Matsuken, from 'Shogun' to samba
By Wayne Harada
Advertiser Entertainment Writer
By Wayne Harada
Matsudaira Ken has combined samurai swordplay with singing — with happy results. "Abarenbo Shogun (The Violent Shogun)," his long-running Japanese TV show, has been his calling card since 1978; his concert tours attract fans of all ages.
But acting is closer to his heart than singing, he said in an interview. So is Western garb, because the kimono can be confining. However, singing — he is a fan of Broadway musicals — helps expand his stage skills and somewhat softens the macho persona he developed portraying a good-over-evil samurai.
Now 52, Matsuken, as he often is called, thanks to his 2004 "Matsuken Samba" hit song, is here for a pair of Hawai'i Theatre concerts this weekend.
His classic "Shogun" episodes, airing locally on KIKU-TV on Thursdays, are reruns. In it, Matsudaira portrays Shogun Yoshimune Tokugawa, who upholds justice in Edo-era Japan. The original series wound up in 1997, and a subsequent newer series ran through 2002 and still enjoys new life among Hawai'i fans. "Abarenbo Shogun" is one of Japan's longest-running jidaigeki, or period dramas.
Matsudaira was in Japan last week but consented to an e-mail interview, with interpreter Fumiko Kouketsu assisting. Here's what's on his mind:
Q. Would you consider yourself an actor or singer first?
A. I am basically an actor, what I started my career with.
Q. TV has made you a household name. Would a singing samurai have been possible, say, 200 years ago, or do you feel that the roles of a singer and a samurai — in one character — are a product of a modern civilization, when anything is possible?
A. Today, people have higher demands and expectations. Acting "Shogun" and singing pop songs are, to me, a way to answer such expectations from my fans.
Q. What virtues of an 18th-century samurai appeal to you today?
A. Patience and endurance.
Q. How did "Matsuken Samba" evolve? Did you expect such widespread response and approval from fans?
A. First, I started singing the song on stage, when I have theater performances. My fans really liked it, and they requested me to record it. So I did. I made the CD independently to sell only at my performances. Then the media picked it up, and it became popular through radio broadcasting. And I had an opportunity to release it under the major record label.
Q. Do you ever get feedback about your music or your acting from your Hawai'i fans? What are they most interested in?
A. I have not had an opportunity to get feedback from people in Hawai'i. So, I am a little bit afraid to hear it after my concert this time.
Q. I understand that you're a Broadway fan. What kind of impact did musicals have on you? How were you inspired?
A. Adding singing and music, musicals are more expressive than just acting. I've recently tried to produce musicals of period dramas, such as "Shogun" as a musical.
Q. You look terrific in a kimono; how many do you own? Do you prefer kimono over Western suits, if you had a choice?
A. I personally have over 10 kimonos at home, but normally I wear Western clothes. It is more comfortable to wear Western suits nowadays.
Q. What do you like to do when you're not on stage, or in front of a camera?
A. I like to go shopping when I am off. I also take care of my health and keep myself in good shape.
Q. Have you ever considered singing a Hawaiian song?
A. Yes, I have, but I have not yet had an opportunity.
Q. What advice do you have for young folks who want to follow your path — as a singer, an actor, an entertainer?
A. Believe (in) yourself and chase your dream. Don't give up until you reach your goal.
Reach Wayne Harada at email@example.com.