Actor Ryohei Suzuki will take on his first lead role in a major television drama as the Edo-Meiji period figure Saigo Takamori in public broadcaster NHK's 2018 yearlong "Taiga" (big river) drama "Segodon," with the first episode airing on Jan. 7.
The 34-year-old Suzuki has said in many past interviews that he would "like to appear in a Taiga drama." However, having played the main role in only one serial drama to date, he is putting his all into his performance for "Segodon," which will chronicle the life of the revolutionary.
"I feel a serious responsibility," he says. "Because Saigo Takamori is a famous historical figure, there is a pressure to not fail to meet expectations." For his role in the 2015 TBS drama "The Emperor's Cook," Suzuki lost 20 kilograms, and went on to gain 30 kilograms for the lead role in the film "My Love Story!" the same year. For Segodon as well, Suzuki has attracted attention for making large changes to his body weight for his role. "I don't want to portray a Saigo Takamori that veers too far from his image," he explains.
With a love for travel, Suzuki has thus far visited over 30 countries. Originally from Nishinomiya, Hyogo Prefecture, he once studied in a rural farming village in the United States in high school. Devastated to find that not much was known about Japanese culture there, he felt inspired to do work where he could share information about Japan and Japanese culture with the world. He graduated from Tokyo University of Foreign Studies specializing in English language, and in order to make his dream come true, the movie-loving Suzuki set out to become an actor.
Having to speak in the unfamiliar Kagoshima dialect for the upcoming drama, Suzuki says that memorizing his lines has taken 10 times the usual amount of time. "I had to remember where each accent that differed from standard Japanese fell. If I didn't become familiar enough with the dialect so that it would come naturally even if I was asleep, then there was no way I could put emotions into the lines without mistakes." Suzuki apparently has spoken to NHK staff exclusively in Kagoshima dialect to perfect his usage.
What drives his determination is his personal motto that "hard work never betrays you."
"Even a little hard work will build up over time, and it will pay off down the road," he explains. "Even if you don't reach your goal, it's surprising the connections you make in places you never even imagined."