Koichi Domoto finds perfect rivals in new cast for ‘SHOCK’ stage spectacle

Koichi Domoto, best known as one-half of the pop duo Kinki Kids, is encountering a new rival in the latest revival of the “SHOCK” musical series that he wrote, directs and stars in: an onstage foe played by popular idol stars Shori Sato and Hiromitsu Kitayama.

“Endless SHOCK -Eternal-,” a spin-off of “Endless SHOCK” that is approaching its 1900th performance, opened at the Imperial Theatre in Yurakucho, Tokyo, on April 10. “Endless SHOCK -Eternal-,” set three years after the original story, was unveiled the year before last.

Domoto plays a character also named Koichi, while the role played by Sato or Kitayama also bears their respective first names in the musical series.

In “Endless SHOCK -Eternal-,” Domoto’s Koichi plays an entertainer who aspires to make it to the top of the show business world. In addition to a rival, the other characters are other actors and the owner of the off-Broadway theater where they perform. As Koichi reaches for his dream of performing in a major theater, he passes away. Three years later, the friends look back on their days with Koichi, who lived by the creed, “The show must go on.”

Sato plays Koichi’s rival at the Imperial Theatre and Kitayama will play it at the Hakataza theater in Fukuoka in September.

In an interview with The Yomiuri Shimbun prior to the opening at the Imperial Theatre, Domoto said he hoped to perform the original version in Fukuoka. The original version of the show also started streaming on April 9.

Domoto and Sato sat together for an interview, and we caught up with Kitayama to talk about his enthusiasm for the musical.

Rehearsals for two shows

The original version of “SHOCK” played by the new cast is available online along with the performance of “Eternal” at the Imperial Theatre in April and May.

Domoto and Sato had to rehearse for two versions at the same time, which they said presented a stiff challenge.

The Yomiuri Shimbun: What did you think about rehearsing for two shows simultaneously?

Domoto: I knew it was going to be tough, but it was even tougher than I imagined. I know I’m the one who said we’d do it, but it really complicates things.

Sato: There are quite a few scenes in which the song is the same and the timing is the same, but something is different. Koichi would often call out during rehearsals, “Hey, who decided this?” He was the one who made the decision (laughs). I felt that we had no choice but for the company to come together as one.

Domoto: The “Eternal” version is positioned as a spin-off from the main story. It tells the story as it looks back on the previous three years. It’s composed to say, “At that time, this is how it was.” First, we do the original, then do the same scene in “Eternal” … that way, I was hoping to create a synergistic effect. Of course, there is that aspect. Still, stage mechanisms and other details are slightly different. For example, the same scene is performed while standing in a different place.

Sato: At first, I was very confused. But sure enough, by doing the original and then doing “Eternal,” I gained a deeper understanding. I was also able to become aware of lines that complement each other.

Domoto: It’s hard, but [not as hard as] when I performed “SHOCK” for the first time. That was a difficult time. We were constantly in the rehearsal studio until 3 or 4 a.m.

Shori was trained by Johnny-san [founder of Johnny & Associates Inc., the agency to which Domoto, Sato and Kitayama all belong], so I’m sure he knows the energy that’s generated when the chips are down, and he has felt that energy. Of course, it’s important to pursue that in rehearsal. But you can over-rehearse. I have faith in Shori because, regardless of what he says, I’m confident he’ll bring it onto the stage. He was brought up by Johnny-san, after all. That’s one of his strengths.

Sato: If it needs to be done, I just do it and keep pushing forward. That’s how I was raised, and it’s made me stronger.

New sensation

Q: Mr. Sato, you’ve seen “SHOCK” over the years. What have you noticed?

Sato: It’s a really good piece of work. Sometimes I’ve felt like, “the opening should be done like this,” or a certain sound would work in a certain scene.

Domoto: You’re really obsessed.

Sato: Yeah, and I don’t want to do anything to lose that. I feel impatient to rise up to that level.

Q: Mr. Domoto, have there been any changes in the way you view the work after performing “Eternal”?

