Translated interview with Takahiro Sakurai from the FFVII 10th Anniversary Ultimania

by May 8, 2009 0 comments

One of the new additions to the re-release of the FFVII 10th Anniversary Ultimania, is an eye opening interview with Takahiro Sakurai, the voice actor of Cloud Strife. A big thanks to our forum member Defade for translating this interview. Enjoy reading about the man behind the fictional hero!

cloud-advent-children takahiro_sakurai

To me, FFVII was something that left a great impression.

-Did you play FF7 when it first came out?
Sakurai: Absolutely. I was a gamer ever since the Famicon era, and I’ve played every FF game starting from I. VII was my favorite among those. Even if those polygons seem outdated now, the prospect of playing a game with such quality back then was like a dream. I was impressed by the impact it had. I rushed to buy it on the release day, and ever since then my life has been about playing FFVII.(laughs) I even bought a playstation just so I could play VII. I had to get a part time job in a game store to save up money.

-Did you play the FF games that came after VII?
Sakurai: No…since I had such an amazing experience with VII, I didn’t even touch VIII. After VII’s ending, I felt like everything was over, accompanied by a sense of loss. The last scene with Nanaki and his children looking over an overgrown Midgar was stuck in my head, and left me feeling sad and lonely. When I was playing the game, I had many fictional experiences, so it’s almost like an escape from reality. And I felt a bit sad that all of that was over. Plus, I played through the game wanting to see the end of this story, and when it really ended, it left me stunned for quite a while. I recovered by the time IX came out, of course, but still I never touched VIII.

-If you liked VII so much, then you must be quite happy when you were requested to do voice acting for Cloud?
Sakurai: Kingdom Hearts came before Advent Children, so the request for me at that time was for a character named ‘Cloud’ from a game called ‘Kingdom Hearts’. No visuals were given to me of this character, and all I had was the script. So I went to the recording site wondering what kind of character this ‘Cloud’ was, and it turns out to be Cloud.

-You only knew that it was Cloud from VII when you went to the recording?
Sakurai: Yes. “Eh? It’s that Cloud?” was my first reaction. I never even thought that I would possibly voice act for Cloud, and the shock was like being hit by something huge.(laughs) My hands holding the script were even shaking during the recording. And even when I played Kingdom Hearts, I kept getting weirdly excited at the thought of “Ohhh…it’s Cloud….that’s me…”

Voice acting for Cloud comes with great expectations and pressure

-So after that, you voiced Cloud in AC as well.
Sakurai: Recording for AC was different from KH since it didn’t have the surprise element KH had. I was informed about the story and its meanings beforehand. But since AC was a sequel to the popular VII and a high quality visual presentation, I felt a lot of pressure that I didn’t have during KH, and even fear as well. Some of my colleagues who were fans of FF knew about my role as Cloud in KH, and the men generally said “Heh…so you were Cloud.” while the women threatened to never forgive me if I didn’t do the role properly, giving me quite a lot of pressure.(laughs) Of course they were mostly joking, but from those comments I realized that a lot of people loved and treasured VII, so I can’t afford to perform anything less than my very best. And the response of my generation were generally the largest, since we played FF during our adolescent years, so it probably had a great impact on our views on life.

-I heard from seiyuus that play parts in other FF games that their colleagues’ expectations and responses were generally big as well.
Sakurai: It would certainly be so. The FF series already had a huge fanbase to begin with, and VII was exceptionally popular, so I really felt the expectations [of the fanbase]. What’s more, being told by the colleagues that they expect great things of you really gives you a different pressure than if a fan told you the same thing. Since they’re people who know first-hand the responsibility that comes with a performing arts career, their words strike deeper. Since I felt these expectations around me, I really wanted to know their impression of the finished product if they watched it. I wanted a response of some sort, be it positive or negative. But thankfully many people said “It fits perfectly.” or “Your voice fits his image.”, so I was pretty happy.

AC recording was as rigorous as doing sports

-How did you get started on the AC recording?
Sakurai: I first had to record the four lines used in the trailer shown at the 2003 Tokyo Game Show, but even those took up around one and a half hours to record. Mr. Nomura and and Mr.Shimizu from Tohokushinsha Film Corperation did the directing, but some of their requests were along the lines of “Mr. Sakurai, a tone nuance of about 4 grams lighter, please”, and really made me scratch my head. Just how are you supposed to represent ‘4 grams lighter’, anyways? (laughs) Although they’re only 4 lines, [the trailer] was the first AC visuals shown, where VII characters move in realistic proportions, actually talk, and since no one knows what direction this sequel will take, I’m sure the impact they gave to the audience must be quite big. That’s why I took the time to record, paying extra attention to the details. Talking it over [with the directors] for long periods of time, changing both my tone and the lines in subtle ways, it was a period of trial and error.

