Furukawa Toshio is a legend of the seiyuu industry. If you’ve been watching anime long enough you will need no introduction to his work – Piccolo in Dragon Ball, Portgas D. Ace in One Piece, Kai Shiden in Mobile Suit Gundam, Shinohara Asuma in Patlabor, Ataru in Urusei Yatsura.
Recently, he started doing a radio show with fellow child actress-turned-seiyuu Hirano Fumi, called Furukawa Toshio & Hirano Fumi’s Legend Night. This series of interviews is related to the programme. The interviewer is the writer Fujii Seido.
#1: We were the first generation to call ourselves ‘seiyuu’
Q: To start off, tell us how you first came across this profession of an ‘anime seiyuu’.
A: I got my start in acting when I joined a child theatre company. I was initially hoping to get into the entertainment industry and become a tarento, something like that…I was around 11 then.
At that point I was mainly doing dramas; when I was old enough, I decided that I wanted to take up acting full-time and set up my own theatre company during my college days. Some time later I joined another acting group led by a famous seiyuu (Nakata Koji-san) and that was the reason I started pursuing the voice acting route.
So I wasn’t actually aiming to become a seiyuu from the start. I do think that most people in my age group were quite similar to me.
Q: Yes, most other seiyuu of your generation didn’t start off aiming to become seiyuu either.
A: I would think that it applies to most, if not all.
Genda Tessho-san was in Baraza (a troupe led by Nozawa Nachi) and I got the impression that most of the people who joined the group would end up doing voice work.
It would depend on the individual, but there were people whose ‘core business’ was acting but didn’t make enough money that way, so they got into voice-acting with the intention of treating it as a “part-time job”.
There were some of our prominent seniors who would get mad if you called them ‘seiyuu’ too.
Q: So acting was their day job, and voice work was just a side attraction.
A: Maybe you could say I was just like all the others.
Lots of people start out acting as part of a theatre company, move on to doing dramas, and then branch out into voice work.
Q: When did you begin thinking that “Hey, I’m now a seiyuu”?
A: It never really occurred to me since I had only doing anime and foreign dub work on a one-off basis. To me it felt more like an offshoot of acting work.
However, when I began working on regular series with shows like the anime Magne Robo Gakeen (1976) and the foreign drama CHiPs (1977), both in which I was voicing the hero, I started to refer to myself as a ‘seiyuu’.
At the time, Kamiya Akira-san said “There are some of our seniors who may get angry at this, but since we mainly do voice-related work – about 90% of our work, in fact…isn’t it fine for us to call ourselves ‘seiyuu’?”
We were the first generation who accepted ourselves as being ‘seiyuu’.
#2: Why Furukawa Toshio takes on so many different challenges
Q: You have acted in a lot of different shows – over the course of your career, which one of those would you say is publicly acknowledged as being a national treasure?
A: That would probably be Urusei Yatsura (1981). I’d been doing quite a few lead roles up to that point but the one that people remember me most for would be this particular work.
The TV series went on for four-and-a-half years and there were films as well; as a long-running show, you could say that it’s the closest to being what I’d consider a ‘signature role’.
Q: Did you ever feel like it was a show that was like a ‘national treasure’ while you were doing it though?
A: I was just absorbed in my work at the time (laughs). But I did start to get a lot more fan letters and chocolate on Valentine’s Day so I was kind of aware that things were starting to change. I suppose you could think of (Urusei Yatsura) as the show where (I) accepted my identity as a seiyuu.
At the time, I had hoped to work on such (nationally recognized) shows as soon as possible – Urusei Yatsura turned out to be the first. That was followed by Dragon Ball with Piccolo and more recently, One Piece’s (Portgas D) Ace.
They may not be leading roles but they’re characters that are widely recognized, so I’m lucky in that sense.
Q: The amazing thing about Furukawa-san is that you can voice characters in such popular anime but at the same time devote much energy to doing other things. For example, you set up your own theatre company. How is it possible?
A: At one point, as I was growing up from my days in the child theatre company through to adulthood, I had thought about trying to become a stage actor. It’s somewhat related to my current job as a seiyuu but at the same time, I thought of it as being my ‘starting point’. The setting up acting plans, or the essence of role creation – those were things that were drilled into me through the theatre. That too, is the reason why I continue to do theatre work today.
Q: Continuing to do theatre work also means that you’ll never forget the starting point of your seiyuu career.
A: There is no such thing as a one-sided piece of paper – it will most certainly have a front and a back. It means that you don’t necessarily have to trade-off between two things; rather, they are both inseparable parts of who you are.
I do think it was the stage that influenced me to always be conscious of things such as my personal performances. I could watch something and say, “it’s a performance that has that little something extra*”, but at the back of my mind I would always be thinking ‘What would it be like if it was Furukawa Toshio doing the role instead?’. As there are many skilled people around, it is a necessity to bring in all the qualities that are unique to Furukawa Toshio.
If 10 out of 10 people have the same acting plan, it would be boring. It’s okay to be different.
*the original term used here is +α (plus alpha)
Q: On top of that, you were in a band (Slapstick was formed in 1978 & also featured Nojima Akio & Furuya Tohru) and so on. Was that a comedy band or something? (laughs)
A: Saying that might make my bandmate Furuya Tohru react angrily & say “We were a rock band”, but the rest of us still think of Slapstick as a comedy band (laughs).
It wasn’t as if we were thinking of becoming musicians or anything like that…back then, once you won the leading role on a show, you’d start off by working on its radio programme and then record and release the theme song and ending song, participate in events – lots of different work would be generated from there.
The formation of the band was just another one of those related activities – it’s not like we planned the whole thing ourselves. At the time, singers started to get into voice work as well and you can see that we’ve continued that slide into the current era of mixed media (works). It was all a natural course of events (laughs).
