We’re fast approaching the second season of Golden Kamuy in the autumn but before that, here’s an interview with Otsuka Akio who played the legendary bear-killer Nihei Tetsuzō in the first cour.
Q: Tell us your impressions upon reading the original manga.
A: I was originally a fan of the manga and had bought all the volumes to read. It was due to a fan’s recommendation that I picked up the series; once I started to read it, I could see that it was indeed interesting. Despite being an ensemble piece, each character is incredibly distinct and that’s something I find attractive. I’d always thought that I’d like to be involved in some way if it were to be adapted into an anime.
Q: So your wish to appear in the anime has indeed come true.
A: Yeah. However, by the time I heard the news about the series getting an anime the auditions were already over (laughs). As the disappointment was starting to set in, I received word of an offer for the role of Nihei.
Q: As you are a fan of the manga, are there any of the characters that you’re fond of?
A: I like all of the characters and would’ve liked to play any one of them. The one that I believed would be most complex is Liutenant Tsurumi, but (Otsuka) Hōchū-san’s performance was very satisfying to listen to. I thought it’d be tough to know where to draw the line between sane and insane; tough to handle the way he interacts with other people. The series has plenty of cool characters like Hijikata and Ushiyama and so on, which makes it exciting to read. Nevertheless, I was glad to have been asked to play the role of Nihei.
Q: What are your impressions of Nihei as a character?
A: He’s an amazing guy who has no interest in the Ainu gold. All he wants to do is live in the mountains, and die in the mountains. It was for that reason alone that he got tattooed in Abashiri Prison and made his escape. In other words, the world that Nihei inhabits is equal to the entire world, at least to him. That is why I believed that he shouldn’t be integrated into the storyline. He has his own world, and it’s only by chance that he gets caught up in the crossfire of the battle for the gold. I would similarly have to create my own ‘world’ for my performance in this role so that I wouldn’t feel like I was losing the battle against the character itself. In that sense, doing this felt rewarding to me. All I had to work with was 2 episodes but I was passionate about creating a Nihei Tetsuzō who would be as formidable as the rest of the series.
Q: Before you go into the recording studio, do you normally formulate an acting plan?
A: My influences come from the manga since I’m a reader so I wouldn’t usually take such a thorough approach. In a way, it’s good that I’m a fan of the manga (laughs). Even as a follower of the original work I didn’t feel any pressure at all; I just had a lot of fun with what I was doing.
Q: He’s a pretty cutting character, and you can also see how vividly human he is.
A: I think the Meiji setting may be a factor behind that. Unlike the current SNS era where any statement you make might get flamed immediately, there were no concrete rules back then and it felt like you were just doing your best to stay alive. You see loads of these guys in the story who don’t give a damn about the ‘common sense’ that modern people are so obsesssed with and I do think this relates to why the characters have so much presence. Someone like Shiraishi may seem like a bit of a joke character who’s always being bullied, but if he was to exist in the real world he’d be a very dynamic guy (laughs)
Q: Was there anything memorable about your time in the studio?
A: Nihei’s interactions were mostly with Tanigaki, with his role being to develop Tanigaki’s growth as part of the story. Nihei himself is already a mature character and his position is that of an outsider looking in. Hence, even if Tanigaki tries his best to act mature Nihei would still be moving him around in the palm of his hand. Hosoya (Yoshimasa)-kun who plays Tanigaki too, attacked his role in a direct manner without any unnecessary embellishments, which made it very easy for me to do my part.
Q: Were there any lines that you feel were important in making Nihei’s charisma and presence felt?
A: I think it was more of a case where I was trying not to use dialogue as a way to define his personality. Nihei doesn’t seem like the kind of character who’s good at [expressing himself]. I imagine that he’s more likely to just spit out an entire chunk of speech on the spot. He’s unexpectedly chatty though, and some anime viewers would probably think that he’s already expressive enough as he is (laughs).
Q: What about from the viewpoint of a manga fan? Are there any lines that you like?
A: Maybe ‘I’ve only got one shot which is why I can use it with utmost confidence’*. That is the phrase that best represents Nihei’s life philosophy. I was actually felt quite strongly about this one phrase during recordings and specifically asked the director if I could change it from the script that had omitted that part and only kept the first line ‘If you don’t end it in one shot, you’ll die’ from the manga. To Nihei, the problem was not whether he would be killed by his prey – to him, it was more important to hit his target with confidence.
Also, the ‘women really are terrifying’ line** was memorable to me. He’s this egotistical outlaw and yet he’s afraid of a female – that was interesting to see. Certainly, from a wife’s point of view, battles between men are irrelevant – of that I am convinced (laughs). It’s a line that seems natural coming from Nihei when you consider his sense of humour and I think that side of him just helps to add to his appeal.
*from chapter 22
**from chapter 29
Q: Speaking of Nihei’s lines, the way he uses the word ‘boner’ leaves quite the impression.
A: He doesn’t use it in reference to his his sexual desire but rather, to express his burning desire to survive. Though if he were to use that in a modern day conversation, people would think of him as a weirdo right away (laughs). I guess that he turned out this way thanks to his usage of odd vocabulary and phrases like ‘my heart is dancing’.
Q: What’s the mood in the recording studio like?
A: It was enjoyable. It’s fun to be around guys who are young enough to be my sons, but it’s also interesting to work with veterans from my age group as well. It’s hard to endure for such a long time in this industry so it’s only veterans who hold a special something who will survive. When you’re young you’re always conscious about not going too far beyond what is requested of you but when you reach the veteran status, it becomes like a game for us to see just how prominent we can be (laughs). It’s especially true for a series like this – if an actor were to find himself drowned out by the character’s charisma he would end up sounding boring, so it’s better to be assertive and distinguish yourself from the character. Getting together a group of people who are able to pull that off creates a kind of synergy and elevates the drama several notches higher. I do see quite a few younger actors with such awareness coming up recently and that makes the industry all the more interesting.
Q: How do you view Nihei’s role within the anime?
A: Obviously I’m happy to have been able to voice Nihei but well, he dies pretty quickly (laughs). If I’m allowed to be selfish, I would’ve wished for 15 more minutes of airtime for him. I would’ve liked to see a few more scenes that used silence [as a tool]; perhaps long shots that gradually panned over to Nihei could’ve helped create greater tension during the battles in the wild. Having said that, this is only a 30-minute anime so such aspects might be detrimental to the tempo, not to mention the fact that there are certain scenes that must be fit into the given time frame. I’m also glad that Nihei was included in the opening sequence despite featuring in just a few episodes.
Q: Lastly, please leave a message as you reflect upon your appearance in the series.
A: Under normal circumstances my performance would draw upon the story but that was not applicable to Nihei at all. It was truly fun to play such a hugely charismatic character that was not involved in the overarching plot. His existence was separate from the main storyline and I do admit that it did make me think ‘maybe it’ll be fine for me to do this my own way’ (laughs). I really enjoyed acting in this role, and I’m thankful that the role entertained me as well. I do sincrely hope that the anime could write in additional Nihei Tetsuzō stories as well (laughs). The second season of the anime will be starting in October and the staff and cast will be intensifying the dynamic charms of the manga, which I hope will fire up the young men of today once again.