Happy New Year

A Happy New Year!

We were struck by an unexpected disaster last year, turning it into a year of anxiety with no light at the end of the tunnel.

I felt distressed every time I read in the newspaper about the numerous people who had lost their loved ones, while even the healthy lost their jobs, or the skyrocketing number of people struggling to feed themselves, while more women faced even greater stress than usual trying to juggle work and family.

On the other hand, I have come to realize the preciousness of everyday life I had taken for granted while quietly enduring this subdued lifestyle, and I was able to engage in numerous activities that I would otherwise not have had time for.

I wonder what the new year holds in store for us.

I would like to pray for this year to bring peace of mind and joy to everyone’s lives.

First Gentleman

Irreplaceable deily life of Prime Minister and her husband

I was given the opportunity to play Rinko Soma, the first female prime minister of Japan, in the movie, “First Gentleman,” which is based on the novel of the same title written by Maha Harada. This story is told from the perspective of her husband who gives close support to the Soma administration, which is inaugurated upon overcoming numerous obstacles and traditions. We finished filming just the other day, thanks to the meticulous and quick work of the wonderful team led by Director Hayato Kawai, who is good-natured and calm at all times.

Rinko’s husband, Hiyori, has had a sheltered upbringing and is unambitious, and all he wants is the opportunity to study birds, and live peacefully with his wife. But their life changes dramatically as the result of his wife becoming Prime Minister, and some unexpected twists of fate have him running around like a headless chicken, which is portrayed comically and charmingly by the dexterous Kei Tanaka. He assumes his role casually and effortlessly, and yet reaches out directly to people’s hearts, and I was inspired by his acting every day. I was also surprised by his understanding of on-site needs, for which he could have almost been an outstanding assistant director.

While women have become prime ministers in various countries around the world, I played my part asking myself every day, “When will the day come when a woman will become Prime Minister in Japan?” The Soma administration’s manifesto contains numerous plans, but priority was placed on “creating a society conducive to working women giving birth to babies and raising them” in order to put a stop to the declining birthrate and aging population. I played my part every day under Director Kawai’s supervision, while drawing many insights from the performances of my co-stars, and thinking about what kind of person would win the support of both the elderly, who hold many votes, and people of the younger generation who show little interest in politics, if a woman were to actually become a prime minister in today’s Japan.

I met Director Kawai for the first time in about 20 years, since working with him on the drama series, “Keizoku (Unsolved Cases).” But despite being completely rushed off his feet with no time to spare, as with Kei Tanaka, for his popularity after churning out a series of hits, including “Suzuki Sensei,” “Let’s Go, JETS! From Small Town Girls to U.S. Champions?!,” “My Love Story!!,” “The Naked Director,” etc., he found the time to carefully give out instructions to each and every actor and staff member. As a result, everyone was able to stay peaceful and calm, and have fun on-site regardless of the tension we were all feeling from the COVID-19 crisis.

The photo above captures a moment in the daily life of the Soma family. As at my own home, housework in the Soma family is done by whoever has the time to do it, so breakfast is made mainly by Hiyori, while Rinko too, sometimes prepares meals. The delightful dishes and mugs with bird designs were made just for this movie by Keiko and Tsunehisa Gunji, the husband and wife who run Gunji Pottery.

The movie is about a prime minister and her husband, but it’s also a story about all working women and their partners. I hope everyone enjoys watching this light-hearted movie version of “First Gentleman,” which provides comical and heart-warming entertainment.

Body Wash with a Moisturizing Retaining Ingredient that Doesn’t Wash Away

The body soap which makes your skin smooth and soft

The COVID-19 crisis continues, but as if to make things worse, it is now that time of the year when dry skin becomes a problem, and it makes me wonder how everyone is handling it.

I just finished filming a new movie the other day, and in addition to writing, I am currently taking online German lessons and exercising daily to improve my posture. But having said that, I am not really seriously engrossed in these activities. Instead, it has become increasingly important for me to enjoy my work, as a congenital lazybones. In learning German, I concentrate diligently during lessons, but once they finish, I rarely review them, and in my desperate search for ways my brain can learn naturally without having to struggle, all I do is listen passively to audio books and the radio.

