Rakugo Shinju: Ishida Akira x Hayashibara Megumi on our tragic trio
January 7, 2017 11 Comments
This two-person interview appeared in Febri vol.34, which was released in April of last year, after the first season of the show. I had originally planned to have the entire interview translated and checked before the second season started, but unfortunately, a certain anime about figure skating derailed just about all of my translation plans in the fall season. Hence, this is just the first half of the interview; it is also the more controversial half. Since these two seiyuu are people that I’ve never translated or even read interviews with before, and haven’t had the chance to ask anyone else to check it, there may be a few mistakes here and there, which I hope you will forgive me for (if you happen to have read the interview in Japanese and spot any, please let me know!). As usual, please do not copy and paste more than a sentence or two elsewhere, though feel free to link to it if you wish. And even if it suggests something that goes against your interpretation of the show, I hope you’ll find it as interesting as I did.
Ishida Akira (Yakumo/Kikuhiko) x Hayashibara Megumi (Miyokichi)
A fateful bond1 is a strange thing… Ungoverned by logic and reason, such are the relations between men and women. The relationship between Kikuhiko and Miyokichi, too, is filled with incomprehensible matters. How did the actors behind these characters portray such an afflicted relationship? In this discussion, we ask the two of them to share the depth of their feelings towards the show and their characters.
Interview and text: Maeda Hisashi
—The two of you have acted together on many different shows, beginning with Slayers where to you played Lina and Xellos, and Neon Genesis Evangelion where you were Ayanami Rei and Nagase Kaworu. How did you feel when you found out that you would be acting together in this show?
Ishida: When I found out that Hayashibara-san would be my counterpart, I was like “Oh boy, what a frightening partner…” In a variety of ways.
Hayashibara: What’s this? Where? And how come? …like this, you mean? (chuckles)
Ishida: Oh, no no (chuckles). As everyone is well aware, you’re an incredible actor, right? Such a person is probably strict with themselves, and also with those acting beside them. At least, that’s what I figured.
Hayashibara: “That’s what I figured”…could you make sure that’s in large, bold font? (chuckles)
Ishida: Like, should I try to fake it, with my level of ability, you’d see right through me. You’d see through me no matter what I did, so I put myself on guard right from the start.
Hayashibara: Say what?!
Ishida: It’s especially true for this anime, but even for the other shows we’ve worked on together, I’ve always thought that you’re someone who makes the people you are acting with rather tense, no matter what the atmosphere of the studio seems like on the surface.
Hayashibara: Is that so…how interesting!
Ishida: “There’s so much pressure just in the fact that I have to do rakugo…and on top of that, I’ll be working with Yamadera (Koichi)-san and Hayashibara-san, huh? Good heavens…” That’s pretty much what it felt like (chuckles).
Hayashibara: As for me, I was offered the part only after Yamadera-san, Ishida-san and Seki (Tomokazu)-kun had all been confirmed. So somewhere in the back of my mind, I feel that, if it hadn’t been you and Yamadera-san in those roles, then it probably wouldn’t have been me either. I’m not sure what it is, perhaps the balance of our voices, or our mentalities, or perhaps the wavelength we’re on, or our bonds in our previous lives (chuckles), but we just match, somehow. It was the same when I did Cowboy Bebop. (Ishizuka) Unshō-san and Yamadera-san were chosen first, and then I came in as the voice between them.
—After you started recording, could you tell us about what you sensed and took from each other’s acting?
Ishida: It was like Miyokichi was moving the story along at my pace, in a good way. Or perhaps, I felt that it was good that they met when the story was moving along. And just as I was becoming comfortable with the atmosphere of the studio where we were recording Rakugo Shinju, Kikuhiko was becoming comfortable with Miyokichi—this is probably something that men tend to do, but it felt a bit like a part of me was standing somewhat above her, looking down on her. I’m really glad that there was such an overlap, where the way that my character became familiar with his partner reflected my own experience in the studio.
Hayashibara: As for me, rather than being able to ‘take from’ Ishida-san’s acting, it was all I could do to try and grasp who Miyokichi was. I’m sure that Ishida-san and Yamadera-san both struggled with and spent a lot of time thinking about their own characters as well, but from my perspective, they were already Kiku-san and Sukeroku through and through. Just how could I slip into the space between them as Miyokichi? I wasted a lot of time during the recordings for the first half of the series trying to figure that out.
Was Miyokichi a difficult character to play?
