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 just thought, ‘Oh, I don’t have time to change. I’m just going to change into my cosplay outfit,'” Shi recalled. so weird.”

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 cool. That 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 weird freak.

Growing up in Canada around this time and experiences such as high school cosplay outfit 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. Releasing direct to Disney Plus on March 11, the film marks Shi’s directorial debut, after she first rose to prominence 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 the game. game in his spare time.

In “Turning Red,” set in 2002, 13-year-old Meilin Lee doodles manga under her bed, with 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 watched ‘Breath of the Wild” and we were like, “Wow, how are they able to make the world so beautiful and rich while being 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 movies, 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 Gameboy Color and a 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 reviewer 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 teenager. her review was loudly denounced on social media, the outlet deleted it, apologized and attributed 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 stars a character who isn’t like you, then you’re going to miss a lot of really cool and interesting movies, stories and video games, just in your life in general. They don’t have to look like you for you to relate to them. So give it a luck. 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 Pokemon 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”, “Breath of the Wild”, and “Hollow Knight”. During production of “Turning Red”, Shi bought a PlayStation 4 Pro to check out. While describing 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.”