Before talk began of this film, had you ever seen the television program The Happy Family Plan?
I had watched it a few times. It's a very interesting program, but almost all of the families that appear on the show have children, right? I'm probably not alone in this, but as a father, I can't help putting myself in the position of the father appearing on the show. It's great when they succeed at the "homework" task, but it's very hard to watch the family's disappointment when they fail. From a father's point of view, I can really understand how the father on the show feels. So I can't really watch the show seriously (laughs).
Your role in this film was that of an ordinary father, or, more precisely, a hopeless father. Was it painful to play Fujio Kawajiri, the main character confronted by the harsh reality of current widespread problems like company restructuring?
That Fujio Kawajiri is a bit of a caricature, but he feels like a life-sized modern father, although you have to make a bit of a show of his hopeless lack of coordination in sport and stuff. There aren't many areas where his hopelessness within the home coincides with my own (laughs). I'm hopeless in other areas! But it's a comedy film, so he's a bit of a clown, hopeless in visible ways like the fact that he can't catch a ball, whereas I'm probably not really like that. I guess I owe a lot to my wife, no seriously! (laughs)
How was Eriko Watanabe, playing your wife? Apparently the director got his image for her from the overwhelming personality of Bette Midler.
From Bette Midler? Yeah, I guess there are similarities there. I was happy to hear that Eriko Watanabe would be playing the role of my wife. I think I would have had trouble if it was played by anyone else. She's a very powerful person, so actually co-starring with her was very interesting.
How was it with Chōsuke Ikariya?
This was the first time we'd acted together. We had one scene together on the Taiga Drama Dokugan Ryū Masamune, but we weren't really involved with each other. I think it's fair to say this was the first time. I'm of the generation that grew up with Crazy Cats and The Drifters. So for me, it was a great pleasure to be able to co-star with people like that. He told me many stories and things, yeah, it was a lot of fun.
Episodes with lots of different actors are condensed into the compact length of one hour and forty minutes in this film. Were you ever asked to deliver a "condensed performance"?
I think that's the result of the director and the scriptwriter, Kōta Yamada's thorough work in the scriptwriting stage. I also spoke with the director several times before arriving at the final script. Once we were on set, the filming went ahead pretty much as written in the final script.
When Fujio Kawajiri finds out he is to appear on "The Happy Family Plan", he begins a crash course in piano, but could you yourself play the piano?
I did music, but couldn't play the piano. The first time I met director Tsutomu Abe, we talked about the piano. Around that time, Für Elise had been given as piano "homework" to five people on the real "The Happy Family Plan" program, and only one person had succeeded. When I was first given the music for this Home Sweet Home (hanyū no yado), we discussed whether Fujio succeeding in the end despite being well-established as clumsy and not knowing anything about music would be a lie. The music has also been transposed from C major to D major, because the director wanted the black piano keys to be used. So the arrangement got even more difficult. If it's in C major you can get by without using any black keys, but it's really difficult for an amateur to use them. What the director said at that point was "let's leave the conclusion of whether he succeeds or not until later". We started shooting with the assumption that there were two different possible patterns, with the director saying "If you don't succeed, we could do a version where he doesn't succeed".
So when you started shooting, there was a live aspect in that you didn't know whether or not you would succeed?
That's right. As filming progressed, I actually tried doing it at home in just a week as my "homework". I didn't do anything else other than that. I gave myself just one whole week to try and do it, exactly like that father when he was chosen to go on "The Happy Family Plan". I actually managed to do it in that time. Having managed it then, now there's no way I want to fail (laughs). But Fujio Kawajiri and Tomokazu Miura are two different people. That's where there's a bit of a conflict. Like, just because I learnt to play it myself, does that mean that Fujio Kawajiri would have been able to play it too? There were all these issues to work through, but in the end I'm glad they gave it a happy ending.
Despite being a comedy, the main characters in this film were in the depths of unhappiness, and it was the challenge of "The Happy Family Plan" that served as a breakthrough for them, wasn't it?
That's right. I actually learnt to play that Home Sweet Home in one minute and forty seconds. But that way there's no drama. In the end, I was told to take longer than three minutes to play it. Of course, that scene is broken up into different cuts, but we actually recorded the sound in one go. There was the pressure of whether I would succeed or not in that one attempt. We borrowed the recording studio from the actual "The Happy Family Plan" program for our set, so I really understood how the fathers who perform there feel.
Your nervousness is visible on the screen.
It ended up taking exactly three minutes and twenty seconds (laughs). You can see how my fingers began shaking when there were four bars left. That kind of experience was a first for me (laughs).
So the scene where you take on the "homework" challenge on "The Happy Family Plan" was shot towards the end of filming?
Yes. It was in the second half of filming. It was impossible to film it in the order of appearance, but we did the television program scene towards the very end. We shot all the piano playing in one go. After that, we shot detailed close-ups of my hands, my face, a range of expressions while listening to the prescore of what I had initially played. Then we congratulated each other on finishing the scene, wrapped up filming, and a few days later we were told they wanted a re-take (laughs). The director would never say "That'll do" and compromise on his vision. He wanted more cuts of where my facial expression indicated that my fingers hurt. We didn't have the same set to make those cuts, but we put together a re-take set in another location and filmed in a way that no-one would notice. Director Abe was very determined like that.
What kind of person is Director Tsutomu Abe?
There wasn't the impression that it was his first time directing. It felt like he was someone who had directed several other films. On the whole, he's a kind director. He has a lot of tenacity.A couple of times filming went on until the morning (laughs). Looking back now, I'd probably say everything on set progressed simply with no issues. It did take time, though. For me it was the first time actually filming at Shochiku's Ofuna studio, so I really felt the atmosphere of shooting there, like "oh, is this what it's like?".
I think we could say you grew up with Toho, Co. What kind of differences are there between Toho and Shochiku?
I probably shouldn't compare them as I don't know what they were like in their heyday, but I heard that Director Abe worked under Director Yōji Yamada for a very long time, so I wondered whether Yōji Yamada's set had the same atmosphere. Things just quietly progress. Having things on set progress calmly rather than everyone being really charged up and excitable was new for me.

© Shochiku (Disk 1) © The Japan Foundation, Sydney / Shochiku(Disk 2)
Published by the Japan Foundation, Sydney
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