Masachika Ichimura, Who Makes His Son’s Lunch Everyday Says, “I’ve Never Wanted To Quit Acting!” | FRIDAY DIGITAL

Masachika Ichimura, Who Makes His Son’s Lunch Everyday Says, “I’ve Never Wanted To Quit Acting!”

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“Playing a role on stage is just like an audition,” said Ichimura. If you give a good performance, it will lead to the next one, and someone will definitely be watching you.

When I was in high school, I had nothing I was passionate about, so I repeatedly tried and quit various club activities. One day, a teacher from the drama club took me to see the play “A Japanese Called Otto” by the Mingei Theater Company. It was a two- to three-hour play that vividly depicted Hidemi Ozaki (Hotsumi Ozaki), the main character Otto, who was involved in an international espionage ring, and his wish to avoid war and achieve peace.

After graduating from high school, he enrolled in the Performing Arts Academy, saying, “I want to do this job!” Masachika Ichimura, 74, recalls, “That was the moment I became an actor.”

When I was a sophomore at the institute, one of the instructors who gave a special course on bugakui was Akira Nishimura, who would later become my valet. In the summer of that year, Mr. Nishimura sent an application to the institute for help on stage, and the institute recommended me because I had never been late or absent.

Ichimura spent three years as Nishimura’s valet, and at the age of 24 he passed an audition for the Shiki Theatre Company’s “Jesus Christ Superstar.” Since then, he has appeared in more than 40 musicals and plays, and has become one of the industry’s leading signature actors.

He said, “The day I made my debut in ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ was my starting point in the sense that it was the first job I won on my own. It has been 50 years of meeting many different people and playing many different roles. Some may cite my main roles as the engineer in “Miss Saigon” or the phantom in “The Phantom of the Opera,” but  each of those roles on each stage made a mark on my life.

He seemed to be gazing off into the distance, reminiscing about the past, but then he turned his head and looked straight at the reporter with a powerful gaze.

“The joy is the foundation of my life as an actor. I had the pleasure of meeting Keita Asari, Yukio Ninagawa, and Koki Mitani. I never once felt like I was in a rut or wanted to quit. Whenever I play any role, I feel like I am on a journey, and I never get bored because I have a fresh experience every time. I don’t even think I’m playing a dick role where I feel like I’m in a rut.”

When asked by a reporter, “Is it your calling?” Ichimura immediately nodded his head, clapped his hands, and smiled broadly, saying, “It is indeed my calling.”

The Ichimura-za one-man show, which was launched in 1997, will celebrate its 10th anniversary with a Tokyo performance on February 26 this year. In addition to performing Sanyutei Encho’s rakugo story “The Grim Reaper,” Ichimura will look back on over 40 musicals he has performed in the past 50 years, along with their songs.

The first performance was at the Arena Hall of the Takashimaya Department Store in Futako-Tamagawa. It started in what is called a hall in a department store, but now we can do it at the Nissay Theatre. It is a great honor to be allowed to stand alone where the great stars of yesteryear stood. Oh yes, at the Tokyo performance, my children will also perform a bit to help out. The three of us three guys are talking about, “How can we create something that the audience will find interesting?” We talk about it. It seems that Ichimura is surprisingly popular (laugh), and we receive comments like, “I didn’t know that Ichimura-san had a past like this,” or “I didn’t know that even Ichimura-san had such a difficult time. I hope the audience will be satisfied with my work this time as well, as I will not be overly rigid in my approach, but will face the audience naked in body and soul.

Lunch box message to my son

The first time she and her eldest son, Yuta (14), performed together as father and son was in the fall performance of ’21. His second son (10) is also aspiring to become an actor. As a senior actor and father, I have to bring up both of them and make the Ichimuraza more exciting. This may seem like too much of a burden for a 74-year-old working man, but Ichimura says, “Balancing both?! Today I woke up at 6 a.m., fed the dog, and made lunch boxes for the children and myself,” he laughed.

When I finish making lunch, it’s just time for the younger one to go to school. After that, when my older son leaves the house, I leave the house with him while I walk the dog. When I get back, I sweat it out in Magma Yoga at 9:30, and then I start work at 12:45. I try to move as much as I can. I’ve decided to keep working on the play as long as I can. If I die, I won’t be able to do anything. If I die, I won’t have to walk the dog, and I won’t have to make lunches, so it will be easier, but all of this is fun to now that I am still alive.”

Making lunch boxes also helps him communicate with his sons, he says.

My lunch is the same bento I make for my children. As I eat it, I look back and see how well it went today, or how this flavor comes out even when it’s cold. By the way, for this morning’s lunch, I made chicken hoi kolo, which my mom made, she came over yesterday , and tomatoes with egg, which my brother likes. I also made spinach with sesame paste, chikuwa with cheese, and namulu (bean sprouts). It’s a little lonely with only two side dishes. It’s better to have some color when you open the lunch pack, isn’t it?

Ichimura continued, his eyes sparkling like a young boy’s. “A lunch pack is a gift from the person who makes it,” he said.

The lunch pack shows the heart of the person who makes it. For example, my older son said, “Tomorrow’s bento will have cucumbers” or ‘Tomorrow’s bento should only have one carrot.” It shows how much he wants to be noticed by his classmates, doesn’t it? (Laughs) I put a message in my bento. When my younger son had a tooth pulled, I would say things like, “You can eat even if you don’t have a tooth,” “Today is the last time you take your medicine, so make sure you take it,” or “It’s cold today, but the love in Papa’s bento will keep you warm. The older child is happy, but the younger child says, ‘This is so embarrassing, please don’t do it.'”

Ichimura and his son are close friends. Ichimura’s motto in parenting is “Don’t let them rebel.”

I don’t tell them to do this or that. I don’t say things like, ‘I think you should get up.’ I’m careful about how I say things so that they don’t rebel and say, ‘I know what you mean.’ People say I’m naive, but for me I see no wrong  with being nice to them. The children see their father doing a lot of things, so they usually help me out. The other day they said, ‘Let’s make pasta together next time.’ In child-rearing, it is more important to show by doing than to teach, and in acting, you can learn more by watching and immitating. In the future, I want my children to read a lot of books, see and feel various things, suffer and be troubled, and still move forward.

At the core of both his life as an actor and his parenting as a father, he is full of joy.

The role of an engineer in “Miss Saigon,” which became one of the most popular roles he played on stage. Photo courtesy of Toho Theatre Department
This year, Ichimuraza will tour five venues (Tokyo, Osaka, Hakata, Kawagoe, and Sendai) for a special performance to mark its 50th anniversary.
When asked what his favorite dish is, he smiled confidently and said, “My sons’ favorite dish is natto fried rice that I make.”
Unpublished cut from Masachika Ichimura’s 50th year in show business: A special interview.
Unpublished cut from the magazine: Special interview with Masachika Ichimura on the 50th anniversary of his career in show business.

From the February 24, 2023 issue of FRIDAY

  • PHOTO Masakazu Yoshiba

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