At some point in our lives, we’ve all searched for a sense of belonging. Some of us find it at home, others discover it abroad, while for some people, it lies within another person.

In the 2019 television series “his: I Didn’t Think I Would Fall in Love,” lead character Shun Igawa finds it in his partner, Nagisa Hibino, a teenager with a love for surfing.

In the series, Shun and Nagisa meet as high school boys, and the story tells how their friendship turns into love.

One year later, the theatrical sequel, titled simply “his” and directed by Rikiya Imaizumi, follows Shun and Nagisa into adulthood, with a shocking opening scene of Nagisa catching Shun off guard with a sudden breakup.

Hiding his sexual identity, Shun decides to escape the urban life and move to rural Gifu Prefecture, where he begins life anew at a cottage that allows him to live a quiet and self-sufficient life.

Eight years after breaking up, the two reunite when Nagisa shows up at Shun’s door with his 6-year-old daughter, Sora. Despite having mixed feelings at first, Shun gradually learns to accept his two unexpected guests.

Starring Hio Miyazawa as Shun, and Kisetsu Fujiwara as Nagisa, the production marks Miyazawa’s first lead role in a film since making his acting debut in 2017.

“It was a very challenging role as I didn’t have much knowledge about LGBTQ issues prior to it,” says Miyazawa, 25. “I tried to spend time with my gay friends, but there is a limit to how much you can really learn in such a short time.”

Through Shun, now a 30-year-old businessman, the story portrays the internal and external conflicts LGBTQ people face as they endure the pressures of society.

“Shun has always struggled to reveal his true self to others and has felt like he’s been lying to himself,” Miyazawa says. “It has been very hard for him, ever since his partner, Nagisa, who knew everything about him, left him behind.”

Miyazawa says preparing for the role was highly challenging.

“I watched a couple of movies like ‘Brokeback Mountain’ and ‘Happy Together,’ which both revolve around stories of gay couples,” he says. “I also spent some time with my friends from school before we started shooting. We went out to dinner and drinks a couple of times and I just tried to observe their natural behavior, paying close attention to very subtle things like their posture, movement, the way they talk, the way they eat and the way they think.”

Miyazawa says he found that the particular way his LGBTQ friends looked into people’s eyes left a strong impression on him.

“Maybe it’s only my friends, but they tend to look at your eyes a lot,” he says. “It seems like they know everything about you and they’re looking right through you. They said it is because people often tend to shut them out, so they feel the need to make an effort to get to know more about the other person, especially those that are close to them. I thought that was very interesting and I applied that to my role, too.”

That eye contact became an important aspect in Miyazawa’s portrayal of Shun.

“He doesn’t really talk a lot throughout the story, but I thought the way he looks into people’s eyes and his subtle movements can tell a lot about what he thinks and what he feels,” Miyazawa says. “For instance, I would be looking into someone’s eyes, but then if I was shutting myself out, I would look away — that contrast was very important in depicting Shun’s daily behavior.”

Socially aware: Hio Miyazawa says he tries to use his roles to help his LGBTQ friends have a stronger voice in Japanese society. | ELLE HARRIS
Socially aware: Hio Miyazawa says he tries to use his roles to help his LGBTQ friends have a stronger voice in Japanese society. | ELLE HARRIS

Miyazawa says working with Imaizumi, a director known for making romantic films, was a unique experience.

“Usually directors have a vision about characters and the movie itself, but he didn’t have a concrete image, and that was really nice, as it left room for us to think as well,” he says. “As an actor, it is obviously easier when a director has a vision, because all you have to do is go along with what the director wants you to do, but it’s so much more fun to be given an opportunity to discuss with the director how you want to act and what the scene should be like.”

Along with other themes, the movie also sheds light on the subject of family.

“The main wording here was going to be something about ‘family,'” Miyazawa says pointing at a promotional flyer for the film in front of him, “but Imaizumi didn’t want to use the word. He was very sensitive about using the word ‘family,’ because families come in many forms, and I fully agree.”

Miyazawa explains that another part of the film’s raison d’etre is also to attempt to challenge social norms.

“In Japan, the idea of an ‘ordinary family’ is a father, mother, kids and sometimes grandparents, but that’s not necessarily the norm,” Miyazawa says. “A gay couple with kids, that’s a family. A single parent with kids, that’s also a family. Maybe your grandparents raised you, and that is family, too. … As long as there is love, the will to do anything for one another and that you are surrounded by people who allow you to be yourself.”

Miyazawa says he has always wanted to play a role in a production that deals with LGBTQ issues.

“I went to an all-male school where many of my friends were gay or bisexual, so growing up among them made me think that was completely normal,” Miyazawa says. “But as I graduated and saw my friends face the reality of our society, it made me realize that in the real world it is actually often frowned upon to be gay or bisexual.”

The actor says he has always wanted to give his close LGBTQ friends a helping hand through acting.

“I wanted their voices to be heard, so it was an honor when I was given the story,” he says.

Miyazawa says spending time abroad has helped him to understand that minorities in Japan often have a hard time.

“I lived in the United States for two years, and people there are more open and understanding of LGBTQ people. … Not only is my best friend gay, but in the U.S. I’ve been asked out by guys a couple of times, too, and that was fine — I was happy about it,” he says. “Japan, however, still has a long way to go when it comes to people understanding that there are others out there who are different from them and that being different is OK.”

Miyazawa says that working on this film has helped him further enhance his understanding of such social issues.

“I did learn a lot through this movie and prior to it,” he says. “It’s still hard to tell at the moment if this movie is going to encourage sexual minorities to be more open about themselves, but I do sincerely hope that it becomes a starting point for all.”

Miyazawa hopes that the movie can generate more discussion among those who see it.

“(The film) will give audiences an opportunity to reflect on this societal issue,” he says. “It might inspire them on their way back from the theater to look up what LGBTQ means, or just to simply acknowledge people who are LGBTQ. I think this movie is only the beginning.”

This film certainly acts as a reminder that no individual is entitled to measure others by their own standards, whether that may be love, family or what it means to be “normal.”

So, how far would you go to find your true sense of belonging?

“His” opens in cinemas nationwide on Jan. 24. For more information, visit www.phantom-film.com/his-movie.

In line with COVID-19 guidelines, the government is strongly requesting that residents and visitors exercise caution if they choose to visit bars, restaurants, music venues and other public spaces.

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