Fukuda Yasushi on Ryomaden: Full Interview (2009.11) 2
Interview with Fukuda Yasushi on Ryomaden
Continued from here.
III : Encountering Fukuyama Masaharu
■ Do screenwriters and actors talk frequently?
FY: I wouldn’t do that a lot. I’d probably exchange greetings if I bump into them, or say hello to the actors who happened to be on the set when I go over to check on the stage settings. Then there is the celebration dinner at the end of filming and I usually get invited by the producer over to the actors’ tables. But I wouldn’t talk much, I wouldn’t know what to talk about, it’s a bit of a bother to me. (laugh) I’m just not good at this.
■ Well then, would you meet up with the actors in private, say for drinks or dinner?
FY: One thing is for sure, there will always be a conflict of interest between scriptwriters and actors…..I don’t think there’ll be an actor who’d say “This drama would be more interesting if you cut down my part” and it will put me in a spot if they should say “Please include me in your next script”. Even if they didn’t consider that, I myself would be thinking too much into it and I hate that. That’s why categorically, I have no personal contact with actors.
■ What was your first impression of Fukuyama Masaharu-san?
FY: We met in the actors’ meeting for “Galileo”. From the start, I felt he was very straightforward and friendly, the type who’d let you feel there were no barriers around him. Even though it was our first meeting, he came over and asked me openly “Sorry about this, but what ‘s the correct way to read this word (水分子), as ‘mizu’ or ‘sui’??” As a scriptwriter, I have never had an actor approach me on his own and speak so candidly, so I felt it was something very new and I was very pleased.
Thereafter, every time I went on the set, he’d make it a point to come over and talk to me “Fukuda-san, do you have any interests or things you like to do?” I got the impression that he thinks a lot, perhaps he wanted to make me feel comfortable. But by doing that, even a scriptwriter like me felt that I was part of the team. I have never had such an experience before.
At the same time, I like his attitude towards work and I’m very happy to be able to work with him again for this taiga.
■ Did you discuss about Sakamoto Ryoma with Fukuyama-san?
FY: Firstly, Fukuyama-san never mentioned how he wanted to interpret this role of Ryoma. Because he believes “he is principally a musician”, so he would have his own opinions where music is concerned. But when it comes to acting, he was very modest and his attitude was “Please write in how I should approach this.” So I was the one who brought up “This is how I want to portray Ryoma.”
■ Then could you tell us what that Ryoma is like?
FY: He’s a very ordinary man to begin with, I want to illustrate in detail how he came to be the “Ryoma” that we all know. Like Fukuyama-san for example, he didn’t start off like the superstar he is now. When I said these words to him, he replied “I was just a big boy from Nagasaki. My mother had once told me that if I couldn’t find a high school to take me, I’d have to learn to be a fisherman. If I really couldn’t get in at that time, I’d probably be living as a fisherman now.”
And this big boy from Nagasaki came to Tokyo after graduating from high school and became the superstar that everybody loves. So I told him, that’s the very process I want to write out in “Ryomaden”.
■ You mean, you want to write about the person that Ryoma was, before he became the (hero) in people’s hearts.
FY: Yes. After going through all those books and information about Ryoma, my impression was - if there was indeed someone like Ryoma that I know, for sure I wouldn’t want to make friends with him. (laugh) Not only does he speak his mind without regard for the person his talks to, he does so even to people he meets for the first time, or to his elders. That is a trait of Ryoma. Put nicely, you could call it bold and carefree, but if there really was such a person now, I don’t think people will like him much. But the people (who know Ryoma) were willing to excuse his behaviour and accept him. That was very interesting. I believe he must have had something to be able to touch people’s hearts like that.
Everybody knows about that straightforward and honest Ryoma. Of course he is very charismatic, but if played by a real person, he’d probably give people the impression “My goodness! How abrupt is that!” This taiga drama lasts one year. I expect when the character first appears, we’d probably get very annoyed with him. That’s why I want to start off with a very unexceptional Ryoma. I had also said the same thing to Fukuyama-san in our prep meeting for Ryoma’s image.
IV : Portraying a Real Historic Person
■ What was Ryoma like in his youth?
FY: Before he left for Edo, Ryoma wasn’t particularly outstanding compared to others. On the contrary, the people around him, like Takechi Hanpeita (武市半平太) and Iwasaki Yataro (岩崎彌太郎) had much stronger characters. Hanpeita had the trust of his peers and was a leader in people’s eyes. And Yataro had a very distinct personality, he had a strong ego and was interested only in his own matters. Compared to them, Ryoma was simply a very ordinary young man, not yet the well-known hero that he would be.