Hayashibara: Just the other day, I saw the latest episode on TV, and even then I found myself reflecting a little, like “Oh dear, was this correct…?” Which is really unusual for me (chuckles). There’s a line where Miyokichi says “I’m stupid, so…” but what I took from it was “This girl is no idiot, is she?” How much of that is just her acting out the part, and how much of it is real idiocy? It was pretty difficult treading the fine line between the two. And Kiku-san probably loves that idiocy in the way that a man loves “a woman who is just a little more broken than he is.” Whatever he says, he sees through the way she acts and what he finds on the other side, he loves even more. Or something like that. In playing Miyokichi, I was caught between the two (acting vs. real idiocy). It was in that episode 9 scene with Sukeroku that she finally settled on one side. That line of “Did something happen? I’ll hear you out…”—at first, I was directed to play it more listlessly, as if I’d lost everything. But Kubota Haruko-sensei, the mangaka, was actually at the studio when we recording that episode, and she said: “That line actually represents the point where she starts taking her revenge.” With that, the direction changed again, and I thought to myself “She really is no idiot.” It was then that I finally felt I’d grasped Miyokichi, just a little. Nevertheless, I honestly believe that there are points where her actions are motivated purely because she’s in love, and it’s precisely because she’s a woman who’s almost impossible to grasp that Kiku-san, too, is captivated by her. That’s right, a woman that Kiku-san would really fall in love with—just what kind of woman is that? In pondering that very question, I definitely used parts of my brain that I’d never used before. …hey Kiku-san, what exactly do you love about Miyokichi? (chuckles)
Ishida: (chuckles) Well, if I pick up the thread from what Hayashibara-san has just said, then Kiku has probably never thought that Miyokichi was an idiot. He knows that she’s someone who has used a range of wiles to survive, to get to where she is now. And because he sees her in this way, what he feels for her for her isn’t the kind of romantic love held by the average, modern high schooler who’s in love with his or her classmate.2 But when she’s there beside him, he finds himself responding to her allure. He’s a pitiful guy, after all. In that way, he lets himself be influenced by her, but at the same time, he’s cooly looking at himself, saying “This isn’t romantic love.” And he probably thinks of himself, of this person looking on so cooly, as “a real slime-ball,” too. But he is simply unable to throw away that feeling of comfort that he gets by being by her side. He’s a weak guy…or rather, an unfair one. In episode 8, he gets angry when he comes back from the regional tour and sees Sukeroku and Miyokichi in an embrace, doesn’t he? Personally, I don’t think he was that angry, not really (chuckles), but I also kind of understand why he was upset. Even though he didn’t regard himself as being in love, he gets irritated at the thought of parting with her. So, I also have to reflect on my performance, just like Hayashibara-san. That scene where Kiku says “I am (being a man). This is the greatest lie of my life”—when we recorded it, I went into the scene taking those words quite literally. But now that I think about it, it’s not like Kikuhiko was prepared to keep their relationship going—that kind of thought was probably in the back of his head, too. Hence, I’m sure that those words that he said to Sukeroku were, at some level, a lie aimed at deceiving himself as well.
Hayashibara: There are so many emotions on the other side of “I love you” that we no longer know which of them are right and which of them are wrong. In particular, in the middle part of the show, I felt like I was waiting for the directors’ guidance with regards to what was coming out of me naturally at that time. But if we think about it, that’s what real romantic love is like. It’s not like you’re reading out a love letter that expresses everything clearly in a set number of words. The attitude your partner takes at any particular point also changes the words you use, and it’s not as if it will play out the way you have planned. In that sense, even those elements of my performance that I thought may have been incorrect, may have been right as far as results go—I’ve been trying to think about it along those lines without trying to justify myself. Beyond that, all that remains is to leave it up to the viewers to decide how they feel about it.
—How do the two of you perceive Sukeroku?
Ishida: He’s someone who is real to the bone, with no artifice.
Hayashibara: Yup, I’m with you there. And that’s why he gets messed up (chuckles). Miyokichi envied him, just because he and Kiku-san got along too well. Something may have happened in Manchuria as well, but she simply has no interest in a guy who foolishly tries to woo her, so openly, too, despite knowing that she’s his master’s mistress (chuckles). In the end, a man like Kiku-san is more appealing to her—someone who fights to restrain himself, thinking “I can’t touch her because she’s my master’s,” but who gradually loses that fight and lays his hands on her. Hence, if Kiku-san hadn’t gotten involved with her, I don’t think she would have taken any interest in Sukeroku.
—And that did not change even after she took him back to her hometown?
Hayashibara: Because this was her revenge. But since Sukeroku just has so much warmth about him, I think that being with him may have felt comfortable to her. In that sense, she may have felt at times that he was causing her to forget (what she wanted). With Kiku-san, he’s so cold that she feels that she has to warm him up, but Sukeroku is just warm, unconditionally warm. Like the stomach of a golden retriever (chuckles). That kind of warm, comfortable feeling.
Ishida: I think that Kikuhiko has always been frustrated and envious of how Sukeroku found success with his completely different way of living, but if you ask me whether he felt something particular when he saw Sukeroku and Miyokichi’s together, then I suspect that he probably didn’t. In fact, given that he was, at that time, thinking that it wouldn’t be a good idea to keep dragging things out with Miyokichi in that way, it was like a godsend to him. Not that he’d say it, but I suspect that he probably felt something along the lines of “Thank you for creating the opportunity for me to break up with her.”
—As for Kikuhiko and Sukeroku, it was like they had a shared fate through rakugo, but it was ripped apart because of Miyokichi. How have you interpreted that aspect of the story?
Ishida: Kiku probably wouldn’t have ever imagined that, as a result of him dumping Miyokichi, that she would move to the countryside with Sukeroku. And there’s no way he would ever have wanted such an outcome.
Hayashibara: But if I look at it not from Miyokichi’s perspective but simply as a viewer, whether Miyokichi had been there or not, I feel that it would have been difficult for Sukeroku to continue doing rakugo in Tokyo. He would probably have distanced himself from Kiku-san, don’t you think?
Ishida: I suspect that Kikuhiko probably didn’t think of such a possibility. Sukeroku was getting a lot of backlash because of what he was doing, what he was aiming for, and a lot of problems were arising as a result. But fans were also full of praise for for his amazing performances. Hence, whilst it would have been best if Sukeroku did not cause any problems, but if he did, then Kikuhiko intended to continue backing him up. And I think there still was quite a way to go before he ran out of patience.
Hayashibara: I see…then Miyo-chan did indeed take Sukeroku away… That girl really is no idiot. The “revenge” that Kumota-sensei spoke about was that very act.
And that’s the first half. I’ll try to post the second half (edit: done), in which Ishida-san and Hayashibara-san talk about the process of finding their performances, sometime over the next week, before the second episode lands. —karice