As far as Hollywood debuts go, it doesn’t get much bigger than stepping into a Steven Spielberg blockbuster. For Win Morisaki, it’s a giant leap toward his goal of becoming an international actor.
Morisaki, 27, is a singer and actor who grew up in Myanmar and has already made a name for himself in the Japanese entertainment industry. He’s the lead vocalist in the boy band PrizmaX and has starred in Japanese films such as Isao Yukisada’s “Parade” (2010) and Masao Kasahara’s “Shelly” (2014). But Morisaki says meeting Spielberg while auditioning for the role of Daito in “Ready Player One” left him star-struck.
“I thought, ‘Wow, there he is! It doesn’t even matter now if I don’t get the role,'” he says. Eight months later, Morisaki was told he won the part. But it wasn’t just the chance to star in a Spielberg film that appealed to the young actor.
“I liked that (Daito) is a character who gets to swing a bat around and has a lot of action scenes,” Morisaki says enthusiastically.
“Ready Player One” is set in a dystopian future where people spend most of their time living in the “Oasis,” a virtual reality in which people can design their own avatars and live out their wildest fantasies. Daito is a member of the “High Five,” a team of scrappy young people who set out on an epic quest to inherit a fortune and save the world from a greedy corporate goon hell-bent on dominating the Oasis.
The rollicking action film is steeped in video game references and pop culture nostalgia, and is based on the best-selling young adult novel of the same name by Ernest Cline, a self-proclaimed “full-time geek.”
Morisaki says he read the novel right after he won the role of Daito, a Japanese samurai warrior and avatar for a soft-spoken young man named Toshiro.
“It was the first time in my life I had so much fun reading something, and I could imagine this exciting adventure story in my mind,” he says. “It made me want to enter the Oasis. But the movie exceeded what I imagined.”
“Ready Player One” provided Morisaki with his first experience in an English-speaking role, and the actor admits with a laugh that he struggled a bit at first.
“I’m not very familiar with speaking English, but the people around me were really helpful. They taught me and explained things to me with so much kindness,” he says. (Morisaki’s interview with The Japan Times was conducted in Japanese.)
The language barrier aside, working on “Ready Player One” with a renowned director like Spielberg was a dream come true for the young actor.
“I would see him every day during filming, but since we finished shooting and we started promoting the movie, now more than ever, I keep having this realization that I was able to work with (Spielberg) every day and I was on such an incredible set. It was a truly wonderful experience,” he says.
Morisaki is no stranger to film sets, appearing in both Japanese and Burmese films since he was a teenager. But working on “Ready Player One” was unlike anything he’d done before.
“The scale of production is definitely a huge difference. The sets are grand and elaborately detailed,” he says. “Also, I thought the budget and amount of time dedicated to creating one film is amazing.”
When asked about the numerous Japanese pop culture references scattered throughout the movie, Morisaki says, “Well, the most notable part has to be (the scene with) Gundam and Mechagodzilla. It’s rare to see those characters sharing the screen. Fans of the original Gundam and original Mechagodzilla will be in the same place at the same time and they’ll be able to enjoy it together. Seeing this fusion of the anime world with the real world made me think, ‘Steven really did it.'”
There is some anxiety that comes with being the only actor from Japan in a Hollywood movie, especially one that celebrates Japanese pop culture with unabashed glee.
“I’m nervous,” says Morisaki when asked about how he thinks the film will be received here. “The movie is a hit around the world, isn’t it? So I wonder how it will be in Japan. I’m the only actor who comes from Japan, so in that sense, I feel some pressure.”
He’s still hopeful, however, that Japanese audiences will embrace the film and watch it in theaters.
“I want them to enjoy the beauty of the animation. I think there are so many things in the movie that needs to be experienced in a movie theater to get the whole effect.”
So what’s next for Morisaki? “I really like planes, so I would love to play a pilot. As an actor, my goal is to win an Academy Award in the next 10 years. I’m working towards achieving that goal. Of course, that means continuing to have roles in Hollywood movies, but I want to keep acting in movies in Japan and movies in my home country, Myanmar.” Morisaki adds with a charming smile, “I want to become Asia’s leading Hollywood star.”
“Ready Player One” hits cinemas nationwide on April 27. For more information, visit www.readyplayeronemovie.com.