Looking Back on a Life in Acting: The Autobiography of Mizutani Yutaka

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Best known for his leading role in the long-running police series Aibō (Partners), the actor Mizutani Yutaka has a wealth of experiences to relate about the entertainment industry where he has made his career and the many stars he has shared it with. A look at a new book detailing his life and work.

Meeting Future Friend Matsuda Yūsaku

In the postscript to the 2023 Mizutani Yutaka jiden (Mizutani Yutaka: An Autobiography), the actor writes: “Now that this story is out there in print, I wonder if anyone will actually pick it up and enjoy it?” This is just one indication of what an unusual autobiography it is. It is structured as a long-form interview by nonfiction author Matsuda Michiko. The widow of actor—and Mizutani’s friend—Matsuda Yūsaku, she has known Mizutani since his twenties. The ease of this familiarity seems to encourage him to discuss the story of his life in a refreshingly sincere and open way, making for an engrossing read.

Mizutani’s career in entertainment has been a long one. He was born the youngest of four siblings in Ashibetsu, Hokkaido, in 1952. His father’s work in construction took the family to Tachikawa, Tokyo, when he was 12 years old, after which he joined the Himawari Theater Group. His professional acting career began with a child role in Maguma taishi (Ambassador Magma), while his first leading role was in the television drama The Vampires, based on a manga by Tezuka Osamu, which ran in 1968–69.

It seems, though, that he felt some hesitation. “I thought, this world too different. This is not the path for me.” But he failed his college entrance exams, and even tried running away from home for a time. With no other prospects, he decided to try acting again, treating it like “part time work.”

Mizutani first met Matsuda Yūsaku when the latter was playing the jeans-wearing detective Shibata Jun on the police series Taiyō ni hoero! (Howl at the Sun!), in which Mizutani made a guest appearance. The two hit it off immediately and became good friends. At the time, Yūsaku was 23 and Mizutani was 20. Yūsaku was quite the drinker, but Mizutani is not, so he would drink cup after cup of coffee during their talk sessions that sometimes lasted until dawn.

One day, Yūsaku-chan said, “Hey, Yutaka, let me make you some great coffee,” but he gave me instant. He went on, “This balance of milk and sugar is really important. It’s so delicious, right?” All I could say was “It’s great!”

In his autobiography, Mizutani reveals for the first time how the two corresponded right up until Matsuda’s death in 1989, at the age of 40. This untold story is both sad and poignant.

“Yutaka, Rinse my Back.”

Mizutani’s breakout role was in the 1974 drama Kizudarake no tenshi (Wounded Angel), in which he played the delinquent younger brother of a private investigator played by Hagiwara Ken’ichi. The friendship these two actors shared is another interesting story. When series filming ended, Hagiwara invited Mizutani to a prewrap party including a visit to a bathhouse.

When we got into the sauna, he said “Yutaka, rinse my back,” so I did, and then he rinsed mine. We were young then, and rather than putting things into words, we expressed our feelings by rinsing each other’s backs.

The book is filled with many other fascinating anecdotes featuring other coperformers, like Kishida Shin, whom Mizutani said was a major influence in life; his costars in the NHK series Otokotachi no tabiji (The Roads Men Travel) like Tsuruta Kōji and Momoi Kaori; and his costar in the 1977 Akai gekiryū (Crimson Rapids), Utsui Ken.

Mizutani later earned praise and explosive popularity for his run as a naive but passionate teacher in Netchū jidai (Days of Dedication). He discusses his marriage to and divorce from an American woman in those days, and his subsequent marriage to Itō Ran of the singing group Candies. These stories are, once again, revealed for the first time.

Building the Character Sugishita Ukyō

Mizutani’s fame was cemented by his role in the detective drama Aibō (Partners). The series began in 2000, and in October of 2022 entered its twenty-first season. It remains a popular program earning reliable ratings.

When filming started in 1999, Mizutani was 47. He remembers his reaction on first reading the script, thinking, “I was surprised that a police show could have a script like that. It was just so interesting.” His character, Sugishita Ukyō, is a career-track police officer stationed in a special department used to sideline problem employees, where he investigates the scenes of particularly tricky crimes. For Mizutani, the reserved, intellectual character marked a change of pace. He discusses how he built the role in his book.

I decided to make him a character that people wouldn’t like much, one who would come across as a bit sarcastic or cold. In fact, I actively tried to make him someone people would dislike. I hoped that people would take the time to figure out why he might be that way.

Mizutani also talked about how program staff told him they wanted to make a new series that would attract adult viewers at a time when older generations were moving away from television. They wanted something that was both entertaining and also socially relevant. Most of the book is made up of stories about Partners, with Mizutani sharing his own thoughts on and behind-the-scenes production glimpses for some of the most talked-about episodes.

The role of his partner in the series has been filled by a series of actors, from Terawaki Yasufumi, to Oikawa Mitsuhiro, Narimiya Hiroki, Sorimachi Takashi, and back to Terawaki once again. Naturally, the book is filled with stories about each of them, and other actors appearing alongside them, making this a must-read for fans of the series.

Mizutani has also worked in film both as an actor and director. He talks here freely about his thoughts on the profession and techniques of acting, as well as the work he has appeared in, revealing his own personality at the same time. This book presents a fully developed picture of Mizutani Yutaka as both an actor and a person.

Mizutani Yutaka jiden

Mizutani Yutaka jiden (Mizutani Yutaka: An Autobiography)

By Mizutani Yutaka, Matsuda Michiko
Published by Shinchōsha in July 2023
ISBN: 978-4-10-306453-4

(Originally written in Japanese.)

entertainment book review acting Mizutani Yutaka