By Takashi Oki / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff WriterA movie about the true story of Yasuaki Shikano, a man who suffered from muscular dystrophy but strove to live independently with the help of volunteers, has been showing in theaters since Dec. 28.
Actor Yo Oizumi plays the lead character in “Konna Yofuke ni Banana Kayo: Itoshiki Jitsuwa” (A Banana? At This Time of Night?), adding a humorous touch to his role in many scenes.
“I absolutely wanted to make this an entertainment movie,” Oizumi said.
The story is based on a book written by Kazufumi Watanabe, winner of several awards such as the Oya Nonfiction Prize, and takes places in Sapporo, where Shikano lives. Shikano is only able to move his neck and hands due to his intractable disease and lives with the help of volunteers 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
Hisashi, a medical student played by Haruma Miura, convinces his girlfriend Misaki, played by Mitsuki Takahata, to become one of Shikano’s volunteers.
Misaki initially dislikes Shikano as he continually makes selfish demands of the volunteers. As indicated in the title, he goes so far as to make a volunteer run to a store late at night to buy a banana.
In the original book, Shikano often clashes with his volunteers. So why did young people gather around him?
“I believe Shikano desperately sought to bring volunteers together,” Oizumi said. “He probably wasn’t satisfied with simply continuing to exist. I think he wanted to live just like ordinary people.”
In the movie, Shikano often says, “We are equal.” Oizumi believes the relationship between Shikano and his volunteers was not confined to that of a caregiver and care receiver. Rather, he believes, “Not only did the volunteers want to acquire nursing care skills, they wanted to receive something from Shikano because they wanted to change themselves.”
In the movie, Shikano easily falls in love, developing feelings for Misaki and asking Hisashi to write a love letter for him. Such endeavors, which turn out to be fruitless, are presented in an amusing light.
“When I interviewed people with disabilities, I was often told, ‘We’re not saints. I want you to portray [Shikano] as an ordinary man.’”
Oizumi heard stories about Shikano from his doctor and others who knew him, and watched video recordings of him. Doing so allowed Oizumi to better replicate Shikano’s physical characteristics.
When he felt uneasy with his lines in the script, he consulted director Tetsu Maeda. He also reduced his weight 10 kilograms to play the character.
Oizumi faced difficulties with breathing when playing Shikano. “My oxygen was limited so it was very hard to speak long lines,” he said.
Shikano faced extremely grave and challenging circumstances and was likely aware of the fact that he did not have long to live.
However, Oizumi emphatically added, “If it were a cheap tear-jerker movie, I wouldn’t have accepted the role. I aimed to make audiences laugh, yet also shed tears without noticing.”
The real-life Shikano was not a perfect man. Yet Oizumi succeeded in portraying his charming internal mentality, which is inexplicably hard to dislike.
Oizumi became popular through his appearances on a local TV variety show in Hokkaido. As an actor, he has won acclaim for his portrayal of funny, deeply human characters, such as his role in “Tantei wa Bar ni Iru” (The private detective is in the bar) series — a movie trilogy including “The Last Shot in the Bar.”
Last year, he played cold-hearted characters, such as a murderer in a TV show. “I want to play many kinds of characters, but it was also exhausting to play irredeemably evil characters,” he said.
No matter how skilled an actor may be, his or her personality is reflected in their roles. This is one of Oizumi’s charms as an actor.
Oizumi is passionate about his native Hokkaido, where he started his career as an actor.