. You really have to have a good ear. [note: I wasn't aware that she had done any dubbing.]
Q -- Ear?
Hirano – Yes. You have to really listen to the people before you, so you have the same tone. You’re in the same space and you have to produce the same atmosphere. I think you have to develop a good ear, to use in your acting.
I think this is Aya's best work so far, and part of the reason is that she is expressing herself in such a restrained and subtle way in it. Thanks to the advice of the sound director and director, it appears. This is more like movie acting than stage acting or normal anime voice-acting.
The sound director of this show is Kikuta Hiromi, one of the few female sound directors in anime. She has done Kamichu, Emma, the Da Capo shows, Kimi ga Nozomu Eien and many other well-known shows, as well as Daughter of Twenty-Faces.
I'll just add another couple of photos here, from Aya's blog. The well-known artist Murakami Takashi gave her a piece that is like a big sunflower cushion. She calls it "Hanamaru" (a hanamaru is a flower sticker that is given out in elementary school like a gold star).
She says she comes home after work and dives into it, in front of her small TV.