Q: But the band lasted quite a long time. About 10 years?
A: I enjoyed the band activities. Of course it was fun being solo, but there are things you can only do when you’re in a band.
We’d do things together – even stuff like waking up at the same time. I feel like I had formed very strong bonds with this group of buddies. The experiences of those days have proved useful even now, as well as forming fond memories.
#3: I shudder to think of what I would’ve become had I not walked down the seiyuu path
Q: I’m a little hesitant to ask this but I’ll go ahead anyway – what difficulties or troubles have you faced as a seiyuu?
A: Actually, I’ve never faced anything that I would consider as such. Halfway through, I did start to think of this as a ‘calling’ for me. However, when I look back at the times when I was a child actor & appearing in dramas and I see myself wearing that wig on TV, I just think, “that’s horrifying” (laughs).
There are certain types of heads that just don’t look good with wigs on them. Putting a wig on a potato won’t make it look like a samurai. I did a lot of other things back then but when I look at the other child actors of my age, for example Hirano Fumi-san who appeared in ‘Fly away! Youth’ (1972) – I could never match up to them.
Q: Nah, that isn’t true at all (laughs).
A: Also, actors would be tied up in a single piece of work for days on end and we just couldn’t make ends meet. If it started raining all we could do was to sit there and wait for it to stop.
On the other hand, voice work can be carried out in all seasons, whether it’s raining or snowing. Add to that the fact you only need to spend a few hours in the studio and you’re done, so you can schedule a couple of jobs on the same day. Once I started doing seiyuu work on a full-time basis, I saw my income increasing dramatically (laughs).
Thus, I started to believe (that I could make a career out of voice work) which led to my founding of a theatre company, where most of the audience members were anime fans. I would never have been able to start the company up if I wasn’t a seiyuu. That’s why I can honestly say that there hasn’t been anything I’ve found troubling ever since I became a seiyuu.
In fact, I’ll venture that I would’ve been miserable if I had not become a seiyuu.
Q: Conversely, what is the most fun experience you’ve had as a seiyuu?
A: Just being able to do a variety of roles. It’s something I truly enjoy. After all, I can play many non-human role; from fish to aliens.
First of all, even a potato-faced guy like me can voice an ikemen. Nobody gets offended when I voice somebody like Ace from ONE PIECE (laughs). When you’re an actor, the range of roles you get will inevitably be limited by your visual appearance.
But when you’re a seiyuu you can voice the archetypal Romeo and above all, you can still voice 20-year olds even at my age. In fact, most of my work now involves voicing young characters.
On the other hand I haven’t done as many older roles as I would’ve liked to and it doesn’t seem like that situation will change any time soon, so I might never get to fulfil that wish.
Q: Now that you mention it, I’d never actually heard Furukawa-san doing an old man’s role.
A: Villains, transvestites, perverts, suave guys, comedians – I’ve done a lot of those but for some reason, very few old men.
I guess it’s because there are veterans like Nagai Ichiro-san and Yanami Joji-san at my agency so even though I’m at a good age (for older roles), I’ll still be asked to take on younger roles instead.
So of late, I’ve wanted to do older roles…but having said that, I was recently asked to voice the role of a several-hundred year old man in Ushio and Tora (laughs). I’m having fun with that right now.
Q: I think it’s wonderful that you want to expand your range even at your age. Do you have anything to say to today’s generation of young seiyuu?
A: To tell the truth, I have no real, frank advice to offer. I actually think the young people these days are doing rather well.
I’ve observed through recordings, how the advancement of recording equipment has resulted in changes in acting theory so I can’t be too critical of the performances of the younger kids.
Rather, I feel that my generation has the opportunity to learn from them. If there’s only one thing for me to say however, it would be that it’s pointless for one to think that just because it’s acting, that you’re a genius for merely being able to keep up.
This is what I’d say if the question was put to me. You need to have a basic grasp of acting theory; a performance that doesn’t have an acting plan at its root is useless. You can’t just say “I’ll just wing it like this”.
Q: In other words, you can’t be just going through the motions with the dialogue – you’ve got to infuse your own qualities into the role.
A: Our prominent seniors like Takiguchi Junpei-san and Yamada Yasuo-san; they all had their own unique way of expressing themselves. You could never hope to imitate them.
That’s why people couldn’t help but attempt to impersonate their voices. It’d be really amazing if they could get anywhere close though.
After all, there is no other narrator in the world like Takiguchi-san. He’s like the Egg of Columbus.
Q: Didn’t people have any bad feelings (towards him) at all back then?
A: There might have been. But I think that there were people amused by it as well.
Q: The famous announcer Nakanishi Ryo who did shows like Japan’s Melodies, amongst other things, was also well-known for his unique narration. He’d do things like switch up the positions of the punctuation in the manuscripts he had been given, and that gave birth to his peculiar style. When a colleague asked him why he did that, (Nakanishi) reportedly replied, “‘cos it’d be boring if I sounded the same as everyone else”.
A: When I first received an offer to do narration work, I thought that I might as well do it in my own unique way. And I ended up getting out of control during certain parts (laughs).
Q: But as a seiyuu, you’d definitely want people to be able to recognize your voice by hearing a single word you say.
A: Hence, when I’m working on TV infomercials and requests are made for me to scream beyond my limits, I begin to think that there is no sense in doing such things. There is definitely a limit to what I’d say is the ‘comfort zone’ for my voice – anything beyond that and it wouldn’t sound like me at all.
Obviously I’d still do it since it’s a job, but inwardly I’d be thinking ‘I shouldn’t be doing this – they should be getting Chiba-chan [Chiba Shigeru] in instead’ (laughs).
I’d also like to ask them ‘Why did you even bother to use me?’
Q: Well, you could also blame the writer (laughs).