SHOWA REFLECTIONS! Singer Yumi Mizusawa on Her Days as a Blossoming Actress!

Photo © Brett Homenick.

Yumi Mizusawa is an actress-singer who became involved in the entertainment world from a very young age.  She entered Toho New Talent’s 5th class (with Bibari Maeda) and went on to become a prolific television actress and singer. She starred in the TV series What Is Youth? (1965-66) alongside Toho star Yosuke Natsuki. While her credits are mostly non-genre, she appeared in episode 91 of the original Kamen Rider (1971-73) and episode 16 of Iron King (1972-73). Her most notable film appearance is in Kihachi Okamoto’s Epoch of Murder Madness (1967). In March 2019, Ms. Mizusawa answered Brett Homenick’s questions in an interview conducted in Kichijoji’s Inokashira Park.

Brett Homenick: Please tell me about your younger days when you were a little girl. Where did you grow up? What hobbies did you have? Tell me about your early life.

Yumi Mizusawa: When I was four years old, I liked Japanese dance. Near here (Inokashira Park) was my home. I lived in Shakujii.

BH: Where’s that?

YM: On the bus, it takes 20 minutes from here.

BH: So you were interested in Japanese traditional dance. Were you practicing and studying dance at that time?

YM: Yeah. I love Japanese traditional dance. Do you know about Kabuki? For example, Ebizo Ichikawa, Ennosuke, Kankuro Nakamura, and other names.

BH: What is ryu?

YM: It’s schools or styles. There are many schools of Japanese traditional dance, such as Bando-Ryu, Hanayagi-Ryu, Fujima-Ryu, etc. For example, if your father is the head of Bando-Ryu, you learn from a young age and dance according to that style. And then you will take over your father’s position as the head and become the new leader of Bando-Ryu. It is inherited by the next generation.

Kabuki actors also inherit their positions like that. There are seven generations of Kikugoro, and Ebizo Ichikawa is an 11th-generation Kabuki actor.

My first interest was in traditional Japanese dance when I was four years old. I loved to dance every day. Of course, in Japanese traditional dance, there are many stories about Japanese history. And I had to dance while playing each person. I realized it was a very important thing to be an actor when I’ve thought about it later.

When I was eight, I started playing the shamisen around the same time. Thanks to that, I started to become an actor, it could be said.

My father was a playwright. He was very popular in Japan. He was a playwright in the 1920s or ’30s at the Shinjuku Moulin Rouge. He wrote lyrics, too, such as the song “Ringo Oiwake.” This song was written after the war. Hibari Misora sang it, and it became a big hit with 700,000 copies sold. But when I was 14 years old, my father passed away.

My debut play was when I was six years old with Shiki Theatre Company. (Six years later, I was in Aiwa Hotobashiru Izumi no Gotoku with (Kabuki actor) Tamasaburo Bando when I was 12 years old.)

Then I appeared on TV, so then loved being onstage in plays. I love it. Traditional Japanese dance, singing,  playing the shamisen and performing nagauta (long songs) — traditional dance with nagauta.

BH: So you performed these. When did you start?

YM: I went to audition for What Is Youth? with Yosuke Natsuki. I tried for it. Then I passed the audition at 14 years old. At the time, I met Yosuke Natsuki for the first time. “Hi, Natsuki-san! I’m Yumi! Please call me Yumi-chan.” (laughs) “Oh, Yumi-chan?” he said. He passed away last year. I miss you, Natsuki-san.

Photo © Brett Homenick.

BH: Let’s talk about the Toho New Talent contest. How did you find out about it, and what sort of things did you have to do in that test?

YM: I played the piano and acted from a short script. I memorized the lines and acted them out. I also sang and danced.

BH: Who was testing you?

YM: A producer named Shinkichi Okada. He produced Howl at the Sun! (1972-86) and the Seishun (a.k.a. Youth) series. He was a big, big producer. His real name is Hirokichi, but everyone called him Shinkichi.

BH: How long was the process of the test?

YM: Three days.

BH: In the class was Bibari Maeda. So what are your memories of Ms. Maeda at this time?

YM: Bibari-chan was so tall! (laughs) But she tried for the No Strings audition. No Strings is a musical. She tried for that audition, but I tried for Toho New Talent. But the first time, we had a lot lessons at the Toho New talent class.

BH: At this time, when you were training and having lessons, what would they have you do?

YM: Maybe six months first.

BH: Was it practicing singing, practicing acting…

YM: Yes, yes. Dancing, ballet, traditional Japanese dance, singing, musical notation. it was six or eight hours every day.

BH: For about six months?

YM: Yes. Only Sunday was our day off. (laughs)

BH: Who were some of your teachers at this time?

YM: Someone from Haiyuza. But I tried traditional Japanese dance at four years old. So there was no problem with traditional dance! But I had to do ballet and perform quick line delivery. It was very hard! (laughs)

Bibari was so beautiful and such a nice dancer. She had long legs! (laughs) I had such short legs. But I really enjoyed it at the time.

BH: When it was all finished, were you given a contract at Toho?

YM: After I passed the 5th Toho New Talent contest, I recorded a song for Crown Records. It was titled “Kyoudai no Hoshi” (“Brother’s Stars”), and it was a duet with Teruhiko Saigo. The songwriter was Masao Yoneyama. The song was a big hit! My TV debut was What Is Youth? for Toho with NTV. Then I was cast in the other Seishun series.

BH: So how many Seishun series did you do?

YM: Ten times. Ten series.

BH: Let’s go back to Toei. Please tell me about your first acting job (on the series Rock Monogatari, 1962-63).

YM: I enjoyed it very much because I like singing. We went to location, and during the waiting time, I would sing on the location bus in the back. (laughs) A lot of staff members loved it.

