The hero of the seven stories included in this volume is Takuji Kameoka, a 37-year-old actor, who, in spite of the relatively minor supporting roles he plays, emerges as an irresistibly lovable, larger-than-life figure. The character struck such a chord with the Japanese reading public that a second volume of stories appeared in 2015, garnering the Noma Prize for New Writers. A feature film was released in 2016.
Playing baseball had been Takuji’s first and foremost passion through college, but then he saw Steve McQueen in the 1968 thriller Bullitt and set his sights on becoming an actor. He started by enrolling in an actors’ school affiliated with a well-known stage company, but dropped out after two years to pursue film acting instead. Although it was difficult to tell whether he was really acting or just being himself, the indelible impression he left no matter how small the part quickly caught the attention of directors and producers, and he never wanted for work. In due course his incomparable performances gained notice overseas as well, and he began flying to places as far flung as San Francisco and the Sahara to appear in films backed by Hollywood money. As a confirmed bachelor who loves women, bars, saunas, and motorbikes, while on location he can’t keep from getting caught up in a variety of situations that the stories recount to tremendously entertaining effect.
The calls he gets usually come from low-budget independent films rather than major studio productions, which is to say they can range from lovingly crafted gems to impenetrable descents into the absurd, but whether he is asked to play the head clerk in a traditional Japanese inn, a neighbor looking out for the hero’s son, a married box-lunch maker with a thing for a young Filipina, or a member of a wild boar tribe wreaking havoc in the forest, he can always be counted on to throw himself body and soul into his assigned role and deliver some unforgettable moments on screen. A case in point is when, as a thief in a samurai-era film, he is called upon to throw up three times in three different scenes, and each time he spews for real—thanks to having had too much to drink between shoots.
A playwright and a highly experienced film actor himself, author Akito Inui captures details of the acting life as well as of film production with compelling authenticity. Takuji Kameoka represents the birth of a new hero who appears at first glance to be an irresponsible goof-off, but proves to be a model of dependability.