When we arrive for our interview with actress Kana Kurashina early on a Monday morning, we’re ushered up to the second floor of a cute, cluttered Hawaiian cafe—a refreshing change from the usual bare-walled conference rooms. The restaurant, tucked away in the backstreets of Sumida-ku, serves as one of the locations for the drama-comedy "Ojiichan wa 25-sai" (“My Grandfather Is 25 Years Old”). Peeking over the director’s shoulder, we look on as Kurashina, 22, films a scene downstairs before popping up to join us for the interview.
The rising star is just one of the big names in the eight-part original miniseries, a Rip Van Winkle tale about a young man named Minoru (Tatsuya Fujiwara of "Battle Royale" fame) who goes missing in the mountains of Iwate in 1964. Forty-six years later, his body is discovered encased in a block of ice—yet he’s not only miraculously alive, he’s still just 25 years old. Newly resurrected, Minoru goes to live with his son (Katsumi Takahashi)—now a middle-aged salaryman—and must deal with a whole host of surprising sociological and technological developments, from hikikomori to keitai. Kurashina plays his granddaughter, Mai, a gyaru who doesn’t have much use for her father except to make fun of him and hit him up for cash.
“The show has a very comedic touch, but it’s also about how the family begins to grow closer together when the grandfather returns,” Kurashina explains. “These days, the world is a brutal place, you know? I see so many frightening things on the news. In this story, you have the grandfather and grandkids, father and daughter, all clashing with each other and saying what’s on their minds. And that brings them closer as a family. This story makes you realize how much that’s lacking today.”
Kurashina says she’s personally “very close” with her own family. In fact, her childhood in Kumamoto with four younger siblings was not so different from the Showa-era ideal presented in "Ojiichan."
“In the past, I think people were much closer. If you did something bad, your parents would give you a smack and a scolding—but nowadays that’s considered abuse. Back then, neighbors would greet each other. Now, most of us don’t even know what our neighbors look like.”
Fans of Kurashina’s previous buttoned-down roles will have a tough time recognizing her as the gaudy Mai. Off-camera, she speaks in a soft voice, her words slow and thoughtful. “It was never about ‘I want to be a star!’” she says. “I was living a normal life in Kumamoto, but I realized I wanted to have an adventure.” So in 2005, Kurashina entered the SMA Teen’s Audition, an annual talent search sponsored by Sony Music. She took top honors and debuted the following year.
One of Kurashina’s first jobs after moving to Tokyo in 2006 was in "Erin ga Chosen," an NHK World educational program aimed at helping foreigners learn Japanese. But she admits that her Kyushu roots—namely the accent she hadn’t yet learned to mask—posed some difficulties. “I was supposed to be helping foreigners learn Japanese, but I felt like I was the one being taught all the time,” she says with a laugh. “We were trying to teach people Japanese, yet a native speaker would probably think, ‘That’s not natural at all.’ It was sort of a struggle.”
Kurashina’s big break came with the NHK morning drama "Welkame" in 2009. A leading role in the annual "asadora" (morning drama) is one of the juiciest gigs for young actors—yet also one of the roughest. The show runs for half a year, meaning that the cast and crew are on location for months on end. “I was cooped up in a hotel the whole time, so that was pretty hard,” Kurashina admits. “Also, the directors were constantly changing. Each director has his own personality, and each of them had his own vision of [the heroine], Nami-chan. It was hard to put all that together.”
Now that she’s coming into her own as an actress, Kurashina says she’s simply enjoying the ride. When we ask about her dreams for the future, she lets on that she doesn’t really have any. “I can say something like, ‘I want to be in a jidaigeki [period drama], but the kind of dream where you stand proudly and say, ‘This is my dream!’… I haven’t been able to find that yet. And maybe that’s a little bit sad.”
She pauses, then flashes a smile. “There are just too many different things I want to try.”
"Ojiichan wa 25-sai" airs on TBS from 11:50 p.m.-12:20 a.m., Nov 15-18 and Nov 22-25.
This story originally appeared in Metropolis magazine (www.metropolis.co.jp).© Japan Today