Interview: K: Seven Stories and Welcome to the Ballroom Actor Shimba Tsuchiya

by Lynzee Loveridge,

Up-and-coming voice actor Shimba Tsuchiya may have only just popped up on your radar, but he's making a strong impression already. Tsuchiya first appeared in a live-action film role as the ghost child Toshio in the Hollywood film The Grudge 3 in 2009, when he was just 13 years old. It wouldn't be until after high school that Tsuchiya would start grabbing notable roles in anime. He joined the cast of Haikyu! for its third season as Tsutomu Goshiki, a spiker for the reigning champs Shiratorizawa Academy and aspiring volleyball ace.

The next year, Tsuchiya landed his first lead role in an anime series. He was cast as Tatara Fujita, the determined teen thrown into the world of ballroom dancing. Tsuchiya prepared for the role by taking social dancing lessons and even dressing up in Tatara's stage clothes.

After cutting his teeth on Tatara, Tsuchiya is starring in his next lead role in the film K: Seven Stories SIDE:BLUE ~Tenrō no Gotoku which opens in theaters in Japan on August 4. The film is the second installment in the six-part film franchise and Tsuchiya is joining the ensemble cast as Takeru Kusuhara, a new recruit of Scepter 4.

ANN: How did you prepare for your role as Takeru?
Shimba Tsuchiya: So, this is is my first time playing Takeru in the world of K. The first thing I had to do was learn about the previous story and the world. I tried to learn as much as possible, and then studied the other characters who Takeru is involved with so I could start to figure out what Takeru's role is in the story of K: Seven Stories SIDE:BLUE.

ANN: Were you familiar with the world of K before auditioning for the role of Takeru?
Tsuchiya: A voice actor that works for the same agency as me, Mamoru Miyano, plays the role of Saruhiko Fushimi. I really look up to him, so I knew about the K series because he plays a role in the series.

ANN: The SIDE:Blue film is based on a novel, did you read the novel before recording for the role?
Tsuchiya: When I decided to audition, there are some lines I have to perform to be evaluated. So, of course in order to perform the lines, I have to understand what has happened before and after the scenes. I read the novel to prepare for the audition in advance. When it came to recording, I especially needed to understand the character completely, so I read the novel over and over again.

ANN: How would you compare your two characters, Takeru from SIDE:Blue and Tatara from Welcome to the Ballroom?
Tsuchiya: First, I'll talk about what the two characters have in common first before talking about their differences. Both characters are always doing their best, are full of energy, and living in the moment. Their personalities are very encouraging and the people around them absorb the positive energy from these characters. These are characters that cheer up the people around them. On the other hand, when it comes to differences, they were born and grew up in different worlds and different families. That affects the characters' personalities.

For example, because of Tatara's family situation, he maybe isn't very good at making friends at school. When it comes to Takeru, he's very social, not at a school, but within the Blue Clan. He's very good at building relationships with others, is very social, and has great communication skills. There are some major differences in their personalities.

ANN: What has your experience been like so far auditioning for roles? What is that process like?
Tsuchiya: There are different ways to approach auditions. In some cases you just send a tape and they will decide 'yes' or 'no.' Then there's auditions where you go to the studio, and that's really interesting experience. I haven't done a lot roles yet, but I've always looked up to a lot of voice actors. When I open the door of the studio, then I see those voice actors I've admired are actually there. That's when I realized I'm in the same world as them and I have to compete with them.
Studios have different criteria when they make a decision about a role. When it comes to who can perform the role better, of course other voice actors will have a lot of experience and will be very good at playing a role. But there are elements, for example, knowledge about the role and how to relate to the role. I think those qualities are also important and is where I can compete with other voice actors.

ANN: It sounds like you do a lot of research to gain an upper hand before an audition.
Tsuchiya: That is my process when it comes to preparing for a character. The reason why I became a voice actor is because I like acting. I was determined to be a professional in this industry, so I think it's really important to know about the character. I want to be the best at what I do. There are actors that have more experience, but I want to feel that I know this character more than anybody else. Sometimes there are experienced voice actors that are so busy that they might not have time to prepare. They're so experienced that they can actually act without knowing the character, and that's a wonderful thing, but this is my passion. I research the character and I try to become the character as much as possible. That's the basis of my passion.
When I enter a studio with other voice actors, it gives me valuable experience.

ANN: Was there a moment in your life when you knew that acting is what you wanted to do with your life?
Tsuchiya: It was more like a process than one moment. When I became a senior in high school, that's when everyone was thinking about 'what's going to happen next? Are you going to a university or not?' That's when a lot of people decide just to go to college anyway and then during that four years decide what to do next. Now, I had been taking acting lessons at the time. My instructor advised me, saying that 'a lot of people decide during college but why don't you think about what you want to do now?' Fortunately, I had a lot of opportunities to be exposed to a lot of different kinds of things.
I started learning about traditional Japanese dance when I was three years old. I also learned classic ballet from the same age. I then took acting lessons and was very passionate about acting as well. I had some opportunities to act as well when I was little. I was thinking about those options when I was in my senior year and I realized I really like performing in front of people. When I perform in front of people, I feel really good. I started thinking that if I could make that my profession, it would be great. That's when I thought that pursuing acting would be the right course for me.
So it really wasn't about one moment that lead me to acting, it was more about a series of events that built up and as a result, I wanted to become an actor. I was also looking up to other actors, like voice actor Mamoru Miyano. I decided that I wanted to not only be an actor, but work for the same agency as Miyano. Note: Tsuchiya is signed with the Himawari Theatre Group, the same agency as Mamoru Miyano.

ANN: So far, what is your favorite part of being a voice actor?
Tsuchiya: Most people might think it's obvious that voice actors act with only their voice, but really for professionals, it's not just about the voice. There's a lot of different ways to get into a role and perform the character's voice. I learned from other voice actors and tried this for myself, to use other aspects to take on a role. For example, when I'm recording, I'll try to wear clothes that are similar to the character's style. I'll try different hairstyles or even think about what a character smells like. I'll pick out a fragrance and assign it to the character and wear it when I play the role. There's different ways to be closer to and learn about a character. I think that's very interesting.
Also, voice actors don't have to worry about being on camera while recording. Since you don't have to worry about how you appear on screen, you can really focus on acting. Even though you only hear my voice, behind the voice there's a lot of freedom. There's a lot of performance and expression, and I really like that freedom.

ANN: In the K series, there's different factions based around color, like red, blue and green. If you were in the world of K, which clan do you think you would join?
Tsuchiya: This is actually a really difficult question! What I really like about K is that with every clan, everyone seems to enjoy being a part of it. Of course, I like the Blue Clan. It seems like they have a lot of policies and rules and everything is very organized and serious. At least, it looks that way in the TV series. The character I play, Takeru, when he was in the clan, there are more scenes where everyone is casually enjoying things together. Like, they eat soba noodles together or even take baths together. Everyone seems to be having a great time. I also like the uniform and the fact that there is the kendo training area. It seems like they have a really good facility and great benefits. The Blue Clan seems to have the whole package.

The Green Clan are also very interesting because they all sit around this little table and it's very home-y. The character Iwafune, I'd love to hang out with him. I also love the Red Clan. Their bar is really attractive. So it's really hard to choose.

ANN: Thank you so much for your time!

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