But in a drama series, if the lead doesn’t stand out, he’ll be buried by the glamour of the other characters. So if it wasn’t for people like Fukuyama-san who could command a different atmosphere just by standing there, we’d have to constantly remind people that “Our lead actor is over here!” Otherwise , the audience is going to shift their focus eventually to Hanpeita and Yataro.
In other words, it’s only because we have a star like Fukuyama-san that I can go ahead to create Ryoma as an normal young man.
■ Indeed, Fukuyama-san’s existence is very outstanding, isn’t it?
FY: When he tried his costumes, Fukuyama-san held up Ryoma’s clothes and saying “How do you put this on? I’m not too sure….” he disappeared behind the curtain. After a while, “Does this look OK?” he came out asking, and everyone there immediately cried out “Wow!” It was just so unconditionally kakkoi, I have no words to describe it.
I guess it’s the same exclamation you see people give in shoujo manga (少女漫画 girls comics) when the main characters suddenly appear in from of you.
In fact, when I was writing the transition from child to adult Ryoma, i.e. the first time Fukuyama-san’s Ryoma was to appear in the drama, I wanted to give him a special entrance. That was a mistake. After I saw Fukuyama-san try out his costume, I realised it was totally meaningless for me to rack my brains on how to bring Ryoma out on screen. By just letting him walk casually towards you, should be enough. Because this is the charm of Fukuyama-san’s Ryoma.
To exaggerate a bit, he is so kakkoi, it makes me think “As long as Fukuyama-san is there on the screen, nothing else matters!” (laugh)
■ That means, compared to the Fukuyama-san in “Galileo”, he’ll be showing a different kind of charm?
FY: That goes without saying. As an actor, he’s being asked to do something totally different now. During “Galileo”, his character is not required to express deep emotion. All he had to do was put his hand on his face and say “Jitsu ni Omoshiroi” (this is really interesting) and that was enough to bring out the unique personality and charm of his role. But in “Ryomaden”, he must be able to portray a real historic person.
His lines are long and plenty, and in Tosa dialect. I was worried as I was writing the script “Will he be able to handle it?” But when I saw Fukuyama-san after the filming started, it seems my worries were groundless.
■ So we’ll be seeing changes in the young ordinary Ryoma as the story progresses?
FY: His environment will gradually change to become more active and turbulent. During my interviews with Sakamoto Ryoma researchers, I asked them a question “What word would you use to describe Ryoma?” One of them said “Action”.
“Action” is such a simple word that I’m ashamed to say I didn’t pay much attention to it at the beginning. But after thinking it through, I realized that Ryoma was truly a man of action.
■ What does “action” give rise to in a practical sense?
FY: Well, for example, when you don’t know what to do, you’ll find someone who does and ask them to “teach me!” and after listening, you’d absorb the good part “Ah, so we can look at it in such a way too!” Doing this again and again, Ryoma himself would have been able to evolve into something quite different.
As a country samurai belonging to the lower ranks of the samurai hierarchy, he will no doubt encounter strong barriers if he wanted to move up. So Ryoma started to think how he could break down those walls; who he could talk to and what action needed to be taken. If the Satsuma and Choshu clans did not work together, they could not initiate changes in the country. If the status quo of the country were not broken, he would not be able to achieve what he wanted. With this in mind, Ryoma began to push for the Satsuma-Choshu alliance. This is the type of action that personifies Ryoma.
■ From a very ordinary young man, he progressed through the actions arising from his own initiative, finally maturing into that exceptional “Ryoma” character. This process will take a year to develop, is this the first time Fukuda-san is involved in a TV drama that spans such a long period?
FY: Yes…..I feel like a runner who is used to doing 10km distances and suddenly being told he has to cover 42.195km (marathon). At the beginning, I started by going much too fast and tiring myself out, then discovering my (mistaken) pace by accident, wishing there’s another runner to pass the baton to, and now writing non-stop day after day.
V : The Taiga drama that aims to be as enjoyable as “Hero” or “Galileo”
■ How does Fukuda-san see the similarities (if any) between the Bakumatsu era and the present day?
