By Yuji Hatanaka / Sports Hochi Staff WriterRitsu Okazaki has led an ill-fated life since he was separated from his mother as a child. He is blunt and a little wild, but warm and sincere deep down. The protagonist’s life starts to change dramatically after he meets his mother’s other son and a young woman.
Ritsu is played by Tomoya Nagase, the lead vocalist of the popular idol rock band Tokio, in the drama “Gomen, Aishiteru” (Sorry, I love you), which is currently being broadcast on the TBS network at 9 p.m. on Sundays.
This is the first time in 19 years that Nagase has acted in a serious love story. He tackles the character head-on, as he’s always done in past dramas. However, he says he is not a real actor and simply finds his own way of expressing each role.
In the drama, Ritsu is involved in a criminal incident and suffers a life-threatening head injury. He manages to track down his mother (played by Shinobu Otake), wanting to see her before he dies.
However, he finds that she dotes on her other son, Satoru (Kentaro Sakaguchi). Ritsu also meets Rinka Mita (Riho Yoshioka), whose love for Satoru is unrequited. These complex relationships between the main characters are the key factor in how the drama evolves.
This love story and human drama is a remake of the original version broadcast in 2004 in South Korea, where it became an even bigger hit than the famous “Fuyu no Sonata” (Winter Sonata).
But Nagase said during a recent interview that he is aiming to make his version a tribute to the original, not simply a remake.
“The original was made in South Korea more than 10 years ago, so it has a different cultural background, and the internet and social media environment was different from today,” he said. “I thought we should make our own drama while properly understanding the message of the original.”
Despite having appeared in TV dramas almost every year since 1993, Nagase, 38, said he is “not a real actor by profession,” adding that this notion “has actually helped me continue acting until today.”
“I’ve almost always been given lead roles, so I’ve tried to use each character to convey the message of the drama,” Nagase said. “If I were a real actor, I would probably have played supporting roles in some other works.”
In the past, however, Nagase wondered what kind of actor he should be.
“At one time, I wondered if I should be immersed in playing each role I was given to such an extent that I feel like I’m losing my personality, while at other times, I wondered if it would be more important for me to just articulate my lines,” he said. “Now, I don’t worry about all those annoying things. In a way, I’ve been freed.”
Nagase has so many things he wants to do in life, but he has realized that, in reality, he cannot do them all.
“In that sense, when it comes to acting, I think I should do things only I can do, which become a kind of showcase for how I have lived my life,” he said. “I feel like this notion has only grown stronger within me.”
During the interview, Nagase’s aura was that of someone very strong, which is consistent with his public image and apparently comes from his confidence in his own way of thinking.
He said he stopped trying to seem nice after turning 30. “Now I don’t hesitate to speak when I have something to say,” he said. “I don’t say it to get rid of my frustration, but to produce something good.”
He said he gained this attitude thanks to music, which is where his career started.
Nagase made his music debut as a member of Tokio in 1994, and the group has since appeared on NHK’s Kohaku Utagassen (Red and White Year-end Song Festival) on New Year’s Eve every year. In addition to enjoying fame as a vocalist, he is also active as a composer and songwriter.
“Around 30, I started to have plenty of time to myself because more and more people close to me got married, creating fewer chances to see friends,” he said. “So I used my time to devote myself to studying music. I also thought about various things.
“It was all about music, but it was also related to the rest of my work,” he added.
For Nagase, starring in “Heaven’s Door,” a 2009 film inspired by Bob Dylan’s music, meant a lot.
“I didn’t get many offers to act in TV dramas at the time,” he said. “So I spent most of my time on music. Sitting at the computer, I studied music so hard it felt like there was smoke coming out of my ears. In a way, I preferred to study music over sleeping.”
Nagase finds the more he studies music, the more he sees how profound and challenging it is — and the same philosophy can be applied to shooting dramas.
“I don’t compare myself with anybody else. Live and let live,” he said. “Whenever I’m working, I apologize to myself in my mind: ‘I can’t be better at this point. Forgive me!’”
Whatever he does, Nagase always approaches it in his own way, trying to make it his best work yet.
“Whatever I am working on, I always believe my own approach is best for me,” he said. “If I put the utmost effort into something, viewers will definitely find it entertaining and appealing.”