As for improving my posture, it’s something I began on the side while undergoing rehabilitation for my hip joint, which had been giving me trouble for a long time. It has been somewhat of a struggle, but I have been taking lessons on and off that you almost have to laugh at because they are so harsh. But it’s all to restore my waistline, which had begun to swell due to lack of exercise during the COVD-19 crisis, acquire a good posture for a body that appears to reach up to the sky, and learn how to breathe effortlessly using my entire body. Of course, being a lazybones, I don’t have the tenacity to conscientiously continue skincare for my whole body. Taking my age into account, it’s probably best that I spend more time caring for my body, but if I had that much time to spare, I would rather lie around on the sofa, relax all my muscles by doing stretches to improve my posture, or loosen up my fascia using a ball or foam roller. This has made the innovative “hadakara” body wash, containing a moisture retaining ingredient that doesn’t wash away, an indispensable item in my daily life as a person who doesn’t like to spend too much time on body care. I tend to develop itchiness all over my body when my skin becomes dry due to lack of care, but thanks to “hadakara,” I have not used body oils for many years now. Being a negligent person, I am especially thankful for the foam dispensing type that foams up the soap with a single push of the pump. And now, a new product containing oil has become available. I thoroughly recommend “hadakara” to protect your own skin, and that of others close to you.

It is that time of the year when the changing of the seasons is beautiful.

Take care and stay safe.

Nesting at Home

Austrian Airlines terminates flight operations

The Friday night drama series, “Byoshitsu de Nembutsu o Tonaenaide Kudasai (Prayers in the Emergency Room),” has finished. I would like to thank everyone for watching the drama series.

It was time to say farewell to the days of being involved in the production of the series, which started off by being offered a part by Aki Isoyama who is an integral part of the history of TBS dramas, Akihiko Watase with whom I also worked in the past in the drama “JIN,” Yutaka Tawada who has produced dramas like “Nigeru wa Haji daga Yaku ni Tatsu (We Married as a Job!) ,” and Nobuhiko Takayama with whom I worked in “IQ246,” and was later followed by working under the supervision of directors like Shunichi Hirano with whom I worked in the drama “Anatani-wa Kaeru Ie-ga Aru (You Have a Place to Go Home to)” and carefully studying the script written by Tomoko Yoshizawa, while spending time dealing with the issue of life and death with all my wonderful costars, including Hideaki Ito and Tsuyoshi Muro.

On the night of the day we finished filming, I actually jumped on a plane and hurried back to my home in the mountains of Salzburg, where I have placed myself under voluntary house arrest, in Austria, which has now closed all of its borders.

I have heard that cherry blossom viewing is in full swing in Japan, and schools will be reopening soon, but here in Europe, alerts have been issued with only the bare minimum of essential businesses remaining open, such as grocery stores, hospitals, drugstores, gas stations and post offices. Restaurants have closed of course, and even cafés and fast food restaurants have all closed. People are only allowed out of their houses to buy food and medicine, go to the hospital, and take the occasional stroll. Meeting people other than family members is also prohibited. Children too, have to isolate themselves by not going to the park, and their parents are stressed out from having to deal with children, too young to understand the coronavirus situation, but bursting with energy.

As you are no doubt aware, tragic images of hundreds of dead people being transported by trucks, just across the border in Italy, are being shown on the news every day almost as if it were wartime. Above all, I have nothing but the utmost respect for the courage and dedication of medical workers who are putting their own lives on the line in striving to save the lives of other people. France is also in a state of complete chaos, and a doctor, who is accustomed to seeing people die, cried while being interviewed, saying, “It’s the first time I’ve seen so many people die, and I don’t know what to do.”

It’s at times like this that I recall what my character, Dr. Miyake, said in the drama I was acting in only until a few days ago; “I became a doctor because I wanted to save people, but upon becoming one, I’ve been forced to see just as many people die as I save. I’ve learned how to help people, but not how to accept their deaths. I can’t sleep, and it’s unbearable…”

I have no idea how long this state of house arrest is going to continue, but I’ve come to realize how lucky I am to be alive, and have enough food to feed myself.

Incidentally, in Austria where people have grown accustomed to recycling in everyday life, I am proud to say that toilet paper made from recycled paper is being produced in huge quantities, and people have not resorted to panic buying.

Perhaps this coronavirus disaster will become a major turning point in people’s senses of value throughout the world. I pray for everyone’s safety.

