Multi-talented performer Yuta Koseki has been in the entertainment industry for more than 15 years yet has long been viewed as a young, up-and-coming star. The 23-year-old, who has acted, danced and sung in a variety of plays, musicals, movies, and dramas, is finally starting to become more of a household name in Japan following a fruitful 12 months.
A year ago, he was named by entertainment and lifestyle website Model Press as one of the 10 Japanese actors they expected to make a big impression in 2018. He hasn’t let them down, playing key roles in numerous productions, appearing in the famous morning drama Hanbun, Aoi (Half, Blue), as well as presenting his own six-minute show on NTV.
“I didn’t know I was on that list until you mentioned it now,” a surprised Koseki tells TW. “It’s nice to hear but I don’t want to be seen as someone just with potential. It’s important to constantly challenge myself to reach that next level. I’m always trying to develop my dancing skills and working on my voice in the studio and at karaoke boxes. As an actor, I often look back at my films and dramas, reviewing what I did well, and where I could’ve done better.”
Koseki caught the entertainment bug while still at kindergarten. Inspired by the fancy footwork of Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke in Robert Stevenson’s musical-fantasy film Mary Poppins, he begged his mother to take him to tap dancing lessons. At the age of seven, he appeared in his first-ever commercial for housing company Sekisui Heim. Alongside him was actor Hiroshi Abe, known for movies such as Trick and Godzilla 2000: Millennium.
“I initially thought it might be quite intimidating,” admits Koseki. “I was just a small child meeting this famous actor who also happened to be very big in terms of his physical appearance. As it turned out, he couldn’t have been any nicer. Having seen [Abe] in Trick I thought I would ask for his autograph, and he signed my jeans. I think we filmed around six times together and on each occasion, I requested his signature on the same pair of jeans. It’s now a treasure that I keep at home.”
It was an exciting time for Koseki. He particularly enjoyed it when classmates mentioned seeing him on the box. More television work was to follow and in 2006 the then 10-year-old became a regular talent warrior on Tensai Terebi Kun, an educational variety show on NHK. The program helped launch the careers of numerous celebrities including half German-American, half Japanese TV personality Eiji Wentz, and Johnny’s performer Toma Ikuta.
“I worked a lot as a child and at times it felt like my education was coming more from the studio than my actual school,” says Koseki. “Balancing the two wasn’t always easy. I took classes in the morning before going to NHK and then had to find time to catch up with my studies. It was tricky, but I loved it. I had the opportunity to act, sing and dance all in one show. It was what I’d dreamed about doing since kindergarten.”
“I don’t want to be seen as someone just with potential”
Continuing to challenge himself, Koseki took to the stage, appearing in numerous plays and musicals during his teens including the role of the acrobatic and cat-like tennis player Eiji Kikumaru in a musical adaptation of the popular manga series The Prince of Tennis: Season Two.
“When you’re on stage there are no second takes, so you should be on it all the time,” says Koseki. “One of the best things about theater is you get an immediate reaction. It’s therefore important to make your presence felt with a big voice and exaggerated movements. For dramas and movies, I then must tone things down. I enjoy the contrast and want to continue doing both.”
Over the past 18 months, Koseki has become more of a prominent figure on TV and in film. Earlier this year he played the male lead in the TBS mini-series Missions of Love before reprising the role in the film version. Featuring as Kento in the asadora (morning drama) Hanbun, Aoi, also helped to raise his profile. Starring Mei Nagano as a young girl unable to hear in one ear, the series was another ratings success for NHK.
In December, Koseki will appear as Aya Kamiyama, one of the main characters in Yuichiro Hirakawa’s live-action movie adaptation of Anashin’s manga series Haru Matsu Bokura (Waiting for Spring). The story centers around shy high-school student, Mitsuki, played by Tao Tsuchiya, and her childhood friend Aya, who returns home after spending several years in America. As kids, Mitsuki believed Aya to be a girl, however the true gender of her friend is revealed when they bump into each other at a basketball game.
“It was daunting because I’d never played basketball in my life before,” says Koseki. “I trained hard every day and managed to do a slam dunk. One of the things I like most about this profession is being able to try new things. I always say yes, without thinking, when a director asks me to do something. I wasn’t sure whether I was capable of realistically portraying a basketball player, but I knew it was the kind of challenge I would enjoy.”
As well as acting, singing, and dancing, Koseki also works as a model and presenter. After the Friday night movie on NTV, he hosts a short program called Yukkuri Watashi Jikan (My Quality Time) in which he gives people tips on how to spend their weekends in a relaxing, productive way. Some of the activities so far have included making seasonal dishes, creating hand-made goods and shining shoes.
In November he presented Mezamashi TV’s Infotainment section which gave him the opportunity to interview Eddie Redmayne and Jude Law on their new film Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald. A die-hard fan of anything Harry Potter-related, the young actor says he “almost lost his mind” as he was so tense about meeting the two stars. “Luckily they were really kind, speaking to me in a way that was easy to understand,” explains Koseki. “I felt inspired by Eddie’s words: ‘Take life step by step, pace by pace, slowly, slowly, and leave the competition to others.’ Both were real gentlemen, and I really appreciated the way Jude spontaneously answered more than I expected even though I didn’t have the vocabulary to deliver the questions properly.”
Koseki saw the film at its premiere in New York where he says he “almost fainted” after bumping into J.K. Rowling. It was yet another highlight in what’s been a stellar year for the youngster. “So many exciting things have happened over the past 12 months, but I can’t afford to rest on my laurels. I have to work hard to make sure 2019 is even better.”