Toshiaki Karasawa was born in 1963 in Tokyo and started to attract attention when he starred in the hit TV drama "Ai toiu Nanomotoni / In the Name of Love" in 1992. He also starred in the big budget period TV drama "Toshiie to Matsu / Toshiie and Matsu and Shiroi Kyoto / The White Tower", a hit medical melodrama of 2007, along with many movies. Working with the stage director Yukio Ninagawa, Karasawa performed "Macbeth" in New York and "The Tragedy of Coriolanus" in London.
Toshiaki Karasawa's other film appearances include, Koki Mitani's "The Magic Hour" (2008); "U-Choten Hotel / Suite Dreams" (2006); "Minna no Ie / All about Our House" (2001); "Rajio no Jikan / Welcome Back, Mr. McDonald"; Kazuaki Kiriya's "Casshern" (2004); Yukio Ninagawa's "Warau Iemon / Lemon Sneers" (2004); "Ao no Hono / The Blue Light" (2003) and Takayoshi Watanabe's "Kimi o Wasurenai / Fly Boys, Fly!" (1995).
As a member of the Secret Base gang he wrote the Book of Prophecy. On Bloody New Year's Eve, in an attempt to stop the robot's rampage he scaled the robot to take over the controls and then disappeared. In 2017 Japan, his song Bob Lennon is an underground hit.
Did you read the original manga?
I did. It was so popular. The protagonist of "20th Century Boys" is an ordinary man, like the everyman hero of "Die Hard". That's the point that intrigued me. But when I read the manga, I never dreamed that one day I'd play Kenji.
Did you try to act just like the character in the original manga?
It's difficult to be a character out of a manga. The clothes and hairstyles were made to resemble those of the manga. The director was also very conscious of getting the same framing as drawn in the manga. I really wanted the movie to appeal to manga fans and to those who hadn't read the manga. To play the character of Kenji I decided to do my best to breath life into him, or he'd end up a stick figure. I had to become him and live his life to do so. I wanted to emphasize his ordinariness rather than play a perfect hero. Another thing I was careful about was the balance of my performance in this intricate ensemble movie. If Kenji stuck out in a scene, it would put the scene off balance. But the cast has an incredible line of talent so I didn't have to worry much. The way we used to choose movies to see was by picking ones which feature your favorite star. But now ensemble movies like "Ocean's Thirteen" are popular in Hollywood. "20th Century Boys" fits that trend perfectly.
What do you think are the most interesting points of the first film in the trilogy?
Kenji is an everyman who lives an ordinary life. But his childhood fantasy brings about doomsday. He is forced to accept responsibility and act on it, departing from the loser that he'd been. On the Bloody New Year's Eve, he confronts FRIEND. In the process he gets involved in many life-changing events. And the way he changes through the process is the most intriguing point of the film. I hope that the audience feels involved in the conspiracy with Kenji and empathizes with his tragedy.
About Chapter Three:
Friend is what the final chapter is all about. The final chapter is the culmination of Friend's spirit, his motives and secrets, depicted throughout the trilogy. One of the things I had to do right as Kenji was react appropriately when Friend's identity is revealed. Then there's Kenji reacting to Kanna when they are finally reunited. Kenji's character is a mirror for the other characters. In this movie Kenji is in his 50's. He's roaming the country and as he suffers from memory loss, his personality has changed. So I toned down his behaviour and expressions. I didn't want to give a typical depiction of an ageing man as the changes are internalised. He might have the same spirit as when he was young but his body isn't quite up to it. Expressing these contradictions gives depth to a performance.
Kenji's character in the manga has a sense of humour which I wanted to incorporate but the director wanted me to play that down. I gave a less inhibited performance when Kenji confronts Manjome, which was in reaction to Renji Ishibashi's performance as Manjome.
In the final chapter, the misery of the citizens makes them react emotionally to Friend and Kenji's song. There is something universal about people's tendency to conform and be dependent, as depicted in the movie.
Another feature of the movie is Kenji's concert scene. This was the first time I'd stood in front of ten thousand extras. Their enthusiasm was kind of scary. I prepared for the scene with Takuro from the Japanese popular band Glay. He taught me how to play the guitar. He even let me borrow one of his guitars. Being a huge fan of 20th Century Boys manga, he taught me how to play the Bob Lennon chords. On the shoot, a recording was used so I was playing air-guitar but with a guitar in my hands. I made sure my fingers were pressing the right chords. Pretending to play the guitar was difficult, but riding the motorcycle was also hard. Because the motorcycle was modified, it was a strange shape. I wanted to look just like Kenji in the manga so I arched back when I was riding it. That made it very difficult to control the accelerator and the brakes (laughs). Speaking of control, controlling the robot was also physically demanding. The robot's cockpit was supposed to rock so the set was tilted which made it hard to support myself. They'd also made a really realistic joystick! I love driving cars but...the robot is another story (laughs).
The 20th Century Boys Trilogy is a blockbuster, the event movie of the century. Something this big won't happen often or again soon. I hope audiences just enjoy the event like it's an incredible festival. But it's not just mindless entertainment. It makes you think. I believe that many people can identify with what Kenji and Friend do. Friend's behaviour mirrors the problems of those who can identify with him. The final chapter makes us ask questions. Friend's mindscape reflects the world as it is today. We live in times that aren't easy or joyful. We are all living with the burden of the world's present problems. I think Friend reflects a lot of what we stand for. That's how I've thought about the trilogy, from the very beginning. Finally I can talk freely about how the trilogy ends! The hardest thing for me was to keep my mouth shut for one long year (laughs)."
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© 1999, 2006 Naoki Urasawa, Studio Nuts, Shogakukan © 2008-2009 “20th Century Boys” Film Partners © 2008-2010 4Digital Media
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