Behind Tsuyoshi Kusanagi’s Acclaimed ‘Gobangiri’ Performance Lies Tsuka Kohei’s Teachings | FRIDAY DIGITAL

Behind Tsuyoshi Kusanagi’s Acclaimed ‘Gobangiri’ Performance Lies Tsuka Kohei’s Teachings

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“Gobangiri” performance praised Tsuyoshi Kusanagi’s unique acting method.

Tsuyoshi Kusanagi’s starring film “Gobangiri” was released on May 17th and has remained in the top 10 of the weekend “Box Office Rankings” even after three weeks. Additionally, it won the Black Dragon Award selected by critics at the Udine Far East Film Festival and is scheduled to be screened at the New York Asian Film Festival, gaining attention overseas.

In this movie, Kusanagi plays Kakunoshin, a ronin who, after being falsely accused of a crime and losing his wife, is driven out of his homeland, Hikone Domain, and lives in poverty in Edo with his daughter Okiku (played by Kasumi Arimura). One day, Kakunoshin and Okiku, informed of the truth behind a tragic false accusation incident by an acquaintance from the old domain, resolve to seek revenge.

Director Kazuya Shiraishi, known for directing acclaimed films such as “The Blood of Wolves” and “The Devil’s Path,” has brought to life the revenge-driven entertainment based on the classic rakugo tale “Yanagita Kakunoshin.”

Kakunoshin, originally portrayed as unyieldingly upright and virtuous to a fault, transforms into a vengeful demon and embarks on a journey. His intense presence is otherworldly, leaving co-stars astonished by his drastic change from his formerly gentle demeanor.

“Taishi Nakagawa, who plays Yajirobei, a servant of the Mangeya clan and a close observer of Kakunoshin, remarked, ‘His ability to gradually intensify his focus from a natural state was astonishing.’ Masachika Ichimura, who portrays Chobei, the boss of the town, and who reunited with Kusanagi after a long time, commented, ‘He’s someone who acts with his soul, so it was a joy to work in the same atmosphere again in this film.’ Saito Takumi, who has often played the antagonist Heikichi, said, ‘There are undiscovered realms that only Tsuyoshi Kusanagi can reach, and he has arrived there.'” (Film’s Producer)

Tsuyoshi Kusanagi’s approach to his roles is truly unique.

“Regardless of which character he plays, Kusanagi memorizes only his own lines and does not read the lines of other cast members. When asked about this, he simply answers, ‘Lines can change on set, and there are other actors to consider, so I express myself based on how I feel in the moment,'” explained a director from the production company.

Approaching performances without reading the script raises questions about whether such a style can truly inform his character portrayal.

However, Kusanagi didn’t adopt this style from his debut.

“In my twenties and up until my early thirties, there were times when I read the script over and over again and stayed up all night thinking about it.” 

Furthermore, even when the director gave the green light on set.

“Please let me do it one more time.”

It is said that there were often occasions when he directly negotiated. Upon learning this, his close friend Katori Shingo called for Kusanagi.

“You’re not the director.” 

I had also noticed this before. Furthermore, when I opened Kusanagi’s script, I was surprised to find it filled with densely written small characters. In those notes, traces of Kusanagi’s anguish were evident, showing how he had overthought things for his role and ended up unsure of what to do.

Based on those experiences, he himself has revealed:

“I found that reading too much increases unnecessary thoughts and hampers concentration.”

“That’s why I don’t immerse myself in scripts anymore; it’s become my current style.”

And he himself has revealed.

He portrays a performance plan reminiscent of a solitary swordsman who has attained enlightenment. Behind the development of this style lies the teachings of his mentor, Tsuka Kohei, who passed away at the young age of 10.

“In 1999, Kusanagi passionately portrayed the role of Yasu, an unsuccessful actor, in Tsuka-san’s play ‘Kamata March.’ Tsuka-san encouraged Kusanagi with words like, ‘There’s a demon inside you. That’s really good. Let’s open the door to emotions,’ and ‘There’s no meaning in the lines, just say them loudly. Just keep saying the lines loudly.’

This advice from Tsuka-san may seem contradictory at first glance. Tsuka-san is not telling actors not to think at all. Rather, he might be encouraging Kusanagi to portray the character letting the ‘demon’ inside him dictate, allowing Kusanagi to demonstrate his true abilities. This could be the acting plan necessary for Kusanagi to shine, as suggested by the producer mentioned earlier.”

The reason Kusanagi was able to perform such roles was also due to the environment he was in at the time.

During the SMAP era, Kusanagi was the last member to play the lead role in a drama. This circumstance overlapped with the portrayal of Yasu, an unsuccessful actor in a small room, and Kusanagi poured out all the anxiety and inferiority he felt at the time onto the stage.

“This unique acting style, akin to a sword duel, has now earned Kusanagi Tsuyoshi the title of genius. His sharpness has only increased since his performance as a transgender character in the film ‘Midnight Swan,’ extending to roles in historical drama ‘Seitensuke,’ ‘War of Traps’ (Fuji TV), and the morning drama ‘Boogie Woogie’ (NHK),” as noted by the director mentioned earlier.

Director Kazuya Shiraishi, who directed ‘The Blood of Wolves,’ watched as he progressed into another dimension.

“Tsuyoshi Kusanagi is the successor to Toshiro Mifune.”

Boldly declares. If he were alive today, one wonders how Tsuka Kohei would assess Kusanagi now. I’m sure I’m not the only one who would have liked to hear his thoughts.

  • Text Ukon Shima (Broadcaster, Video Producer)

    He is involved in program production in a wide range of genres, including variety, news, and sports programs. He has planned and published many books on female TV announcers, idols, and the TV industry. While working on documentary programs, he became interested in history and recently published "Ieyasu was dead in Sekigahara" (Takeshobo Shinsho). She has also published the e-book series "Ibun chakurezuregusa" (Different Stories about Craftsmen).

  • PHOTO Kazuhiko Nakamura

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