The Small Animation Studio Behind Netflix’s Gorgeous New Series

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June Thomas: This ad free podcast is part of your Slate Plus membership. What?

Robert Kondo: Stylization and CG is the part that is time consuming because you have to articulate if it’s a mug. Well, it’s not just a mug. It’s got to have this sort of quality to it. It’s got to have this. And the way it’s lit has to be this. This this becomes like a very arduous process of decision making.

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June Thomas: Welcome back to Working. I’m your host, June Thomas.

Kathryn Hahn, Karen Han: And I’m your other host, Karen Han Karen.

June Thomas: It’s so great to see you again. How are things?

Kathryn Hahn, Karen Han: Things are pretty good. Yeah. I mean, it’s always a delight to see you, June. And as I was saying off Mike beforehand, I just received a zine that you made, which I’m going to treasure forever.

June Thomas: Wow. Well, I just haven’t looked at the calendar, and I just want to mention listeners that this is the episode that will go closest to the publication date of Karen’s book. I made a scene, but Karen made a whole book, and it will be published on the 22nd of November and is called Bong Joon Ho Dissident Cinema, isn’t it? Karen Han?

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Kathryn Hahn, Karen Han: Yes, that’s right. It’s coming out November 22nd. Some preorders are already out there, which is the crazy thing. Like a couple of people have mentioned me on various social media platforms showing me pictures of their book. It’s wild.

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June Thomas: That’s amazing. Well, congratulations. I know.

Kathryn Hahn, Karen Han: Thank you so.

June Thomas: Much. Feel good.

June Thomas: Well, let’s get back to the voice that we heard at the top of the show. Who did that belong to?

Kathryn Hahn, Karen Han: So this week I talked to three people. Actually, I talked to Dice, Tsutsumi, Robert Kondo, and Sara Sampson, the geniuses behind the new series Oni Thunder Gods Tale.

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June Thomas: And for anyone who hasn’t heard of Oni Thunder Gods tale, how would you describe it?

Kathryn Hahn, Karen Han: It’s a series about a community of Japanese spirits and gods. Kami preparing for the Night of the Blood Moon when they believe they’ll be attacked by Oni or demons. A young girl named Inari is the main character, and unlike the rest of her friends, she has yet to develop. Her powers, like the rest of them are already exhibiting the powers that they’ve inherited from their parents. But she just hasn’t manifested them yet. So the show follows her struggle to fit in with her community as well as her relationship with her thunder. Godfather Neri Dunn, who’s a very big red round, imposing presence but very, very cute.

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June Thomas: Well, and I take it it’s animation. Mm.

Kathryn Hahn, Karen Han: Yeah. And it’s streaming on Netflix right now, so you can go watch it.

June Thomas: Awesome. All right. And I believe that you asked them some questions that are intended exclusively for Slate Plus members.

Kathryn Hahn, Karen Han: That’s right. I asked them about the choice of English as the default language for the series. Given that it’s so heavily steeped in Japanese folklore and its creators are Japanese of Japanese heritage. And I think the question leads to a very interesting answer about the development process, as well as how they view the show.

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June Thomas: Well, that is very obviously going to be totally fascinating. If you’re a Slate Plus member, you’ll get to hear that at the end of the show. All right. Now, let’s listen in on Catherine’s conversation with Dice, Tsutsumi, Robert Kondo, and Sara Sampson.

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Kathryn Hahn, Karen Han: Hello. I’m so excited to chat with you all about Oni Thunder Gods tale. First, for our listeners, I was wondering if you could introduce yourselves and your roles on the series.

Dice Tsutsumi: My name is Dice Tsutsumi. I am the creator and a director of Thunder Gods Tale.

Sara Sampson: My name is Sara Sampson. I am the producer of Oni Thunder Gods Tale.

Robert Kondo: And my name is Robert Kondo and I was an executive producer and production designer and voice on Oni Thunder Gods Tale.

Kathryn Hahn, Karen Han: Oh, really? I totally missed that. What voice did you provide?

Robert Kondo: I played the bullies Nama and how everyone knows your weirdo dad just goose around the forest all day.

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Speaker 6: What did you say about Nari Dawn?

Robert Kondo: Well, you know, that’s a big. Oof!

Kathryn Hahn, Karen Han: That’s fantastic.

Kathryn Hahn, Karen Han: So before we get too deep into the series, I wanted to talk about Tonko house, the studio that Dice and Robert you two co-founded and produced the series with. Can you tell me a little bit about founding your own independent animation studio?

