For first time, NHK seeks Caucasian actress to star in morning drama

by Atsushi Kodera

Staff Writer

Wanted: A female aged 25 to 40 who grew up in the West and boasts a better than average singing voice. The opening is for an actress to play the heroine in a new NHK morning drama.

It will be the first time the broadcaster will have a non-Japanese play the female lead in the legendary 15-minute time slot that starts at 8 a.m. Monday through Saturday, NHK spokeswoman Kaori Fujieda said in Osaka.

The upcoming series will be titled “Massan,” and will be about a Scottish woman who married a Japanese trying to start a whiskey distillery during the Taisho Era early in the 20th century.

The morning slot has entertained the nation for more than five decades. Its leading female roles have been the springboard for a number of young actresses’ careers, including Ayako Kobayashi, whose “Oshin” series has been aired in more than 60 countries.

Each series runs about 150 episodes over six months. “Massan” is to air from next September to March 2015. The current series “Gochisosan” ends next March and will be followed by “Hanako to An” before “Massan” starts.

The story will be set in a time when whiskey was little known in Japan. The heroine will meet Massan, the son of a sake brewer, in Scotland, follow him to Japan and marry him at a time when international couples were a rarity. She learns the language and local manners, lives as a Japanese and supports her husband and his employees at the distillery he establishes in Hokkaido.

Spokeswoman Fujieda said NHK is asking domestic and overseas talent agencies to hunt for female candidates aged 25 to 40 who grew up in Western society. The network “basically” wants a Caucasian, but is open to a half-Japanese — or even three-quarters Japanese, if she is qualified, Fujieda said.

Experience won’t be a requirement, but someone confident in her singing is desirable, as Scottish folk songs sung by the couple will be a key element of the drama, Fujieda said.

The screenplay will be written by Daisuke Habara, known for his work on films such as “Pacchigi!” (“Break Through!”) and “Hula Girls.”

The drama will be based on the life of Masataka Taketsuru, the pioneering whiskey maker from Hiroshima Prefecture who strove to make the first Japanese whiskey at what is now Suntory Holdings Ltd. in Kyoto and later founded what is now Nikka Whisky Distilling Co.

The son of a sake brewer, Taketsuru went to Scotland in 1918 to study the art of how to make whiskey. There he met the love of his life, Jessie Roberta Cowan, known as Rita, who accompanied him back to Japan and provided him with vital support in his endeavors, according to his biography on the Nikka Whisky website.

  • Genevieve Thompson

    I would love to audition as well. I am based out of NYC, but my father lives in Japan and I plan to visit him soon.

  • WatchingFromOverThere

    This isn’t the first time. Back in 1977, the NHK drama “Ichibanboshi” featured a Caucasian woman who figured prominently in the story as a missionary.

  • Sammi

    would love to know more about the audition.