'Gintama' actor Ryo Yoshizawa talks Sougo Okita and the reach of Japanese works

Ryo Yoshizawa in Gintama (Photo: Warner Bros. Pictures)

The world of Gintama, an alternate-history setting of Japan’s Edo period where aliens have conquered parts of Japan, is full of references to real-life events and characters.

Among them is Sougo Okita, a captain of the Shinsengumi, a police force of elite swordsmen that was historically under the control of the shogunate. Within the manga, Sougo Okita is portrayed with an almost childlike face, but don’t let that fool you. Just ask actor Ryo Yoshizawa, who portrays Sougo in the new live-action “Gintama” movie.

“He may seem naive at first, but he’s actually a really sadistic person with a sharp tongue,” Yoshizawa told Yahoo Movies Singapore in a recent interview.

The 23-year-old, who has also starred in Kamen Rider Fourze, said he was happy to have gotten the role of Sougo for “Gintama”, but admitted that the success of the “Gintama” manga did worry him.

“There are so many fans of the original work that I felt more anxious than happy,” Yoshizawa said of his casting.

“(Gintama is) really quirky for a manga published by Shonen Jump; it has a lot of dirty jokes and questionable parodies, so I thought it was a manga that really went all out.”

The character Sougo Okita is loosely based on the real-life Soji Okita, who was considered one of the best swordsmen within the Shinsengumi. And while Yoshizawa may not be an Edo-period swordsman, he admitted that “I have a sadistic streak as well”.

Ryo Yoshizawa as Sougo Okita in Gintama. (Photo: Warner Bros. Pictures)

Japanese works going global

With the movie’s imminent release in Singapore, Yoshizawa said he was excited to see works from Japan reaching a global audience.

“The movie ‘Gintama’ is very interesting and bound to make you laugh, and I hope that you enjoy Japan’s sense of humour,” he said.

Yoshizawa also shared his pride about the Kamen Rider and Super Sentai series, both of which have been edited and adapted for a western audience in Mask Rider and, more famously, the Power Rangers (which was recently rebooted in a movie).

“Shows such as Kamen Rider and Super Sentai are classics that have continued for more than 40 years in Japan, and I think the fact that they are also well-loved by the rest of the world is something we can be proud of,” he said.

And while he’s playing a character adapted from a manga in “Gintama”, Yoshizawa had something more unique in mind for a future role, saying, “I want to try starting from zero and creating a whole new original character.”

He’s also not limiting himself to acting on the screen. “I’m rehearsing for a play right now!” Yoshizawa said. The young actor will be in the “Pandemonium opera -Rashomon-” stage play, directed by Israeli choreographers Inbal Pinto and Avshalom Pollak.

The live-action “Gintama” movie opens in Singapore 3 August.

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