Robert Kondo: About eight years ago, Dice and I had created a short called The Dam Keeper. It was a 18 minute animated short that got us quite a bit of attention and an Academy Award nomination. And we had created while we were art directors, sort of in our free time while we were at Pixar. And based on that experience, you know, our perspective of filmmaking and the experience of starting something and finishing something and the feeling of every day coming into the studio excited. But nothing ever went to plan became sort of our every day, and we loved it. And it just felt we wanted to sort of take that experience and make it our every day by starting our own studio to seek out stories that, you know, we had within us to put it out into the world. And yeah.

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Kathryn Hahn, Karen Han: And this is a bit of a side question, but when did you two first decide you wanted to work together? When did you first start collaborating?

Dice Tsutsumi: Well, both Robert and I worked on the same films as art directors. Robert was specialized in the set design art direction, and I was specialized in lighting and color direction. You know, we had a very similar ambitions and, you know, sort of hunger to grow and just wanted to be a better storytellers, better art directors. So when we worked on our Independent Short the Dam Keeper, it kind of came natural to me. I’m curious if it was for a Robert, but I really wanted to work with him even outside of Pixar Project.

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Robert Kondo: Yeah, Dice is sort of a force of nature. We even just collaborating on the short was in the middle of us working on Monsters University. It’s that crazy period of production when you’re just working nonstop. And we actually were there late at night working on sort of artwork and, you know, exhausted, tired. In the middle of that is when Dice is like, Hey, I have an idea. What if we take time off and work endlessly on a short that will be painted frame by frame and that sort of day? So I think he’s always somebody who, you know, whatever he starts, he finishes. And that’s what made me sort of drawn towards partnering with him to create a studio.

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Kathryn Hahn, Karen Han: Yeah.

Kathryn Hahn, Karen Han: Okay. So now I want to talk specifically about Oni Thunder Gods Tale Dice. How did this project come about?

Dice Tsutsumi: Over five years ago, we had this exhibition in Japan of Tonko exhibition and we were exhibiting artwork from the dam keeper and other projects that we done. And there was a section called the Future of Tonko House where we would exhibit things that we have in mind or were working on that haven’t been published. And Robert asked me that we do one or two paintings each that, you know, sort of no restrictions. You can do whatever you want and you can just paint it and as if that’s like the next project. And one of them was a painting of Nari, Don and on RV together. At the time, I had no set of story yet, but it was about Japanese folklore inspired story that I thought it’d be really cool to explore because, you know, Japanese folklore is something that I grew up with.

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Kathryn Hahn, Karen Han: And Sara, when did you become involved with this project?

Sara Sampson: I remember chatting with Dice, I think in 2019 you shared, you know, the spark of this idea. And towards the end of that year, I heard the official pitch of how Oni was shaping up. And honestly, I was so drawn to this epic adventure and just saw so much potential in this story. It was very specific to Dice’s own journey and Dice you should definitely share that.

Sara Sampson: But I also found myself in the story of Andre, and I just immediately saw how anyone could relate to on Ari’s journey. I think we’re all trying to figure out how we fit in this world. And just for me specifically, I grew up in the middle of nowhere and Kentucky. I think there are more cows than people and then had big, big dreams of becoming a filmmaker and moving to California and just trying to figure out how I fit in this new environment, you know, in this new community. And of course, this is story also very personal.

Sara Sampson: Dice Do you want to share more about, you know, kind of the origin of Oni?

Dice Tsutsumi: Yeah. So even though you started out as just what piece of painting as we started to dig into the story, what is it about Japanese folklore that I was drawn to and I came to this character Oni, which is a sort of like a classic villain character in all of most of Japanese folklore stories.

Dice Tsutsumi: And there was a historical theory that Oni might have been a description of people who look different from Japanese locals, like foreigners that lived in Japan long, long time ago. They look different, they look bigger, the skin color was different and to people they look like monsters. And people assumed they were bad. People assume they’re villains, they’re evil. And that idea of like where Oni came from, I was drawn to it because that really felt like, what’s happening today?

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Dice Tsutsumi: Personally, you know, I migrated to the United States when I was 18, and ever since I lived as a foreigner in this country and I’ve worked in the film business as a minority, and I really felt like I want to write a story from sort of like an outsider’s point of view, using this idea of owning only the story of an outsider and how people feared others that are outside or others that you don’t understand. And I was there, and I as a minority filmmaker, I felt like I could relate to this story, you know? So even though the story is inspired by Japanese folklore, I think the story will be very current.

