Originally published on metropolis.co.jp on June 2010
PR companies often tell us that their actors “speak English,” but then we get to the interview and all they can manage is, “Hello, nice to meet you.” So imagine our surprise when, about two minutes into our chat with actor Gota Watabe, the 24-year-old star looks up and asks, “Sorry, do you mind if I speak English?”
The Ibaraki native’s ease with eigo comes from a travel bug that bit early. “After I graduated high school, everybody was trying to go to college or trying to get work. But I was just going to travel agencies, to get visas and stuff,” he says. “It was so natural, I just knew—I’m going. And I went.”
Watabe originally planned on visiting New Zealand—“cause it’s cheaper,” he says with a laugh. “But I heard that it was really hard English, and I heard that Canadians speak really clear English.” So he made it to Canada on a working holiday visa, and spent the next year immersing himself in the country—and pursuing his hobby, skateboarding. “It’s so much sicker than in Japan!”
Watabe has been acting for even longer than he’s been speaking English—since his elementary school days, in fact. Like most kids, he hadn’t thought much about the entertainment industry. All that changed one day when his mother took him on a visit to the big city.
“She bought me some toys and stuff at Kiddy Land, and after that she took me to Aoyama and we went into this building, where there were a bunch of adults talking,” he explains. “And they start asking me things like, ‘Gota-kun, what do you like to do?’” It turned out that the “building” was an entertainment agency, and the questions were actually an audition. “I passed the test,” he says with a shrug, “and that was it.”
Initially ambivalent about his new career, Watabe soon realized the appeal of show business.
“My first job was this television commercial,” he says. “There was a famous comedian, Junji Takada. And I knew his face, so I thought, ‘Wow!’”
After returning from his adventures in Canada, Watabe’s career began to take off in earnest. He gained recognition with a series of quirky supporting roles in popular television shows like Propose Daisakusen and Yasuko to Kenji.
Watabe says he enjoys acting for a lot of reasons, mostly for the fact that “you don’t have to do the same thing every day.” And he certainly is versatile, with a list of credits that ranges from theater and films, to TV series and variety shows. “Fortunately—or unfortunately—I do anything,” he says.
For his next project—yet another change of pace—Watabe will star opposite Shihori Kanjiya (Swing Girls) in a stage adaptation of the 2009 hit tearjerker Yomei Ikkagetsu no Hanayome (“April Bride”). The movie was based on the true story of Chie Nagashima (Nana Eikura in the film), a carefree 20-something whose life is turned upside down when she’s diagnosed with terminal breast cancer. Her devoted boyfriend Taro (Eita) refuses to give up on their relationship—despite Chie’s efforts to push him away, he resolves to give her the wedding of her dreams before she dies.
Watabe, who admits that he hasn’t seen the movie, warns fans of the film not to come into the play with too many expectations.
“It’s a really famous story, and pretty much everyone knows it,” he explains. “But what we do in the theater is a totally different thing. We’ve borrowed the story, but we have to live on the stage with those four people. So it’s a different thing.”
A decision like Taro’s, to bind yourself to someone you know will die, seems like a choice that not everyone could make. Watabe turns philosophical when asked his thoughts on what makes Taro tick.
“To be honest, I’ve never had that kind of feeling. Is it love? Or is it… duty? Or kindness?” He pauses. “I don’t know why he did it. But I will know soon, on stage.”
Yomei Ikkagetsu no Hanayome
Stage version of the documentary-turned-movie about a betrothed woman with terminal cancer. June 15-27, various times, ¥5,500 (A)/¥7,500 (S). Setagaya Public Theater, Sangenjaya. Tel: 03-3234-9999.