Need someone to chase pigs in Thailand? Daisuke Miyagawa’s your man. How about punching watermelons in Australia? Miyagawa’s your man.
The 45-year-old comedian has been sent on numerous overseas adventures as part of the Nippon TV variety show “Sekai no Hate Made Itte Q” (which translates loosely as “Questions Answered from the Ends of the Earth”) since the show began a decade ago.
“I remember doing the first one in Mali, thinking to myself this won’t be a long-running thing,” Miyagawa tells The Japan Times. “The concept was vague and as a result it wasn’t very interesting. I went out there more as a reporter, which didn’t really work. Then the director changed and I was encouraged to become more involved in local festivals, which I enjoyed more and so did the audience. Ten years on and we’re still going strong.
“I hope to keep doing it for as long as possible. The people on the show are like my family; we all pull together to make sure it works, and I think that’s one of the main reasons the show continues to do well.”
“Itte Q ,” as it’s affectionately referred to by fans, faces stiff competition during its 8 p.m. Sunday time slot. But the program stands out from other variety shows thanks to its international focus — this isn’t just celebrities trying new foods and declaring “oishii” (“delicious”) at the end of each bite.
“I haven’t got any braver, my heart still pounds every time I try something new,” Miyagawa says with a laugh when I tell him how terrifying some of his escapades look. “The scariest festival I ever attended was the running of the bulls on the streets of Spain — I thought I was going to die then. The cheese-rolling festival in England was also terrifying.” Here he’s referring to the Cooper’s Hill Cheese-Rolling and Wake near Gloucester. “I went flying down the hill (chasing a 3.6-kilogram cheese) and managed to finish in second place. As a representative of Japan, I was quite proud of that and even got a mention in the local newspaper!”
Miyagawa’s try-anything attitude doesn’t come from nowhere. Before he became known as the “O-matsuri Otoko” (“Festival Man”) he faced a lot of challenges trying to create a career out of comedy and acting — though this adversity likely prepared him to be the perfect candidate to face Spanish bulls and barrelling rounds of cheese.
The Kyoto-born comic first signed with the creative agency Yoshimoto Kogyo in his teens.
“Things were good early on,” Miyagawa recalls. “As well as being part of the manzai (stand-up comedy) duo Chupa Chapps, I also joined a comedy and dance group called Yoshimoto ‘Jirushi’ Tennen Sozai, which for some time was very successful. The struggles began once our popularity started to wane.”
When gigs began to dry up, Miyagawa was forced to look elsewhere — anywhere — for work. He recounts a list of jobs that seem as diverse as his experiences on “Itte Q.”
“I was a chef at a Russian restaurant, filled people’s cars with gasoline, sorted mail and all kinds of other jobs while still trying to make it as an entertainer,” he says. “I reached a point where I had to consider whether it was all worth it.”
Still young, Miyagawa made the decision in 1999 to split with Chupa Chapps partner Hidetoshi Hoshida, who is now also a popular entertainer, and try to make it as an actor on his own. Going solo worked, and within a few months he landed a role in Amon Miyamoto’s stage production of “Boys Time.” Miyagawa describes the experience as a major turning point in his career as it led to more opportunities, and he has since gone on to appear in a wide range of plays, TV shows and films.
His latest turn for the big screen comes in the Masafumi Nishida comedy “The Stand-In Thief” (Japanese title: “Dorobo Yakusha”), which also stars Ryuhei Maruyama, from boy band Kanjani Eight, and Masachika Ichimura, who is best-known for his work in musicals and as the voice of “Pokemon” character Mewtwo.
“The Stand-In Thief” tells the story of an ex-con named Hajime (Maruyama) who has kept his troubled past from girlfriend Misa (Mitsuki Takahata). His old partner in crime, Norio (Miyagawa), then reappears and threatens to reveal Hajime’s previous felonies unless he helps him burgle the house of famous children’s author Shuntaro Maezono (Ichimura). They are interrupted soon after entering the home, however, which leads to a raucous comedy of errors with all kinds of confusion and cases of mistaken identity.
“I think it’s a fun film that can be enjoyed by people of all ages,” Miyagawa says. “It has a very well-composed script that is both funny and quite moving. Nishida originally wrote the story as a play, and when we were filming it almost felt like a stage performance with one camera following the action around the house. I had some butterflies while on set despite spending much of the movie hidden away in a cupboard.”
The villain of the piece, Miyagawa plays a rather despicable character who has no problem hanging his partner out to dry. Unrecognizable from the fun, larger-than-life personality that can regularly be seen on Sunday night TV, he puts in a convincing performance as the antihero, though prefers to focus on the qualities of his co-stars rather than his own acting skills.
“Excluding myself, I have to say the whole cast was just amazing,” Miyagawa says. “I was very impressed with Maruyama, whom I’d never met before. Sometimes it can be awkward working with someone for the first time, but with him it was so easy and natural. The fact that we are both from Kansai probably helped.
“He arranged for us to have a script-reading session at his house and Ichimura turned up. With all his years of experience, I thought it was great that he was prepared to put in that extra effort with us. It just shows his incredible professionalism.
“I could also talk about (co-stars) Yusuke Santamaria and Jin Katagiri — basically everyone involved. It was a privilege to be part of such a talented group.”
After all the praise it becomes apparent — if you need a PR guy, Miyagawa’s your man.
“Sekai no Hate Made Itte Q” airs on Nippon TV every Sunday at 7:58 p.m. “The Stand-In Thief” opens in cinemas on Nov. 18. For more information, visit www.dorobou-yakusha.jp.