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Publication Date : 14-05-2014
Hiroshi Abe back in ancient Rome and loving it
Unlike his first turn as an ancient Roman, when he admits he was terrified, this time Hiroshi Abe thought there was nothing to worry about.
Abe returns in Thermae Romae II as Lucius who travels through time to modern Japan.
Before the first Thermae Romae film, Abe worried about many things. “What a strange role I’ve been given,” he said he thought. “Will a story set in ancient Rome pass as a Japanese film?” He was also concerned that “the unsettling feeling people get when a Japanese actor is called by a foreign name in a Western stage musical could be doubly disturbing on screen.”
So when he first played design engineer Lucius, who is seeking innovative ideas for bathhouses, Abe and director Hideki Takeuchi explored how far he should go in his acting. “I was terrified,” Abe confessed.
With the sequel, however, he hardly felt any fear. “Let’s make a fun movie—that’s what I thought this time,” Abe said in a recent interview.
“Many people saw the first film, and I myself didn’t feel any uneasiness when I saw it,” Abe said. “This time I decided to take advantage of the audience’s understanding of the way I act, whether they’d seen the first film or not. I also thought I should act in an energetic manner without worrying about explaining anything.”
This time Lucius is ordered to build a bathhouse inside a fighting arena. As he travels back and forth between ancient Rome and contemporary Japan, he gets involved in a conflict between those calling for peace and those supporting the use of armed forces.
“It’s ridiculous and funny to build a full-scale set [in Bulgaria] to seriously shoot a story of ancient Rome. The audience must love the absurdity of it. If you build a humble set in Japan, it might not be possible to generate that kind of fun,” he said.
Abe treasures his experience of the shooting process, which was like making a foreign film.
“Just standing on the set can make the film. The power of the set was immense,” he said.
In contrast, the key to the hilariousness of the scenes in Japan is what Lucius looks at, how he feels about it and how he misunderstands it, Abe said.
Episodes and props that represent Japan’s bath culture, such as the yubatake hot water field in the Kusatsu spa resort in Gunma Prefecture, and Japanese bath salts, are more amusing than in the first film.
“When you borrow the body of an ancient Roman, anything becomes a source of laughter. I had so much fun playing the character,” Abe said.
Abe has a number of other movies set for release soon, including Zakurozaka no Adauchi (Revenge in Zakurozaka) and Fushigi na Misaki no Monogatari (A strange story of a cape).
“Recently, I’ve been able to do more films. It’s still largely unknown territory for me, and I’m not quite used to it, but I’m fortunate to have many good experiences,” he said.