• Film & TV

Nishijima a mystery man in new TV thriller ‘Guilty Flag’

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Hidetoshi Nishijima

Hidetoshi Nishijima stars as Ryosuke Sagara, a salaryman who becomes the talk of the nation following the mysterious disappearance of his wife and children, in “Shinhannin Flag” (Guilty Flag), a new thriller being broadcast on the Nippon TV network in the 10:30 p.m. slot on Sundays.

While TV dramas in Japan typically air in three-month seasons, “Guilty Flag” is slated to run for six months, serving up plenty of twists and turns along the way that will challenge the viewer to deduce the true culprit.

The drama is set into motion by the sudden disappearance of protagonist Sagara’s wife, Maho, and their two children. A friend from Sagara’s university days, who now works as the editor of an influential magazine, offers to cover the missing persons case, propelling it into the national spotlight.

At first, there is an outpouring of support for Sagara’s plight. But this support soon sours to scrutiny, after netizen sleuths dig up social media posts that suggest Sagara might not be as innocent as he lets on.

Could this doting family man be a murderer, after all?

Nishijima recently spoke with The Yomiuri Shimbun on the set of “Guilty Flag.” (Filming of the drama remains underway, even as episodes have begun to air.)

Still dressed in his character’s suit and tie, Nishijima said: “I want to create a mix of elements, such as human kindness, emotion, excitement, and laugh-out-loud humor. I feel [the show] has great potential.”

“Guilty Flag” is being produced by the team behind “Anata no Ban desu” (Your Turn to Kill), another hit Nippon TV thriller from 2019 that had social media guessing, whodunnit?

Both dramas are the brainchild of renowned writer, lyricist and producer Yasushi Akimoto.

“I very much wanted to work on something that would be gripping entertainment for viewers,” Nishijima said.

“Guilty Flag” is certainly a nail-biter — for the actors as well as the viewers, it turns out. Nishijima said the drama’s ending has been kept a secret even from him.

“When I acted in thrillers in the past, I always at least knew the culprit’s identity in advance. But with [this one], I still don’t have the slightest clue. It’s been very exciting for me.”

The actor said that when depicting Sagara, he has tried explore what a real-life person might do in the situation: How would an “ordinary” office worker respond if his family went missing? To what lengths would he go to uncover the truth and get them back?

“Sagara does everything he can think of, but it’s always within the limits of being a law-abiding, upstanding citizen. He enlists the help of friends, colleagues, and the police. I want to play this character as someone living in the real world.”

Sagara comes across as warm and likeable, the kind of guy easy for viewers to empathize with and root for.

Nishijima doesn’t seem to mind the long shooting schedule. “It’s genuinely been a thrill,” he said, flashing his movie star grin.

“As an actor, I’m very happy to be able to spend so much time really inhabiting one role. A lot more can happen in six months than [the usual] three. My character, for example, may develop more than I could have imagined on my own, thanks to the support of audiences who’ve been watching this drama unfold.”

It’s a long road toward the truth, one that Nishijima is excited to share alongside viewers, every cliffhanger and skipped heartbeat along the way.

Hidetoshi Nishijima

Born in Tokyo on March 29, 1971, Nishijima has long been one of the nation’s most popular actors. A film adaptation of the TV drama, “Kino Nani Tabeta?” (What Did You Eat Yesterday?) was released on Nov. 3, in which Nishijima costars with Seiyo Uchino.