Third interview in the series features Nakata Jōji, the voice of Hijikata Toshizō. Incidentally, Nakata previously played the same historical figure in 2003’s Peacemaker Kurogane anime.
Q: Tell us your impressions upon reading the original manga.
A: The first thing that comes to mind when you mention Hijikata might be the ‘guys all love to hunt, right?’ feeling that he gives off. This is a very exciting series that reminds me of the hot-blooded nature that man possesses. Apart from the interesting way in which human desires and instinct are fearlessly pushed to the fore, the show has visuals that pack plenty of punch as well as a charismatic cast of characters. On top of that we get to learn in detail about Meiji-era Hokkaido and Ainu culture, including methods of communication with the Ainu people – it’s sure to satisfy one’s intellectual curiosity.
Such wide-ranging themes leads me to believe that Noda (Satoru)-sensei must have done very thorough research for his series. After you finish the first volume you’ll want to go on to Volume 2 and on and on – basically you’d want to keep turning the pages and never stop.
Q: Please tell us your first impressions of Hijikata as a character.
A: Every character in this series has a strong personality; intriguing characters that stir up my desire as an actor, making me imagine that I’d want to play a certain role in a certain way. And in the midst of them all we have Hijikata. My initial reaction was one of surprise, like ‘Eh, Hijikata – why is he in this era!?’. What left the next biggest impression was how the visuals showed these old fogeys teeming with energy and filled with unwithering ambition.
Borrowing one of Hijikata’s lines where ‘if you see an old man still alive in this day and age, then you should believe that he will be a survivor’ – he’s the figure who perfectly embodies that. As a performer, my heart was entranced by the pride and tenacity of the survivors of the turbulent Bakumatsu period. When I found out that I’d gotten the role I was so happy that I instinctively shouted ‘Yay!’ out loud.
Q: Is there anything that you’re particularly conscious about when playing the role of Hijikata?
A: Hijikata Toshizō is a well-known historical figure who has appeared as a character in many different works thus far; I’ve actually played Hijikata in another series. The Hijikata of Golden Kamuy differs from the real-life person – you could say that he’s portrayed as the incarnation of the obsession of a Bakumatsu survivor, or he could be seen as revenge personified; a man who is trying to fulfil a purpose that he had previously failed to accomplish.
Nobody’s played a Hijikata at this age, so it was a very intriguing role to me in that sense. I am constantly thinking about how to best embody Hijikata’s aesthetics and way of life that make him a man who, holding his own beliefs, pushes forward regardless of right or wrong.
Q: Did you receive any specific directions from Director Nanba (Hitoshi) or Sound Director Aketagawa (Jin)?
A: During initial tests I played the role with the image I had [of Hijikata] in mind, but the Director instructed me not to make him sound too old; that he should sound more ‘current’ in spite of his looks. [Hijikata’s] long-time acquaintance Nagakura (Shinpachi) also mentions ‘you don’t look that age – you seem much younger’ to him, so I think those instructions were consistent with the exchanges between Nagakura and Hijikata and also when you compare them with each other.
Q: What’s the atmosphere like in the recording studio?
A: When I turned up at the recording studio, I could see that it was a bold casting with people selected based on whether they fit the role as opposed to name value and popularity. Both protagonist Sugimoto and Asirpa require a wide range of acting stretching from serious to comical and I think Kobayashi (Chikahiro) and Shiraishi (Haruka) both responded [to the challenge] splendidly. The remaining cast assembles an array of veteran actors as well. Though it may have been a bit painful for Shiraishi-san to not have any of her contemporaries around to talk to (laughs)
It’s really enjoyable to listen to everyone’s lines during the recordings. I myself read the manga ahead of time so I’d be thinking, ‘Oh, so Tsurumi sounds like that huh’, or ‘Ah, so that’s how Tanigaki is’ – it felt like [their] voices were coming in and erasing the images I had of the characters beforehand. This is what fans of the original works [on which anime are based upon] feel, and it thrilled me. There were quite a few members of the cast who had been fans of the series for a long time and had wanted to play certain roles. When such like-minded people are brought together to work on a show, it convinces you that the series, when completed, will turn out to be something pretty special.
Q: Does working alongside such a prestigious cast inspire Nakata-san to inject extra emotion into your performance?
A: Of course it does. There is a little bit of pressure since Nagakura is played by revered veteran Sugō (Takayuki)-san but once we get into the actual acting process we’ll work together, adjusting and fine-tuning the balance between us. There are many parts where I am helped along through acting alongside the other cast members.
Q: Are there any lines from the beginning of the series that you feel are important in making the character’s charisma and presence felt?
A: Being deliberate regarding such aspects might actually result in rather crude acting so I try not to be so conscious about it. There are lines that will come before and after your own, so conspicuous words would surely stand out. Having said that, even as I read the manga I came across quite a few striking pieces of dialogue that I’m sure fans will be looking forward to hearing from Hijikata.
But if I mention them here, viewers will probably be subconsciously waiting to hear them as they watch the show so I’ll just leave the specifics up to your imagination (laughs). I want to meet the expectations [that fans have] in a proper way, so do please recite along to your favourite lines as you come across them in the episodes.
Q: The anime has just started airing. To wrap things up, please leave a message for the fans.
A: Golden Kamuy is a full-blooded work that I’d love everyone in the present day to watch, and to empathize with the men who lived during such stifling times, showing how ‘there is such a way of life’. At the same time, the series skilfully weaves together elements that we rarely come across, such as tales of the Ainu’s lives and hunting culture, with thrills and action and the lovely moments of everyday life.
The leading combination of Sugimoto and Asirpa are as close as a pair of siblings, and they offer a different flavour from the typical hero-heroine romance story through their many [facial] expressions. The journey towards striking gold has only just begun and many fascinating older characters will appear as we move forward, so I hope that you will enjoy watching.