From fluttering hair and dresses to explosion shockwaves and magical attacks, the wind men of anime have a bag of tricks that will blow you away…
“See? The flow has to be just right and coming from two different directions” the man leans over and whispers in my ear. We are standing on a hilltop overlooking the filming of a crucial scene in the anime Log Horizon (the details of which I am barred from discussing, since the episode has not yet aired). He is in charge of a team of highly skilled operators, without whom the scene would lack a critical emotional component. The man leads his group of technicians with the skill and grace of a symphony conductor, and they accurately carry out his instructions like world class instrumentalists. They are the Kaze-sha – the wind men of anime; the man is Matobe Kuriyama, the legendary guru of anime wind effects.
“If we do our job right, no one knows we exist,” says Kuriyama. We are back at the headquarters of his company, Fuuryoku LTD, just outside Tokyo. “It is all about being transparent. Transparent like the wind,” he says with a chuckle. His office window looks out over the impressive expanse of his operation, which has grown over the last 30 years into a special effects empire. “Back in the beginning it was just me standing off camera with a fan. Sometimes during close up shots I would even blow through a straw if we needed something subtle. Now it’s all done with sophisticated equipment, a lot of which I designed myself,” he says with pride. “Most of the gear we use now was developed over the years by necessity.” Later, during a tour of his warehouse, he points to one particularly elaborate-looking contraption with an array of ducts that resembles a giant tentacle monster. “We built this one back in the 80’s and we still use it today. In fact, we used it during the transformation sequences in Kill la Kill. The down-up wind is a tricky effect, but we route it with the ducts and we can even change direction fluidly as we shoot. If only I had this one during the early Gundam days,” he laments.
Matobe Kuriyama started his career in the 1970’s as part of a general special effects/production crew and worked on a number of high profile projects in the late 70’s and early 80’s such as Mobile Suit Gundam. “I remember Urusei Yatsura was the first time we discussed wind effects as its own field,” says Kuriyama, and points to a photo of him with Lum on the set. “There was one scene in particular where Ataru yanks off Lum’s top with a suction-cup gun, and it just wasn’t looking right. After several unsuccessful takes, we had a meeting with the director to figure out what needed to be done; that’s when I suggested using a fan to make the top flutter. During the next take I stood off camera with a large piece of cardboard and waved it as hard as I could. That’s all it took – the shot looked perfect, the director loved it, and the rest is history,” he chuckles. “An entire career born from a shot exposing a woman’s breasts.”
The rise of the Kaze-sha and the perfection of wind manipulation techniques have also made life easier for production in general, allowing filming to be done on sound stages and using green screen; but many creators still enjoy working on location, which poses many challenges. Kuriyama points to another device that looks more like a tank from a Satoshi Kon war movie than a special effects tool, quaintly called The Beach Tamer. “Filming on the beach is very difficult,” Kuriyama explains. “There is always a lot of wind and it almost never does what we want it to. The Tamer enables us to unfurl a large array of sails that can block natural wind entirely or partially, and even allows us to reroute and attenuate it to our needs. We built it for the filming of RahXephon because the scenes with Reika on the beachside cliff were critical and had to be done just right. Many beach episodes focus less on the drama and more on comedy or fan service, and hence natural wind is often sufficient, but RahXephon was one case where the director insisted we shoot on location but also needed us to have full control over the wind. I still call it The Beach Tamer but everyone else around here prefers the name Mishima,” he says and points to a picture of Reika painted on the side. “The staff here likes referring to the large machines as girls, but that seems to be going around these days.”
So, where does Kuriyama-san see the industry going? “A lot is done with computers nowadays,” he laments. “Take Arpeggio of Blue Steel, for example. Most wind scenes in that show were done with guide wires that are later removed in post-production, or even with fully computerized hair!” So will he soon find himself out of work, I ask? Kuriyama smiles warmly. “I don’t think so,” he says. “There is always need for wind men. And if there comes a time when anime no longer requires my services, I could always break into the air conditioning world,” he says with a wry smile.