KAJI YUKI – THE VOICE ACTOR
Kaji Yuki is the voice behind many hit anime works such as “Attack on Titan”, “Seven Deadly Sins”, and he boasts an impressive popularity in the industry – but this time around, he’s been cast to act in the live-action role of Tsumiki Kenichi, the protagonist of “Piple” who marries a humanoid A.I. We interviewed Kaji – who’d previously voiced this character in the novel’s audiobook – on a wide range of topics, from what he felt on the set of the live-action filming to his personal thoughts on married life.
―First of all, how did you feel when it was decided that the novel would have a live-action adaptation?
Kaji: Back when I recorded for the Web Audio-drama series Piple: A Tale to Treat Your Ears (Japanese: 耳で楽しむ小説『ぴぷる』, Hepburn: Mimi de Tanoshimu Shousetsu: Pipuru), I was talking to the staff about how it would be great if we could ever reunite again for a sequel or an anime adaptation. As part of the conversation, they half-jokingly told me that they’d cast me too if a live-action adaptation was made… but who would have guessed that it actually came true? I was happy, but really surprised at the same time (laughs).
Ever since I first read the novel, I’ve empathised very much with Tsumiki. I’m really grateful – it’s a fascinating opportunity to be able to play a character that I’ve played once, but in a different medium from voice acting.
―Did you feel any pressure from starring in a live-action series for the first time?
Kaji: I’m overwhelmingly less experienced in this field of acting compared to my co-stars, but here I was cast as the lead actor – not to mention, I was fully conscious that the show revolved around the role of the main character. It felt like an insurmountable hurdle.
But once the filming started, all my worries were relieved because of the wonderful team we had. Instead of feeling like we had to “support the others” or “be supported by others”, I believe our hearts were constantly facing the same direction as we worked through the series. Towards the end, I felt strongly that “we finished the race precisely because of these members”.
CHALLENGING YET CAPTIVATING IN A DIFFERENT WAY FROM VOICE ACTING
―You’ve voiced this role before, but how does it feel to actually act it out in the flesh?
Kaji: I’ve been involved in other live-action productions in the past, and after each of those experiences, I’ve learned how it was challenging yet captivating in a different way from voice acting. In that sense, it seems the essence of ‘acting’ itself may just be the same.
However, the key difference is in our “output”. Be it in anime or foreign dubbing, when it comes to voice actors, our characters are already defined to a certain extent on screen, and the question is always about whether we add on to that, or subtract from it. It comes down to a very technical skill.
On the other hand, acting allows you to convey emotions by your gaze or the subtle changes in facial expressions, even without uttering a sound. They were two different things in that regard. It may be difficult, but thinking about “What can I do about this?” or “Will it be better to do it this way?” is what makes it enjoyable.
―Has this experience opened your eyes to new aspects of voice acting?
Kaji: The filming was carried out concurrently with my voice acting activities. It may be due to that, but I was reminded all over again that voice acting was truly my “home ground”. Perhaps it’s largely due to the experience and community that have been established over the years… but once I return there from filming or stage acting, there’s a certain reassurance that “Now that I’m here, there’s nothing I can’t do freely!” (laughs)
The filming process may have been tough, but it was extremely fun, and I’ve learnt a lot from it. It was also an opportunity for me to reflect on a voice actor’s job description. At the same time, I was able to remind myself of the love I had for this “portrayal as a voice actor”.
A CHARACTER I CAN RELATE TO
―You mentioned that Tsumiki was a character you could relate to. Could you elaborate on that?
Kaji: He’s a character that has a considerable number of offensive aspects… so if I say that I relate to him, I’m worried that people will start wondering, “Is this guy actually alright?” about me (laughs). At any rate, he’s someone who may give off an impression of being pathetic, unsightly or even embarrassing.
But that’s precisely why I like him. He’s got many traits that make you think, “Everyone’s bound to have one or two of those, don’t they?” In my opinion, he is a character that ultimately makes people want to cheer him on.
There are particularly shocking situations and lines at the start of the series, so I’d think that there will be people who might be taken aback. But I’d appreciate if those people would watch till the end before making a judgement. It was precisely because he’s not a perfect person that I’ve had fun acting him.
―Other than that, it could be significant that you two are similar in age.
Kaji: That’s true. Personally speaking, it’s because he is meant to be “a man in his early 30s” that I could somewhat get into the role without much hesitation. When it comes to voice acting, it’s normal to play characters in their teens or twenties… but as you might expect, it’s too much to ask that from me in live-action acting (laughs).
―Did you come up with any ideas regarding Tsumiki’s portrayal?
Kaji: While the directorial team did have certain requirements, some of the suggestions I brought up made them think, “Hmmm, interesting…”, and we ended up using them. Overall, I’m really grateful for the working environment they provided.
Having said that, I’m sure most people have no prior impressions of my live-acting (laughs). In fact, I haven’t had many opportunities to view myself from an objective standpoint either, so I still find it awkward and embarrassing to watch myself on-screen.
“IMPERFECTION” IS BUT A CHARM OF MARRIAGE LIFE
―On another note, since you got married last year, has it changed your view on married characters?
Kaji: Even though Tsumiki and I have some things in common, we’re two different people after all, so there’s no overlap in that regard. Ultimately, I only relate to him to the extent of playing his character.
―In that case, what do you think about the theme of “Love with A.I.”? Are you for or against it?
