Originally posted on 16 August 2018
Source: Siren ReBIRTH Volume 1

Siren ReBIRTH: Nobuaki Mitsuda x Naoko Sato

Work on the huge hit of a horror game began with blind fumbling!

Sato: How did you end up appearing in Siren in the first place?

Mitsuda: My agency told me to go to an audition, so I went and did it without knowing anything about it.

Sato: Was anything about the game or anything like that explained to you at the time?

Mitsuda: Nothing whatsoever. I just went along, and there I was given something white and cylindrical and told, "Pretend this is a person and kill it!" (laughs). I did it, wondering what on earth they were talking about. I remember that very vividly.

Sato: Our methods were very different from those of the way a video work would normally be produced, so I think it must have been bewilderment after bewilderment for the actors.

Mitsuda: Right (laughs). Even once filming had begun, I still didn't know the gist of the story. I just had to try looking at the storyboards I'd been given and try replicating those movements...

Sato: Oh, yeah - we started out having you give a rough performance, and then we'd record the voices based on that video. After that, we'd shoot the motion capture.

Mitsuda: And at the very end, you'd film our facial expressions...

Mr. Mitsuda wearing a motion capture bodysuit. 29 years old.

Sato: Thinking about it now, it really does seem like it must've been a nightmare for the actors.

Mitsuda: No, no, it was fun. I couldn't even begin to imagine what the completed version was going to be like, and just wondered how it was going to end up.

Sato: We sort of cut-and-pasted it all together, after all. Things like facial expressions were still at a stage where technically speaking they would seem off, so we were worried about whether or not the players would be able to empathise with them.

It's unbeatable... The despair-inducing difficulty level

Editor: Did you feel like you figured out for the first time what sort of game it was only after it was finished?

Mitsuda: Yes. I was really impressed the first time I saw a cutscene from the game. I didn't think the faces would show up so clearly. But when I had a go at actually playing it, it was way too hard and I couldn't make any progress whatsoever.

Sato: It's a cruel game, isnt't it? (laughs)

Mitsuda: I just sat there watching myself die over and over again. The nail hammer weapon being so strong did help me out, though.

Sato: We have the internet now, but back then there were only guidebooks.

Mitsuda: Apparently, even if you looked through a guidebook as you went, you still couldn't finish it at all (laughs).

Sato: I played through it myself to check for bugs, and even though I knew how the scenario went I still couldn't beat it at all. There were even times where I threw my controller to the floor (laughs).

Mitsuda: Why did the game end up being so difficult?

Sato: The development team were all full of youthful vigour, and found an aesthetic in it being difficult.. We stuck to the slogan "however hard to struggle, it's hopeless" too closely (laughs).

Mitsuda: The TV commercial was a hot topic back then, too. That legendary one that was so scary it immediately got taken off air...

Sato: They were so mad at us (laughs). It was even being played during the morning at a time when kids were watching.

Mitsuda: But having it taken off the air actually seems to have had the opposite effect of making it more well-known.

Sato: We were sort of like the pioneers of "outrage marketing"* (laughs). The atmosphere was calm back then, but they might have got angrier at us if it happened these days.

*A form of marketing where negative attention is intentionally attracted to promote a product or service through backlash-induced notoriety.

The image of Shiro Miyata, completed by Nobuaki Mitsuda

Sato: One thing I can't forget is the time when you asked me, "Just who is Miyata?" during shooting...

Mitsuda: I remember that. I was playing him without knowing how things ended up, and Miyata in particular had a lot of strange lines. I wasn't sure exactly what sort of character he was.

Sato: I stood there thinking for a long time, wondering what I should say, instead of being able to answer immediately. That's how much of a blind fumble production was.

Mitsuda: Did you come up with an answer?

Sato: The way I see it these days, he's actually a very serious person. He tries to fulfil the role and duty assigned to him, but it's specifically because he's serious that he pushes onwards and ends up doing something unforgivable...

Mitsuda: Because his character is that of a psychopath.

Sato: I was so green as a developer that I couldn't even answer the question about what sort of person he was, so I think it was you who created and completed the character of Miyata.

His CV from the time, where he was said to have "a smile that looked too pleasant".

A realistic atmosphere to amplify the terror

Editor: What was the clincher that made you select Mr. Mitsuda after the auditions?

Sato: The final decision was made by the director, Toyama, but at first we were thinking of asking someone shadier-looking, or quirkier, to play him. We were worried that maybe Mr. Mitsuda might be too pleasant-seeming. But he was going to have to play the roles of both twins by himself, so we decided to go with someone with range who had a different side to him. And in the end, of course, he had the talent as an actor. I think about how amazing he is every time I look back on the game. He was able to switch back and forth between the roles of Miyata and Makino just like that.

