Japanese heartthrob Hiroshi Tamaki, in Korea to promote his latest movie, appears a lot thinner than he does on screen. He played a gifted but arrogant and good-looking musician in the soap “Nodame Cantabile.” In the new movie “Heavenly Forest” which opened last Wednesday, the 27-year-old actor plays naïve college student Makoto Segawa who stubbornly clings to his first love. The wide-eyed Tamaki ranges between the bizarre and innocent. Wearing a black suit and crackling with energy, he greeted this interviewer with a loud “hello” in Korean.
– You’re a bit tough in this film.
“I played a freshman seven years younger than my actual age. So I intentionally tried to look a bit naïve and practiced talking in higher pitch.”
– The movie felt like a summer version of the “Love Letter.” It was like a watercolor. Which scene do you remember best?
“I thought the scenes in the forest were very beautiful and full of life. They were indeed quite beautiful when I watched them afterwards. What I remember the most is the kiss. It was the focal point of the story and a complete turning point at the same time.”
– Innocent characters fit you nicely but when people think about you, they think of the comic scenes from “Nodame.”
“Comedy is fun. People are all in good mood at work, too. When I was shooting ‘Nodame’ I really wanted to stretch myself and be really comic. But I held myself back because it would have overwhelmed the character of Chiaki. I love making funny faces in front of the mirror. It’s quite amusing. You should try it sometime, too.”
– Of all the characters you’ve played, which one was the most like you?
“Let’s see… I don’t think there were any. Whenever I’m given a role, I think about the character and turn myself into that person. I’m no genius like Chiaki or a dense and insensitive boy like Makoto. But I do think I’m a bit of a sadist like Chiaki (laughs). I’m indefinable. From time to time when I’m acting, I’m quite surprised at finding a part of myself that I didn’t even know before.”
– Are there any Korean movies you like?
“I was very impressed by ‘Old Boy’. I felt a bit strange when I saw that. It was originally a Japanese story but I was very happy that Korea turned it into a movie. It was very well done, and I felt a bit envious. When I was watching the film, I wanted to be part of it. If there’s another movie like ‘Old Boy,’ call me anytime. I want to participate.”
Hiroshi made his debut as an extra in a TV soap when he was 18, but was unheard of for another five years. While trying to get his break in the movies, he worked as everything from a dishwasher to a kitchen boy to make a living.
– There must have been a time when you wanted to give up.
“I didn’t want to be a loser. I thought if I broke down now, I’d never be able to stand up again. In those days I was penniless and hungry. I think that’s why I’m a bit obsessed with food now. And I like girls who have a good appetite.”
– You’re quite popular in both Japan and Korea. What do you find attractive about yourself?
“Hmm… I don’t know. In Japan people like me because I’m like a regular boy next door. In Korea, people say my eyes are pretty. Some people in Japan say I seem really kind but that’s not acting (laughs). I didn’t know there were so many people who knew me in Korea. I was very surprised.”
– What kind of characters would you like to play in the future?
“Until now it’s been an endless process of creating and destroying the characters I’ve been given. So after each work, I feel empty and exhausted. But I come back to life again with a new character. I’m going to shoot a new movie and right now am working on a special version of ‘Nodame.’ I want to try a criminal or a villain too. That should be fun. I want to challenge myself.”
Tamaki said he likes clothes and would have been a fashion designer had he not become an actor. When the large skull ring on his hand was pointed out, he explained, “Oh, this. My stylist really likes it so I have to wear it. But it’s not supposed to be good to carry a skull on you…”