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Koji Ishizaka, Actor

My life at Keio was all about acting, and what I learned then is to always question everything and to confirm it by myself.

President Koizumi, a special person

Koji Ishizaka
Koji Ishizaka
©Film Production Committee of "LAST GAME - The Last Waseda - Keio Baseball Game"
©Film Production Committee of "LAST GAME - The Last Waseda - Keio Baseball Game"
At "Kai-un! Nandemo Kanteidan" (TV antique show "We’ll Appraise Anything") TV Tokyo Corporation
At "Kai-un! Nandemo Kanteidan" (TV antique show "We’ll Appraise Anything") TV Tokyo Corporation

─ In the film “The Last Game The Final Sokei-sen (Waseda-Keio Baseball Game)”, you played the role of then President Shinzo Koizumi. What got you interested in the role?

Several years ago, a documentary-like TV program entitled “ The Last Sokei-sen” was broadcast, but this program was produced slightly to the Waseda side, and I was a little unhappy about it. That was when I heard about this film. The concept was to make a film that is fair to both Keio and Waseda, and I was asked to take the role of President Koizumi. That instant, I said, “I will happily take it.”

─ Does that mean you had a special feeling for President Koizumi?

I surely did. There are many people related to Keio, but President Koizumi is a special person for me. I may even say that he comes next to Fukuzawa sensei. So, I didn’t want an actor who has nothing to do with Keio take this role. Casting of the film did not base on whether the actor/actress was a graduate of Keio or Waseda, so there was a possibility that someone who is not a graduate of Keio take the role, and I didn’t want that to happen, so I instantly took the role. I wasn’t sure if I was qualified, but I felt happy being able to play the role of President Koizumi.

─ Your grandfather, Ryozo Hiranuma, who also served as a member of the House of Lords and mayor of the City of Yokohama, was very close to President Koizumi.

My grandfather received the Bunka Kunsho (Order of Cultural Merit) for his achievement in sports promotion. He especially liked baseball, and when studying at Keio University, he was a slugger and played third base. He also served as the chairman of the Tokyo Big6 Baseball League. My grandfather is 9 years older than President Koizumi, and although my grandfather was into baseball and President Koizumi was into tennis, both had an enthusiasm for amateur sports, and they seem to have been very close. When I was a child, my grandfather encouraged me to do sports, and I remember him saying, “Mr. Koizumi was able to acquire Fukuzawa sensei’s wisdom because he did sports.” My grandfather passed away when I was in high school, but considering the relationship between my grandfather and President Koizumi, I may have met him when I was a child. Unfortunately, I don’t really remember.

─ When you think that you may have met him, that should bring you closer to him. By the way, when you played the role, did you have a specific image of President Koizumi?

Besides the impression I had through my grandfather’s relationship, teachers at Keio Futsubu School and Keio Senior High School often mentioned President Koizumi, so I knew that many teachers respected him. Also, at the preview of “The Burmese Harp” in 1985, for some reason, I was called on to accompany their Majesties the Emperor and Empress, then His Imperial Highness the Crown Prince and Her Imperial Highness the Crown Princess. At that time, His Majesty the Emperor mentioned President Koizumi, who used to be in charge of his education, and said nostalgically, “Koizumi sensei treated my very kindly.” In playing the role of President Koizumi, I recalled these memories, and tried to keep an image of a gentleman with a kind and warm heart. More than anything, I wanted to express his love for Keio. Ms. Tae Koizumi, who is President Koizumi’s second daughter, had introduced an episode about President Koizumi in a booklet entitled “Trails of 120 years of Keio University”. She had written that President Koizumi loved Keio so much that even when reading some article, he would lean forward when he would find the letters “Kei” and “Oh” in a text completely non-related to Keio.

─ I heard that you read the script at an early stage, were there any concerning points?

The biggest problem was whether to involve his son Shinkichi who died in war. My opinion was not to involve him. President Koizumi’s bestseller “Navy Paymaster Lieutenant Shinkichi Koizumi” was published after President Koizumi passed away. When I read that book before, I sensed President Koizumi’s modesty to keep the love of a parent and son as a private thing. So when director Seijiro Kouyama asked, “Should we put a photo of Shinkichi on President Koizumi’s desk?”, I answered, “No, let’s not.” We decided not to put his photo. I felt that President Koizumi would never have a photo of his family on his desk of the President’s office, which is a public place.


Starting a drama club in first grade of Futsubu School

─ By the way, you grew up in Keio, attending Keio Futsubu School, Keio Senior High School and Keio University. How was your life at Keio?

