Guinness World Records announced in 2012 that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes was the most portrayed character on film and TV, depicted 254 times by more than 75 different actors.
While familiar with the original, Japanese audiences also know the detective via an anime titled “Sherlock Hound” (co-directed by Hayao Miyazaki no less) and a weekly manga called “Detective Conan,” which was also made into a popular TV series.
On April 27, however, Sherlock and his partner, Dr. John Watson, will be resurrected yet again by actresses Yuko Takeuchi and Shihori Kanjiya in the Hulu/HBO Asia series “Miss Sherlock.” It’s a less common depiction of the pair, with both women living in present-day Tokyo (though the American TV series “Elementary” gave audiences Lucy Liu as Dr. Joan Watson in modern New York), and that results in a refreshing take on the story despite a somewhat superficial tagline of the “most beautiful Sherlock ever.”
Takeuchi, 38, a veteran of the Japanese film industry who is known for such films as “Yomigaeri” (2003) and “Dog in a Sidecar” (2007), stars in the titular role alongside the 32-year-old Kanjiya who plays Dr. Wato Tachibana. (Wato-san, get it?)
In an interview with The Japan Times, Takeuchi doesn’t speak with the same rapid-fire inquisitiveness of Miss Sherlock. When asked if she felt any pressure in portraying such an iconic character, the actress admits that the number of lines she had to memorize for the role of the motor-mouth detective was a more daunting endeavor.
“At times I could barely follow the lines I was uttering myself,” she says, adding that in the end it was the new spin on the characters that convinced Takeuchi to take the role. “I think my own intrigue won over any pressure.”
There is bound to be criticism around any Sherlock who strays from the original source material, but the show has tried to stay as faithful as possible. Takeuchi’s Sherlock maintains the emotional detachment and incisive deduction skills the character is known for, being a woman hasn’t changed that. To many, Sherlock is more a quintessentially British character than a male one, and the show acknowledges that by giving its Sherlock the backstory of being brought up in the U.K. and graduating from Cambridge University.
That said, “Miss Sherlock” certainly doesn’t shy away from the fact that the show is based in Tokyo. Cultural differences like Japan’s strict policies toward drugs and weapons had to be taken into account for the show to make sense in its setting, and the camera often lingers on the cityscape and shots of Japanese food.
The show takes some liberties, too. Instead of the violin, Miss Sherlock plays the cello, and her relationship with her older brother, Secretary to the Prime Minister Kento Futaba (played by Yukiyoshi Ozawa in a role akin to that of Sherlock’s brother, Mycroft), is more affectionate than it is in other versions.
When he wasn’t cracking cases, the original Sherlock found various ways to escape “the dull routine of existence.” What kind of vices does Takeuchi’s Sherlock have? “She’s a chocoholic,” the actress replies, adding that she hopes viewers will be open-minded with their assessments.
“We’ll have to leave it to the audience to decide (if it succeeds),” she says. “I’m half-frightened and half-excited to find out what the reaction will be.”
Viewer response to the relationship between Sherlock and Wato-san is certainly something that could make or break the show. The intimacy and tension between the characters — resulting in charged banter even in life-or-death situations — is one of the most intriguing aspects of the series and has resulted in many fans fantasizing that a more-than-friends connection exists between Sherlock and Watson. (Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman on the BBC’s “Sherlock,” and Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law in Guy Ritchie’s “Sherlock Holmes” films have certainly been fodder for many a fan-written romance.) So how does this relationship play out in “Miss Sherlock”?
“I wanted to create a Sherlock that was difficult to comprehend,” Takeuchi says. “There’s a feeling of urgency when your favorite toy is being taken away by someone, and Sherlock’s desire to keep her toy to herself may have resulted — unintentionally — in creating that unique intimacy.”
In that sense, Kanjiya’s Wato-san comes off more as a pet to Takeuchi’s Sherlock. A decent part of her screen time is spent apologizing for the detective’s brashness, or chasing after her with a constant pout of incredulity. Takeuchi says in previous roles, she has tended to be the one reacting to characters but as Sherlock, “I felt my character needed to stir things up so that Wato-san could react. Every day, I was thinking of ways to create unsettling situations for my partner. This Sherlock lives in a world of her own and basically ignores others.”
Takeuchi wonders if the two even respect one another enough to be intimate friends, even though they are roommates.
“(Wato-san) emphasizes Sherlock’s eccentric qualities. The more Sherlock is cruel and cold, Wato-san’s warmth is emphasized,” she says. “At times, the two of them complete each other, but when you try to put them together, they are like repelling magnets.”
With Hulu and HBO Asia co-producing the series, more people outside of Japan will be able to watch this retelling. Since she finished filming, Takeuchi is starting to feel the pressure of a larger audience unfamiliar with her work passing judgment on her portrayal of a beloved figure that has entertained readers since the 1880s.
“Before, I was just so consumed by my role,” she says, “but now I’ve parted with the character and I see the whole thing in a different light, making me more conscious of the fact that I actually played the role of such a famous character.”
Getting a bit nervous about playing an icon? Well, that’s just elementary.
“Miss Sherlock” begins streaming on Hulu and airing on HBO Asia from April 27. For more information, visit www.hboasia.com/HBO/en-ph/shows/miss-sherlock.