Musical revived with a fresh perspective

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Motohiro Ota, left, and Hikaru Makishima pose for a photo.

The two-man musical “The Story of My Life” is hitting the stage in Tokyo for the first time in two years. This time, the musical’s characters are alternately performed by a pair of actor duos, including new recruits Motohiro Ota and Hikaru Makishima. Both are very well known in the 2.5-dimensional musical genre, in which musicals are based on manga, anime or games.

“The Story of My Life” was first performed in Canada in 2006 and made its way to Broadway in 2009. Japan’s first rendition of the piece went on in 2019 and starred Mario Tashiro and Genki Hirakata. This year’s performances are scheduled to continue through Dec. 25 at the Yomiuri Otemachi Hall in Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo. Tashiro and Hirakata are back and alternate with Ota and Makishima as the protagonists on certain dates.

The story revolves around childhood friends Alvin and Thomas, who promise each other that if either of them dies, the one who survives will write the eulogy. Time passes with Thomas going on to become a bestselling author, and Alvin running a small bookstore. In the opening scene, Thomas learns of Alvin’s death and, as promised, begins to write a eulogy for his friend.

Depending on the day, Alvin is portrayed by either Ota or Tashiro, while Thomas is played by either Makishima or Hirakata.

The Yomiuri Shimbun interviewed Ota and Makishima ahead of the production’s opening day.

The Yomiuri Shimbun: Where Alvin is a free spirit who’s vibrant like a young boy, Thomas is more of a realist. How have you studied and interpreted your characters?

Ota: Alvin is difficult to portray. He lives intuitively, and, although he wants to live without suppressing himself, society won’t allow that. He’s also tormented by his inner desires and jealousy, which cause him to hate himself. I have to dig deep to sort out those feelings.

Makishima: Because Alvin is such a free spirit, Thomas tells him, “Just be normal” or “Don’t stand out.” Thomas, though, may have some sort of a complex when it comes to his friend who does things he can’t. He admires Alvin, but there are also certain things he can’t accept about him. I’d like to make sure to not let any instance of this inner conflict go unseen.

Q: What do you think about the friendship between these two contrasting personalities?

Ota: Although they have completely different sets of values, they are somehow drawn to each other and I find that very endearing. I put a lot of thought into the reasons behind their thoughts and what attracts them to each other. Their relationship is inexplicable, but their bond is immeasurably tight.

Makishima: Thomas is drawn to Alvin’s charm, but I have a feeling that there are moments where he doesn’t understand that himself. It’s great that they can be friends even though their values are so different.

Ota: Their outlooks on life are completely different. The beauty of this story comes from how they support and complement each other. I really feel something precious and a certain warmth in this production. It’s also very ephemeral.

Two actor duos portraying Alvin and Thomas. From left: Mario Tashiro as Alvin, Genki Hirakata as Thomas, Motohiro Ota as Alvin and Hikaru Makishima as Thomas

Makishima: Since we know from the beginning that Alvin is going to die, even fun scenes have a sadness to them. No one is freer than Alvin, who revels in finding freedom in restriction.

Ota: But I think he finds it hard to live in society.

Makishima: I agree. Thomas is aware that people appreciate him for traits he’d picked up from Alvin, even though he doesn’t want to admit it. It’s a feeling I can understand very well.

Q: You two both perform together in the musical version of the “Touken Ranbu Online” game series. What are your impressions of each other?

Ota: He’s strange. I’m sure he thinks I’m pretty strange, too.

Makishima: I do. It’s been several years since we first met. I like the way Ota acts and sings. I think I go to his shows more than anyone else’s. When he is on stage, there are gripping moments that change the atmosphere and pierce my heart. It’s so cool.

Ota: You sure you’re not just flattering me? In “Touken Ranbu,” [Makishima’s] character [Okurikara] doesn’t speak, so I was the one walking all over him. Even though he didn’t say anything, we understood each other with just our eyes. So, despite our age difference, I trust him as someone I can talk to while looking him straight in the eyes. Even though he didn’t really make eye contact with me at first.

Makishima: (laughs)

Q: Tell us about your hopes for this production.

Ota: It would be great if [this musical] touches the lives of the audience. What everyone takes away from this story will vary from person to person. There are many kinds of people, and no one is perfect. With that in mind, I’d like to focus on the thoughts the audience may have after the show, like, “It’d be wonderful to have someone become happy and smile from just my presence.”

Makishima: Since no one can have the exact same experience as the characters, I think there are some scenes where people will be able to sympathize and others where they can’t. Even so, there’s definitely a touching moment in each and every scene. I’d love to move the hearts of those who come to see the show.