INTERVIEW: A Whisker Away Director Tomotaka Shibayama

Image Source: Netflix

The second feature film from Studio Colorido, A Whisker Away was originally scheduled for June 5, 2020 in Japanese theaters.  As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, it was instead released on Netflix worldwide on June 18 that year and reached a much wider audience as a result. In the anime film, we follow Miyo “Muge” Sasaki who is an eccentric high school girl who has a crush on her classmate Kento Hinode. She eventually discovers a magical mask that allows her to transform into a cat and get close to Kento. 

We had the opportunity to interview co-director Tomotaka Shibayama and CEO of TWIN ENGINE Koji Yamamoto as they shared some insights on A Whisker Away.

A Whisker Away is your first movie. How did you join the project, and what was the experience like? 

Tomotaka Shibayama:  I felt it was crucial as a director to bring the team together and work with the team and bear that responsibility. 

I learned how difficult it could be to really work on an original series like A Whisker Away. When you look at the finished product between an original work and an adaptation, both anime types might seem like you were doing the same thing, but the process is completely different. So that’s something that we learned. 

Image Source: Netflix

How were the directorial and storyboarding responsibilities with Junichi Satou-san divided?

Shibayama: From the planning stage, it was a project brought up by Mari Okada and Junichi Satou, the writers. But Satou-san is sometimes very busy, and sometimes he can’t make it to the studio in person to work on it. That’s where I came in to maintain that vibe and passion that he brings to the studio and make sure that it doesn’t die when he’s absent.

As far as who did what, Satou-san handled the overall direction of the movie. We worked on the storyboard together, and I would be in the studio and would work on the direction and different scenes. Satou-san would go to the sound studio and direct the sound effects and direction. That’s how we divided our responsibilities. 


As expected from the premise, there’s plenty of cat animation in A Whisker Away. Can you tell us more about that side of the production and what sort of responsibilities cat motion designer Masafumi Yokota-san was tasked with?

Shibayama: There are a lot of cat owners at the studio. Unfortunately, Yokota-san is not a cat owner. So what we did was he got all of the staff members to take videos of their cats, and Yokota-san would review these cat videos. It informed him on how he would animate the cats. 

I personally went to cat cafes and got to hang out with the cats and gained that inspiration. 

Image Source: Netflix

Speaking of cats, A Whisker Away feels mysterious and fantastical. What led to the decision to incorporate the fantasy of a cat world within the human world? 

Shibayama: First of all, Mari Okada had a cat. The reason why she wanted to work on this project was that her cat had passed away. There was that emotional desire to tell a story about cats. We took inspiration from Tokoname, Aichi, known for its fried foods. 

Koji Yamamoto: We’re both from Tokoname and it’s a rather unique place with lots of old chimneys. From an outside perspective, it may seem weird and unusual. That became an inspiration for going into the fantasy world of cats. 


Which scene did you enjoy working on the most? Did any moments stand out to you?

Shibayama: There was a time during the production process when we decided we were building this world for cats. Coming in, we knew it’s going to be a pretty difficult undertaking. 

I had a lot of anxieties about that, but once we started to envision the world and when I got to see the actual visuals and sceneries, it gave me a lot of confidence. 


Can you give us a small hint of what sort of experience we can expect from your upcoming 2024 movie?

Shibayama: A Whisker Away garnered much international attention when it was released on Netflix. We have many fans, so for this next project, we aim to make it for those fans of A Whisker Away.  

We’ve heard that many teens and young people watched the movie. The younger generation is encountering a lot of problems and it has become challenging to be motivated to accomplish things. It’s easier to give up before even trying. We’re hoping that this next film would be something of a motivator to get the younger generation back on their feet. 


Any final comments to fans overseas as they look forward to your upcoming work? 

Shibayama: Both Studio Colorido and TWIN ENGINE are aiming to produce for the international audience. We’re coming for you, world! Watch out for us.  

Special thanks to TWIN ENGINE for the opportunity. A Whisker Away is now streaming on Netflix. 

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