Prayers in the Emergency Room

Medical instruments for an operation

The new drama series, “Byoshitsu de Nembutsu o Tonaenaide Kudasai (Prayers in the Emergency Room),” begins today. It is based on a manga series written by Tamayo Koyasu. It is a story about a Buddhist monk, Matsumoto, played by Hideaki Ito, who also works as an emergency doctor. He grapples with how he can save his patients’ lives, as well as their souls, while at times making serious mistakes as he strives to face up to the challenges of dealing with people’s lives. On the one hand, he preaches feverishly about the ways of Buddha, while on the other hand, he is a monk with all the worldly desires of a depraved person, who finds himself tempted by women in swimwear, brings obscene books to the workplace, and snacks on other people’s food. That is what makes him down to earth, vulnerable, and an attractive leading character in the drama who will keep all those who watch it riveted to the screen.

I play the part of Miyake, who is critical of Matsumoto’s overly enthusiastic passion, and scoffs at his Buddhist teachings, while cultivating a trusting relationship with him as a member of the same team of emergency doctors. I calmly and sincerely devote myself to administering medical care, in order to save the lives of dying patients right before me.

Tsuyoshi Muro plays the part of Hamada, a gifted but detestable cardiac surgeon who is like a manifestation of pure conceitedness and obtrusiveness. He is in constant conflict with Emergency Doctor Matsumoto, who strives to save everyone’s lives without thinking of the consequences even if it means accepting more patients than the hospital can handle.

Honoka Matsumoto plays the part of a young cardiac surgeon, who is far from being gifted and is inexperienced, but devotes herself to her job with nothing more than a genuine desire to save her patients’ lives. Meanwhile, Ryota Katayose plays a medical intern who is like the epitome of the “Satori generation (characterized by their lack of ambition and worldly desires),” seeing the world around him with an indifferent attitude and showing absolutely no respect or modesty toward his superiors.

Masato Hagiwara plays the part of Director Tamai of Aobadai Hospital’s Emergency Center, who is conservative, yet indecisive and weak-willed, but also has an unexplainable charm, while Kimiko Yo plays the part of Chief Director, who is well versed in the ways of Buddhism, and is the only person at the hospital capable of restraining Matsumoto, like a ball and chain, when he goes out of control.

The first episode about to be broadcast at last tonight, was filmed carefully over approximately a whole month. I have been deeply moved, almost to tears, by the performances of all the guests who join us each time. But like Miyake, I hold myself back and try to stay calm at all times.

Death is a daily occurrence to emergency doctors. But even so, they mourn the deaths of those they were unable to save, and strive to keep as many people as possible alive, driven by a belief that miracles do happen.

“Prayers in the Emergency Room,” the TBS drama series, airs at 10:00 P.M. every Friday night. I hope everyone enjoys watching it.

Best Wishes for a Wonderful New Year

Stephansdom in Vienna

Happy New Year!

I would like to take this opportunity to express my deepest gratitude to those who watched my drama series, “Haru – The Woman of a General Trading Company,” and all those who supported me in a variety of other ways last year.

Once again, I was invited at the start of the year to appear in NHK Educational TV’s broadcast of the Vienna Philharmonic New Year’s Concert, and I am about to put on a kimono for the occasion.

The Vienna Philharmonic will not only perform waltzes and polkas under the baton of passionate Andris Nelsons, brimming with humor, but they will also perform works by Beethoven for the first time in the 150-year history of the Vienna Philharmonic New Year’s Concert. Mitsuko Kusabue, who once played my mother on stage in “Lost in Yonkers,” also came all the way to Vienna to attend the concert, and we both enjoyed the New Year Concert in a celebratory atmosphere.

May the year ahead bring everyone great joy and happiness, and be filled with new discoveries.

The 2020 Vienna Philharmonic New Year’s Concert will be aired on NHK Educational TV tonight, starting at 7:00 P.M. I thoroughly recommend everyone to watch it.

Reviving a Movie Company

View from the dressing room in Yokohama

The fourth episode of “Haru – The Woman of a General Trading Company” will be aired tomorrow.

In this episode, Haru’s former husband, Director Wada of the Corporate Planning Department of Itsuki Shoji, played by Naohito Fujiki, reawakens his passion for cinema that had been buried deep within him since his student days and takes on the challenge of reviving an affiliated movie company. Although he would normally have left it up to Haru and his other subordinates, this time is different. He finds himself unable to sit back and watch, and becomes actively involved himself.

