Photo Credit: ©2020 ‘his’ Film Partners
Rikiya Imaizumi, one of the leading directors in romance films, has a new movie – his. It is a sequel to his: I Didn’t Think I Would Fall in Love (2019), a TV series that portray the love story of two high school boys, Shun Igawa and Nagisa Hibino.
The new movie picks up from the point where Nagisa unpredictably breaks up with Shun. As the two decide to go their separate ways, Shun chooses to leave his urban life behind. He moves to Shirakawa-cho in Gifu prefecture, though still fears that more people would come to know about his sexual identity.
Eight years later, Shun is busy building a new and quiet life in a cottage in the suburbs of Shirakawa-cho, when two unexpected guests show up at his door: his former partner Nagisa and Nagisa’s six-year-old daughter Sora. While Shun is, fairly enough, struggling to process everything, the three begin to live together in his cottage.
Shun is played by Hio Miyazawa, 25, who says this was his first lead role in a movie since he made his debut as an actor in 2017.
Ahead of the movie premier on Friday, January 24, Miyazawa spoke about the experience of taking up an LGBTQ role in an interview with JAPAN Forward, as well as the social changes he hopes this movie will bring. Excerpts follow.
What was your first impression when the starring role in this movie was offered to you?
It was an honor, as I’ve always wanted to take part in a movie or a drama that portrayed LGBTQ issues. I spent 13 years of my life at an all-boys school. A lot of my friends were gay or bisexual. And, growing up with them, I’ve always considered their sexual identities as something completely natural.
When I graduated from school, however, I saw my friends become disappointed at how Japanese society treated sexual minorities. So I wanted to give them a helping hand by having their voices heard.
Tell me a little bit about your role as Shun Igawa?
He’s 30 years old and used to work as a businessman in Tokyo. But that didn’t work out because he felt pressure from people learning that he’s gay. He moved to Shirakawa-cho to start a new life, but he’s always felt like he’s lying to himself as he struggled to be more open about his sexual identity.
It was difficult, because his boyfriend from university had dumped him, and there was no one he could confide in. As the story goes on, he finally finds a place where he can really be himself and have trust in other people. Even so, being gay was both tough and scary for him.
The role was very challenging, as I didn’t know much about LGBTQ before working on this movie.
How did you prepare for the role?
I watched a couple of movies, like Brokeback Mountain (2005) with Heath Ledger and Happy Together (1997). Both are about a gay couple.
I also spent some time with my school friends back before we started shooting. We had dinner, went out for drinks, and I just observed their natural behavior — very subtle things, like postures, movement, the way they talk, the way they eat and think.
Even though there is a limit to how much you can observe, the experience really helped me build the character of Shun.
Did anything in particular stick out that you incorporated into your role?
It could be just my friends, but I noticed that they tend to look at your eyes a lot. I’ve known them for 20 years, and I find it really odd that I’ve never noticed it before. It just makes you feel like they know everything about you, and that they’re looking right through you.
They say it’s because people tend to shut them out. So they make an effort to get to know more about the [other] person, especially people close to them. I thought that was very interesting and I used it in my role, too.
The thing is, Shun doesn’t really talk much throughout the story. But I thought that eye contact and subtle movements would tell a lot about what he thinks and what he feels, so I incorporated that a lot.
For instance, I’m looking into someone’s eyes. But when I’m shutting myself out, I tend to not look at their eyes. And that clear distinction is very important in Shun’s daily behavior.
Did you find similarities between you and your character?
I tend to try to solve things myself without consulting other people, and Shun is like that, too. He couldn’t really talk to anyone or get help from other people. And we’re both kind of quiet, so I think we are similar in that regard.
Are there any major differences?
I would be scared to move to Shirakawa, to run away from the city, because I would have to leave everything behind and start a new life.
So, even though Shun is very quiet and not as outgoing, I think he is very courageous for doing that, for acting to change his surroundings. Personally, I admire him for it — it was a huge step for him.
Do you have any favorite scenes from the movie?
There are a lot. But I especially enjoyed the scenes where Ogata-san, the elder of the village, is around, because I feel like it was the only time Shun could be a little more honest with himself and with others.
While all the other scenes were emotionally tough, Ogata-san was very open-minded, and Shun was able to let him in. There is a scene where we all eat wild boar hot pot together — I enjoyed that scene because it made everyone feel at home.
What was it like working with Director Rikiya Imaizumi?
It was my first time working with him, and I found him to be unique. Usually, directors have a vision about characters and the movie itself, but he didn’t have a concrete image. It was really nice, because he allowed us to think it through, too.
As an actor, it is obviously easier when a director has a vision, because all you have to do is go along with what the director asks. But I think it is so much more fun to be given an opportunity to think about how you want your character to act and what the scene should be like, and actively engage in discussions with the director.
I think filmmaking should be more like that — letting actors and staff participate more in making the story. Imaizumi-san allowed us to do that, and I very much enjoyed it.
Earlier, you mentioned that you wanted to give a voice to LGBTQs through this movie. Would you say you’ve accomplished your goal?
Not at the moment. I think it’s only a beginning, because I think this movie is just a start to having people understand that there are people who are different from them and understand that being different is okay.
I lived in the states for two years, and people there are definitely more open and understanding about LGBTQs.
In Japan, however, we’re not there yet. There are still so many couples like Shun and Nagisa who can’t be honest and come forward about their relationship.
I don’t know if this movie is going to let them be more open at the moment, but I do hope that it becomes a starting point for everyone. I feel that much was accomplished. But more has to change, even after this movie.
Has your perception of the LGBTQ community changed since making this movie?
I learned a lot through the movie, and prior to it. But my perception hasn’t changed, because I’ve always thought of LGBTQ as something natural. I guess by going to an all-boys international school, you learn to acknowledge these things naturally.
Not only is my best friend gay, but in the states, I’ve been asked out by guys a couple times, too. That was fine — I was happy about it. I’ve never really had a false image of them, so that certainly hasn’t changed.
Among its many themes, the movie also sheds light on the subject of “family.” What do you think makes a family?
I had this conversation with the director the other day. He was sensitive about using the word “family” because families come in different shapes and forms.
In Japan, what people consider as an ordinary “family” is generally made up of a father, mother, kids, and sometimes grandparents — just like the long-running animé, Sazaesan. But that’s not necessarily the norm anymore. A gay couple with kids, that’s a family. A single parent and kids, that’s also a family. Maybe your grandparents raised you, and that’s a family, too.
I don’t really think there is any single thing that makes a family. As long as there’s love for each other, the will to do anything for one another, and you are surrounded by people that allow you to be yourself, that’s a family.
Imaizumi-san didn’t want to use the word kazoku (family). The main wording here [on the movie flyer] was going to be something about kazoku. But he said no, adding that what is more important is that you care for each other. I thought that made total sense.
What kind of message do you hope to convey to your audience through this movie?
Good or bad, I’m pretty sure everyone who watches this movie will have their own thoughts about it. And I think that is a huge step — it gives them an opportunity to think about this issue.
Maybe the movie will encourage them to look up what LGBTQ is, or to simply start acknowledging those who are. And I just hope this movie becomes a trigger for more changes to take place in our society.
Interview by: Yukari Tanaka