Film

Actress Honoka Matsumoto is tackling tough issues on her journey to the top

by Matthew Hernon

Contributing Writer

One of Vogue Japan’s Women of the Year in 2018, Honoka Matsumoto is a rising star who first made a name for herself in the popular NHK morning drama “Hiyokko” two years ago. Interest in the Osaka-native has continued to grow since and she’s now very much an actress in demand, particularly after playing the female lead in the 2018 live adaptation series of the popular wartime anime “In This Corner of the World” (“Kono Sekai no Katasumi Ni”).

The 22-year-old’s latest starring role is in Momoko Fukuda’s moving comedy feature “My Father, the Bride” (“Oishi Kazoku”), which started out as a 30-minute short titled “Dad’s Wedding” in 2016. Matsumoto’s character, Tohka, is a struggling cosmetics saleswoman whose marriage is going through a rough patch. She returns home to the volcanic island of Niijima for the anniversary of her late mother’s death and is shocked to see her father wearing women’s clothes. On top of that, he’s also planning to tie the knot again, this time to a man.

“This was my first movie as a lead so there were nerves, but after reading Fukuda’s screenplay I was excited as I felt I could enter that world and play the part,” Matsumoto says. “It’s a charming plot that draws you in. The characters are full of life and have real affection for each other. Tohka’s a deep thinker and a bit of an outsider. Subsequently, I didn’t want to get too close to the cast. She’s having a hard time dealing with her father’s change of direction, but the love of her family pulls her through. She gradually grows to accept the marriage.”

In reality, it’s a wedding that wouldn’t be officially recognized in this country, with Article 24 of the Japanese Constitution stipulating that “Marriage shall be based only on the mutual consent of both sexes.” However, 23 municipalities, as well as Ibaraki Prefecture, currently issue same-sex “partnership certificates.” Though not legally acknowledged, they do provide some benefits related to housing, hospital visitation and so on. It remains to be seen whether this will lead to the legalization of same-sex marriage here in the future.

“What does it matter if two women or two men want to marry?” asks Matsumoto. “I don’t understand what the problem is. It’s their choice. Nobody’s being harmed. The love between two people is the most beautiful thing on Earth so who are we to try and stop that? Unfortunately, homophobia and transgender discrimination persist around the world. These are universal issues that Fukuda tackles in a sensitive but entertaining way. The main message of the movie is that in the end, love conquers all, especially when it comes to family.”

The difficulties that Matsumoto’s character faces in “My Father, the Bride” are nothing compared to what she has to deal with as Saki Tadokoro in “A Life Turned Upside Down: My Dad’s An Alcoholic” (“You to Bakemono ni Naru Chichi ga Tsurai”). Due for release next year, it tells the story of two daughters who have to take care of their constantly drunk father after their mother hangs herself. Saki, a character based on the life of webcomic writer Mariko Kikuchi, is the oldest of the two and subsequently has the most responsibility. Doing what’s right for the family while trying to further her career as an illustrator proves tough for the teenager.

Rising star: Honoka Matsumoto was named one of Vogue Japan's Women of the Year in 2018.
Rising star: Honoka Matsumoto was named one of Vogue Japan’s Women of the Year in 2018.

“Saki suffers a lot,” says Matsumoto. “You’re talking about a young girl who has to deal with the death of her mother and a father with alcohol use disorder who shows little interest in her life. Rather than confiding in an adult about her troubles, she keeps everything in.

“I feel this is a situation that’s all too common in Japan. Endurance is seen as a virtue here so no matter how bad the problem gets people are reluctant to ask for help. I feel we need to do more to encourage people to speak freely about their problems. I hope people watching realize the importance of reaching out to someone in times of trouble. You can’t do everything on your own.”

As for Matsumoto, she speaks to her manager about problems at work, though admits to finding it difficult to open up about personal issues to friends. A shy girl growing up, she just wanted to get through classes without being noticed during her early school days. Her attitude started to change after she switched from the volleyball club to the drama club.

“I’d always been intrigued by acting as the students in the school club seemed to have unique characteristics,” says Matsumoto. “Being someone who wasn’t particularly bubbly, I think it helped me come out of my shell. It was like a new lease on life. I could almost become this new person, someone more outgoing. It was great. Watching (2013 NHK morning drama) ‘Amachan’ back then strengthened my desire to take up acting as a profession. The characters in it had so much life. Everything about it was attractive.”

Four years after “Amachan,” Matsumoto appeared in an NHK morning drama herself. She played Sumiko Nabatame in “Hiyokko,” a ratings hit about a young girl who goes in search of her father and starred close friend and mentor Kasumi Arimura.

“I wouldn’t be where I am today without that show,” Matsumoto says. “It was great to appear alongside Kasumi. She and I became very close when I first joined the (talent) agency. As my senior, she helped me a lot.”

The pair went on to appear together in “Hiyokko 2,” a follow-up miniseries that aired in March of this year. Since the original “Hiyokko,” Matsumoto has become an established name in the entertainment industry, appearing in various dramas and movies such as “After the Rain” and “Cold Case 2.” She’s also appeared in several commercials for Au and Ezaki Glico, for which she chose her favorite band, Kyuso Nekokami, to provide the music.

Matsumoto’s TV presence continues to grow. A few months ago, she participated in the TBS reality program “Sekai Ururun Taizaiki” (translated as “World Travel Journals”), in which travelers take part in a homestay in various countries. The actress visited Tomtor in the Oymyakonsky district of the Sakha Republic in eastern Russia, believed to be the planet’s coldest inhabited region.

While Matsumoto enjoyed her time there, she says that, in the future, she would prefer to work in the much warmer climate of Hollywood, particularly if there’s an opportunity to appear in anything with “Call Me by Your Name” and “Beautiful Boy” star Timothee Chalamet. For now, though, the young actress is focusing on the domestic market, in which she hopes to continue to land leading roles.

“My Father, the Bride,” opens in cinemas across the nation on Sept. 20. For more information, visit oishii-movie.jp.

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