Yuto Nakajima enjoys acting alone in new movie ‘#Manhole’

As the title suggests, “#Manhole” is a suspense film with a storyline that unfolds at the bottom of a manhole. The film premiered in theaters on Feb. 10. Directed by Kazuyoshi Kumakiri and starring Yuto Nakajima as the protagonist, viewers watch a man fall from the peak of his life into dire straits.

“I think the audience will feel as if they are also trapped in a small space,” Nakajima said.

Kawamura, played by Nakajima, is envied by everyone. He has a successful career, good looks and is engaged to the daughter of a company president. After getting drunk at a party on the eve of his wedding, he blacks out while going home and finds himself at the bottom of a manhole. His leg is injured, rendering him unable to climb up the ladder to the ground. He cannot rely on the police and his only lifeline is his ex-girlfriend whom he’s able to phone.

“[The script] was full of twists and turns, and the ending was shocking. My mind froze for a moment,” said Nakajima, recalling his thoughts when first reading the script. Kawamura is a character that is difficult to act as he’s alone in a manhole for most of the story. “To be honest, I was worried whether I would be able to keep [the story] intriguing to the audience, but the desire to meet that challenge may have been stronger [than the fear].”

Kawamura falsely claims to be a woman trapped in a manhole and tries to get help using social media, but this leads to an unexpected turn of events. “Group psychology can take things in a biased direction. This work is also a satire, sounding an alarm about the dangers of social media,” Nakajima said.

Although the protagonist initially seems like a perfect man, he raises his voice, lies and acts selfishly as the situation worsens.

“When cornered, his true nature and dark emotions come out. In order to make that contrast stand out, the key point was to express how normal [Kawamura’s behavior] was in the first scene at the party,” he said.

As the story progresses Kawamura’s face and clothes become dirty, with the scenes showing this off quite realistic. “I was enjoying those scenes because the level of dirtiness was extraordinary. Director Kumakiri and his staff were all out of their minds in a good way, and they went all out. The degree of dirtiness was one of the things we considered when filming the last scenes of the movie,” he recalls.

We can find manholes only on streets, but there are “holes” in our work and daily lives. Would Nakajima stay calm and tenacious like Kawamura if he were to fall down a hole? “I’m not sure,” he said. “I think I would be bummed out a lot at first because I tend to worry too much by nature. But I think people can be strong once are able to move past their worries.”

Nakajima must have overcome many so-called “holes” in his career as a member of idol group Hey! Say! JUMP since he was in his teens. He has also built up his career as an actor and turns 30 this year. His co-stars and staff are increasingly younger than him. “The younger generation has a different way of thinking than I do. In that sense, I feel like an old man,” he said with a cool smile and a handsome face far from being an “old man.”

Nakajima can play roles of young men, but has increasingly been playing more mature roles, as in this film and last year’s drama series “Love Dissonance.” He described himself as being in a “complicated position.”

“It’s especially difficult when the word ‘marriage’ comes into the picture,” he said. “Up until now, I’ve played my characters by recalling emotions from my personal experiences that are similar [to emotions my role has] and expanding on it. But now there are more roles that require more imagination than before. I think it’s time for me to change, both as an actor and as a person.” As Nakajima spoke about meeting those challenges, he seemed be enjoying them.