American actress first non-Japanese tapped for NHK series lead

by Jun Hongo

Staff Writer

American actress Charlotte Kate Fox was tapped Tuesday to play a lead role in NHK’s upcoming morning drama series “Massan,” based on the true story of Masataka Taketsuru, the founder of Japan’s whiskey industry.

With the selection, Fox becomes the first non-Japanese actress to play one of the main characters in the public broadcaster’s perennial, limited-run “Morning Drama.”

Fox will play Taketsuru’s Scottish wife, Rita, in the series, whose 150 15-minute episodes will begin airing in September, according to NHK.

“I am very honored, and still can’t believe I am standing in front of you now,” Fox said during a news conference in Tokyo.

The 28-year-old won out over more than 500 actresses who also auditioned for the role. According to NHK, this is the New Mexico native’s first appearance in a Japanese TV drama.

“I did mainly theater and some independent films in the United States,” Fox said.

It was also revealed that actor Tetsuji Tamayama would play Taketsuru in the series.

“Massan” will be the 91st installment in NHK’s Renzoku Terebi Shosetsu (serial TV novel) series, which began airing in 1961 and typically runs for six months on weekday and Saturday mornings.

According to NHK, “Massan” will kick off in the Taisho Era (1912-1926) as Taketsuru, the son of a local sake brewer in Osaka, leaves Japan to study whiskey-making in Scotland. There, he meets his future wife and the two return to Japan as the country enters a turbulent time following the end of World War I.

The first part of the series will be loosely based on the early years of Taketsuru and Rita’s relationship, but the names of some of the characters will be altered. Fox’s character will go by the name Ellie.

The second half traces the couple’s challenges building whiskey distilleries in Hokkaido and facing the Pacific War.

Series writer Daisuke Habara, winner of the Japan Academy Award for best screenplay in 2006 for his work on “Hula Girls,” has said that though “Massan” will be based on true events, it will include fictional, humorous plot twists.

NHK’s morning drama slot has aired some of the most popular television programs in Japan, including “Oshin” in 1983 and last year’s hit, “Amachan.”

  • Ron NJ

    Is she going to get katakana subtitles for all of her lines, or is she going to be the exception to the rule?

  • ume

    How incredibly disappointing. Why have they chosen an American actress (who looks very american) to play a Scottish girl?

    Correct me if Im wrong, but I thought that “Scottish” English was much different to British or American English? As different is Okinawa-ben is to standard Japanese? But I suppose she is going to be rocking her awful american accent all the way through… ?

    It really is very sad. They should have chosen a Scottish, or at least an Irish/British actress for the part.

    • Glen Douglas Brügge

      They are all very different; but plenty of actors and actresses can pull off an accent. I am often surprised to find certain actors are not Americans/British etc. even though they play one. It can be done, but I am not sure what her abilities are like. As for looks, a period drama will have costumes from that period, making it impossible to tell; she looks very much like Rita, actually. There is not “look” to either group, other than possibly red hair being common among the Scots and Irish. My mother’s side is chiefly from Scotland, and nothing really sets them apart from any other Western European race.

  • Frank Schirmer

    Her imdb profile doesn’t exactly lead to the assumption that NHK scored a big name here.

    • seiryu

      I think you miss the point there. NHK morning dramas are known to be the springboard for young actresses. For example, few people knew Rena Nounen before Amachan but now many talk about her.

      • Frank Schirmer

        OK, but why is this news then? “American actress plays in NHK drama!!” Apparently there is some sort of pride felt for “getting an American actress to play” for an NHK drama. Are they happy that there are still actors around who’d come to this xenophobic place?
        Is it, in 2014, really still such a huge thing that a Japanese production features a non-Japanese actress?
        What does this say about the status of Japan in the world…it’s all very sad and telling.

      • lukestoltenberg

        Yes, in 2014 it is a huge thing that a Japanese production features a foreign leading lady. Why are you so surprised?

      • Frank Schirmer

        Well, because people still act like Japan is not a primitive, dangerous country.

  • SpicyMayo

    Check out some of the other articles on this. She mentions that she’s going to be working on her Osaka accent. Doesn’t that lead you to believe she’ll be learning/speaking Japanese rather than being dubbed or subtitled?

    If that’s the case, she is either very brave or very crazy.

    Maybe she’s both.

    Either way, I’m going to watch.

  • Marian Hara

    As a Scot, I hope NHK will give her a speech coach. It’s not only Osaka ben that she needs. But of course most Japanese people wouldn’t know or care if she sounds Scottish or American. Will be watching with interest! Hope to see some Scottish locations. Good luck to her!

    • SpicyMayo

      I just hope she doesn’t sound like Fat Bastard from Austin Powers. The world could use less of that.