Domoto: “Eternal” is a story that moves forward in time, but my character doesn’t age, so the way I perceive the work hasn’t changed significantly. However, in the process of creating “Eternal,” I reexamined each and every character’s emotions. In doing so, I came up with hints to offer to everyone during rehearsal and things I picked up in terms of staging.

Q: It’s been a long time since you performed the original “SHOCK.”

Domoto: To be honest, the original is really awesome. It really came out well. But, as you go through “Eternal,” it uses up just as much energy as the original. But, really, “SHOCK” was tough.

Q: This time, what are the featured points and changes?

Domoto: It’s obvious when you see it, but Shori’s solo. Midway through, he switches songs as if he’s pouring out his feelings. It should invoke a feeling that has never been experienced.

Q: Did your impression of each other change as you spent time together?

Domoto: Shori is really serious and a nice guy. How can he be such a good kid (laughs)? For example, I thought he’d play the rival role completely different from Tatsuya Ueda [who previously played it]. However, there’s something fundamental about the rival. How to bring that out is one of the challenges. I’m sure Johnny-san would say, “Don’t let Shori do it.” But I want him to become a villain. The director sometimes has to fill a role that isn’t liked, and I want him to go into the role with a black-hearted feeling. It’s a long journey until the final performance, like a treasure hunt. I want him to get a taste of how good and fun the stage can be.

Sato: Perhaps like the image of Koichi in “SHOCK.” But I would say that you’re pursuing an ideal.

Domoto: Like Mr. Perfect?

Sato: That’s it. It’s heartening when he says, “Anything will be fine” on the phone before a press conference or at rehearsal. I never thought I’d one day be taking the stage in “SHOCK.” The company is a group of professionals, and I didn’t expect it.

Hiromitsu Kitayama hopes to portray darker sides of humanity

Hiromitsu Kitayama, a member of boy band Kis-My-Ft2, talks with The Yomiuri Shimbun about the show.

I saw “SHOCK” for the first time about a year after I joined Johnny & Associates. At the time, I just enjoyed the production. It was like watching a magic show when I saw the car floating in midair.

After that, I tried to see the show at least once a year. The music hasn’t changed much, and the message is the same, but it still feels brand new every time I see it. It stays the same but is also constantly changing.

If you are a part of Johnny’s, you should want to be a part of this show. When I heard that I had a big part, I was like, “Wow!”

I knew I had many obstacles to overcome, but I was very happy.

I tried to figure out how I could be an essential part of the company. At a press conference, [Domoto] said, “I think he’ll work with us as a full-fledged actor.”

After I heard this, all my worries completely disappeared. I realized that I could use all my previous acting experiences and apply them to my stage performance. I want the end result to show all the work I’ve put in as an actor.

I think rival characters, in general, show the light and dark sides of people, even in the world of show business.

Through the role, I want to convey the darker sides of people. I also want to express not only what’s in the script, but also portray what many people might have gone through in the past. Everyone has strengths and weaknesses, so I had to figure out how I could get that across. I’d like to make those emotions flow out of me during every show, rather than trying to put on an edgy performance.

I can sympathize with the rival character because it must be hard when there’s someone you can’t seem to beat no matter how hard you work. I hope I can make the role my own.

Show filmed for streaming to reach wider audience

The original “Endless SHOCK” was filmed for streaming at the Imperial Theatre on April 5.

Domoto, Sato and other cast members looked enthusiastic as they prepared to film. They had excellent teamwork as they danced, sang and talked to each other.

Of course, the dynamic nature that is typical of “SHOCK” comes across. The musical still contains many famous scenes, including an intense sword fight and Domoto’s dramatic fall down a set of stairs. Sato’s solo scene in the new production is also spectacular and overwhelming. “I was deeply moved because I could learn from watching [Domoto],” Sato said about filming the musical. “I want to sing the rival’s [solo] to the point where I almost lose my voice.”

Domoto said: “It had been two years since I did the original. After performing it again, I realized how difficult it is, but I still managed to successfully fall down the stairs.”

“I hope this filmed version [for streaming] will feel like a live stage performance,” Domoto added emphatically.

The musical can be streamed on the Johnny’s website on May 1, 8, 15 and 22 and will cost ¥4,500.