Rohan's Beliefs Pushed Me Forward
I was really overjoyed. I never thought I would get to play a character I've loved since I was a teenager. Actually, it was a secret between me and my manager that I hoped to play Rohan Kishibe one day (laughs). Furthermore, I never imagined that I would be offered the role by director Kazutaka Watanabe, who I worked with on the previous historical drama Naotora: The Lady Warlord, so I was thrilled that something like this was possible.
――Rohan is the type of person who is curious and pursues reality. What do you think is the appeal of Rohan, Takahashi-san?
Rohan is a particularly strong example of the kind of human beliefs that are portrayed in JoJo. Unlike the other characters, Rohan is a manga artist, just like Hirohiko Araki, the author of the manga. Characters with that kind of occupation are rare in JoJo, so in a way, I think he embodies what it means to be a manga artist in a very concrete way. When I first read JoJo as a teenager, he was the character who encouraged me to be so particular about my work, and to be so biased. That's the most appealing part.
――How did you create your own image of Rohan, the quirky manga artist, and the balance with your partner, the editor Kyoka Izumi?
Regarding the energy and expression in my performance, I didn't consciously create them myself. I started by giving it my all, pushing it to my limits, and then adjusting afterward to find the right balance between going too far or not. I considered the on-set staff as the first viewers providing immediate feedback. Based on their reactions, I developed the dynamic interactions with my on-screen partner, Izumi, who has a buddy-like vibe.
――I think it's difficult to adapt the world of JoJo into live action, not just Rohan. During your role preparation, did you have any discussions with director Watanabe on how to faithfully reflect Araki-sensei's worldview or emphasize original elements from JoJo?
Actually, I generally don't discuss acting with any director. No matter how much we say "I will act like this" using words, it would all be for nothing if we start acting and are told "No, that's wrong." Reality is merely an accumulation of individual perspectives, and sharing a worldview through words is difficult. So, first and foremost, I believe actors should present their physicality. This time, I had absolute trust in director Watanabe, and I thought that if something wasn't working, he would tell me. So, I was able to approach it with an absolute sense of security.
Also, I thought it was important for me to create a character that both those who know Rohan and those who don't would be satisfied with. As an actor, I focused on my lines and movements, asking myself, "How persuasive can I be? How much would make sense?"
Don't show any signs of "hard work"
――Personally, I’m really looking forward to seeing how the corn scene in the “Millionaire Village” will be visualized.
As you mentioned, the corn scene in the manga is very dramatic, exciting, and active. Moreover, Ikkyu, the guide of the Millionaire Village, is an otherworldly existence serving the Gods of the Mountain. However, in the drama, Fuga Shibazaki, who plays Ikkyu, is so cute that it looks like an adult is cornering and making a child cry (laughs). But I think that the delightful severity of it well demonstrates that Rohan doesn't see children as children and treats all people as equals, as subjects for his manga.
The confrontation between people based on their abilities approaches with a certain rawness and deformation. Through the live action adaptations of "Millionaire Village", "Kushagara", and "D.N.A", I think that the characters' restrained, internal emotional turmoil is dynamically expressed.
――I love the exchange of "We'll poach them" and "That's why I'm interested" in the original work Poaching Seashore. Araki-sensei even said that he drew the story because he wanted to include that part. In his comment, he said, "Rohan might cross the boundaries of the rules of modern society for the sake of something more important, but he never forgets to pay respect to tradition and history." Do you have any rules or aesthetics in your acting, Takahashi-san?
I make it a point not to show any signs of my "hard work." I'm not good at being asked, "What part did you work the hardest in?" Working hard is a given, and as a professional doing this job, I feel it's somehow off to reinforce it with words like "I tried hard." Nowadays, we're in an era where everything is about sharing, but I always have this discomfort, as if revealing the secret behind a magic trick. In the end, I think it's all about how much people feel from just watching the performance, and that's what matters most.
――There may be many people who are introduced to the world of JoJo for the first time through you, Takahashi-san. Can you share how both hardcore JoJo fans and beginners can enjoy this show?
If I mention specific highlights, people may just focus on those, so I'll keep it a secret (laughs). However, for those who have read the manga, I think they'll be able to recognize moments like "Ah, they brought out that pose from this volume, this story, and this scene!" So I'd like them to look for those moments. The original work's expressive language is also interesting, so I hope viewers can immerse themselves in the story by focusing on the vividness of the words spoken by actual people.
By the way, the word "Stand", which is familiar to JoJo fans, is not used at all in the drama. We've instead used words like "ability," "gift," and "something received," so I think it's easier for first-time viewers to understand.
