By Takashi Oki / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff WriterThe central performer of Keyakizaka46, Yurina Hirate, has now taken her first starring role in the world of film — playing the lead in “Hibiki,” directed by Sho Tsukikawa. The movie was released in theaters on Sept. 14.
The main character Hibiki Akui is a genius high school student who suddenly breaks into the literary world, with Hirate talking about Hibiki as if she were talking about herself. The film was produced as a result of the two girls — Hirate and Hibiki, both blessed with brilliant talent and sharp insight into the truth — “echoing” each other.
First starring role
Hibiki has black, shoulder-length hair and wears black-rimmed glasses. She seems like she is always reading a book in her plain school uniform, but people notice her powerful, steady gaze when she looks up. In the film, Hirate looks as if the character Hibiki has come straight from the pages of a manga series.
While Hirate has previously acted in TV dramas, this is her first time appearing in a film. Hirate was worried at first, but said, “Director Tsukikawa asked for my opinion many times. After reading the script, we discussed such things as, ‘What do you think about the scene?’ in order to create Hibiki.”
Hibiki is eccentric and a literary genius with no regard for others — the slightly built girl breaks a finger of her grim-looking senior and suddenly kicks a famous writer she has met for the first time. At an award ceremony for new writers, she hits a man receiving the same award with a metal chair.
“She does not kick or bash others without reason. Since she has reasons to do these things, it was understandable for me,” Hirate said.
Hibiki also does not alter her facial expressions or laugh easily. “But she does laugh when there’s something funny. She is straightforward and pure. Rather, I think she expresses her natural feelings,” Hirate said.
Hibiki doesn’t care about social norms and sticks to her beliefs. In the film, even though Hibiki is considered fairly eccentric by those around her, Hirate has a good understanding of her.
“We talked about Hibiki’s behavior. During filming, we often said that she breaks the rules, but she also has good manners. Based on this understanding, I considered how Hibiki would think,” Hirate recalled.
“I didn’t try to completely become Hibiki, but I acted as I usually would,” she said. However, her comments indicate that in playing the role, she tried to understand Hibiki to a certain degree, carefully thinking about how Hibiki would think.
Idol turned actress
Hirate has made her spectacular debut as an idol, but she also appears to be an extraordinary new actress.
In 2015, she passed the audition for Keyakizaka46, a sister group of Nogizaka46. “I didn’t particularly want to become an idol or a singer. I didn’t think I would pass the audition,” she said.
Although she’s hard on herself, people in the industry and society did not overlook her talent.
In 2016, Hirate, who was 14 years old and the youngest member, served as a center performer on the group’s debut song “Silent Majority.” The group had a significant impact with their low-key voices, which didn’t sound like those of an idol group, their military-like costumes and disciplined dancing. At the center of the impact was Hirate, with her expressive ability. With her strong eye contact, short hair and grown-up atmosphere — unlike a junior high school student — Hirate has been said to be the second coming of Momoe Yamaguchi.
With the popularity of the group dramatically increasing, Hirate continues to serve as a center performer, which is impressive. “If I am chosen to express something, I do it,” Hirate said simply.
As for having a special talent like Hibiki, Hirate said, “I think that’s great, but I don’t have such a talent. The way I see Hibiki, I think it would be hard if I did,” she said carefully. “I just want to be an ordinary person.”
Hirate’s success is anything but ordinary. But she does not like being labeled or viewed from a biased perspective. Instead, she wants to be free from words she considers over the top, such as talent and charisma. This may be the “ordinary” that she thinks about.
Cartoon Grand Prize 2017
The film is based on the manga series “Hibiki — how to become a novelist” written by Mitsuharu Yanamoto. The manga has been serialized in the Big Comic Superior magazine since 2014. The work was awarded the Cartoon Grand Prize 2017. The series has 10 volumes so far and a total of over 1.6 million copies have been sold up to the ninth volume.
In line with the release of the film, pictures in which book covers of past volumes are reproduced by Hirate were unveiled. She looks exactly like Hibiki.
Director praises talent
Tsukikawa believes Yurina Hirate lived the role of Hibiki Akui. He said: “She did not look like she was trying to act skillfully, but concentrated on thinking about how Hibiki would think and behave. I just spent time ‘mulling’ over things with her and being beside her. She became Hibiki Akui. She is a great actress and she will demonstrate outstanding abilities in the future.”
Born on June 25, 2001, Hirate is a member of idol group Keyakizaka46, which was formed in 2015. She debuted with “Silent Majority” in 2016. She has served as a center performer in all seven songs that the group has released so far. Her nickname is Techi.Speech