Kiyohiko Shibukawa started his career as a model under the name “Kee” but eventually changed it in 2006. Since 1998 he has worked with many directors like Takashi Miike (“Ichi the Killer”), Sion Sono (“Love & Peace”) and Toshiaki Toyoda (“Pornostar”, “9 Souls”). In this year’s Nippon Connection the actor is featured in five productions.

We sat down with the actor to talk about his career, the changes in the Japanese film industry and his work on Toyoda’s latest film “The Planetist”.

Since 1998, when you started acting, you have played in more than 120 titles in TV and cinema, with 15 of them only in 2018. Don’t you ever feel exhausted, and how difficult is jumping from one role to another?

Of course, keeping up this pace is kind of exhausting in a way. With regards to last year, the amount of productions happened through sheer coincidence because some of them were shot long before and were released in 2018. Many factors came into play there.

However, naturally I would prefer to have some more time of peace and quiet between each production.

“Room Laundering” (dir. Kenji Katagiri)

I do not have a problem switching from one role into the next. When shooting is done, I “take off” the character and be myself again. Most of the time it helps when the character I play has some similarity with me which makes getting out of this role easier for me.

Since a number of Japanese actors seem to play in a lot of movies, do you think it is something necessary in order to make a living in the Japanese film industry?

In Japan it depends on whether you star in TV production or series because the stars in these formats receive a lot of money. However, the agencies behind these actors and actresses have the power to dictate the roles for their clients. Personally, I am with a small agency, which also gives me lots of freedom so that I can decide for myself which role I would like to do and which not.

What do you feel has changed since the 90s, both locally and regarding the penetration of the Japanese cinema on an international level?

For Japan of course the animation sector has grown in these years and has become increasingly relevant. Internationally, I would say that productions using CGI have gained more importance.

The line up of your films showing in Nippon Connection includes a period piece, a biopic and two contemporary stories. Which genre do you think suits you the best? How was your cooperation with two world renowned directors, Takahisa Zeze and Toshiaki Toyoda?

If I like the director I am working with I would also work for free if that is necessary. Especially for directors such as Mr Toyoda or Mr Zeze I am willing to give my best to the role I have to play in their films.

These four directors – Mr Toyoda, Mr Zeze, Mr Katagiri (“Room Laundering”) and Mr Sakamoto (“Another World”) – are personally very important for me. Th,ey are also very close since Toyoda was an assistant to Mr Sakamoto and so was Mr Katagiri for Mr Toyoda before he made his first film.

“9 Souls” (dir. Toshiaki Toyoda)

It seems like it is a very close network they way you put it.

In Japan we used to have the system that you first had to be an assistant director before you eventually were given your first real project. This has changed since everyone can now take his or her smartphone and shoot a movie so the step of having been an assistant director is no longer necessary for some. I do not want to say whether one system is better than the other, but I rather work with a director who have made the experience as an assistant first.

I found that your role in “Another World” is quite interesting, since you had to play a rather intense character. Can you give us some details about Mitsuhiko and the way you portrayed him?

In the case of this project the role was more or less designed to fit my character by Mr Sakamoto, who has known me for a very long time. It was the first time for us to work together and he has this tradition of taking his cast out for drinks. And once you are drunk he observes what kind of personality appears and he uses this as a foundation for the film.

Have you ever thought of becoming a director? You definitely have the experience.

No, I never thought of that and to be honest, I do not see myself as a director.

“Isn’t Anyone Alive?” (dir Gakuryu Ishii)

You also worked with Mr Toyoda on his latest project called “The Planetist”. Can you tell us something about this experience?

Well, there is much to say about this film. The project was made on a group of islands (Ogasawara Islands) which cannot be reached by plane. If you journey there by ship it takes 24 hours to get there and Mr Toyoda took this trip multiple times filming sunsets and many other things. Eventually the project became huge and even though he had planned to make a two-hour-movie he eventually ended up with a three-hour-long film.

However, there are numerous reasons why the film has still not been released yet. First, the actor playing the main character was arrested by the police and of course this year, Mr Toyoda was also taken into custody for the alleged possession of a firearm which turned out to be a non-functional pistol from World War II. If something like this happens you are pretty much done for in the industry, even if it turns out to be nothing at all. And this is why “The Planetist” has not been released yet.

Ever since I watched Takeshi Kitano's "Hana-Bi" for the first time (and many times after that) I have been a cinephile. While much can be said about the technical aspects of film, coming from a small town in Germany, I cherish the notion of art showing its audience something which one does normally avoid, neglect or is unable to see for many different reasons. Often the stories told in films have helped me understand, discover and connect to something new which is a concept I would like to convey in the way I talk and write about films. Thus, I try to include some info on the background of each film as well as a short analysis (without spoilers, of course), an approach which should reflect the context of a work of art no matter what genre, director or cast. In the end, I hope to pass on my joy of watching film and talking about it.