By Makoto Tanaka / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff WriterTatsuya Nakadai, 84, was highly motivated to take up his latest role — given that he thinks it could be the last time he plays the lead in a movie.
The actor has a big presence in “Umibe no Lear” (Lear on the Shore), portraying a screen legend of the past — a character not unlike Nakadai himself.
The film, currently showing, is the third in which he has acted under director Masahiro Kobayashi, following “Haru to no Tabi” (Haru’s Journey) in 2010 and “Nippon no Higeki” (Japan’s Tragedy) in 2012. The actor described the director as “very good at portraying people.”
Nakadai said there are certain similarities between the roles he has played in the three films.
“[My character in the latest film] causes trouble for his family and the people around him. He also happily travels and becomes content with his situation, in the end. It’s similar to [the roles I played in] the two previous films. I don’t know how viewers will receive it, but I enjoyed [playing the latest lead role].”
The protagonist of “Umibe no Lear,” Chokitsu Kuwabatake, has been put in a luxurious home for the elderly by his family because he is suspected to have developed dementia. However, he sneaks out and wanders along a seashore.
Illness aside, the character seems to have something in common with Nakadai. When reading the screenplay, which was written by Kobayashi, for the first time, Nakadai said he “immediately realized it was written for me.” He added, “There were lines based on what I once wrote in books or said in interviews. In that respect, I found it challenging to play [the role].”
Nakadai’s acting career spans over 60 years and 150 films.
“I don’t want to play a role just like the ones I’ve done before,” he said.
In this sense, the actor found his latest character — who talks incessantly — very fresh.
Kobayashi shoots Nakadai with ingenuity in the film — from a distance at one point and closeup at another. Previously, in “Nippon no Higeki,” the seasoned actor was shot from behind by Kobayashi for 20 minutes.
“Maybe director Kobayashi is trying to do new things, which is really interesting,” Nakadai said. “I can never figure out what he’s up to.”
Chokitsu rattles off lines from Shakespeare’s “King Lear” on the seashore in one very long scene, as if starring in a one-man play. Nakadai says it has become increasingly difficult for him to learn lines with age, but that he “thought I could somehow make it” — a modest expression that hints at the pride of this great actor, who still performs in theaters.
Nakadai’s coperformers are the ages of his children and grandchildren. Hiroshi Abe plays Chokitsu’s student and his daughter’s husband. He tries to persuade Chokitsu to return to the facility. Haru Kuroki portrays Chokitsu’s younger daughter, who believes he deserted her.
“I was the one cringing, thinking they may have been thinking, ‘He’s not that good, despite doing this for 60 years,’” Nakadai said with a chuckle.
When taking up the role, this seasoned actor thought it might be the last time he plays a lead. But during the shooting, Nakadai half-jokingly posed a question to Kobayashi: “What are you going to use me for next?”
The answer is off the record, but Nakadai went on talking cheerfully about an interesting project.
Mumeijuku, the theater company presided over by Nakadai, will put on a play in October.
“I want to continue this career for as long as my body lasts,” he said. “Dreams and challenges — I want to keep them in mind until I drop.”
The film in Japanese is showing at Theatre Shinjuku and other cinemas. See