Actor Win Morisaki on Working with Steven Spielberg and Aiming for an Oscar

At age 14 Win Morisaki was strolling around Ebisu in central Tokyo when a talent scout changed the course of his life. What started as a career in a J-Pop dance group culminated with a role in one of the year’s biggest blockbuster movies. Now aged 27, the actor and singer has his heart set on becoming a household name after making his Hollywood debut in Steven Spielberg’s science-fiction adventure Ready Player One

“My ambition is to establish myself as the next Ken Watanabe and then win an Academy Award within the next 10 years,” Morisaki tells TW. “I’m not just saying I hope to win one, I believe I will. At the same time, I want to continue to grow as a musician and become like an Asian version of Justin Timberlake.” 

“My ambition is to win an Academy Award within the next 10 years”

Based on Ernest Cline’s best-selling novel of the same name, Ready Player One is set in the dystopian 2040s when societies have been crippled by an energy crisis and people turn to a virtual reality simulator to escape the desolation. Morisaki plays Daito, the samurai member of the so-called “High Five.” Working together, they search for an egg that will give them full ownership of the Oasis ahead of a greedy business organization. 

As the battle intensifies, Daito transforms into the iconic robot Gundam to take on the extra-terrestrial villain Mechagodzilla. For many fans of the film, the anime-kaiju showdown was the most memorable scene.

It was also a personal highlight for Morisaki.

Another memorable occasion was the day he met the highest grossing director of all time, the man responsible for Jaws, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, and Schindler’s List.

“Just to be in the presence of someone like that was a dream,” says Morisaki. “I was told they were looking for someone to play a Japanese character for this American film, and I thought I would have nothing to lose in going for it. I sent off my tape, and was later flown to Los Angeles to audition in front of Mr. Spielberg. It felt surreal seeing him standing there rolling the camera himself as he instructed me: ‘Do it in a serious voice, now try to be funny, finally say it in Japanese.’ I was so nervous I almost couldn’t speak.” 

Despite the nerves, the young actor convinced Spielberg that he was the right man for the job. “It was around eight months before I was informed, and I found it difficult to focus on other things during that period,” continues Morisaki. “I was starting to forget about the whole thing when my manager suddenly said, ‘You’ve got it.’ At first, I wasn’t sure what he was talking about and then I realized.”

Morisaki in Kujira no Shima no Wasuremono

 Morisaki had to keep the news secret for a couple of weeks before revealing all to his family and friends, including fellow band member Tim Kurokawa who auditioned for the same role. “He thinks he could have played him better than I did,” says Morisaki with a smile. “Naturally, there was some envy. Generally, though, I think everyone in the group was pleased for me. They all seemed supportive anyway.” [laughs]

After reading the novel, Morisaki set off for Watford, England where some of the film was shot. The biggest concern was the potential language barrier. His grandmother taught English in his native Myanmar, and he can converse fairly well, however, a movie set can be a harsh environment. “Fortunately, everyone was kind and welcoming,” recalls Morisaki. “Many of the cast tried to teach me English, especially Tye [Sheridan], who also wanted to learn Japanese. We became like a big family starting each day with a group hug. Mr. Spielberg was the grandfather figure. He was very warm and accepting, listening to our opinions as actors. I’ve not really experienced that while working with other directors in Japan or Myanmar.” 

Morisaki at the “Ready Player One” Premiere in Los Angeles. Image: Kathy Hutchins / Shutterstock.com

Morisaki would love to appear in more big-budget international films, yet he also feels it’s important to establish himself as a credible actor and singer in Japan. A big name in his native country of Myanmar, the 27-year-old wasn’t well-known in Japan until the release of Ready Player One. He is hoping this will increase interest in his band, PrizmaX, which started out as a dance group in 2002. More than a decade later they released their first single “Mysterious Eyes/GO!” sung by Morisaki and Kurokawa, which charted at 157. Things have improved since with three top 10 hits. 

On the silver screen, Morisaki has appeared in various movies in Myanmar and Japan such as Parade alongside Tatsuya Fujiwara, and Tengoku Kara no Yell (A Yell from Heaven) with Hiroshi Abe. His first starring role came in 2014 as a college student aimlessly drifting through life in Masao Kasahara’s youthful drama Shelly.

One of his latest parts was the male lead in the romantic film Kujira no Shima no Wasuremono (Memories of Whale Island). Morisaki plays a Vietnamese IT worker named Koa Guen who becomes captivated with a local woman while training in Okinawa. Slow-paced with a low-budget and small cast, the film couldn’t have been more different from Ready Player One.

“I loved the script, and the fact that I was able to work in Okinawa and Vietnam, where I’d never been before, was a great bonus,” says Morisaki. “I also enjoyed playing Koa. While our nationalities are different, having arrived in Japan as a foreigner myself, I felt I could relate closely to him.”

Born in Myanmar’s former capital city of Yongon, Morisaki moved to Japan at age 14. He admits the first few years were “very tough.” He was picked on at school for not being able to speak Japanese. The bullying continued even as his language skills improved. Things became easier and the Tokyo-based entertainer grew to love Japan, the country he now calls home. Thoughts of Myanmar, though, are never far from his mind.

“It’s where I was born and raised,” he says. “All my family are from there and my soul will always be Burmese. I hope to help spread the Myanmar name around the world. I don’t know anything about politics so the way to do it is through the entertainment industry. I want to make my country proud and I’m not going to stop until I get to the very top.”

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