-So your true work began after overcoming the challenge the trailer presented.
Sakurai: Starting back then, the AC recording was done across a period of 3 years, so when it ended I had the same feelings that I had when I finished VII – a bit lonely and sad that it came to an end. But actually, I had a lot of trouble during the recording. For example, Cloud gives off the image of being cool and silent. So when I say my lines with a held back tone, I don’t have a wide range of liberties I can take. But differences in emotion are still possible even with a tone like that, so I explored the possibilities and limits with the sound director in much detail. Later on, there was a day specifically dedicated to recording battle grunts and the such, and that was quite the hurdle.

-How was the recording like?
Sakurai: A day for the recording of sounds you make when you’re hit in battle, like ‘Ugh’, ‘Ku-‘ or ‘Hah-!’. Sounds like that are made with sharp and sudden exhales, so when I did that continuously for around 6 hours, I ended up with a giant headache due to lack of oxygen.(laughs) Also, while we were shown the actual battle scene before the recording, Cloud & co. move in ways that ignore physics or common sense, so a lot of times it’s hard to tell what’s going on when the scene was being played in normal speed. So we had to watch it frame by frame, and most discussions consisted of “After he cuts his opponent, he dodges an attack, and another one after that, then he lands, and at the end he jumps. That’s a total of 2 seconds.” “In a mere 2 seconds? I can’t do this.” (laughs)

-True, the characters move pretty fast in battle.
Sakurai: Yeah. But if we put a sound to every movement it’ll make the characters look bad, so we take into account the flow of battle, and only add sounds to parts that make an impression. So our work progress looks like this: We watch the scene first, confirm the actions in frame-by-frame examination, then decide what direction we want to take with it after we start recording….rinse and repeat. I had to make “Hah!” and “Fu!” sounds again and again, and it was like doing rigorous sports.(laughs) Battle scenes are one of the highlights in AC, so I didn’t hold back and gave it my all. But I couldn’t really show that in my voice, since Cloud is a character who stays calm even in pinches, doesn’t freak out even when faced with a crisis, and is rarely bewildered. It’s easy to do roles where the character does sharp intakes of breath when in a pinch, or shows his pain as it is, but Cloud is someone who carefully analyzes the situation even when he’s wounded, and thinks calmly about his next course of action. It’s pretty hard to represent that.

I think all characters have voices that fit their image

-The most important battle scene is of course Cloud’s final showdown with Sephiroth, what are your thoughts on Sephiroth?
Sakurai: When I was playing through VII, I didn’t really have an impression of Sephiroth’s voice. Since you don’t really know what’s going on in his mind, and he had this sinister atmosphere about him. But when I heard Sephiroth’s voice from Mr. Morikawa for the first time, I thought, “Yes. This is it.” His voice is really scary.(laughs) You can feel that he’s something foreign, but it seems like he’s so above everything that he’s not really there…it almost gives me the feeling of being a but a small part, engulfed by Sephiroth’s huge presence…it’s a scary thought.

-What about your impressions on the other characters’ voices?
Sakurai: My personal favorite is Zack. Zack gives off a cheerful image, different from other SOLDIERS, so Suzumura’s Zack was perfect to me. Also, Maaya’s Aerith had an accepting, motherly and feminine feel to her. Almost makes me want to call her Mother.(laughs) Miss Itou fit well with Tifa’s activeness, and Barret’s bustling actions. I think everyone’s voices fit their images. And Vincent using that kind of voice…how cunning.(laughs)

-Speaking of which, you were invited to the Venice Film Festival, weren’t you?
Sakurai: Yes. It was an impressive place, truly a fantasy world. I was to stay at a grand hotel on Lido Island, the place the Film Festival was held at, but it was so grandiose that it felt imposing. I used very little of the spacious room I stayed in.(laughs) Since I was playing one of the major roles, I got bouquets from the hotel owners. And although AC was shown late in the night, I was grateful for the huge amount of people that came. Walking down the red carpet, drowning in the cheers of the audience, being asked for signatures…it was an invaluable experience.

I voiced Cloud with the differences between each compilation feature in mind

-What kind of character did you have in mind when voicing Cloud?
Sakurai: Simply put, whatever he does is picturesque, and his silence is more telling than when he actually speaks. He’s not a clear-cut hero, but still has some heroic characteristics in him. But his way of thinking is a bit negative, and he’s quite delicate in a sense. Even when aware of his fragility, he can’t seem to express it honestly, and he’s almost pitifully gentle, ending up bearing his burdens alone. So I keep in mind this ‘weakness above strength’.

