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Kazuhiro Wakabayashi (若林 和弘 , Wakabayashi Kazuhiro) is a Japanese sound director formerly belonging to Omnibus Promotion. After becoming a freelancer, he established his own sound/post-production studio, Fonishia, on May 7, 2004. His real name is Kazuhiro Hayashi (林 和弘). He's also a visiting professor at Kyoto Seika University.

A longtime collaborator with Studio Ghibli and Production I.G., he's also worked on series such as Ranma 1/2, The Vision of Escaflowne, Soul Eater, xxxHolic, Squid Girl, Moribito, and The Seven Deadly Sins. He also made a cameo appearance on the 2014 series Shirobako


Early Life

Born December 20, 1964, in Tokyo. During a lecture at Digital Hollywood University held on May 13, 2015, Wakabayashi explains the origins of his profession, “When I was a student, there weren’t any specialized schools for animation,” he recalls. But on the flip side, anime being a fairy young industry also meant some studios were run rather casually. Being a fan of then-airing comedy anime Urusei Yatsura, Wakabayashi decided to pop into the studio producing the show for a visit.

He turned out to have great timing. Not only did Wakabayashi show up on a day when the staff had enough spare time to show him around, it also turned out they’d just had a part-timer quit, and they offered him a job. The young fan accepted, and went to work helping out with sound recording and other audio-related tasks.

After finishing his education he initially worked as an electronics salesman. However, in his second year on the job he got into a heated argument with his boss. Thankfully, just as Wakabayashi could feel that position had run its course, he was offered another by a contact he'd made while working on Urusei Yatsura, who asked his former coworker to join him at the sound production company where he was currently employed. From then on out, Wakabayashi has been working in anime sound recording and direction.


“If Miyazaki is thinking of work, and has to spend longer than is absolutely necessary talking to someone, he gets in a bad mood. If he doesn’t like how something has been drawn, he’ll just grab the animator’s paper and start drawing how he wants things done all over it. If Oshii wants someone to do something differently, he has to talk with him, so he’s get a lot more aptitude for communicating with people in that way than Miyazaki does."
—Kazuhiro Wakabayashi discussing working with Hayao Miyazaki and Mamoru Oshii

Wakabayashi with Atsuko Tanaka (voice actor of the Major from Ghost in the Shell, not to be confused with the animator of the same name) and Mamoru Oshii.

Over the course of his career, Wakabayashi has served as sound or recording director with Hayao Miyazaki and Mamoru Oshii for the Academy Award-winning Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke, Howl's Moving Castle, and Ghost in the Shell. During the 2015 interview, he explained his duties as sound supervisor, “Most overall directors are so focused on how the show looks, they only have a vague concept of how they want it to sound,” he explained. As such, a sound director will take on duties including auditioning voice talent, coaching them through their lines, creating sound effects, and handling the final mixing of dialogue, music, and sound effects.

When describing how it was working with Miyazaki, he explained he had to work with a larger than normal staff as Miyazaki tended to want things be perfect. For example, even if the same sort of sound, say a bug's legs scurrying across the floor, was called for multiple times, Wakabayashi wouldn't reuse the exact same effect, but would create a new one as many times as needed for a more natural result. Even for something as seemingly simple as a drawer being opened in the enchanted bathhouse where main character Chihiro works, Wakabayashi travelled to an open-air architectural museum in Tokyo with a preserved apothecary filled with similar wooden compartments to record an authentic-sounding effect.

Wakabayashi had at least ten people working with him on Spirited Away.

On Spirited Away, for example, we were working with child actors, but they're still actors, so you have to be able to communicate with them and give them direction. But any performer, if you just tell them what they're doing is wrong, they'll start to lose energy and motivation. So I always let my actors know what they're doing right first, and then go on to what we need to fix.”

It can be a difficult job, especially given the rapid pace of TV anime production, in which a new episode is aired each and every week. Oftentimes, Wakabayashi explained, he has to be creating the audio before the art is finished. Sometimes this means working off of rough animation tests that are in black and white or have odd patches of flat color where digital effects are to be added later.

In the most extreme cases, he’s got nothing but a script, making his job even harder since he has to direct voice actors who’re doing their recording without any visual references. There is one upside to this, though. “If both the visuals and audio are done, but there’re out of sync, a decision has to be made as to which one to fix. But if the audio is completed before the visuals, then we can just have the visual staff match up to what we’ve done, and we don’t have to go back and redo our work,” he laughed.

Influential Figures

An important connection Wakabayashi made during his days as a part-timer was with Mamoru Oshii, who served as director for the first half of the immensely popular Urusei Yatsura. This would eventually lead to Wakabayashi being tapped for many of Oshii's later projects such as the first Patlabor movie (Wakabayashi's theatrical debut), international hit Ghost in the Shell and its sequel, Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence, and The Sky Crawlers.

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