Sumire: A star on the rise

Movies & TV Music - February 1st, 2014

There is something illuminating about Sumire Matsubara. A multi-talented star who has earned rave reviews for her performances in Anything Goes and A Tale of Two Cities, she has an ability to light up a room with her undeniable charm. Comfortable on stage, in front of a camera and on the catwalk, she clearly has a bright future in the entertainment industry.

By Matthew Hernon

At the moment, however, she is best known for being the daughter of renowned actor Junichi Ishida and that is something she would like to change as she looks to establish herself as a big name in her own right. Interested in finding out more about her career, Weekender recently met up with the 175-cm performer backstage at the Imperial Theater, where she was playing Hope Harcourt in Anything Goes.

“I love acting and singing equally,” she tells us. “I made my first solo singles this year so my next goal is to start appearing in movies. I really want to try and help connect Japan to the rest of the world through my work.

I think modern Japanese culture is becoming more and more popular throughout the world. Of course you have the manga/animation boom, and then there is fashion with brands like Prada and Fendi adopting a kabuki style. Musicians like Gwen Stefani and Lady Gaga have a Japanese influence, while the number of movies with Japanese themes is growing. In 2013 you had films like The Wolverine and 47 Ronin; I would love to be part of projects like those.”

She has a great chance. Along with her exotic looks and soulful vocals she can also speak English fluently, having spent much of her childhood in Hawaii. This makes her somewhat of a rarity amongst actors in this country.

“I know many actors here who won’t go near anything that involves English . . . In a country like China, for example, they are prepared to try even if that means they might fail. In Japan if it can’t be done perfectly, then people tend not to do it at all.”

Last May we interviewed model Tao Okamoto who revealed to us that director James Mangold spent two years searching for an actress who could play the role of Mariko in the Hollywood blockbuster The Wolverine. He chose Tao despite the fact that she had no acting experience, because there weren’t any female actors who could speak English well enough. Sumire believes it is more of a cultural problem than one of language ability.

“I know many actors here who won’t go near anything that involves English,” she says. “In a country like China, for example, they are prepared to try even if that means they might fail. In Japan if it can’t be done perfectly, then people tend not to do it at all.

I’ve had to kind of go the other way. Having lived abroad since I was seven I’ve had to re-learn Japanese. Memorizing lines can be quite challenging as there is a lot of kanji, but it is a lot of fun. I’m told my Japanese on stage is completely different from how I sound in real life.”

Sumire came back to Japan in 2011 after spending two years studying at the prestigious Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. She tells us that she suddenly broke down in class after the March 11 earthquake and decided it was time to return to her native homeland. Adapting to life in Japan hasn’t always been easy, particularly what she describes as the “over-politeness of the Japanese people”—she even recalled being hit over the head for eating cup noodles on the train.

Despite this she has no regrets about her decision and is clearly enjoying life back here, especially from a professional perspective. She has proved a popular guest on a number of variety shows and has won critical acclaim for her acting on stage. She also appeared on Il Divo’s 10th studio album Wicked Game, where she sang alongside Simon Cowell’s operatic pop sensations on the cover of Roy Orbison’s classic, “Crying.” The male quartet, who have sold more than 26 million albums worldwide, clearly made a big impression on her.

“They were amazing,” she says. “Really smooth guys with an incredible talent: they are above and beyond anything I’ve seen before. Luckily for me they wanted someone Japanese on their CD. It was a big surprise.”

Since then she has recorded two singles of her own and was recently chosen to present NHK World’s Choice of the Week, following in the footsteps of her grandfather, who was an NHK announcer during the 1964 Olympics. Her grandmother, mother and brother are or have been in the entertainment industry, while her father is a household name in Japan. Sumire has aspirations beyond that. She wants to be an international star and with her looks, talent and personality, she has every chance of becoming one.