The world of movies is full of dreams, propped up by the passion and benevolence of those who love the silver screen, but upon actually becoming involved in this business, it is also an extremely harsh world. It is no mean feat to create a quality product that is also loved by everybody. Making a commercial movie is like gambling; it can often make or break a company depending on its box-office success. This rise and fall in the movie industry also applies to producers, directors and the actors who are involved in the making of movies, and they have no choice but to stay on their toes at all times. But it’s a strange world in which, people gather from everywhere, attracted by their love for movies.

Director Wada becomes more enthusiastic than ever, almost like a wide-eyed boy. He delivers a fervent speech to try and rouse a young producer into action, whose passion has begun to wane, played by Shinnosuke Mitsushima, persuade the president played by Ichirota Miyakawa, who is on temporary loan from a trading company and is only interested in figures, and draw out funds from an IT millionaire played by Yasushi Fuchikami.

Meanwhile, Haru’s beloved son Ryo has a meal for the first time with Director Wada, and both Wada and Ryo find themselves bewildered by their emotions.

Reviving a movie company is the stuff of men’s dreams, and I thoroughly recommend everyone to see how the story unfolds.
The fourth episode of “Haru – The Woman of a General Trading Company” will be broadcast on the 11th at 10:00 P.M. on TV Tokyo.

The Hostile Takeover

Tires for special motor ehicles

In the third episode of “Haru – The Woman of a General Trading Company,” which will be broadcast tonight, a company affiliated with Itsuki Shoji, the trading company where Haru works, becomes the target of a hostile takeover. The entire Corporate Planning Department ends up running around in confusion after given orders to implement measures in response to this situation.

To rescue Nishimoto Kogyo, a company with 250 employees that sells special wheels for linear motor trains and heavy machinery for agricultural use, the people of the Corporate Planning Department where Haru works, as well as Tomoharu Hasegawa, Kazuyuki Matsuzawa and other people of the Research & Development Department of Nishimoto Kogyo are roused into launching a new business. I too, was excited by the scenes in which Haru visits the factory frequently with her subordinates, Aoyagi and Kawakami , and finds herself working toward the same goal in solidarity with the people of the Research & Development Department who have devoted themselves wholeheartedly to developing a new product in their quest for survival.

Moreover, the reunion for the first time in 10 years between her former husband, played by Naohito Fujiki, and her son, Ryo, played by Kokoro Terada, was heart-wrenchingly touching. Including Haru, the story unravels in a way that will leave you wondering what lies in store for these three in the future.

Meanwhile, behind the scenes, Takashi Yamanaka, who plays Fujio, a character of the Corporate Planning Department who is like the epitome of conservatism, revealed himself to be a master curry chef. He excels in making genuine Indian curry using whole spices, and we selfishly insisted that he make curry for everyone, including the staff and cast. With the help of Jin Shirasu who plays Haru’s confidant and subordinate, Aoyagi, Shugo Oshinari who plays Ichijoji, a completely unproductive employee who got into the company through the backdoor, Masaki Kaji who plays Kawakami, and opportunistic person who loves gossiping, and Kunito Watanabe who plays Yajima, the next most conservative person after Fujio, they finished making keema curry and lentil soup after more than four hours. They were absolutely delectable with the perfect balance between umami, spiciness and flavor. In the past, I traveled around India eating curry every day for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and I actually ate enough curry to last me a lifetime. So, although I still enjoy Japanese-style curry, I have an aversion to Indian curry, but Mr. Yamanaka’s secret recipe has once again awoken me to its deliciousness.

The third episode of “Haru – The Woman of a General Trading Company” will be broadcast tonight at 10:00 P.M. on TV Tokyo. I thoroughly recommend everyone to watch it.

The Hospital Acquisition Plan

A barbershop on the street in India

The second episode of “Haru – The Woman of a General Trading Company” will be broadcast tonight at 10:00 P.M.

Itsuki Shoji, the trading company, is trying to break into the new medical business field, and orders the Corporate Planning Department that Haru, played by me, works for, to examine the feasibility of acquiring a hospital group in Singapore.