FY: It’s a miracle that Japan didn’t end up as a foreign colony during the Bakumatsu period. Japan was very clever to have made it through. One wrong move and it could have been taken over by any of the European or American powers. The Bakumatsu era was the time when Japan was standing right at the crossroads. It was touch and go, and the future was unclear, a bit like today. If the present day Japan does not choose its steps carefully, I don’t know what’s going to happen, maybe we’ll find ourselves adrift with no control in the tide. If Ryoma and his associates had not been able to draw out a clearly defined way forward for Japan, we would have been lost, that’s for certain.
And even though the incident of the Black Ships did indeed create a shockwave (for Japan), they had been spotted frequently off the shores for some time already. It was just that none had ever ventured so close as Perry’s fleet before that, hence the panic it caused. If one day, a 10-km wide spaceship were to appear over the skies of Japan, it’s not going to be as dramatic (unexpected) as portrayed in TV dramas, similarly I believe the Bakumatsu period had also been evolving slowly at its own pace. Just like the present day Japan, the feeling that some things are slowly changing and taking place.
■ And it’s because the change is so gradual, we’re caught unawares by the direction it’s taken when we finally notice it.
FY: That’s why we need clear defined targets, good steering and an engine on full throttle to move forward. It’s a very dangerous thing in my opinion to blindly assume that the future Japan will be the same as what we have now.
■ In that case, we shouldn’t view “Ryomaden” as a simple historic drama. It would be interesting to see it side by side with Japan now.
FY: That’s right. If you keep your eye out for similarities with the current times, you’re bound to come up with some astonishing discoveries.
■ Ryoma played an integral part in the Bakumatsu era when Japan was in crisis. If Ryoma lived in the present day, what do you think he’ll be involved in?
FY: Although you can say “Ryoma changed Japan” or “he cleaned up Japan”, but I believe “Ryoma is no politician”. When he compiled the list of officials for the Meiji Government, people who’d seen the contents had remarked “Wait, your name’s not on it” and he replied “I’d rather run a global Kaientai.” From this story, we could see that he had no interest in politics at all.
If Ryoma existed in the modern times, he would probably be a self-made entrepreneur, a businessman with his own private corporation. Though I can’t say if he’d be successful or not (laugh). In a nutshell, Ryoma would only dedicate himself to the things that interested him at that time. When he really immersed himself in it, he realized it was necessary to change the infrastructure in place in order to achieve what he wanted and so proceeded to do it. In today’s society, if he finds the present day rules restrict him from getting things done, he’d try to find a way to alter them.
Even I can’t foresee how my opinions of Ryoma will change as the scriptwriting progresses, but one thing is sure. If Ryoma were to exist in Japan today, I believe we’d also be seeing drastic changes in this country.
■ Now I can’t wait for the drama to start. But coming back to the Bakumatsu, many schools of thought sprouted up during this period. How would you deal with this challenge?
FY: Yes, in the Bakumatsu era, there were different schools of thought, like Koubugattai (公武合体 marital union between the Shogunate and the Imperial Family) or Sonno-Tobaku-Joi (尊皇、倒幕、攘夷 Reverence to the Emperor; Overthrow of the Shogunate; Expulsion of Foreigners) I treat it the same way as I did to explain a prosecutor’s job to the public, by organizing the key points in a simple way to help people understand, editing out unnecessary parts, and writing it so the audience can understand and enjoy themselves at the same time while watching. If every bit of detail on the Bakumatsu or Ryoma were written in, it’s going to be very hard for people to grasp. So my target is - not to tell all, but not to tell lies.
■ Looks like this is going to be totally unique and different from the previous Taiga dramas.
FY: To be honest, I had not really watched Taiga dramas before (laugh)…….When I started, I knew nothing about the Taiga, just like I knew nothing about a public prosecutor’s job or the coast guard. I pick it up like a blank piece of paper. So I wouldn’t feel at a loss just because it’s a Taiga or historic drama. On the contrary, I create the script in the same way as I did for “Hero” and “Galileo”. I think people who have seen these two shows but never a Taiga or historic drama, should be able to enjoy themselves too. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have fun either while I’m writing it.
Of course, it’s OK to just watch it for Fukuyama-san too. I’m sure you’re going to like Fukuyama-san even more after this. (laugh)
■ I’m certainly looking forward to its broadcast in January. Thank you very much for your time.
Translated from the Chinese version in Fukuyama Honne (Articles 7295 and Articles 7307) and sunnydolphin’s blog (1) (2) (3) and the original Japanese post in the official Ryomaden website.
The full translation was posted on MashaPlus [dot] Info Forums between 15 - 27 Dec 2009.