Hio Miyazawa isn’t your typical Japanese actor. A man not afraid to speak his mind, he was educated at an international school where he was encouraged to think outside the box and act independently. While these are qualities usually admired overseas, they’re not always welcome in this country, especially in a job where you’re being asked to closely follow instructions by a filmmaker.

“From what I’ve experienced, directors here tend to have their own image of how you as an actor should move and talk and don’t really want you to veer away from that,” Miyazawa tells TW. “That makes things easier at the beginning when you’re not sure exactly what you’re doing. However, as you get into the role, I think it can limit your potential and possibilities as a creator. In 2020 and 2021, I worked with British choreographer Will Tuckett on the production of Pizarro (English title: The Royal Hunt of the Sun) and he let us play around a bit and take more responsibility for our characters.

“Of course, it’s easier to prepare for a play,” continues Miyazawa. “There are many time restraints in Japanese dramas and movies, sometimes with 10-15 scenes being shot in one day. I think contrasting educational backgrounds is another factor. In Japan, everyone should find the same answer using the same methods. There’s no room for debate or alternatives. To be honest, I’m glad I didn’t go through that system. I guess, people here sometimes see me as a bit different as a result.”

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A Diverse Background

Born in San Francisco to a Japanese father and a half Japanese, half American-Irish mother, Miyazawa spent a few months as a baby in the States before his family moved to Japan. Growing up with brown eyes and lighter skin, he says children sometimes called him names such as “martian” and “beast” as he didn’t look like them. Attending an international kindergarten, though, he started to feel like he belonged to a community as many of the kids came from similar backgrounds.

It was far from a typical upbringing as both of Miyazawa’s parents worked in the entertainment industry. His mother as a TV presenter and his father as front man and songwriter for a renowned rock band. Watching his father perform at the group’s 15th anniversary in an iconic arena had a big impact on a young Miyazawa. Following that show, he began thinking about one day becoming a performer himself.

“As a kid I went to my dad’s concerts or mom’s radio booths which was fun,” recalls Miyazawa. “However, around the third grade of elementary school I began to resent it as they often missed my sport’s days and things like that. I became rebellious and stopped going to dad’s shows in middle school. I thought I’d better be there for the anniversary one, though. There were around 10,000 people cheering and crying. It was emotional to see and made me realize that performers have this power to make many people happy. I suddenly wanted to do something similar, but not necessarily as a singer.”

Having experienced both the good and bad sides of the entertainment industry, Miyazawa’s parents weren’t keen for him to be a part of it. His mother encouraged him to spend time abroad. And at 18 that’s what he did, moving to Santa Cruz in California to major in environmental studies. Two years later, he returned to Japan, transferring his credits to a university in Tokyo. Around the same time, the then 20-year-old signed with a talent agency.

Entering the Entertainment World

Miyazawa’s main goal was to become an actor, but he was told by his management it was a difficult profession to jump into straight away. They recommended starting with modeling to get used to performing in front of a camera. Soon after, he became an exclusive model for popular fashion magazine Men’s Non-no. While doing a shoot for the publication, Miyazawa was spotted by a producer of the medical drama Dr. Storks.

“That’s how I got my first role,” says Miyazawa. “It was actually a much bigger one than I was expecting. I came in for Dr. Storks‘ second season as a new character that stirred things up. It was scary suddenly having to perform in front of so many people. I’d not experienced anything like that during a model shoot. I wasn’t happy with my acting. I felt I improved as the episodes progressed, but it did knock my confidence. Initially I felt I wasn’t cut out for that kind of career but by the end of the series I was determined to get better.”

Despite his self-doubts, Miyazawa clearly made an impression on directors and producers with his performance. After appearing in the Nippon TV drama Kiss that Kills, he landed his first lead role in the NHK one-hour special R134/The Shonan Promise in 2018. His big screen debut came a year later in the live-action adaptation of Homura Kawamoto and Toru Naomura’s manga Kakegurui – Compulsive Gambler.