Dice Tsutsumi: So when I pitched that idea to pretty much everybody who came to join the journey of Oni, including Robert and Sarah, everybody said, Oh, I know that story. I can see myself in that story. And that’s when we all felt like, you know what, this is worth making. We have to push towards turning this into a real project.

Kathryn Hahn, Karen Han: So as you mentioned, this is a very personal project for you. And I understand that your mom was involved in some way. Can you explain a little further about that collaboration?

Dice Tsutsumi: Basically, my mother wrote a song, Lullaby for the series. She and I collaborated over the years, you know, with her poetry. She’s a poet. She was a poet. And I always illustrated her poetry. You know, I thought it would be. Really cool to have her write a song which was so important to the story. But she wrote it as she was kind of, you know, nearing her the end of her life.

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Dice Tsutsumi: And so that ended up being our last collaboration. She passed in the middle of production of Oni, but like overall sort of story concept was already there. And I pitched that idea to my mother. And and then, you know, there was a significant story point of, you know, main character, honoree, hearing the lullaby sort of in her memory, in her dreams. And I thought it’d be perfect for my mother to write it. Oh.

Speaker 7: The. No. Cool. What does she.

Speaker 6: Know? Call. Oh, cool. Rock. Oh, man. Man. Oh, yeah. No, said.

Dice Tsutsumi: He.

Kathryn Hahn, Karen Han: And obviously we have to talk about the look of the series, which is so distinct and so unique and so lovely. Oni is described as being a 3D stop motion hybrid animated series. Can you explain what that means?

Robert Kondo: Yeah. You know, the series itself is actually completely 3D, CG 3D. But the beginning of the project we worked with the studio called Dwarf. That’s a stop motion studio in Japan. Their amazing studio, they’ve done so much amazing work. And so we collaborated at the beginning to create a stop motion sort of test. And Dice just loved that look, the tactile quality of stop motion, how every corner of it is crafted. You know, there was a moment where we considered doing the whole thing in stop motion, but the story just kept getting bigger and bigger.

Robert Kondo: And also all of us, the lot of the leadership at Tonko House, our past, our career thus far has really been in CG making CG animated films. So we sort of took that test and made it sort of our Visual North Star and took that and tried, you know, worked with a studio called Megaliths to really get that craftsmanship, that feel, but also this sort of epic quality of the story that we wanted in CG. And we were really excited. Yeah, just to try something different. Medium.

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Kathryn Hahn, Karen Han: Was there ever a time when you’d considered doing it as 2D? I ask mostly because there are these segments in the series where there are these beautiful paintings done in 2D that are used to render like some stories. And I was wondering if like that was ever a contender for the main look. And even besides that, like how you developed that particular look for those segments?

Dice Tsutsumi: I think the very first animation test we did was to write rubber. That’s right. We did that in 2D and, you know, we made the dam keeper short and dam Keeper performs in 2D and we kind of pretended that we knew how to do 2D. And we’re like, okay, it is the easiest, you know. And then, of course, that’s not the case.

Dice Tsutsumi: But as you mentioned, that, you know, there is a couple of sequences that have that sort of 2D, sort of Japanese traditional paper theater look. And that was fun. That was really fun to kind of play with. It was not only super appropriate for the story point, but also we have a lot of very capable art department at Tonko house that, you know, we take pride in and and they excel whenever we challenge them with, you know, that type of sort of two dimensional solutions. They can, you know, come up with something really beautiful and which they did. So, yeah, I was super proud of that sequence.

Sara Sampson: Yeah, a lot of that creativity, I will say, comes from our sandbox. You know, we have a finite amount of resources and then we have to get very creative on how we can do the story justice and honor. You know, this great big scope. And especially when we started going deeper into night on space patrols past it just, it married very well, right? Like with the traditional Japanese paper theater like Dice mentioned, but also worked very well with our resources because we can’t always go create, you know, a giant new set in CG. So I think we found a good balance, but it really forced us to turn some of our constraints into our strengths.

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Kathryn Hahn, Karen Han: Yeah. And I wanted to ask you to tell me a little bit more about translating the feeling of stop motion animation to CG, for instance, making sure that the character models have this tactile sense to them as well as like considerations about the frame rate, because that’s one of the things that really makes it look like stop motion where there are these slightly kind of jerky transitions. Can you tell me about how you developed that?

Dice Tsutsumi: Yeah. Robert You want to talk about the tactile?

