Unlike many actresses of her generation, 22-year-old Eri Murakawa came to show business through dance. In fact, the soft-spoken Osaka native, who began studying singing and dance at the age of 10, was first discovered at her hometown practice studio. After entering showbiz, in 2002 she made her official debut as part of girl-group Boystyle, along with three other young idols.
Murakawa’s big acting break came in 2005, when she starred in the NHK family drama "Kaze no Haruka." She says the experiences she shared with her costars, including veterans like former Takarazuka star Miki Maya, were what inspired her to pursue an acting career over her other activities. “Everyone on that show really loved acting,” she recalls. “Even though we were all from different generations, everyone would just sit around talking about plays.”
Murakawa’s star rose dramatically in 2008, when she appeared in "Rookies," the smash hit TV series about a hopelessly delinquent high school baseball team. She played Toko Yagi, the team manager and childhood friend of star pitcher Keiichi (Hayato Ichihara). The show became a cultural phenomenon, peaking at nearly 20% viewership and spawning a feature film that was the top-grossing movie of last year. The actress admitted to being more than a little overwhelmed — locations were constantly mobbed by fans, and she was the only female in a cast of Japan’s hottest young actors. “I felt like I could never be ‘off,’” she says. “If I talked too much to someone, I was afraid his fans would get angry at me.”
For her next project, Murakawa will be tackling a role far removed from her "Rookies" character. In a return to her singing and dancing roots, she’ll star in a Japanese adaptation of the off-Broadway musical "The Last Five Years," which follows the relationship between an aspiring actress, Catherine, and her successful novelist husband Jamie. The story is told in two parts: Jamie’s tale, which unfolds in chronological order, and Catherine’s, which begins at the end of the relationship. The two timelines intersect only once, for a romantic duet at the couple’s wedding in the middle of the play.
Murakawa admits that the show’s unorthodox narrative structure proves a challenge. “It’s easy for Jamie, his story goes from beginning to end!” she says with a laugh. “But since my part goes from the end to the beginning, if I’m not careful to be clear, the audience can get confused.”
But the sheer joy of participating in a musical makes up for any technical challenges. A true fan of the stage, Murakawa took a month-long trip to New York a few years ago and spent much of it hanging around Broadway.
“I’d stand in line at the TKTS booth, which sold cheap tickets,” she recalls. “I saw 11 plays. Chicago was my favorite — I was right in the front row!”
Murakawa’s stint in the Big Apple was also a field test for her English abilities — and all did not go smoothly. “Everyone talks so quickly, and they seem so angry,” she says. “But I thought, ‘I can at least get by at McDonald’s, right?’
So I ordered a hamburger, but I guess I pronounced it ‘ham-BUR-ger,’ not ‘HAM-burger’… The clerk said, ‘What? You want what?’ I got so upset, thinking, ‘I can’t even order a hamburger?!’ It was awful.”
When asked which foreign star she’d love to team up with, Murakawa doesn’t hesitate. “Angelina Jolie!” she exclaims. “I want to do an action movie with her — all that fighting looks really fun.” This show of spirit from the normally reserved actress makes us wonder if it’s the Osaka native in her coming to the fore.
“No,” she says with a laugh. “I think my personality is more Tokyo. I’m always surprised when I go back there. People will just start talking to me on the street, and I think, ‘Do I know you?’ That definitely doesn’t happen in Tokyo.”
The Last Five Years
Japanese version of the one-act musical by Jason Robert Brown, starring Koji Yamamoto and Eri Murakawa. April 1-11, various times, 6,000 yen (A)/6,800 yen (S). Bunkamura Theatre Cocoon, Shibuya.
This story originally appeared in Metropolis magazine (www.metropolis.co.jp).© Japan Today