As always, Haru takes on this huge-budget project with great vitality, and based on advice from Wada, her former husband, who is Director of the Corporate Planning Department, she begins making moves to try and persuade the president of a certain medical corporation, played by Minori Terada. However, he turns out to be a difficult character, who even makes getting an appointment a hassle, let alone persuade. Haru and an employee assigned to the Singapore branch, played by Renn Kiriyama , use every means to try and get the stubborn president to let down his guard.

Meanwhile, Haru’s son, played by Kokoro Terada, comes down with a fever. Haru, despite having proposed to go on the business trip to Singapore herself, is left with no choice but to cancel the flight. Her worries are never ending as a working mother, but she is more passionate than ever about her work, and vows to achieve the same results working from home, as if she had gone to Singapore.

I spent very fulfilling days listening to Mr. Minori Terada talk about various episodes, such as the time Toshiro Mifune almost made Alain Delon envious when he acted in the movie “Red Sun”, or an interesting story about how the only words that Director Shinji Somai spoke to actresses were “boke, tako, kuzu (fool, useless and loser).” According to Director Somai, he did this because male actors are weak-hearted, but actresses are strong, and those who hated his strict supervision and screamed, “Drop dead, Somai!” at the back of the studio always gave superb performances on-screen. If he did that today, it would cause a furor, but perhaps it was because of this bigotry and passion that he was able to make the kind of movies that he did.

“Haru – The Woman of a General Trading Company” will be broadcast tonight at 10:00 P.M. on TV Tokyo. I thoroughly recommend everyone to watch it.

“Haru – The Woman of a General Trading Company ”

The Stelvio Pass in Italy

This is an original drama based on the actual experiences of Miwako Kurihara, a producer whom I worked with in the past on the drama, “Ren’ai Hensachi .” The story unfolds at a general trading company where I play the heroine, Haru Kaibara , a single mother who has returned from New York. It is a story about how she fearlessly crosses a dangerous bridge while embroiling others around her who fear innovation as they strive to avoid rocking the boat, sit on the fence without taking sides, and constantly butter up the administrators for their own social gains.

Haru was headhunted and invited to Japan to work for the elite Corporate Planning Department. The department is responsible for carrying out all kinds of operations, from reorganizing unprofitable divisions to executing business contractions, and proposing and executing new business plans. However, Haru finds herself assigned to work as an assistant director under her former husband, Wada, played by Naohito Fujiki, who is the director of the department. Being her former husband means he is also the father of her son, Ryo , played by Kokoro Terada. The drama offers interesting viewing seeing the way they draw the line between work and private communication at their workplace.

Haru’s subordinate, Aoyagi , played by Jin Shirasu, gradually rediscovers his latent passion for work as he is inspired by Haru’s directness with no beating around the bush, which is a breath of fresh air at a company that had become stifling. The vice-president and the director-general of the Corporate Planning Department, who often opposes the president and perpetuates the “don’t rock the boat” attitude, is played by Eiji Okuda.

All the regular characters of the Corporate Planning Department, and the many other guests who appear every time they become involved in a new situation, are very charming. The first episode features Hiromasa Taguchi and Yoji Tanaka who struggle to revive a ramen chain business that has been performing poorly.

Haru finds that the greater the obstacle, the more glory there is in overcoming it. If she had time for complaining, she would much rather spend that energy dealing with the issues right before her, and her lines even made me feel more positive about everything. I still love taking on challenges, but the drama has brought back fond memories of my younger days when I was even more courageous and had nothing to fear from having nothing to lose.

Of course, being like Haru, fearlessly asserting your opinions to a man in a higher position and rocking the boat intentionally by questioning tacit understanding to move forward, is something that only a few outstanding people, or reckless fools, are capable of doing. Many people differentiate between their public positions and private intentions, and keep their true feelings hidden as they strive to get through life by remaining loyal to their companies in order to protect their families and the security of their daily lives. There are also people who devote less time to their work in pursuit of more freedom and fulfilling lives instead of material wealth. The wonderful thing about this drama is that it doesn’t ignore such people, but also turns a warm eye to those who have no choice but to work as cogs in the wheel of society.

“Haru – The Woman of a General Trading Company” will be broadcast every Monday from 10:00 P.M. starting tomorrow, October 21, on TV Tokyo. I thoroughly recommend everyone to watch it.