By Emi Yamada / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff Writer With her youthful yet dignified demeanor, Kaya Kiyohara is a cut above the typical teenage actress.
She first attracted attention when she appeared in NHK’s serial morning drama “Asa ga Kita” in 2015. A diamond in the rough at the time, she has become more and more radiant with every role she has played. She played the female lead in two films that opened in January: “Day And Night” and “Aiuta: Yakusoku no Nakuhito” (Aiuta — My Promise to Nakuhito). Her solid acting skills bode well for her to become a great actress.
Many people have probably seen her in SoftBank Corp.’s new TV commercial, which has a powerful catchphrase: “Shibarareruna” (Don’t get tied up). She is the beautiful girl in a school uniform, vaulting through the air with her long dark hair flying, appearing in the commercial alongside big names in showbiz, such as actress Suzu Hirose and singer-songwriter Koji Miyamoto.
“Maybe I’m not the panicking type,” Kiyohara said. Her eyes, as she stares at a camera, are not only cute but also have a tough beauty. “I’m very competitive, too,” she said.
The film “Day And Night” was produced by actor Takayuki Yamada. It tells the story of a man who gradually loses his sense of right and wrong as he becomes obsessed with taking revenge on the company that drove his father to suicide. Kiyohara plays Nana, a young girl with no relatives, who adores the much older man.
When Kiyohara read the script, she wanted to play the role no matter what.
“Nana becomes a faint light of hope in this story, which poses a serious question: What is justice? I can’t explain it well, but something in this story fascinated me,” she said.
Five hundred people auditioned for the role, igniting Kiyohara’s competitiveness and passion.
“I thought really hard about what I would do if I were Nana, although it turned out I didn’t get any actual feeling I’d done OK,” she said.
Her dynamic, urgent performance almost brought tears to Yamada’s eyes. At the costume fitting session, the producer came to her and said, “I’m really sorry for creating such a difficult role.”
During the shoot, when she had yet to fully grasp the role and was performing fearfully, he encouraged her by saying he couldn’t see her as anyone but Nana.
“There’s nothing more encouraging to actors than what he said to me,” said Kiyohara, although she makes it her way to coolly separate herself from her roles. “It made me relieved and I was able to believe that I could tackle the role at full power.”
She thus played a vital part in vividly showing a special relationship between the characters that is different from that of lovers, friends or family.
She also sang the film’s theme song, “Kimaguregumo,” under the character’s name, Nana Ono. The song was written by Yojiro Noda of rock band RADWIMPS.
Giving voice to feelings
In “Aiuta: Yakusoku no Nakuhito,” Kiyohara played a girl called Nagi.
“The character’s image came to me very naturally and grew clearer and clearer,” the actress said of the role.
Nagi meets a man whose days are numbered. Suffering from an intractable illness herself, she stays true to her love and they fully live out what little time is left to them.
The story depicted more than just romantic love. “There’s a precious moment and an urge to say how important it is to speak your feelings,” she said.
Words naturally flowed out of her mouth as she repeatedly read the script and thoroughly studied her role.
Asked to identify the worthy challenge in this film, she said: “The worthy challenge? That’s when I’m alone and think about the work and my role ...” Then she smiled shyly, narrowing her eyes, and said, “Perhaps it feels really good when I can think only about my role.”
Years of effort
Born on Jan. 30, 2002, Kiyohara comes from Osaka Prefecture and took ballet lessons from childhood. She also sang in a school choir and became interested in theater when she was in the fifth grade of elementary school. She attended a musical school where she learned many things, such as jazz dance and tap dancing.
In her first year of junior high school, she won the grand prix in an entertainment agency audition in which more than 32,000 people participated. She passionately sang her favorite song, “Tomorrow,” from the musical “Annie,” at the audition. Immediately after the win, she earned a TV commercial contract and an offer of an exclusive modeling contract from a fashion magazine.
The following year, she made her acting debut in “Asa ga Kita,” playing the housemaid Fuyu. She had failed in an audition for a different role in the program, but a producer who saw her budding talent decided to offer her the role of Fuyu.
“Everything was a surprise to me, like going to the shoot and doing script reading. I did everything for the first time,” she said. One time she learned a very long block of lines by heart and readily went in front of the camera, only to find herself struggling to say the line and shedding tears of frustration.
“My fellow cast members, the director and the crew were all very kind to me. They talked to me so that I wouldn’t get nervous and even used their days off to coach me,” she said.
The experience gave her a desire to do more acting and do it better.
She took the next step forward in the 2017 film “Sangatsu no Lion” (March Comes in Like a Lion) directed by Keishi Otomo, playing the second-eldest of three sisters who support a young professional shogi Japanese chess player played by Ryunosuke Kamiki. Kiyohara made a vivid impression with her portrayal of the endearing and devoted girl.
In 2018, she starred in the NHK drama “Tomeina Yurikago,” which won the grand prize in the Cultural Affairs Agency’s National Arts Festival.
She cherishes the advice Otomo gave her: By fully living each day, it all becomes relevant to performance.
“I’d like to take on every challenge and learn more so that I can always give my best,” she said.
Day And Night
Following his father’s suicide, Akashi (Shinnosuke Abe) returns to his hometown and starts working at a children’s welfare facility at the request of Kitamura (Masanobu Ando), the facility’s owner, who knew his father well. There he meets Nana, who has no recollection of parental love. Akashi investigates the truth behind the death of his father, who had accused a major company of wrongdoing, and finds out Kitamura is involved in illegally selling stolen vehicles to make money for the facility.
The film directed by Michihito Fujii was shot in Akita Prefecture.
Aiuta: Yakusoku no Nakuhito
Toru (Ryusei Yokohama), a 23-year-old company employee who leads an uneventful life with no girlfriend, becomes desperate after being told his days are numbered because of a sudden illness. But he determines to live his life to the fullest in the time he has remaining after being reunited with old friend Tatsuya (Hiroki Iijima) and being influenced by a collection of poetry. Toru becomes attracted to Nagi, a patient in his hospital, after learning she is the poet. The film is directed by Taisuke Kawamura.Speech