Robert Kondo: Yeah. You know, the wonderful thing and the most difficult thing to me about CG is the fact that everything you once you see on screen has to be invented. And so when in consideration of really the look of a CG animated film, you can play with anything, you can play with the form of something, you can play with the texture of something. And we’ve seen wonderful, especially over the last few years, like wonderful experiments with painterly looks and, and, you know, playing with what that could possibly be.

Robert Kondo: In the beginning, this is the first time that, you know, we really have done something, you know, for for series work. We’re used to sort of giant big studios like Pixar or Blue Sky. And going in, knowing that we felt like we needed to limit our choices, in other words, our exploration, we couldn’t. Stylization and CG is the part that is time consuming because you have to articulate if it’s a mug. Well, it’s not just a mug. It’s got to have this sort of quality to it. It’s got to have this, and then the texture has to be this. And the way it’s lit has to be this. This this becomes like a very arduous process of decision making. And so in order to sort of streamline our capabilities within, you know, a more sort of limited amount of resources than what we were used to in our past, we limited those decisions.

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Robert Kondo: So one of the first things we did was we just said photorealistic textures. In other words, we’re not going to do sort of all these different things with the texture, but the form of it. We wanted to capture a sort of miniature feel. So that meant like the corners of a cabinet might be rounder and softer than you might see in reality. The trees, even the forest, it looks very, you know, believable, hopefully. But the proportion of the moss to like the tree bark and all of that, we played with it so that it again, it not just had sort of a tactile quality but sort of a very approachable quality in which things felt a little softer and the proportion of things felt right to support this puppet feel.

Robert Kondo: So all of these things really in the end were a bit of a result of having to identify where we wanted to really explore the style of our film. But at the end of the day, it meant, you know, a limited number of choices in a way, and that actually helped us to be creative. It, you know, the sand, the closed in sandbox actually really allowed us to explore the lighting and the feel of, you know, it put a lot of a lot of weight actually on the lighting and in working with comping these things together into the frame to create a feeling because that’s always, ah, you know, sort of desired output is actually creating a feeling that, you know, what it feels like to be in the forest. You know what, if you know, you have an imagination to appeal these the other senses of what does it smell like, what does it feel like that are sort of non-visual senses that really became critical to the look of the film?

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Dice Tsutsumi: Yeah, I think we try to capture the charm. So it wasn’t necessarily the fact that it’s this kind of limited frame look that stop motion captures, but the stop motion. Just at least the test we did had such a charm. You know, this sort of like the the origin of the word animation, you know, just kind of giving soul into something, you know, just a sort of motion has that sort of like most obviously, you know, sometimes creating a very strong natural performance with the limited frames requires actually more skills because you have to like each frame counts more, each frame means more.

Dice Tsutsumi: Hmm. So we looked at some of the best animations from AIDS in Japan, like a Japanese television animation from eighties. You know that they had a really difficult budget and resource challenges back then. So they had very limited frame ratio. But some of the best animations from Japan come from that era because they had to be very good with each frame, each pose, and they really stayed focused on just striking these beautiful poses in each frame.

Dice Tsutsumi: We looked at that very much and tried to focus more on the strong poses as opposed to sort of flowy, like super smooth animation like we see at Disney or Pixar Animation, which we love to, but we wanted to do something that we can do considering like this animation was mostly done in Japan. We wanted to use the strength of the Japanese animators.

June Thomas: Mm hmm. We’ll be back with more of Karen’s conversation with Dice, Tsutsumi, Robert Kondo, and Sara Sampson after this.

June Thomas: Listeners, I hope you’ve been enjoying working overtime. The biweekly bonus version focused on listener questions that we launched earlier this year. We absolutely love to give advice and we want to answer your questions, respond to your concerns, and generally share ideas on that show. Is there a creative problem you’re having or a creative practice that’s working very well for you right now? Well, drop us a line at working at Slate.com or call us and leave a voicemail at 304933. W. O. R k. And if you’re enjoying this episode, don’t forget to subscribe to working wherever you get your podcasts.

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June Thomas: Now back to Karen’s conversation with Dice, Tsutsumi, Robert Kondo, and Sara Sampson.

Kathryn Hahn, Karen Han: Robert, I’m glad that you mentioned the sort of, I guess, rules that you guys put on yourselves while you’re making this film, because that was actually another question that I wanted to ask. And I was curious if you had any other examples of what you decided like not to do or what you could do within the structure of the film.

