Rakugo Shinju: Ishida Akira x Hayashibara Megumi on the challenges they faced
January 14, 2017 6 Comments
And here’s the second half of the interview from Febri vol.34. Once again, please do not copy and paste more than a sentence or two elsewhere, though feel free to link to it if you wish. And if you happen to spot any careless mistakes i have made, please let me know! Otherwise, please enjoy!
Interview and text: Maeda Hisashi
—Thinking back over the entire show now, are there any scenes that have left a deep impression on you?
Ishida: In the end, the most daunting and difficult scenes were the rakugo ones. Having to perform famous stories like “Shinigami” and “Kajika-zawa”1 right from the start, and do them well, no less…I was like “These aren’t stories that an amateur can pull off just like that!” And it really was incredibly difficult. The half-baked person that I am has seen a fair amount of rakugo, such that the patterns of a range of rakugo storytellers are more-or-less swirling around inside of me, and I would feel like “I want to do this part in this manner.” On top of that, I had to grapple with the challenge of how to express the differences in Kikuhiko’s performances as he slowly improved—when we first started, I was unable to get on top of that. Just doing those stories took everything I had, so all of those extra details that I had to pay attention to, it was like “Oh, god!”
Hayashibara: Since I didn’t have to perform rakugo, the parts that gave me grief are different, but all-in-all, the recording sessions were tough. One moment I remember clearly was sound director Tsujitani (Koji)-san giving me the direction: “It’s still lacking in terms of being womanly—it sounds like you’re plotting something.” When I heard that, I just blankly searched and searched for where that womanly aspect might be within me. Seeing me doing that, Tsujitani-san went “Did I just make her upset?”, and Yamadera-san piped up “Oh no, there’s no way she’s feeling down, right? I’ve worked with this one for many years, and I’ve never ever seen her feeling down” (chuckles). Although “How rude!” was the thought that popped into my head, I also figured that this was his way of showing his kindness and having my back. And on the other hand, even though Ishida-san should also have heard, he didn’t react at all. He was just completely focused on his own work.
Ishida: We’re not close enough for me to be able to say something like that, right? (chuckles)
Hayashibara: That’s true (chuckles). I knew that, but even then I was like “This guy really is Kiku-san through and through…” even as I continued searching for my own answers by myself. The way all of us in the studio overlapped with each of our own characters made me want to capture us all on camera myself. There’s no guarantee that hardships will enable you to do a good job—no matter how much work you’ve accumulated in your career, there are many things that you just can’t reach. But in pushing yourself to try to reach them, stepping up to the plate and trying many things in order to leave some kind of result behind, there are times where you’ll end up being part of a good show. I’m really happy and grateful to have been involved in such a show—I really do feel quite exalted.
—This anime is digging deeply into the world of the performing arts through the framework of rakugo—are there aspects of rakugo storytellers that are similar to those of actors?
Ishida: That’s a natural question for you to ask. But if I ask myself whether I’ve got the same level of dedication that Kikuhiko has to his craft, where he seems to be berating himself and striving to reach ever greater heights, I’d have to say no. So from my perspective, I think that it’s quite different. I know full well just how easy I’ve had it.
Hayashibara: Hehe, you little liar (chuckles).
Hayashibara: Well, but in our line of work, we’re fully expected to be able to produce something on the spot. That’s quite different from how rakugo is something that is born from hours of practice. In contrast, no matter how much you prepare and practice your role before you arrive at the recording studio, there are times where the directors will reject what you have done and you just have to ditch it. If you fear that kind of thing, then I don’t think you’re a fit for this kind of work. You’ve got to feel as if “rejection is the door to what comes next!”
—On that note, even though Kikuhiko is a master of rakugo in his own right, he is envious of Sukeroku’s rakugo, isn’t he? Even though it probably comes down to a difference in style as opposed to a difference in talent, he remains unconvinced. Is that something that happens in the acting world, too? Have you ever felt envious of another actor or actress?
Ishida: That’s something I feel quite frequently, actually.
Hayashibara: Quite frequently?
Ishida: When there’s something I can’t do, I’d feel somewhat comforted if no one else could do it, but there are always people who can. And the feeling you get is nothing if it’s not envy.
Hayashibara: Well, that’s quite a surprise. Personally, I’d give up. Like, “That way of doing things is impossible for me.”
Ishida: I think that people who have established themselves and their own styles as actors are able to do that. If you are able to proclaim “I can’t do it using the method that they use, but I can do this with my own approach,” then you regard the roles that you can’t do using your own approach as ones that aren’t meant for you, and you are able to discard them.
Hayashibara: Yup, that’s precisely it.
Ishida: And those people who don’t know who themselves are probably afraid of what they can’t do. They can’t think “Well, it’s ok, because I can do that other thing,” and end up thinking “I’m no good because I can’t do this exact thing.” Instead of focusing on the fact that there are things that they can do, they really feel the weight of what they are unable to do. Though it’s terrible that I’m saying this even though I’ve gotten this far in life.