This drama doesn't have action-packed scenes or dynamic physical entertainment. I believe it's a work that explores "How dramatic and exciting can the internal events be?" and "How much can we bring the inner aspects to life?" Nowadays, I feel that there are many stories that are easy to follow and characters whose emotions are easy to understand. That's not a bad thing, but I think our approach is different. Instead of rejecting something foreign, it's good to have the flexibility to enjoy it. I'd be happy if people can enjoy the strangeness, discomfort, and bizarre feelings in this work.
――You've appeared in many works based on manga before. Is there anything you keep in mind while acting?
When adapting a manga into a film or drama, the premise is that many people have seen the character before. However, the way each person perceives the same character can vary subtly due to their individual perspectives. Of course, I want to get as close as possible to the character's movements, visuals, and descriptions, and I'll put in the effort to do so, but when it comes to actually acting, I don't feel any pressure or make a conscious effort to keep something in mind.
I don't really trust forms that start with emotions. I think that the emotions that come from the form are actually more realistic. So, I believe that more than half of a character is created by their form. We had numerous meetings with director Watanabe and character design supervisor, Isao Tsuge, to finalize Rohan's visuals. At that point, I felt that the foundation had solidified.
Breaking away from established patterns
――I think both JoJo fans and Takahashi-san fans are curious about this: are there any characters other than Rohan that you would like to play in the future? Also, this time it's a spin-off of Part 4, but which JoJo part do you prefer?
I don't have any other characters I'd like to be other than Rohan (laughs). I really like Part 4's Diamond is Unbreakable, but I also find the philosophy of Part 7's Steel Ball Run amazing. I can enjoy the boyish aspects of JoJo as well. However... I can't let go of Part 2's Battle Tendency either.
――It's difficult to choose, isn't it (laughs)? JoJo is also filled with music references, such as "Red Hot Chili Pepper" and "The Hand". You have also sung theme songs for dramas like Quartet and Tokyo Bachelors. How does music influence your acting?
Basically, I'm the type who can't live without music in my life, so it's like the Tower Records slogan (NO MUSIC, NO LIFE.) (laughs). Recently I've been re-listening to some of my old favorites, like XTC.
――So you like New Wave!
When I was in elementary school, I saw XTC's "Dear God" music video on MTV and thought it was incredibly cool. I was in the US for work at the time, so I dashed to Tower Records in New York to buy it. In the memorable music video, frontman Andy Partridge, dressed as a pastor, shakes a tree with many people straddling it by hitting it with a hammer, causing them to fall off. Andy was wearing round sunglasses, so I still wear round sunglasses to this day (laughs).
――Do you listen to music while reading scripts?
I try not to let the bias of music influence me when I'm putting in lines. However, I do play music as soon as I say "I'm done!" (laughs).
――It's been a quarter-century since you played Seiji Amasawa in the Studio Ghibli film Whisper of the Heart, and 2020 has turned into an unbelievable world. Nevertheless, when I saw your latest work, Wife of a Spy, on the big screen in theaters, I was truly moved by the greatness of cinema. I think living in the world of acting requires great inner strength. If you've learned something important from JoJo and Rohan that helps you in life, I'd like to hear about it.
Thank you very much. I felt really happy when I saw so many people in the audience from the podium at the stage greeting of Wife of a Spy.
Like Rohan, I think it's very important to first know the norms, rules, and patterns. Knowing that, how do we go through the process of "preserving, breaking, and detaching"? Especially in our intangible profession of expression, which doesn't require licenses or qualifications, we can't break or arrange things without first learning a certain form. Although I think I'm past the age of imitation, I believe that humans begin with imitation. We need to internalize things and make it our own. I think it's important to consider whether what you've internalized and made your own is truly necessary for you.
Trying an approach that is completely opposite to your own thinking might be one way to go about it. So if you see me in an article saying, "I worked hard in this part of my acting!" in the future, please think that I am trying the opposite approach (laughs). There must be things that can't be seen unless we look at them from the opposite perspective, so I might be constantly experimenting with that.
――I'm looking forward to seeing the contrary Takahashi-san (laughs). Finally, since "Good Life with Books" is a book website, please tell us what your all-time favorite books and recent recommendations are, apart from JoJo?
I love the stories written by Takehiro Ueda. I can really empathize with his attitude of focusing on one thing. From his debut work Sun/Planet to his latest work Q, the themes are the same, even if the works and forms are different. He stubbornly depicts the limits of humanity as war and where humanity ultimately ends up. I can't get enough of his relentless pursuit of a single point.
I also like Yoko Tawada's The Last Children of Tokyo. It's a novel published in 2014, but it seems to embody what would happen if we went beyond our current situation. It's a story about a Japan that has closed itself off to the outside world in the near future and how humans will evolve from there. It's interesting, so please give it a try.