Robert Kondo: Yeah, we did have sort of parameters that we set up. It was more like a decision making process and design. So there are three elements to this. One was sort of a function we always wanted to focus on function. So for instance, if it is not done, you know, he’s a he’s this big red monster. He he doesn’t speak. You know, there’s sort of a function to him in that he’s a dad. He’s sort of a mystery. And so that’s sort of what I would say is like the function of something. And then I think the other thing is the cultural context. So making sure that we take it and we worked with a lot of consultants with with very specific consultants that helped us to make sure beyond having just even a crew that was steeped in Japanese culture, that it always connected back appropriately and was paying respect back to, you know, this story that we were creating in the Japanese culture. And so it would be those two things.

Robert Kondo: And then the final thing would really be what is the aspect of this that makes it fantasy? And so, you know that if you look at like not don’t design, you know, a demon, a big Oni demon, if you look at like old woodcuts and illustrations or statues of Oni in the past, they’re these big muscular painted red guys with horns and they have all the same elements, you know, the horns and all that. And it is very specifically Japanese. But then through Dice’s hand, it becomes almost this very appealing, huggable creature that is sort of our fantasy, very specific to our show. Those were the sort of simple ways that no matter if it were a mug or a cup or a character or our forest, we applied those rules sort of universally throughout to try to be consistent in delivering this made up world to the audience.

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Kathryn Hahn, Karen Han: Mm hmm. And you mentioned that again, the series is one that has a really incredible scope. Like, there are these really domestic scenes between an and are you done? And then you have these like the thunder God sequences as per the title where these really incredible things are happening. And I’m curious if there was any particular sequence that was difficult to pull off where you think of that one as being like the hardest thing to achieve in the series.

Sara Sampson: I’m curious as to what you’re going to say about I will say it was actually the more simple scenes that were the most challenging because there is so much focus on the performance, right on the animation. And that took extra time to get right. But I think as we always think of the same scene that I would love to hear, your thoughts on what you felt was the most.

Dice Tsutsumi: Were you thinking about PBS? Yeah. Yeah, that’s always sort of my favorite. But also it was the hardest scene to really make it feel right. Performance camera lighting because it’s so simple that reveals the weakness so easily if you’re not careful.

June Thomas: PB and J. This is my dad’s specialty.

Speaker 6: My mom doesn’t like it, so I hate it when she’s not around.

Dice Tsutsumi: PBJ sequence has a peanut butter and a jam. There is in the very first in the beginning of episode one, there’s a Natto is a Japanese fermented beans. Those are hard to do in c. G.

Sara Sampson: O. F. Does the great hero eat?

Speaker 6: Not. Oh, that smell well.

Dice Tsutsumi: And yet they don’t necessarily they’re not directly connected to the plot of the story. So to push for, you know, people like Sarah especially liked it to to say, okay, we need to spend money there. You know, it doesn’t necessarily kind of push the story forward in a very western way of kind of story structure. But for me, it was so important for the emotion of the characters and it was so important for the the relationship or the characters. So, you know, those are the hardest things that it didn’t seem like a big deal, but it kind of was a big deal. And and it was difficult to me.

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Sara Sampson: I can’t watch Oni on an empty stomach and so hungry.

Kathryn Hahn, Karen Han: All the food looks so delicious. Dice. I wanted to circle back to one thing you said. You mentioned like certain parts of Oni. Like what hews to a more Western story be. And obviously you’ve said that this story draws a lot from Japanese folklore and your own background. I’m curious how you personally would define the difference between Western and Eastern storytelling, if that’s not too kind of meta a question to ask?

Dice Tsutsumi: I think in general, you know, this is my perspective, so I could totally be wrong. But I feel like in general, you know, having worked at a place like Blue Sky, Pixar and Pixar, we have this discipline of trying to make sure, like every scene, sometimes every shot should have a meaning, should have a purpose, and should have the plot of the story moving, like, let’s make sure our story is continuously moving, which I still take as a really discipline that I hold true to.

Dice Tsutsumi: But also when I watch, like a lot of the Western animated films, I always feel like rushed. You know, that’s like just the way I watch movies. And that way I want to consumers, you know, like I’m one of those people. I love reading, like, novels, right? Like when I read books, I have to stop and think like, I can’t continuously read. That’s the way I consume content story. So for me, I need in the movies, I need the breathing room to like, even though, yes, I know the story has to stop here, but I just want to give a little bit a break, you know?

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Dice Tsutsumi: Yeah. But also, I don’t want to lose the audience either. So it’s always a balance. You know, I feel like a tone cast is such a great place where we we love both, you know, and we always try to find the right balance and and hopefully we were able to do it. I would only like it wasn’t there. Definitely slow moments. And I’ve seen people complaining, Oh, it’s a little slow, but I’ve seen people complaining, especially in Japan. Like sometimes it gets fast and I don’t know, you know. So I think for me, like, that’s that’s the right balance. Like, I want some people to be complaining that it’s it’s moving slow because I like slow, you know. But also, I want to make sure that you don’t lose audience, you know?

