Shun Oguri learned much from playing a manga mountain man in 'Gaku'
BY KENSAKU NISHIDA THE ASAHI SHIMBUN
Actor Shun Oguri (Photo by Shinobu Igasaki)Shun Oguri and his costar Masami Nagasawa scale a wall in a publicity event for "Gaku: Minna no Yama" during an international rock climbing competition. (The Asahi Shimbun)
It is hard enough for an actor to portray a fictitious manga character on the big screen, but that is particularly true in the case of "Gaku: Minna no Yama" (Gaku: Everyone's mountain), a manga about mountain rescue workers.
That's because the protagonist, Sanpo Shimazaki, is himself a mountain of a man, who effortlessly carries injured climbers on his back up and down rock walls, smiling all the while.
Long before Shun Oguri learned he would be cast as Sanpo in the live-action movie, the actor was a fan of Shinichi Ishizuka's mountaineering adventure manga titled "Gaku."
"Sanpo is a huge man, and he has philosophical views; he's a character who can only exist in a manga," Oguri said. "I had the impression that he was a rough man, so I thought that my version of him might seem rather slightly built. I thought that my version would be a different Sanpo."
Sanpo is a volunteer mountain rescue worker who has a passion for mountains. He lives in a tent in the Japanese Northern Alps.
In the manga, he repeatedly confronts harsh reality as he battles to rescue stranded people.
He watches as a father breathes his last in front his young son. He finds the decomposed body of a person who has been missing for six months.
But Sanpo neither moans nor feels sad in an obvious manner. He simply accepts reality, as if he has himself transcended life and death. Whether he must carry a survivor or a dead body, Sanpo treats each equally, reciting the same lines: "You did well" and "Come back to the mountains!"
The manga has gained a wide readership who admire its unique views of life and death.
But while appreciating the finer details of the manga, Oguri spared no effort to prepare for his role.
In reality, the 28-year-old Oguri admits he is afraid of heights and says he has not gone mountain hiking since one such experience on a school trip while in elementary school.
But in preparation, Oguri started training at a climbing gym before the shooting began. He also received intensive training in areas along the Jogasaki coastline, famed for its jagged cliffs, in Izu, Shizuoka Prefecture, and the Tanzawa mountains in Kanagawa Prefecture.
Director Osamu Katayama was so impressed with Oguri's improved physique and skill that he added a scene involving ice climbing.
The actor, a slim 184 centimeters tall, gained 9 kilograms of muscle to make himself look more like an experienced alpinist.
Oguri has starred in many TV dramas, stage productions and films in recent years.
But "Gaku" was "different from any of my other movies," he said.
"When we shot in the mountains, it often took three to four hours before we could start shooting after we left in the morning. And when we got to the location, we were all drenched in sweat and had to redo the makeup all over again, waiting in the cold for shooting to resume."
Oguri said he didn't think too much about how he should portray his character. Instead, he just tried to "be" Sanpo.
"I just thought I'd play out whatever came into my mind naturally," he said. "I even changed the way I smiled in the way I portrayed him. I gained so much from the mountains."
He had a close shave while filming a scene in which Oguri was climbing a vertical rock cliff. The actor slipped and fell about 2 meters.
"I was really scared, but I told myself that I must do this," Oguri said.
Before the movie was released in early May, the Great East Japan Earthquake struck on March 11. The real-life volunteer rescuers working to help tsunami survivors remind us of the theme of "Gaku."
"We can do very little when an earthquake hits. But in the end, it is people (like Gaku) who must deal with the threats of nature and help those who are injured. I think that is the message this movie conveys," Oguri said.
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Born in December 1982, Oguri shot to fame after starring in the TV series, "Hana Yori Dango" ("Boys Over Flowers"). In 2010, he directed his first feature film, "Surely Someday." He has also starred in many stage productions with director Yukio Ninagawa.