I was simply soaked in acting. As soon as I joined Keio Futsubu School, I started a drama club though I was only a first grader. However, it was not approved by the school, and there were no teachers in charge, so it was like a secret society. In addition, there were only boys, and there were no dramas we could perform, so we would go see various drama performances and then gather afterwards to criticize them. One day, a third grader came to us, and said, “When I go to senior high school, I am going to join the drama club, so I will call you guys.” This was realized, and as Futsubu students, we would watch the high school students practice, and sometimes help them with making sets. In high school, I was even more into acting. I was captain of the high school drama club, and at the same time, I was involved in two drama groups outside school. Officially, my debut is at second year level at university, in a TV drama “Seven Detectives”, but actually, 4 years before that, in my second year in high school, I was already on TV as an extra. In those days, our club room was located between the baseball team and American football team. People think that boys in the drama club are wimpy, but we were really serious. We would run and workout everyday, and earned some respect from the athletic team members. In those days, we learned a lot from Sarunosuke Ichikawa. He was 3 years senior, and his real name is Masahiko Kinoshi. He donated a sofa and coffee machine for our club, and although he was in university, he would come to our club room everyday and taught us many things, while sipping coffee. Our first performance was “Yurei Yashiki” (Haunted House) by Tsuneari Fukuda. We performed at Chiyoda-ku Kokaido (Chiyoda City Public Hall), and I played the role of a ghost, and had to come out from the mantelpiece at the end of the stage, but the stage was large and I had a hard time getting to the center. When I saw the stage after becoming professional, I realized it was a small theater. I guess I was really nervous.

─ In university, you studied at the Faculty of Law, and after graduating, you joined Shiki Theatre Company. Why did you choose the Faculty of Law?

I chose the Faculty of Law because back then, courtroom dramas such as the Perry Mason series were very popular. I had already decided to make a living through theatrical entertainment, so I didn’t really care about which Faculty to proceed to. Rather than becoming an actor, I wanted to become a script writer, so at Shiki Theatre Company, I belonged to the production department. “The Prince and the Pauper”, of which I was involved in the script and song lyrics, is still running. Until about 10 years ago, I led a theater company called “kyusenkai” (sharp turn), and I wrote scripts and directed plays. After all, I like writing scripts and directing plays.

─ Experienced actors often direct films, how do you feel about it?

In my case, I have more experience and knowledge in theatrical entertainment, and that is where I can express myself the best. Directing films is a completely different story, so I am not interested. Also, I think it is quite difficult for an actor to direct a good film. I act in films, but I feel that directing films should be done by film directors.


Helping out the 100th Anniversary Event in high school

─ As a member of Keio from Futsubu, what did you gain at Keio?

In the film “The Last Game The Final So-kei sen”, there is a scene in which we used the Memorial Room of the Old University Library as the President’s Office. The decision of the Waseda side was delayed, and because the game schedule cannot be fixed, President Koizumi discusses with the students whether they should go home to visit their parents before going to war. In this scene, the students express their opinions, and the President accepts their opinions and says, “Yes, you guys are right.” This atmosphere in which the students can freely express their opinions is the flexible spirit and tradition of Keio. Looking back at my own life, my fearless, sociable and dispassionate personality was developed through the air of freedom of Keio where there are no barriers between teachers and students. When I first started working in show business, I was surprised because people around me would call directors and scriptwriters “sensei” with no hesitation. I couldn’t do it. I even felt that it is rude to call someone “sensei” so casually. Even with director Kon Ichikawa, I couldn’t call him sensei, so I used to call him “director”. Director Ichikawa himself didn’t like to be called sensei, and I think that is the natural attitude of a proper person. I believe Keio students and graduates all feel the same way, because we were taught that the only person to be called “sensei” at Keio is Fukuzawa sensei. In fact, when I was a student, when a lecture was canceled, the notice would say, “cancel of lecture of xxxx-kun”, and would not use the word sensei even for professors.

─ Do you have any messages for young Keio students?

I have once talked in “Meji Haruka class” at Futsubu. “Even if it is something your teacher mentioned, or is written in a book, you should never forget to question “is it really true?” and to check it by yourself.” As a matter of fact, this is what teachers used to tell me when I was in Keio Futsubu School and Keio Senior High School. Not accepting something as is, but to always question and to confirm it by yourself leads to learning throughout your life, and this also links to jitsu-gaku (practical learning) of Yukichi Fukuzawa.

─ This year is the 150th anniversary of Keio University. You have already delivered a speech in the Okayama venue of the commemorative lecture series “ Gakumon no Susume 21”. What do you feel on this milestone?

In fact, Keio celebrated its 100th anniversary when I was in high school. I was involved in the commemorative event, helping out for a group that was in charge of receiving congratulatory speeches from celebrities. I have a painful memory because the progress of the event was behind schedule, and I was scolded by the guests. Be that as it may, being able to be involved in both the 100th and 150th anniversaries is a great happiness, as it is probably impossible to be involved in the 200th anniversary.

Koji Ishizaka Actor

Koji Ishizaka (born Heikichi Muto) graduated from the Faculty of Law in 1966. In 1962, Ishizaka made his debut in TV drama “Shichinin no Keiji” (Seven Detectives). Since playing the role of a smart detective who also owns a flower shop in the drama series “Heishiro Kiki Ippatsu” in 1964, he became widely popular acting in TV dramas such as “Ten to Chi to”, “Arigato”, “Wataru Seken wa Onibakari” and “Mito Komon”. He currently co-hosts the TV antique show “Kai-un! Nandemo Kanteidan” (We’ll Appraise Anything). He has also acted in many films, such as playing the role of Kosuke Kindaichi in a series including “The Inugami Family”, and acting in “Hoso yuki”, and “The Burmese Harp”. In the film “The Last Game The Final So-kei sen” released last August, he played enthusiastically the role of President Shinzo Koizumi.