Robert Kondo: It’s really interesting because to think of it that way, you know, I think as filmmakers, I don’t think Dice or myself, you know, sort of think of East First West. I feel like we ourselves are sort of represent that with our own identities. In other words, you know, I’m Japanese-American, so and Dice grew up in Japan. But then, you know, as a as an adult, as an artist, move over here and work here in the industry. And so it’s really interesting to ask that question because it forces us to think.

Robert Kondo: But at the same time, I think for us as filmmakers, it’s very instinctual because it comes back to what has influenced us and what we like. That tends to be sort of a blend between Eastern and Western films and, you know, like I think a lot of people in looking at Oni have, you know, talked about Miyazaki. And, you know, Miyazaki is not within our studio, but he might as he feels like he is sometimes because his, you know, his work is, is such a presence within, you know, that has inspired us. And at the same time, we all grew up in Western studios and we love, you know, what those studios have made.

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Robert Kondo: And and I think a lot of times what it comes down to is when I love filmmaking, when it becomes instinctual, you know, when it’s sort of like, I’m not quite sure where this is coming from. And but I know, you know, and I think I love hearing Dice articulate it because, you know, it’s not we haven’t really talked about it, but I can see that in his filmmaking where he just is looking at a scene and he’s like, I just need to breathe here.

Kathryn Hahn, Karen Han: Yeah, absolutely.

Kathryn Hahn, Karen Han: And I guess my next question sort of is on the opposite. Side of the instinctual scale, I guess. But I wanted to ask about building out this story as well. Obviously, you had some sort of idea of what you wanted the story to be first going into the project, but then you have your lead writer, Mario Kart, and then a story team working with you. So what how much did you first bring to them and then how much did you build out from there?

Dice Tsutsumi: I would say, you know, the basic story concept we had because, you know, even before Mary started writing, we were just prepping sort of like overall, like kind of season outline and stuff like that. But I got to say, the basic idea, basic concept was always there, and we stayed true to that. Everything else, I feel like we built together with a team. And, you know, Mary’s contribution was incredible. Like, I mean, she’s the one who wrote the Japanese script, but also she really, you know, with me and with everybody else, like she made the overall story together. So it wasn’t just a script. Like I was constantly talking to her, even when we were animating, when after she was finished with the script, I just kept just talking to her and just getting her feedback.

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Dice Tsutsumi: And in the same way, our story team, our episodic directors Eriko and Hikari Toriyama, and they contributed to the story just as much. And this is something that, that I think is important, that in particular in animation, storyboard artists are a part of the writing team. You know, they write the story together with us. If they’re not using the words, you know, they, they visualize it, but it’s not like a they only illustrate what’s on the script, that they pitch ideas, They come up with different lines and we take it and we go back and rewrite it. And it’s such a a team process. And I know that’s true to every production, but I just don’t think it’s set enough, you know, in the world where you’re only spotlighting certain individuals. But I really enjoyed working with this team.

Dice Tsutsumi: And at the end of the day, the story, I would say was being adjusted until the very end. So the in terms of like little nuances here and there. The only thing that we stayed true to was the very, very, very original sort of vision that we all shared this story of an outsider like, you know, a fear of unknown that that we should we really stuck to as long as that sort of central vision is solid. I really believe that storytelling can be adjusted throughout until the end.

Kathryn Hahn, Karen Han: Well, thank you all so much for taking the time to chat with me about your series. It’s so, so wonderful and I can’t wait to see what you all make next.

Dice Tsutsumi: Thank you very much.

Robert Kondo: Care and caring.

June Thomas: Karen. I loved Dice and Robert’s version of the origin story of Oni. You know, they had a Tonko house art exhibit in Tokyo and they each painted the future, you know, their next project. And that’s what convinced them that it should be inspired by Japanese folklore. That question of what would you like to do next? It can be so difficult to answer because the world is very large, right? And that’s a really kind of inspiring way to figure it out. When you are at a similar place of what’s next decision making? What are the kinds of things that you do to generate ideas?

