Everyone says: “I love you,” at least in Lille, where Japanese star Tomohisa Yamashita – in town to promote “Drops of God” – brought fans to tears. With one admitting that thanks to his 2005 series “Nobuta Wo Produce,” where he played the character of Akira, she decided not to commit suicide 14 years ago.
“You saved my life,” she said.
In between interacting with a clearly overwhelmed audience, Japanese singer, dancer, talk show host and actor (“Call me Tomo,” he told his fans) discussed his multifaceted career, one that started when he was just 11 years old.
“When I was a child, there was a series on TV and the main role was played by a teen. I realized there were stars my age and reached out to agencies for auditions.”
In 2004, he joined boy band NEWS.
“The producers brought us together and said: ‘O.K, you will be in a band. It was so sudden. We were roughly the same age and got on quite well. We would fight, of course, but we had a common goal,” he said, horrified by one of the band’s early videos screened during the masterclass.
“I am breaking out in a cold sweat. Yes, that’s me as a teenager. Classy,” he laughed.
“We gave plenty of concerts, saw our fans all the time and that was significant to me. This may be a personal opinion, but [Japanese entertainer] ‘idol’ is someone who instills confidence and hope into other people. That’s how I see it.”
Yamashita also discussed his move into acting, mentioning TV drama “Code Blue” as his favorite role.
“It was a significant slice of my life. This part has been essential to me, I played it for about 10 years,” he admitted.
“What drives me is curiosity. I have always been curious, even as a child. I am constantly thinking of where I will be in five, 10 years. It’s difficult when you do multiple things, but you learn from it. It fuels your work as an actor. Being here is an important experience too.”
Working outside of Japan was his goal from the start, he said, mentioning Spanish show “The Head,” Kevin Hart starrer “The Man from Toronto” or even later decision to leave his agency in 2020 to work on his own.
“I wanted to broaden my horizons. As I said, I am a curious person.”
“My goal, wherever I am, is to give hope and a sense of meaning to people watching me. But it was my childhood dream to work abroad. My grandmother’s older sister married an American and her grandchildren would visit us in Japan. She would walk into the house, not taking her shoes off. You always take your shoes off in Japan! It really stuck with me. I thought: ‘I want to see the world and get a feel of what’s accepted in another culture’.”
Netflix’s “Alice in Borderland” marked another important step, although it also forced him to embrace nudity on screen.
“I had a towel at first, but it was summer, it was hot. In the end, it was quite pleasant,” he laughed upon seeing another embarrassing clip.
“I had to forget about modesty and shame, but anyway… Since that role, I am not afraid of anything. It sparked something in me. When you play a part, you have to reveal yourself, also metaphorically. You really have to be naked in front of the camera. I learnt a great deal on that show.”
As messages from international fans started to pour in, more international projects followed. Including “Drops of God,” based on a popular manga and premiering at Series Mania, where he plays a wine expert.
“When I got the part, I started to get to know wine. I tasted plenty of them, so that was a very nice time in my life. Behind a bottle of wine there is history and tradition, it’s all very romantic. I stayed at a vineyard for the shoot and the owner’s dream was to make better wine than his grandfather’s. It’s a deep, spiritual world,” he said, admitting he lost weight for the show.
“When you lose weight, your sense of smell becomes more acute. There were plenty of little details like that in the show. I think you have to become your character to a certain extent. It’s important to really dedicate a part of your life to this.”
Teasing an upcoming acting project in Paris, he also reflected on his future.
“I want to be like [baseball player] Shohei Ohtani: I want to do many things. But I started out in music, so it remains important, and so is meeting people. I want to rely on these random meetings.”