BH: Tell us about that series. What was it?

YM: Maybe only six months.

BH: So you were a regular on this series.

YM: Yes.

BH: It was about a dog hero?

YM: Yes, with boys and me. There were a lot of stories. In the story, my father was a policeman. There was a lot of stealing and a lot of crime. This dog was a good dog. We were like a policewoman, policemen, and a police dog. (laughs)

BH: How many dogs were used on the show?

YM: Three or four dogs. There was a very sweet dog. Maybe they looked the same, but there was an angry dog. On the show, it was with one dog every time. We enjoyed it every time with the sweet dog. I love dogs, but the angry dog, leave me alone, please!

BH: How were the sets different in terms of the movie set at Toei and the TV set?

YM: The Toei movie set was so gorgeous. But the TV set was so cheap. (laughs) The entrance was the movie stage. It took 10 minutes to walk and then downstairs to the TV set. It was so cheap. “Oh, you are on TV? Go down there!” (laughs) But the movie set had nice guys and nice women. But the TV staff was so angry and scary! (laughs)

BH: How big would you say the movie set was, and how big was the TV set?

YM: Now the (Toei) Oizumi space is a quarter of the size it used to be. The Toei movie studio was so big back then.

BH: Let’s go back to talk about What Is Youth? What do you remember about working with Mr. Natsuki on this series?

YM: I loved Yosuke Natsuki. He was a big star and Nice guy.  when I was 14 or 15, Mr. Natsuki called me “Yumi-chan.” I was just a girl; he was such a big star. We talked a little at the time. He was so sweet. At that time Roppongi was a new town, and pizza was new too, we thought. “What is this food? It’s so cool!” So Mr. Natsuki took us to a big pizza restaurant. Then we went go-go dancing and did the twist. Mr. Natsuki took us to many spots in Roppongi.

Yumi Mizusawa in Inokashira Park in March 2019. Photo © Brett Homenick.

BH: What about Yoko Fujiyama? Did you work with her?

YM: She was so beautiful. Such a nice woman. But when she took her makeup off, she looked like another woman. (laughs) But at the time, when I was a girl, she was such a nice woman. Her makeup was so nice. She was such a beautiful woman. If Ms. Fujiyama loved Mr. Natsuki, they would have made a nice couple, we thought. But they were just friends. Mr. Natsuki didn’t have a wife. Why – I don’t know.

There was one chance for him to get married. He gave (his fiancee) an engagement ring. She was not an actress. She looked like a humble and beautiful Japanese woman, and he thought, “She would be suitable as my wife.” The shop needed a week to make the rings. Then she started calling him many times the next day. She made her promise of marriage and began to complain each time. And she began to complain, even about his friends. She told him, “They are no good. You should not see them anymore.” Then Mr. Natsuki got angry and left her. This happened in just one week.

BH: Was this around the time of What Is Youth?

YM: No, after.

BH: How about Noriko Takahashi? Do you have any memories of her?

YM: Yes, she was a good girl. Now she is a regular person (and no longer an actress). So I can’t meet her.

BH: Let’s talk about Kihachi Okamoto. You worked in one of his movies (Epoch of Murder Madness). What do you remember about Mr. Okamoto?

YM: Director Okamoto was a nice guy. But at the time, I was only in two scenes. But I was chosen out of 2,000 people. So I thought it would be a big role. “I got a big role!” (laughs) No, only two scenes. At that time, Kihachi Okamoto was so sweet.

BH: Do you have any personal memories of Mr. Okamoto – what he was like or his personality?

YM: His wife was so nice. I was in just two scenes, so there was little talk. But there was a party. They called me and asked me to sing there. So I sang with a guitar. Mr. Okamoto’s friends were at this party. I played a guitar and sang.

BH: So that was around the time of the movie.

YM: Yes.

BH: What about Iron King?

YM: I had a sister (nun) role. At the time, maybe it was my first kissing scene with Shoji Ishibashi. Maybe he was embarrassed. But I don’t know. We had two rehearsals and one take. During the two rehearsals, he was a bad guy. (laughs) He was not serious. He was like a boy playing around. I got a little bit angry. But when we did the take, he was serious. “Oh, good!”

BH: What was he doing?

YM: Joking. He got near my face and laughed a lot. (laughs) I was serious! But he laughed a lot.

BH: During the rehearsal, did you actually kiss?

YM: No.

BH: But he was totally serious during the take.

YM: Yes, that’s right. I don’t like him. (laughs) I remember that only.

BH: What about Kamen Rider? What do you remember about Mr. Fujioka?

YM: Mr. Fujioka was so polite – such a nice guy. He was training so hard. He was so polite and sweet with the staff and me. He is a good guy.

BH: Do you remember where the scenes were shot?

YM: (laughs) I’m sorry, I forgot!

BH: What was your favorite acting role out of everything you’ve ever done?

YM: It’s Saboten to Mashumaro (1971-72). Kyoko Yoshizawa and Masaya Oki (Oki-kun). He committed suicide. I was surprised. I liked him because he was a good actor and so sweet. It felt like he wasn’t actor, just a normal person. So I liked him. It was unbelievable that he committed suicide. But at the time, the story was Kyoko-chan and Oki-kun were a couple. They were a good couple.

My role was that I wanted to love him. So I didn’t like Kyoko. But I was a nice woman. In the final episode, I left him, and Kyoko-chan came back. At the time, I was 20 years old. I was so young. The story was so difficult for me. I loved him, and then after some time, I left him. One scene, one cut – it was a very difficult scene. (The emotional scene was done in one take.) But it’s a good scene, I think. (laughs) My fan gave me the DVD, so then I saw the story. It was a nice story, and Yumi’s good. (laughs)

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