During a conversation with Alien about the 2011 NHK taiga, I was taken aback to find out that besides agreeing with me on how smouldering-sexy-hot and perfectly cast Toyokawa Etsushi was as Nobunaga Oda in Gou, she had no knowledge of the history of the actor and his body of work.
I hate to use this term, but, really?
Toyokawa’s rise to prominence started in Fuiji TV’s 2002 thriller-drama, Night Head. He co-starred with Takeda Shinji as a pair of psychic brothers who break out of a research institution after being imprisoned there for fifteen years. The TV series centrers around their adventures on the run as they meet with friends and foes with similar powers, strange prophecies as they try to figure out their powers and uncover the dark truth about their lives.
It was tough to get hold of Night Head back then but I’ve always suspected that the popularity of the drama was held up by enthusiastic fan girls who loved the overtly close relationship between the brothers- conjure up an image of a constantly-being-significantly weaken-by-his-powers younger brother who would be constantly calling out for his reliable, concerned older brother… (Any BL fan girl should get the picture.)
But the Osaka native’s real career changing role was as the love interest of Tokiwa Takako in the 1995 series, Aishite Iru to Itte Kure, Say You Love Me.
Toyokawa’s role as Sakaki Kouji, a deaf and mute artist not only sparked off a nation-wide interest in sign language, the drama hit a record high of 28.1% during its final episode and proceeded to win a slew of awards in the year’s television drama awards (Japan’s version of the Emmy) with both leads taking home the Best Actor and Actress honours.
(The sign language thing hit local friends too. But I always thought the chances of finding an apple tree growing wild in our tropical climate was a wee bit higher than meeting a stoic, charismatic 1.86 meter deaf stranger who would turn out to be the love of your life under one.)
The work and awards didn’t stop; he took home the Popularity Award in the 1996 Japan Academy Awards for his supporting role as Nakayama Miho’s devoted fiancee in Shunji Iwai’s Love Letter.
It’s an achingly beautiful and poetic film that I urge everyone to watch and happily, you get the additional bonus of watching a bespectacled and still oh-so-hot Toyokawa grab his love interest for a passionate kiss in his studio. Or you can just gawk at him in his artist work wear. I know I did.
The pair were reunited in Fuiji TV’s 2001 drama, Love Story. Nakayama played Sudoh Misaki, an earnest but bumbling new editor assigned to deal with Toyokawa’s oddball but best-selling stuck-in-a-slump writer, Nagase Ko. The two begin with an atypical antagonistic relationship which eventually (naturally) fumbled into love.
While ratings for the series was less than stellar during it’s time, Toyokawa’s role as Koh remains one of my favourites in his dorama career. (Okay, I admit to having a bit of a weakness for my actors in roles that are writing or cooking related.)
But I’ve always felt the show to be underrated, the audience less than receptive due to the show’s middle-aged love theme. It was realistic in it’s depiction between two older slightly jaded indivduals that their love would never be as clear or easy. Instead, one would feel awkward and confused most of the time. (Love Story also boasts of one of the best on-screen dorama love confessions but that could warrant a post on its own.)
One look at Toyokawa’s filmography can tell you all about the difficult and diverse roles and genres that he has chosen over the years and made his own. Whether he is playing a repressed gay doctor, a smirking sinister yakuza or a lovelorn dog-turned-human; I love it all…
But… If there is but just one small little request I would make…
After getting a taste of his all-too-short stint as Nobunaga Oda in Gou, my dream now is to watch him work the role in full glory; a full life-adaption of the legendary damiyo.
They had a perfect casting in this man. Not conventionally or overwhelmingly handsome, Tokyokawa’s Oda nevertheless carries a fierce charisma which translated beautifully on screen; you understood why his followers were fanatic and willing to die in aiding him to fulfill his dreams.
His perplexity as the shogun’s role was executed well; the humanity of the lonely leader on top who wished for truth but could be quick to anger, the boundaries blurring as one is constantly challenged if he is a visionary or a tyrant? Isn’t this as good as it gets? Someone, please quick do a full adaptation!
Today, the man remains a kind of modern-day renaissance man in Japanese entertainment, delving into writing and directing. Having given audiences so much pleasure and joy in his body of work, he is definitely deserving of more attention and success to come.