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Kathryn Hahn, Karen Han: I think I do do something similar. Like I’ll try to write down as many log lines as pop into my head for a story, whether it’s a character or some detail about the world, and then sort of circle back and look at what I’ve got and see what I think can be fleshed out and to what degree. Because I think you can tell what will lend itself to what format. When you’re thinking about a kind of more broadly, whether it you’re like, Oh, this should be a feature film or Oh, this should be a TV show. That’s it. I think I always sit down with maybe more intention than they’re describing in their story, which is maybe why it feels kind of more like work sometimes. Yeah. Which is, I think, a trap that we all often fall into for real.

June Thomas: I also loved their answer to the question about the contrast between, I guess you could say, the domestic and the epic in the phony and how the domestic scenes were some of the hardest, in part because it’s maybe easier to make a pitch for more money to create Armageddon or something massive than it is to render, not dough properly. Yeah, and it’s a sign of a healthy project that they all seem to agree that it was important to get that small stuff right. I mean, that’s a really good sign of of the project, right?

Kathryn Hahn, Karen Han: I mean, obviously it’s good if you’re all on the same page or at least working in a way that is helping all of you rather than hindering. I guess that’s where constructive criticism comes in. Yeah. That said, I think they’re also totally right about these sort of domestic details being incredibly important because they’re ultimately what’s more familiar to any viewer. Like if you’re watching a giant like, epic fight, none of us have ever really been in that position before. So you can kind of go pretty wild with it. But if it’s like eating a bowl of rice, like that’s a pretty common experience and you have to make sure that it is grounded in some kind of reality, which is harder to do. And those details make a world feel more lived in and I think are kind of more affecting in the end.

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Kathryn Hahn, Karen Han: Like in the interview, they mentioned Studio Ghibli and Hayao Miyazaki’s work, and I think that’s kind of a prime example. Like, I think the scene that I think about the most in Spirited Away is the scene where the main character is like crying and eating a rice bowl. Just because it’s rendered in a way that’s so careful and so recognizable. The little things really, really do matter.

June Thomas: Yeah. Also, is there anything more relatable than crying while eating?

Kathryn Hahn, Karen Han: No, it’s absolutely true.

June Thomas: I was unexpectedly moved, by the way that Dice and Robert especially talked about using folklore and traditional forms to explore a universal question. In their case, it was how we acknowledge differences without resorting to fear or scape gloating. I’ve never been a folklore or mythology person, and I wonder, is there a traditional story that you’ve been drawn to explore or reframe?

Kathryn Hahn, Karen Han: Yeah, I’m generally really interested in Korean folklore as someone of Korean heritage. Maybe, obviously, and I’ve thought a lot about trying to adapt a Korean folk story to a short film or something like that. But I haven’t given it more serious thought than that just yet. But what about you?

June Thomas: Well, it’s funny. As I say, I’m not into folklore or mythology, but I’ve been really drawn. You know, when I talk, when I think about, you know, when you’re asked to describe yourself in however many adjectives, you know, three, five, whatever the number is, one of the ones that I always go for is northern, because I’m from the north of England. It’s there’s you know, it’s a culture.

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June Thomas: Yeah. And even though I moved away when I was very young and I don’t live there now, I feel a great deal of pride. And there is, you know, there’s a language that I think is disappearing. I don’t hear it anymore. I grew up speaking it with my parents, but my mom doesn’t really use it anymore because, you know, she used to use it with her parents or her husband, who, you know, those people have gone. So maybe something to do with, you know, northern language. I just borrowed from the library a book that is written in a Scots. I don’t know. I never you I never know if it’s okay to say dialect or that’s almost a slur against the integrity of the language. But certainly, you know, the language I grew up speaking was always referred to as a dialect. And it’s just maybe it was inspiring. So maybe when I’ll go home, I’ll take some recording and see if I can cool some words down. Yeah. Yeah.

June Thomas: Karen, I’m definitely going to watch Oni because today they’ve really made me excited about it. It sounds amazing. And having taken a quick squint, I know it looks amazing. But as you know, I am an animation know nothing. And so I wonder, can you point out one thing in Oni that will enhance my experience and appreciation of the show? Something for me to watch out for, maybe.

Kathryn Hahn, Karen Han: Yeah, I think we talk about this a little in the episode, but I think paying attention to the textures is a big thing. It’s a part of what we were talking about with regard to the little details, I guess. Like even in the big battle scenes, there’s such care put into the little details, like the texture of smoke or of a monster, and then in the little things like the texture of the rice and again, the texture of the matter. And I also think it’s worth it if you’re not familiar with Japanese folklore, I guess this is not really an animation bit, but still sort of go on an Easter egg hunt with the kami in the show that you don’t recognize because all of them like are named at some point so that you could go look them up and see what their deal is. And it is a lot of fun to do because, I mean, they’re such fun stories and such weird little details about all the monsters. And I think it will sort of enrich your viewing of the show.

