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People who create 2025

Eri Nagai

Actor

Eri Nagai – Captivated by the Art of Performance, Aspiring to Become an Actor

2023.12.22

The movie “Moon” is based on an actual incident.
Eri Nagai-san played the role of “Shoko, a deaf woman” who is the lover of the murderer.
She said, “I believe that having me play the role will make the work more realistic.”.
In her eyes, we could see her unwavering determination as an actor and her strong radiance.

A Movement to Produce Films Casting the People Involved is Coming

-When and how did you first encounter acting, Nagai-san?

Nagai: There was a movie called ” Until Rainbow Dawn” directed by Mika Imai, which was released in 2018, and the director approached me saying, “The image of the main character is perfect for you”. That was when I was a university student. I was always eager to try new things, so I accepted the role out of curiosity, but until then I had never been involved in acting at all.
 We carefully discussed how I would play the role at the film production site. It was my first experience to play a leading role, and although I was nervous at first, I really enjoyed it. Acting means imagining the role and character in accordance with the story, and how you feel and act. The way you think differs depending on your upbringing and environment. I learned a lot.

-What made you decide to enter the world of acting in earnest?

Nagai: It is after appearing in a movie titled “Moon,” which is currently (as of November 2023) being released nationwide. Also, a Deaf actor*1 won an Academy Award for a foreign film called “CODA,” didn’t he? I believe a movement to produce films casting the people involved would eventually come to Japan, as in the U.S., and I thought, “I want to have various experiences in preparation for that time”, and I will use those experiences to do even better as an actor. I was offered this role just at that time.
 The film “Moon” is based on an actual incident. I had the courage and determination to act in such a film, but I learned the true nature of the work of an actor from the attitudes of the people involved in the film. I was the first time that I was the only deaf actor on a film set with other actors, and I felt a big difference in our abilities as actors. In the past, I had repeated rehearsals with the director before starting shooting, but in this film, I performed the role on the spot after a camera test and rehearsal. The same performance was repeated for each cut of the film, and this process had to be accomplished in a very short time. It was my first experience to see a professional film crew at work, and it made me realize how demanding the job of an actor is to play a role.
 But it was a very good experience for me. I want to act with more hearing actors. I need to get used to this environment. So, I attended the Deaf Actors Course*2 and the Audience-centered workshop, and my desire to face acting and try out different roles became even stronger.
※1:Troy Kotsur: Portraying a Deaf Father in ‘CODA’ (Released in 2022), Wins the 94th Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.
※2:A collaborative actor training course involving both hearing and deaf instructors with the aim of nurturing “deaf and hard of hearing actors”.

―What do you feel that your charms, strengths, and past experiences have a positive influence on your acting?

Nagai: When we live, many things happen to us, both troubling and sad. In order to play a role in someone’s life, I try to superimpose it with my own life experiences and trace back my memories. When discussing a role with the director, I think, “Maybe the experience of that time in my life is similar to this scene now, or maybe we can link the two”. The content of what I want to convey differs depending on the work, but I believe that I can convey the realism of the work and enhance the “message” of the work by acting the characters in my own way and incorporating the background and cultural differences that I can understand because I am a involved people.

To Let People Know about the Deaf, and Sparking Interest in Eri Nagai

-What were some of the difficulties in performing in “Moon”?

Nagai: This film deals with a social issue. Moreover, I myself played the role of the lover of a man who commits murder. I wondered how I should express myself in the role. Deaf people live with their eyes, so they have a high level of insight and are able to pick up on emotions from the slightest change in a person’s facial expression or behavior. The director wanted to reflect the characteristics of the Deaf in the film, and I wanted to emphasize such expressions. In addition, as the Deaf person is in a relationship with a hearing person, the way they communicate changes depending on their dating history. So we were thinking about where they met and what they talked about and spent time together.
 I was given the opportunity to talk with my co-star before entering the set, using simple sign language and gestures, and when I could not communicate, I used a voice-recognition application. I was very happy to see him willingness to communicate with me. I was very happy to see that he was actively communicating with me, and because I was able to duplicate that feeling, I didn’t find it too difficult to play the role of the lover.
 On the other hand, I feel the difficulty in performing with the people who can hear, not only in this work.

