April 02, 2015

"Massan" wrapup


Massan concluded its six-month run on March 27 (new series begin in April and October). This was the first Asadora ("morning drama") featuring a non-Japanese actor in the lead role, newcomer Charlotte Kate Fox (Northern Illinois University, MFA Acting).


To recap, Massan is a fictionalized biography of two real people: Scotswoman Jessie "Rita" Cowan (1896-1961) and Masataka Taketsuru (1894-1979), the "father" of Japan's distilled spirits industry. "Massan" was Cowen's nickname for her husband.

For Fox, this wasn't only an extreme case of "method acting," but of real-time language acquisition. Like Fox, her character arrived in Japan knowing no Japanese. Unlike Fox, she spent the rest of her life in what was a near "total immersion" environment.

But over the past six months (closer to ten months of actual shooting), Fox has memorized--spoken and reacted to--over 40 hours of Japanese dialogue. And the results?

She did very well! By the end of the series (during which time her character has aged forty years) her Japanese had improved markedly. In interviews, she laughs at how bad her Japanese was the first few weeks. But, of course, that was the point!

It probably helps that Fox has a good ear and a fine singing voice. She's released an EP in Japan with the full versions of the folk songs she sang on the show. I hope they invite her back for NHK's gala Red and White Song Competition on New Year's Eve.

She'll next be appearing on Broadway in Chicago. I'd like to hear her belt out a show-stopper.

Fox also reminds me that, yes, there is such a thing as acting talent. I don't mean simply being able to emote on cue, but being able to naturally interact with people (you didn't know from Adam a week ago) as if you and they were those characters.

(I contrast this with the "Meryl Streep school": never let the audience forget that you are a famous actor acting! Watching Moneyball, I had to remind myself: Oh, yeah, he's Brad Pitt. And then I forgot who he was again. That's good acting.)

Well, I am often impressed by NHK's ability to cast new talent in big roles, and to nurture young talent through its "farm system."

The new heroine meets the old protagonists
(Tao Tsuchiya's third Asadora, first time as the lead).

Starting on Sunday/Monday, the Asadora returned to form with Ma're, a contemporary YA dramedy. Also according to form, the first week features the pre-teen version of the heroine. These little kids blow my socks off, they're that good.

This is one of those real-world cases (probably more the rule than the exception) where the person who got the "lucky break" deserved it.

Tao Tsuchiya with her younger self (Ramu Matsumoto)
and her cinematic parents (Yo Oizumi, Takako Tokiwa).

Thanks to her father's spendthrift ways, the family ends up broke in the sticks, where the titular character overcomes one obstacle after another as she strives to become a patissier.

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