Whisperings of a Rose (Interview with Kunihiko Ikuhara & Chiho Saitoh)

The following is an interview found in the May 1997 edition of the Japanese magazine Newtype, discussing how Kunihiko Ikuhara and Chiho Saitoh came to meet and how they worked together to create the now famous characters in the Utena universe.

I know this isn't generally what I blog about or what this Patreon is for, but I really loved this interview and just wanted to share it with as many people as possible.

I hope you find it interesting, and if you have any questions, let me know!

(I scanned all the relevant pages and attached them to this post, but the translation only covers the last two pages between Ikuhara and Saitoh)

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The Whisperings of the Rose

The Exciting Encounter Between a Beautiful Shojo Manga Artist and a Blonde Director

Take a look at these two – they are the parents who gave birth to “Revolutionary Girl Utena.”

Chiho Saitoh (author) and Kunihiko Ikuhara (director) make for quite a dazzling couple – they each represent the picture of perfection. It's to the credit of these two spectacular parents that we have Utena and Anthy.

Today, we’ll have these two tell us about themselves, including how their whirlwind romance got started.

Ikuhara: It must have been over two years ago when I first saw Chiho’s work. I was simply stunned. I felt compelled to make an anime out of her art. I tried reaching out to her, and I’ll never forget the day we first met. It was in May, right? I thought she looked beautiful in photos, but I was absolutely stunned when I saw her in person.

Saitoh: It was the same for me – I was absolutely amazed to be meeting with this young, blonde-haired anime director. In the beginning, he hardly spoke much. All he could talk about was about the sensuality in my art. And he was pretty passionate about that, too. (laugh)

Ikuhara: The first picture I saw of hers was a nude of a man and a woman, outdoors. It really spoke to me. (laugh)

Saitoh: But that was just a big misunderstanding. I actually drew a couple indoors, wearing a gown. (laugh)

Ikuhara: It was the cover to a magazine, so my imagination had taken off about what was under the parts covered by the lettering.

Saitoh: The most important part. But we did share the goal of wanting to draw something sensual.

Ikuhara: That’s how she came to work with us (the Utena Planning Group: Be-Papas). We started on the character designs around fall of 1995.

Saitoh: There were countless phone calls and faxes going back and forth. Every day it was “you need to do this,” or “do it like that.”

Ikuhara: Settling on the characters is absolutely essential. If the imagery doesn’t tell a story, then I won’t be able to get any inspiration.

Saitoh: I’m interested in finding a way to use the whole body to express meaning, which probably has something to do with my love for ballet. Even the slightest adjustment to the movement of a hand or the neck, and the whole feeling can change.

Ikuhara: Exactly! There’s a whole world of meaning lying within Chiho’s pictures. I felt that if all this going back and forth could bring out just a little more of that nuance, it’d be worth it. I wanted to fight with her. Or really, maybe I just wanted to spend more time together with her. (laugh)

Saitoh: Compared with the female characters, the male characters were typically approved in the first round. I was robbed of that little pleasure…! (laugh)

Ikuhara: Not at all. I wanted to make Chiho happy, so I made sure to put a lot of male characters in, introduced her to the Takarazuka Revue (a favorite of hers), and made a shojo/opera-esque story. The main character is even a beautiful girl in men’s clothes!

Saitoh: Even still, there’s quite a bit of that “Ikuhara touch” involved. Take the battle scenes, for example, and that strange music that plays. It's like something out of an underground theater production. (laugh)

Ikuhara: I wanted to make something that had absolutely never been seen before.

Saitoh: Seeing my own work turned into an anime is a dream of mine. I was thrilled to see the characters move. And I didn’t even feel like there was anything off from the manga. (smile)

Director Ikuhara told Ms. Saitoh that he had wanted to make an anime that would make women happy when they watched it. In actuality, maybe the woman he was really talking about was Ms. Saitoh.

“[Chiho] is the most important woman to me, and truly understands me,” Director Ikuhara commented.

Perhaps what we can say is that “Revolutionary Girl Utena” is full of rich, interesting stories thanks to the trust (!) and love (?) developed between these two.