-CC Cloud makes his appearance as a normal infantryman, different from AC or VII. What kind of differences did you go for in your voice acting?
Sakurai: During CC, Mr. Nomura sometimes called me ‘young Cloud’.(laughs) Compared to VII, his teenager side is brought out more in CC. Although he was introverted even back then, he didn’t close himself up as much as he did in VII. So I presented his tone and conversations in the image of a normal boy. In CC, the scene of Cloud screaming during the final climax – used in the TV commercial as well – left the biggest impression on me. Since this is a prequel to VII, people are playing the game with knowledge of the ending, but rediscovering Zack’s past and its mysteries brings out emotions all the more, and that’s how I managed that emotional scream at the end. I really poured my whole soul into it.

-Aside from CC, Cloud also appears in Dissidia and the Kingdom Hearts series. Are there any differences for those appearances in terms of voice acting?
Sakurai: There certainly are. For example, Dissidia is an action-oriented game, so it’s closer to in terms of atmosphere VII than the more serious and mature AC. I tried to bring out the feeling of throwing yourself into the midst of the battle. The same goes for Kingdom Hearts 2, it brings out more of VII’s image.

I want continue voice acting for Cloud in the future

-The Compilation’s newest addition, AC Complete, had lots of extra lines.
Sakurai: The other way around, we brought back parts that were purposely omitted. I redid the recording of Rufus’ conversation with Mr. Ohkawa. New scenes were added to the final battle against Sephiroth as well, so many that the whole battle leaves a different impression. Before this recording, I had done many different versions of Cloud such as the one in CC, so I was a bit worried that I might not be able to go back to AC Cloud. But the staff took the reins, and I managed without trouble. It might be an extravagant request, but I even thought to myself, “Please give me more lines.”. (laughs)

-Which means you still want to play Cloud’s part?
Sakurai: I’d definitely want to continue with that part. No, I don’t ‘want’ to continue, “Let’s just do this!” would be closer.(laughs) I don’t want to be satisfied with the present, I want to be ambitious and keep on saying “Let’s do more!”. I suppose what fans really dream of is a remake of VII. It’s going to be a big project, so I probably shouldn’t be putting it as simply as “Let’s just do this!”. Still, every time I meet any of the higher-ups of Square Enix, I voice my request.(laughs) I don’t care when, but it’s something I’d really like to see fulfilled. But I’d really be troubled if I was requested to do the role when I’m sixty-some. I want to do it before people think that Cloud has grown into an old man, at least.(laughs)

-Did you think about how you want to do a certain scene in a remake?
Sakurai: I haven’t given that any thought at all. When VII was released, games went from cartridges to CD-ROMs, CG cut scenes were implemented…it was a time of bewildering changes. Along with those changes, I think my sensibility has grown as well. If a remake is to be made, I think the feelings and desires of the people who lived through that time will gather, and I’d like to draw upon them, making [the remake] together with everyone. That’s why I haven’t given it any thought yet. To take it up a notch, I want to forget VII completely and do it with a fresh start.

-Counting from AC, you have been playing Cloud for over five years. What does Cloud mean to you?

Sakurai: He’s someone that really stands out, someone who took me to a lot of different worlds. I might be exaggerating a bit, but to me, Cloud seems like someone who really exists. He brings me a sense of reality in the fictional world of FF, helps me remember my past self and guides me to different places and times. He seems close but far away, seems far away- but on second thought, is close after all. I feel that kind of distance between him and me. Thinking back, I was one of VII fans myself, and to think that I’d be voicing Cloud…of course I’m happy, but even now I still find it hard to believe. Even though my relationship with the game is different now, my feelings as a fan remain unchanged – same as any one of the FF or Cloud fans reading this book. I want to forever treasure the things I’ve felt when I played FF as a child, so I’d like for everyone to hold on to their love for FF as well. If you do that, then a remake of VII might eventually find its way to you – be it years or decades later.

(2009/3/3 Recorded at Square Enix.)

Random info on Sakurai: He was 24 during 1997, with only one year in the seiyuu business, which explains why he has to take on random part-time jobs to get a playstation. Request for his voicing in KH probably came around 2001(which was the year he started getting a few major roles and less announcer or random person roles), so he’s been voicing Cloud across 7~8 years. AC voicing probably started around early 2002, since it took roughly 3 years for the entire voicing to be done. ACC might’ve begun around 2007~2008, considering the lesser amount of lines he had to voice.

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