By Emi Yamada / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff WriterIn Japan, people’s faces are sometimes likened to seasonings, especially men’s faces. For example, “shoyu-gao,” or soy sauce face, means the man has relatively plain, typical Japanese features, while “sauce-gao,” or Worcester-sauce face, refers to sharply sculpted facial features.
Salt has recently joined in. “Shio-gao,” or salt face, describes a good-looking face with a fair complexion and without strong, distinctive features.
Actor Kentaro Sakaguchi is considered a typical shio-gao.
Starting his showbiz career as a model in 2010, Sakaguchi gained recognition for his “salty” presence as he appeared with female models as a boyfriend in women’s magazines. He seemed to suit all types of models, making them look more beautiful simply by posing with them — just like salt brings out the flavors in ingredients.
Now also appearing in TV dramas and films, the 26-year-old actor has won the hearts of men and women, young and old with his endearing smile and comforting presence. His latest role is an assistant film director who is honest, straightforward and a little goofy, and he seems to share some of the character’s personality.
Sakaguchi plays the lead in the romantic comedy “Konya, Romance Gekijo de” (Tonight, at the Romance Theater), which is showing at cinemas nationwide. It was directed by Hideki Takeuchi, known for the popular Thermae Romae film series.
The story is set in 1960, when film was losing its status as “the king of entertainment” to TV, a change triggered by the wedding of the crown prince the previous year.
Sakaguchi’s character Kenji dreams of making films that will delight viewers and likes to watch an old black-and-white film almost daily at the Romance Gekijo, his favorite theater. He’s particularly infatuated with Princess Miyuki, a character from that forgotten film.
One night, lightning strikes in the neighborhood and the princess comes out of the silver screen. The princess, played by Haruka Ayase, is portrayed in black-and-white even outside the screen. She tells Kenji, “From today, you shall be my servant.”
Because her world in the film was all black and white, Kenji takes her out to show her beautiful things in various colors, such as a rainbow in the blue sky, purple wisteria flowers and red roses.
This film is a tribute to various classics, with many scenes and episodes that remind the audience of great films in the past. For example, Kenji’s friendship with the movie theater’s operator, played by Akira Emoto, recalls the heart-warming relationship between a young movie enthusiast and a projectionist in “Cinema Paradiso” (1988, released in Japan in 1989).
A man in the real world meeting a woman in a film — to make this impossible encounter come true, Miyuki had to sacrifice something, just like the protagonist in “The Little Mermaid,” who loses her voice to get legs. Miyuki’s sacrifice creates a tough challenge for the couple.
The first half of this film is comical, with Kenji twisted around the princess’ little finger, Sakaguchi said. However, the latter half is “touching,” as it focuses on how the couple develops their relationship.
“This is a fantasy film, but I tried to portray Kenji’s pure, sincere personality realistically, as well as his earnest feelings for Miyuki,” Sakaguchi said.
The film’s production was initially conceived nine years ago, but it took time to cast Kenji because the role requires the actor to convincingly portray a sincere young man undaunted by loving someone. Looking gentle but strong inside — Sakaguchi’s qualities seem to be a perfect match for the role.
“I’m very pleased to hear that,” he said. “I probably couldn’t make a bold decision like Kenji does, though.”
Sakaguchi, now 183 centimeters tall, has been much taller than his friends since childhood. When staging plays with classmates, he often volunteered to play the goblin of “Peach Boy” and the wolf of “The Three Little Pigs.”
“Nobody wanted to play bad guys like that,” Sakaguchi recalled. “But in fact, I enjoyed being defeated by other characters.”
Taking advantage of his stature, the Tokyo native started working as a model for Men’s Non-No fashion magazine at 19. He made his acting debut in 2014.
When he was interviewed around that time, however, Sakaguchi said he didn’t know “what actors’ work is like... I’m still at the stage of tying my shoelaces before starting to run.”
Searching for the essence of acting, a turning point came two years later when Sakaguchi did his first stage production. He played Treplyov, the heroine’s boyfriend in Chekhov’s “The Seagull.”
Sakaguchi asked the director whether he needed to watch the videos of the play’s past productions to study the role.
“No, you don’t have to try to become Treplyov,” the director told him. He said Sakaguchi should simply put his feelings into his lines when playing the role, and this approach would help the actor find his own Treplyov.
The director’s theory “helped me get a clear understanding of what acting means. [The theory] works whenever you act in films or dramas, I believe,” Sakaguchi said with a gentle, amiable “salt smile” creasing his finely featured face.
Even though he’s got a hectic schedule as a popular actor, Sakaguchi seems to be surrounded by slower-flowing time.