Domee Shi, director of “Turning Red”, influenced by video games

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“Turning Red” director Domee Shi recalls the time she attended an anime convention after class and walked the halls of her high school dressed in her cosplay outfit. She was dressed as Luffy, the main character of the pirate anime “One Piece”.

“I was just like, ‘Oh, I don’t have time to change. I’m just going to change into my cosplay outfit,'” Shi recalled. looked so odd.”

Years later, she remembered the looks people gave her and remembered rushing into her mother’s car. These days, she said, celebrities like Doja Cat and Billie Eilish are embracing Japanese comics, reflecting how widespread nerd culture has become.

“The nerd geek culture of the 1990s and 2000s has now become mainstream,” Shi said. “That’s great. It absolutely wasn’t the case when we were growing up. At the time, I was vice president of the anime club [in high school]. … I was considered a freak freak.

Growing up in Canada around this time and experiences such as high school cosplay attire served as inspiration for “Turning Red,” a Disney’s Pixar coming-of-age film about a Chinese girl. -Canadian who turns into a red panda when embarrassed. Released straight to Disney Plus on March 11, the film marks Shi’s directorial debut after she first rose to fame with the 2018 Oscar-winning short film “Bao.” In Pixar’s 36-year history, she is the first woman to direct a film on her own.

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Shi, who wrote and directed “Turning Red” with a female-led crew, imbued the film with references to nerd culture while being an avid gamer herself. She recalled watching fan-translated anime episodes and playing Nintendo games in secret after bedtime, and now that the movie is out, she can’t wait to get back to it. the game in his free time.

In “Turning Red,” set in 2002, 13-year-old Meilin Lee doodles manga under her bed, using images inspired by Japanese comics like “One Piece” and “Sailor Moon.” She takes care of a virtual pet Tamagotchi while doing her homework and she idolizes a boy band with elements of Korean pop music.

Shi said that she and production designer Rona Liu’s love of Nintendo influenced the look of “Turning Red”.

“We both love that cute, chunky aesthetic, and it’s definitely been fostered by playing Nintendo games, like ‘Pokémon,’ like ‘EarthBound,'” Shi said. “There’s just something so appealing about how they’re able to style their world in such an appealing, chunky, cute way. When we were looking at the development of our film’s appearance, we looked at ‘Breath of the Wild” and we were like, “Wow, how are they able to make the world so beautiful and rich, but are you still able to simplify it? » ”

She added that video games have been a big influence for her in animation “because a lot of video games take more risks that way, compared to animated films, which stick to a more traditional”.

Shi was able to play these games growing up despite his parents being less enthusiastic about his hobby. She played Pokémon and Zelda games on portable devices like a lime-green Game Boy Color and Nintendo DS Lite so she could hide them under her pillow to play beyond the hours allowed by her parents.

“[My parents] have much the same attitude as a lot of parents then, and even now, i.e. “it’s a waste of time”. Are you obsessed with it? Get outdoors and exercise. said Shi. “They didn’t really understand.”

“Turning Red” was embroiled in controversy in early March after a critic called it “exhausting” on Twitter and said in a review that he felt the target audience was “very specific and very narrow,” focusing on a Chinese-Canadian teenage girl. After her review was loudly denounced on social media, the outlet deleted it, apologized and assigned it to another writer.

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“Puberty and growing up are exhausting, and it’s good for you not to have an exhausting adolescence,” Shi said in response to the original review. “That sounds very ideal and, yes, movies don’t have to be for everyone. But if the only reason you don’t want to watch this movie is because it features a character that doesn’t look like you, then you’re going to be missing out on a lot of really cool and interesting movies, stories, and videos. games, just in your life in general. They don’t need to look like you for you to identify with them. So give it a chance. And then you can hit it.

Shi remembered design in her secret sketchbook while she was growing up, as Meilin Lee did in hers. Her classmates knew her as the girl who drew people’s favorite Pokémon, and she traded her drawings for things like Yu-Gi-Oh cards and yo-yos.

“If someone told me a 13-year-old girl who drew Pokémon or Sonic fan art for dollars and weird trinkets that she could do that for a living and make a million dollar movie about it , I think she would be surprised,” Shi said. “I’m proud that I was able to put my experience up there for the world to see and hopefully promote more stories from different cultures.”

In recent years, Shi has played games like “Metroid Dread”, “Super Mario Odyssey”, “The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild”, and “Hollow Knight”. During the production of “Turning Red”, Shi bought a PlayStation 4 Pro to experience current video games. While she described herself as initially intimidated and “not a hardcore gamer,” she said she immersed herself in games like “Red Dead Redemption 2,” “Ghost of Tsushima,” “The Witcher 3,” and Death Stranding.

Now that the movie is out, she said she wants to play “Elden Ring” and try out “Pokémon Brilliant Diamond” and “Shining Pearl.”

“I’m really excited to get back into video games. I have a list of games I want to try,” she said.

Shi said the next thing she would work on would likely be shaped by her personal experiences, just like “Bao” and “Turning Red.”

“Even though I tried to actively avoid it, I can’t help but put a bit of myself into it,” Shi said. “I’m not 100% sure what my next project will be, but it will be very ‘me’, whatever that means.”

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