Reading the Mind of Issey Takahashi

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Issey Takahashi

Issey Takahashi may have found the tailor-made role of his life in Rohan Kishibe, the lead character in the film “Kishibe Rohan Louvre e Iku” (“Rohan at the Louvre”). The film opened in theaters on May 26.

Rohan is a mangaka, and despite being quite a quirky character, he’s very serious about his creative work. Through Rohan, we can glimpse the true identity of Takahashi the actor, who’s likewise not an easy person to pin down.

©Lucky Land Communications 2010 Authored by Hirohiko Araki ©Futuropolis / Musēe du Louvre editions 2010 ©NBM for the English translation 2012
The cover of the manga “Kishibe Rohan Louvre e Iku” (“Rohan at the Louvre”)

The film is based on a short spin-off of “JoJo no Kimyona Boken” (“JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure”), Hirohiko Araki’s popular manga about battles between characters with supernatural powers. The spin-off was drawn for a project by the Louvre Museum in Paris in 2009.

Directing the movie is Kazutaka Watanabe, who worked with Takahashi on the NHK epic historical drama “Onna Joshu Naotora” (“Naotora: The Lady Warlord”).

In the film, Rohan is drawing a new manga and recalls a certain artwork that was described as the world’s blackest painting by Nanase, a woman he fell in love with in his younger days. After learning that the painting is in the possession of the Louvre, he goes to the museum’s cellar with Izumi, his editor, and Emma, a staff worker at the museum.

Rohan has the power to turn a person into a book by saying, “Heaven’s door.” He can then read that person’s mind and even write instructions in it. He has a cool demeanor, in stark contrast with his passion for manga. In order to produce great manga, he uses his abilities to overcome difficulties.

Takahashi is a fan of the JoJo series and of Rohan, the lead character of the spin-off manga.

“Playing this character was like a pipe dream for me. I thought I was too old for the role,” he said.

Takahashi first played the part in a 2020 TV adaptation of “Kishibe Rohan wa Ugokanai” (“Thus Spoke Kishibe Rohan”), another JoJo spin-off series featuring Rohan. That project was also directed by Watanabe.

©2023 “Rohan at the Louvre” Film Partners ©LUCKY LAND COMMUNICATIONS/SHUEISHA
Rohan Kishibe (played by Issey Takahashi) can turn someone into a book and read that person’s memories.

When Watanabe offered the role to Takahashi, he told the director that he was almost 40 years old. It came as a surprise to the actor when the first three episodes of the drama went on air and received very good responses from viewers.

“I meant to do [the drama] quietly, but it got out of control before I knew it,” he said.

The drama concluded in 2022 with eight episodes overall.

The protagonist from Araki’s manga speaks in a slightly literary style. His gestures and demeanor look straight out of a theatrical production in many scenes where he confronts an opponent face to face: somewhat exaggerated and by no means natural.

“Some of my acting may look as if I’m overdoing it, but I believe in it. The manga’s view of the world has given a convincing power to such acting,” Takahashi said.

How does he add reality to a bizarre fantasy story like this?

“There’s no natural way no matter how far I go. I’m not thinking of pursuing reality. In the world of figments, things become reality if you’re convinced by them,” Takahashi said in a way reminiscent of Rohan.

©2023 “Rohan at the Louvre” Film Partners ©LUCKY LAND COMMUNICATIONS/SHUEISHA
Rohan locks himself up in his office and draws manga.

In terms of work, Rohan the mangaka and Takahashi the actor are highly similar. Rohan, who primarily thinks about his readers, goes on a research trip to have experiences so that he can give reality to his work.

“He gives top priority to what he produces and his experiences,” Takahashi said.

Rohan is adamant about being true to his ego and aesthetics. He never gives in, so he may come across as selfish at times. Takahashi said he can connect to Rohan in terms of that way of thinking.

“There’s a tendency in society for people to speculate about other people’s feelings, but Rohan only cares for his readers and nobody else. I’m a production-first person as well. No matter how advanced technologies become, people’s minds will remain the same, I think. I want to be in a place where I can express that. I have a feeling that wish of mine bore some fruit through Rohan,” Takahashi said.