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June Thomas: Amazing. That is all the time we have this week, though. Unless, of course, you are a Slate Plus subscriber, in which case you will hear a little something extra from this week’s interview. Not only that, but you’ll get extra segments on shows like Culture Gabfest and the ways you’ll hear and two episodes just for you of shows like Big Mood, Little Mood, and you’ll never hit a paywall on the Slate site. For more information, go to Slate dot com slash working plus.

Kathryn Hahn, Karen Han: Thank you to our guests Dice. So to me Robert Kondo and Sara Sampson. And thanks to our wonderful producer Cameron Drews. Next week, guest host and friend of the show Zack Rosen will be talking to two members of the hinterlands, an innovative Detroit theater group. Until then, get back to work.

Kathryn Hahn, Karen Han: Hello, Slate Plus listeners. Here is an extra bit of my conversation with Nicer to me, Robert Kondo and Sara Sampson. You mentioned that Mario Kart like did a Japanese version of the script as well. And I was wondering, was there ever or when you go into Netflix and watch this, the default option is English and not just because we’re in America. And I was curious if there was ever a point where you envisioned this as the default being in Japanese. Or if it was always, in your mind, an English language project?

Dice Tsutsumi: Well, that’s a good question. It was always an English language only because we animated in English, but we did the Japanese dub afterwards. Yeah. But Mari was involved in the final script of Japanese dubbed version two. So the Japanese dubbed Version I when I watched.

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Dice Tsutsumi: Now, if it does feel like it was made as original too. So we actually asked Netflix if there is any way we could make Japanese and English both original and have the original tag attached, because that’s kind of how we feel like because it started off as a Japanese script and then turned into English and then we made the entire production in English. But then we turned back to the Japanese by the original writers. So we really felt like both Japanese English are considered original. Yeah. But to answer a question, we did animate to English.

Kathryn Hahn, Karen Han: Okay. And one final question. As all of you are working in the animation industry, do you have any particular favorite animated film or TV series that you see as being like your favorite or particularly formative to you?

Sara Sampson: That’s a good question. I’ll just go first. I love Ghost in the Shell. That’s like my all time favorite animated film. I remember seeing that at a young age and just my mind was blown. You know, just to like, have such a forward thinking concept in this beautiful animated world. I still think about it probably like once a week. That beautiful story. But yeah, and that’s that would be my favorite.

Dice Tsutsumi: Robert.

Robert Kondo: Yeah. There’s so many, I think, you know. I think about the Iron Giant Brad Bird’s Iron Giant. It just at the age I watched it and the story of a little boy who has the most wonderful imaginary friend. In a way, this giant robot just is so evocative and just, you know, the curiosity of a kid. Still, when I watch it, I just and so instantly transported back and and it’s just one of those. It’s a piece of film that I know it’s animation. I know it’s a cartoon, but it’s a wonderful film that, you know, I just anytime I can watch it on the big screen, it’s just so cinematic. It’s so it’s all the things that, you know, I hope the future of animation continues to contain and hold. And what I hope the films we make, you know, are able to capture in terms of imagination and fun.

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Dice Tsutsumi: Mm hmm. I mean, for me, not not to sound probably generic, but, you know, I would have to probably name one of Miyazaki’s films. You know, I think a lot of us who work in industry in particular, I’m I grew up in Japan, and, you know, that influence was pretty big. Yeah. And, you know, I always kind of picked like Turturro or Lapid, you know, as my favorite films for, for this particular project. Oni I really was influenced by the future boy. CONAN That was like, you know, a television series he made, like back in eighties. You know, it might have been like late seventies, like a really old right? But really with the super limited resources, I mean, we complain about limited resources that we had to deal with, but then he probably had even 10% of that.

Dice Tsutsumi: Right. And you can still watch and you can definitely notice the limited animation, you know, sort of production value. But it’s it’s just I get glued to the story, I get glued to the characters. And and it doesn’t matter, you know, if it’s if it has a story and characters that are intriguing, you know, that are appealing you, you don’t worry about how much money they had, how much time they had. And it’s a reminder for for for us to pursue the love of animation, you know, despite the limitations in my encounter. And that’s how we try to make Oni.

Kathryn Hahn, Karen Han: And that’s it for the Slate Plus segment this week. As always, thank you so much for your support and we’ll see you next week.

Dice Tsutsumi: So.