/

NHK drama’s foreign star says Japan has strengthened her

by Shusuke Murai

Staff Writer

Charlotte Kate Fox, lead actress in the NHK morning drama “Massan,” said Wednesday that like the character she plays, she has grown stronger since coming to Japan.

Becoming the first foreign actress to hold a starring role in one of Japan’s most popular TV series was a daunting challenge, she said during a news conference at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan in Tokyo, accompanied by senior “Massan” producer Ken Sakurai.

“I sort of thought it was a joke,” Fox said of when she was invited for a screen test. “I flew to Japan for the first time in my life, and I was terrified.”

Fox plays the role of Ellie, the Scottish wife of Masaharu Kameyama, who starts Japan’s first whiskey distillery in Osaka.

This was during the Meiji and Taisho eras, a time when Japanese society was especially closed and suspicious of foreigners, and the drama shows how they helped each other overcome their various challenges.

Like Ellie, Fox was overwhelmed at first by the language barrier. As an actress, she also faced NHK’s tight shooting schedule.

“They set out before me all of the scripts of 150 episodes (in Japanese) . . . and I think it was to scare people. . . . This whole process has been continuously the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life.”

However, like Ellie, facing such challenges has borne fruit.

“Now I’m a much stronger woman, I’m a much stronger actress,” Fox said. “Japan has given me everything. . . . Now, I’m just amazed at what I’m doing. It’s really incredible they were able to make this piece of art . . . in the most unlikely and most impossible circumstances.”

Sakurai said through an interpreter: “As this young actress works through the series . . . we see her developed not only as the heroine of the story, but also as an actress. . . . That’s part of the great appeal of watching this morning program.

“I believe that in Charlotte-san’s case, the story becomes doubly appealing, because we see Charlotte-san going through the language of Japan, learning the customs of Japan,” he said. “We see her struggling with being apart from her homeland, from her family.”

Sakurai said the series depicts the hardship and adjustment of a foreigner coming to Japan, just like Fox herself has experienced.

“One of the things that we wanted to emphasize in the show was that in spite of things that (Ellie) perhaps found distasteful or unpleasant that she really cannot accept, she still manages to find good things about Japan,” he said. “These are things we would refer to . . . the wonderful, traditional, positive aspect of Japan.

“It’s an almost impossible, almost insane undertaking. However, Charlotte-san has risen to the challenge with great courage. She has overcome all these obstacles and hardship through breathtaking effort,” Sakurai said. “I think being able to encounter and come together with Charlotte-san is like winning the jackpot in the takarakuji (lottery).”