Helping to Raise Awareness

Continuing to enhance his reputation as an actor, Miyazawa received Best New Artist and Best Newcomer accolades at the Hochi Film Awards and the Yokohama Film Festival for his starring role in Rikiya Imaizumi’s 2020 LGBTQ movie His. He played the part of Shun, a character struggling to come to terms with his sexual identity.

“At the all-boys school I attended, I knew people who were either gay or bisexual,” remembers Miyazawa. “It always seemed like a natural thing to me, but in Japan there’s still a lack of understanding regarding sexual diversity. As a result, there are many people in the LGBTQ community here like Shun who feel they can’t come out. Of course, the situation’s getting better and films like this do help, but I think we’re still far behind other countries.”

Miyazawa believes movies and dramas can play an important role in raising greater awareness of sensitive issues that some would like to see swept under the carpet. Earlier this year, he appeared in a one-off NHK drama titled Hoshi to Lemon no Heya centered around the theme of acute social withdrawal known as hikikomori. Starring Kaho as Ichiko Satonaka, both Kaho and Miyazawa’s characters became recluses after being bullied at school.

“Before taking that part, I didn’t realize how many hikikomori there were in Japan,” admits the 27-year-old actor. “It’s a huge number and I’m sure it’s increased due to the Covid situation. Before shooting, I met a couple of people who were only able to leave their homes late at night. Speaking to them, I felt I could have been in a similar situation if I hadn’t had good friends around me. All it takes is one or two people being mean-spirited to you and it can appear as if the whole world is against you. I can understand wanting to escape from that.”

Stepping Up His Game

In Miyazawa’s profession there’s no hiding as every performance is reviewed. He tries to avoid looking at what’s being said about his acting, but does sometimes google the movie or drama title to gauge the general reception. Last year, as well as Hoshi to Lemon no Heya and Wowow dramas Anno Lyric and Solomon’s Perjury, he appeared in two movies, Kiba: The Fangs of Fiction with Yo Oizumi and Moonlight Shadow alongside Nana Komatsu.

He also featured in the stage production of Peter Shaffer’s The Royal Hunt of the Sun starring Ken Watanabe. The play, based around the Spanish conquest of Peru, was halted in March 2020 because of the Covid-19 pandemic before resuming last May.

“It was a great experience working with Ken,” says Miyazawa. “He’s a pioneer for Japanese actors aiming to work abroad, which is something I hope to do. He played my character Atahualpa around 36 years ago. Fortunately, he didn’t remember much about it so it didn’t add to the pressure. Working closely with him was a pleasure. He was diagnosed with stomach cancer a few years ago and treats every role as if it’s his last. I thought I gave 120 percent every time, but seeing him, I felt I wasn’t giving enough.”

Looking Ahead

The next role for Miyazawa is in the NHK asadora (morning drama) Chimudondon due to premiere in early 2022. The story focuses on Nobuko (Yuina Kuroshima) who moves from Okinawa to Tokyo to fulfill her dream of becoming a chef. Miyazawa plays journalist Kazuhiko, a childhood friend of the heroine. He has quite a bit in common with his character, including the fact they both studied abroad.

“This is my second time to appear in an asadora,” says Miyazawa. “The first was Yell in 2020, but I only joined for the last two and a half weeks so it felt like I was jumping in at the end of a project. This time I’m there from the beginning and we’re filming for around a year. I have to make it my home. As viewing figures tend to be high for these dramas, there’s added pressure. People often recognize you from these shows and that has an impact on those involved.

“On top of that, it’s also a different kind of audience,” adds Miyazawa. “Often, I’m in programs targeting the 20-40 age range, whereas an asadora usually attracts people who are, on average, a bit older. With this part, I want to show people a different side to me. My aim before turning 30 is to keep challenging new kinds of roles. I’d also like to have more opportunities to work in theater and engage with fans. Beyond that, working on international projects is a definite ambition. Ken (Watanabe) suggested trying Broadway so I’d love to give that a shot.”

Thank you to our creative team

Creative Director: Rose Vittayaset
Producer: Serina Doi
Photographer: Allan Abani
Stylist: Soichiro Kobayashi
Hair & Makeup: Taro Yoshida
Photo location: Asakusa Kugeki