Kaji: Maybe it’s because I’m playing the part of Tsumiki this time, but I’ve come to love Piple like family… From an in-universe standpoint, I believe that it’s perfectly acceptable. The problem is that A.I. doesn’t have the same kind of “ambiguity” humans have, so sometimes you can’t help but feel a sense of helplessness and sorrow when an A.I. makes a decision or judgement. I don’t mean that in a bad way, of course… but I think you’ll understand once you see the ending (laughs).
That’s where I believe the gap between A.I. and human lies, and it’s one that I think will remain hard to bridge no matter how far technology progresses in the future. As a matter of fact, there are moments in life where that “ambiguity” makes humans so precious and irresistible. An A.I. may choose for their partner “what is necessary” – that is, what they judge to be the best for them; but human beings, even when pressed with the question of “what is necessary”, tend to incline towards “what we desire” and who we want to attain happiness with instead.
―If you could design your own A.I. wife, is there any specific function you would install?
Kaji: I wonder… But I already have a wife, so I’m happy with the one I have (laughs).
―That’s lovely. Does that mean your wife is already your ideal?
Kaji: My wife is also human. So if you ask me if everything about her is perfect, that’s certainly not the case. But that’s precisely why I want to remain a person who can continue to love her for her “imperfection”. Needless to say, there are times when we don’t get along. But those clashes teach me something new each time, and I believe that’s what it means to learn.
In my opinion, that doesn’t apply only to families, but also to friendships. If we don’t confront each other honestly, our minds may just become narrower and narrower each day – that’s what I’ve come to feel recently.
ONE THING THAT HUMANS SHOULD NOT GIVE UP ― THE HEART TO UNDERSTAND OTHERS
―Have you noticed any changes in yourself ever since you got married?
Kaji: That may be something I’ll only find out after more time has passed, or perhaps something I’ll never notice on my own. Regardless, no matter how much I may change and even if I don’t notice it – one thing I want to preserve is the desire to be someone who won’t bring shame to my partner or her family.
―Have there been moments where you feel glad to be married?
Kaji: There’re those moments when I witness our different values and I’m forced to confront my own flaws – it’s always a shock, but also something I’ve come to enjoy (laughs). Well, there are certainly many other moments as well, but since I’m still new to this, I believe I’ll come to experience more and more of those moments.
―Anything important you’d like to tell us about interpersonal communication?
Kaji: Let me think… Suppose a friend comes to me for a love consultation. If an A.I. would evaluate his chances to be 0%, the advice would most likely be “Please part ways with her” or “Please give up”. But for me, I want to know what my friend wants – those are the feelings I want to cherish. If my friend still has it in him to want to convey those feelings, then it is my duty to cheer him on. As long as we’re human, I believe it’s not only the “result”, but also the “process”, that we should appreciate.
―That is truly important. Since the story’s set in 2030, are there any aspirations you have for yourself in 10 years?
Kaji: The last 10 years of my life – from 24 years old to my current 34 – have been truly significant. I was desperate and did everything I could without caring for appearances… and that’s how I ended up in my present state. Personally, it was a very fulfilling time. That’s why I’d like the next 10 years too, regardless of the failures or regrets I may encounter, to be a time where I can look back and think “it was not a waste”.
It feels like time slips away faster and faster as we get older – before you know it, 10 years will have passed by in a flash. Just before I turned 30, I started to feel a sense of impatience within myself. I reached a point where I felt strongly that it’s not enough just to think “It’d be great if I could be like that,” but rather “I have to be like that”. I want to live life in a way that leaves no regrets.
There are many things I still regret, even now… but I feel that every step upward from the bottom of the ladder and every meeting I’ve had – all these encounters have built up over time and made me who I am today.
AN ENDLESS CHALLENGE ― “WHAT CAN I DO AS AN ACTOR?”
―Any final words for our audience?
Kaji: This opportunity to play the lead in a drama series is undeniably a new “stage” for me. It’s a project I’ve decided to take up as a challenge, after continuously thinking about what I can do as a voice actor and an actor. I told myself not to think of it as “I’m participating in a live-action production as a voice actor” but rather, “I’ve been asked to perform as a key actor in this production”. …Well, it’s complicated, so let’s ignore that for now! (laughs) In any case, I hope that you’ll watch the series till the end without missing anything!
INTERVIEWER’S THOUGHTS AFTER THE INTERVIEW…
Of course his voice was lovely, but Kaji also had a gentle aura around him, and the warm smile on his face when he talked about his married life really left an impression on me. By all means, please enjoy Kaji’s charms as an actor to the fullest in this upcoming film!
In the Year 2030, marriage with humanoid A.I. has been legalised. Tsumiki Kenichi, an out-of-the-closet geek in his thirties, has just had his unrequited crush on a colleague end in a failure of a date. Still in shock, he purchases a “beautiful humanoid A.I. equipped with sexual intercourse functions”, names her “Piple”, and marries her.
But on the wedding night, something unexpected happens: the A.I. refuses his advances. Tsumiki seeks out the mysterious developer of the A.I. – Miyama Kaede – and discovers that he’d made an error in programming its initial settings. While the settings can no longer be changed, Miyama makes a surprising proposal to Tsumiki…
Ironically, the more Tsumiki experiences life with an “A.I.”, the more he begins to learn the “human” in himself. This may be a slightly unusual story of the near-future, but please do look forward to it!
Aired: May 18, 2020 (Monday)
Broadcast: Mondays at 00:00 (JST) – WOWOW Prime
Cast: Kaji Yuki; Ayaka Wilson; Ohara Sakurako etc.©2020ドラマ「ぴぷる」製作委員会
Interview by ananweb Translated by Raku 0925 Edited & Proofread by Pyrite