Mitsuda: We recorded both voices for the scene where Miyata and Makino chat inside the hospital all in one go. Normally you'd record both separately and then combine them later on, but...

Sato: Siren was the first game to adopt the method of creating a game alongside actors, so we hadn't considered coming up with a fiming method that would make it easy to do the acting. Thinking about it now, I wonder if maybe we forced the actors to do something absurd.

Mitsuda: No, no, it was fun. I look back on those long scenes sometimes myself, too.

Sato: We had people with all different sorts of careers play characters in Siren. We had a lot of people like models who had no acting experience, too.

Mitsuda: But that was a good fit.

Sato: Right, that's what makes the casting so miraculous. Those natural performances gave the characters a sense of realism, like they might actually exist.

Mitsuda: And that realism increases the terror.

Sato: I think that out of all of them, Miyata and Makino were the more difficult roles, since even though they had a realism to them they also had fantasy elements to them that could never actually exist. Thanks to you making them your own and playing them that way, they became popular characters.

The fun of solving the story's puzzles

Mitsuda: The difficulty of the game itself is high, but the story itself is complicated, too. If I'm honest, I still don't really get it (laughs).

Sato: The only way we had to explain the story was the cutscenes we put in the intervals during the game. We searched around to see if there was some other method we could use. That led to the creation of the archive system.

Mitsuda: The system where you pick up items that allow you to view information.

Sato: We thought about a system that would supplement the characters and events of the world, but also allow the player to pause and consider everything. We wanted to make it something where you could gradually dig up the truth, like having a character's comment be tied to a certain item that allows you to figure out its hidden meaning.

Mitsuda: There are so many things you won't understand just by beating the game.

Sato: I wanted people to finish the game, then put together all of the information they'd gathered once more and then start trying to figure out the puzzle of the story.

Mitsuda: One of Siren's charms is also the many blank spaces that leave room for your imagination.

Editor: The enthusiasm of the fans trying to explain those things is amazing, too. And having the archives allowed a comic version to be made.

Sato: It must be really hard work for the artist and writer. They're solving the puzzle of the story as presented in the archives 15 years on through the Siren: ReBIRTH manga. It's a complete guide born from a new interpretation!

The world of Siren, completed by the passion of its fans

Editor: Communication was enthusiastic between fans on message boards and the like even back then, due to the difficulty of the game and the complexity of the story.

Mitsuda: The game doesn't end when you beat it; there's the fun of thinking about it yourself and working together with friends to find the answers. They must be sucked in by its depth and not be able to get back out.

Sato: These days, it's specifically because they overcame that difficulty that the love runs so deep, and everyone loves like Shibito (laughs). I think social media has played a part in it getting so much love from fans even after 15 years. Through the internet and things like that, I always feel the affection the fans send our way. Siren is completed by the passion of its fans. That hasn't changed one bit.

Editor: Social media turns into quite a party atmosphere every years between the third and fifth of August, when Hanuda Village is hit by the strange happenings. They have things like the "Miyata's car is burning festival".

Mitsuda: What's that?

Sato: Each August, hashtags like #EnteringTheOtherWorld and #Siren appear on Twitter. People change their avatars to Shibito and make things look like Siren, doing a running commentary like something's actually happening in Hanuda Village right now. Like, "Kyoya's been shot!", or, "Miyata's car's been set on fire!"

Miyata: Not the car...! Someone needs to bring a fire extinguisher!

Sato: I think that would make everyone happy. Like, oh, someone has finally come to put out the fire after 15 years (laughs).

From Siren ReBIRTH chapter four. Miyata's car before being set on fire.

15th anniversary! New directions!

Sato: In the year of its 15th anniversary we've started a new comic adaptation, and I'd like to take it somewhere new, too.

Mitsuda: I'd like an anime version or a stage play, too.

Sato: I have loads of ideas about what I'd like to do if we made a stage play of it. Things like giving red penlights to the audience and creating a red sea (laughs).

Mitsuda: Ah, yes. I'd like to do that!

Sato: And have Shibito performing umi-gaeri walking down the middle aisle (laughs).

Mitsuda: You have a complete idea of the whole thing, don't you?

Sato: I'd like to involve audience participation. I dream of the day we're able to make it happen.

Mitsuda: Maybe I'll get to play Miyata and Makino again. I'll prepare myself well for it (laughs).

Sato: We're holding our first special Siren-themed exhibition to mark the 15th anniversary at Nakano Broadway in Tokyo (1-14 August 2018), and in the summer we also plan on releasing our third pack of Line stamps.

Mitsuda: I'm grateful to all of the fans who love Siren.

Sato: Make sure you enjoy the 15th anniversary with us!

Storyboards for Siren's cutscenes. The pictures were drawn following the director's orders by illustrator Yoko Tanji.