Hayashibara: That’s not true.
Ishida: Even I think that I should establish myself properly (chuckles).
Hayashibara: If you put it that way, then there are probably a lot of things that I can’t do. In my private life as well. This probably sounds like a joke, but even when doing something as simple as withdrawing money at a bank, I behave pretty strangely. When the bank card, the account passbook and the money all come out at the same time, I go into a bit of a panic (chuckles). There are many such instances of this “me that can’t do this thing,” and whilst it was fine when I was in my twenties and it could be swept under the table with a “It’s cute how clumsy she is,” in recent years, it’s kind of fatal. And it happens a number of times every single day. There are times where I can only thank my lucky stars that I am able to work as an actor. Hence, all the stuff within this field of work that I can’t do are also put into that large categories of “things I can’t do.”
Ishida: But that’s what it means to be “The Actress,” doesn’t it? Though it might be a bit rude for me to put it this way…
Hayashibara: Well, that’s not what it was like for me, really… (chuckles). When I was in my twenties, I really was depressed when I found myself unable to do something. And then, because I wanted to be able to do those things I could not do, I’d try incredibly hard, only to confirm that I really couldn’t do it. Despite that, however, I became able to do things bit-by-bit, and was somehow able to make a living, and I figured that that was good enough.
—Well, to finish off, could you leave a message for the fans of this show?
Hayashibara: First, I hope that the level of commitment that all the staff and cast have enveloped in Rakugo Shinjū is conveyed to you. At the same time, I’m incredibly grateful that, out of the many offerings available to you, you’ve elected to watch this show. Those are my frank feelings right now. The TV broadcast has now finished, but in recent years, we’ve become able to rewatch things through a variety of platforms, so I’d be really happy if you do take the opportunity to do just that.
Ishida: This interview is actually being done whilst Rakugo Shinjū is still airing, but I’m really grateful to hear that it’s already been given such high praise. I’m the kind of person who doesn’t really keep an eye or ear out for the reception of the shows I appear in, so the fact that even someone like me is hearing what people are saying about this show is, I imagine, because it’s appealed to such a broad audience. I really hope that this good reception will continue to crescendo all the way to the final episode, such that it will nurture the project going forward. It’s an anime where everyone involved has, altogether, given everything they can to fill it with love. Even at the recording studio, we all wracked our brains and suffered together to create our characters—I would be incredibly happy if the passion we have thrown into it is conveyed to all of you. I am truly grateful to all of you who watched the show through to the very end. Thank you all so very much.
Ishida Akira: birthday 2 November, from Aichi Prefecture. Currently under the management of Gerbera Peerless. The main roles he is known for include Nagisa Kaworu from Neon Genesis Evangeion and Rebuild of Evangelion, Albert Schumann from Dimension W and Cavendish from One Piece.
Hayashibara Megumi: birthday 30 March, from Tokyo. Freelancer. The main roles she is known for include Faye Valentine from Cowboy Bebop, Musashi from Pokémon and Haibara Ai from Detective Conan. She is also active as a Radio DJ, a singer and lyricist, and an essayist etc.
Some brief comments
As I noted last week, this interview is probably somewhat controversial. Given the way most Western anime bloggers and viewers interpreted Kiku and his relationship with Sukeroku, I expect a fair amount of incredulity, perhaps even indignation at what Ishida-san and Hayashibara-san have implied here, namely, that Kiku did really love Miyokichi ‘as a man loves a woman’. Before anyone tries to dismiss voice actors and what they know of the characters they play (as some fans did for another popular series recently), please remember that they have spent many hours trying to understand their characters so that they can portray them as the creators intended. This is especially true for veterans like Ishida-san and Hayashibara-san—you can read more about the latter’s dedication here.
That being said, I do not wish to force anyone to change their interpretation of this story and its characters. I’ve already pointed out how the show’s creators used ‘show, not tell’ to paint a picture that fits with what what these two voice actors have said here, and I humbly invite you to consider the argument I laid out there if you haven’t already. But since it was so subtle, room for interpretation remains. Personally, I suspect that the second season will clarify things a bit further, as might some of the interviews that Kumota-sensei did after she finished the manga last year (or will do as the rest of the story plays out on our screens). In any case, I hope that you will seriously consider what these two voice actors have implied about just how complex Kiku and Miyo are. These incredibly realistic, flawed individuals are part of the reason I love Rakugo Shinjū as much as I do, and all I really want is for everyone to be open to discussing them from different perspectives. -karice
- “The God of Death” and “The Kajika River.” The latter is the story that Yakumo recites in episode 1, where Yōtarō falls asleep and starts snoring during the performance. ↩