The character has become more than just a role for Takahashi. They are inseparably tied to each other.

“I’ve been given something quite big by Rohan. There’s probably a mutual connection between Rohan and me,” he said.

Dreams come true

Takahashi has appeared in many prominent films and TV dramas. He’s been successful in theater, too, and won the award for best actor at the Yomiuri Theater Awards last year for his performance in the play “Fakespeare.” Now 42, I thought he’s probably in the prime of his acting career, but his words surprised me.

“To me, the sense of satisfaction was over around 2016 or 2017,” Takahashi said. “I had many dreams and fantasies, but they all came true with Rohan. I think I did everything by around 2020. I have no further goals from here on out,” he said.”

Is he telling the truth? Takahashi continued in a slightly mischievous way.

©2023 “Rohan at the Louvre” Film Partners ©LUCKY LAND COMMUNICATIONS/SHUEISHA
Rohan and Izumi (Marie Iitoyo) stroll in Paris.

“Now the only thing left for me is to wither. I’ll keep on working until I’m completely consumed,” he said.

This remark may appear inauspicious, but rest assured. He said he has no intention of being an object of consumption.

“I want to be flexible in my acting so I won’t be typecast like, ‘That’s for Issey Takahashi.’ We actors tend to have fixed images and often get rejected if we stray from them. I want to act freely, because it feels great to turn the tables and make people say, ‘That doesn’t fit his image at all,’” he said.

The role of Rohan Kishibe may be a turning point for Takahashi in his acting career.

“I feel like I’m borrowing the personality of Rohan and using everything that I’ve nurtured in terms of acting. I’m curious what’s left in me,” he said.

Indeed, it is his challenge to himself.

Filming at the Louvre

As the title of the film “Kishibe Rohan Louvre e Iku” (“Rohan at the Louvre”) indicates, Takahashi flew to Paris for shooting at the Louvre Museum.

General visitors have to wait in a long line to see the “Mona Lisa,” but he could see it as much as he wanted during a scene that included the painting.

“I was so fortunate. I’m scared I might get arrogant,” he said.

©2023 “Rohan at the Louvre” Film Partners ©LUCKY LAND COMMUNICATIONS/SHUEISHA
It’s business as usual for Rohan, even when standing in front of the “Mona Lisa” at the Louvre Museum.

Works of art from all over the world are displayed at the Louvre, a pantheon of beautiful things and an accumulation of history. What would happen if Rohan stood there?

“He’d probably pay respect to the place and think it’s great, but he wouldn’t just be awed, I think. Even if he got inspiration from some artworks, he wouldn’t effusively heap praise on it. I played him with that sensibility,” Takahashi said.

©2023 “Rohan at the Louvre” Film Partners ©LUCKY LAND COMMUNICATIONS/ SHUEISHA
Shooting of the film “Kishibe Rohan Louvre e Iku” (“Rohan at the Louvre”) at the Louvre Museum in Paris

He said he has the same approach toward acting. When he watches a play by other actors, he does not just get wowed.

“I tend to think, ‘They played this scene this way’ [from an actor’s point of view]. I can’t afford to enjoy the show. I think Rohan has that kind of sensibility as well,” the actor said, as if talking about an old friend. They are probably birds of a feather after all.

Those feelings permeate the film as well.

“The directing and positioning of Kazutaka-san [the director] are the same as before. I’m glad he’s not a mean director who’d say, ‘We’re filming in a great place, so let’s get a lot of shots,’” Takahashi said.

Rohan never changes, even at the Louvre.

“Rohan goes all the way to France and ends up facing himself from the past. I thought that’s very Rohan-like,” Takahashi said.

Issey Takahashi

Born on Dec. 9, 1980, Takahashi grew up in Tokyo. His filmography includes “Romance Doll” and “Wife of a Spy.” He has appeared in such TV dramas as “Onna Joshu Naotora” (“Naotora: The Lady Warlord”) and “Quartet.”