-What do you mean by “difficulty”?

Nagai: My first language is Japanese Sign Language. Sign language is a natural language that originated in the Deaf community and is different from Japanese. Breathing and pausing based on language is also something that Deaf people have taken for granted since they were very young. I feel that it would be difficult for hearing people to learn sign language in a short period of time and perform it naturally. This is something I have felt in the past, including in acting workshops. In a role setting, if I have a close relationship with the other person playing the role of the person who can hear, and I have known them for a long time, but occasionally have faltering conversations, we will inevitably be affected by it into our performance and will not be able to put our feelings.
 Therefore, when I am cast, I try to discuss with the other actors, the director, and the people on set who can hear the basic knowledge of deaf people, such as language differences and cultural differences due to language differences, during our first meeting. The process involves getting to know the Deaf people, then consulting with a Deaf director to come up with sign language expressions for dialogue and direction, and asking the director to make a decision.
 In addition, in order to understand and respect each other as we go about the filming, I place great importance on proactively communicating with the actors and staff during breaks and short intervals without the use of a sign language interpreter. Everyone responds to my written communication cordially, and through various conversations, they get to know the real me. I believe that through this process, their view of me as “actor Eri Nagai” will change, and they will become more interested in me.

-What do you think is your personality and selling point as an actor?

Nagai: In fact, I would like people to see me as an actor, not as a Deaf person, and I feel that it would be good if society became flatter. On the other hand, I feel that I am not yet good enough as an actor. Someday, I want to be an actor who can simply live up to expectations with my performance. Even if I am chosen for a role because I am a deaf actor, if I enter the scene as prepared as I can be, I can act with confidence as an actor both in acting and in other situations, and eventually I will be able to produce results in the actual performance. I think that when people feel happy that they chose me, they will be aware of me as “Actor Eri Nagai”.

-Are there any roles you would like to challenge or genres you would like to perform in?

Nagai: I have many roles! (Laughs) I want to play a role in a film that has a drastic twist story or a sudden change in personality. (Laughs) I would also like to live the one person’s life. Acting is really difficult. If I could act in such a way that my emotions naturally ooze out from my heart, without showing them…. That is what I want to achieve now.

“Rocho-kai(ろうちょ~会)”, a Place Where New Communication Methods are Born

―The year 2025 will be the first year that the Deaflympics will be held in Tokyo and will be the focus of many people’s attention! What is your vision of what you want to achieve for the future and how you want to make this kind of society?

Nagai: I am very happy that the Deaflympics will be held in Tokyo for the first time! I hope that by the time the event is held, society will be more Deaf-friendly. Specifically, a Deaf-friendly society in which Deaf and hard-of-hearing people can communicate with hearing people without difficulty by using written communication, gestures, voice recognition applications, etc. when they go out in town or to stores. It is also called an inclusive society.

 It is with this in mind that we launched “Rocho-kai”. When I entered society and worked in an environment with hearing people, I experienced difficulties due to miscommunication. Many of them thought that an application that converts speech into text would be a sufficient guarantee of information. Each Deaf person has a different way of acquiring necessary information, and there are people who can speak and people who cannot. Although there are various ways of communication, they are still not well known. When I felt this way, six years ago, I founded the “Deaf Cho-kai” with a senior hearing person who was concerned about me at the time and a deaf friend of mine who was in a group with me when we were in college. The concept of the “Rocho-kai” is “Let’s have a conversation that doesn’t rely on voice. We encourage Deaf and hard-of-hearing people, who are in the minority in society, to come closer to each other and consider communication methods other than voice, such as written communication, gestures, and sign language. We are creating an opportunity for each person to realize the importance of eye contact and mutual understanding through their own experiences.

 I believe that one of the things I can do as an actor is to create opportunities to change society to be inclusive. If more people see me in the media, dramas, movies, etc., they will have a better understanding of the image of the Deaf. I would also like to achieve results in my acting, so that people will think, “Oh, Deaf people can act, too”. If people know that there are deaf actors, I think it will broaden their horizons. Even if they suddenly encounter a deaf person on the street, they will be able to interact with him or her in a flexible manner. I believe it will be an opportunity to change their way of thinking and behavior.
 I will continue to participate in various productions and challenge myself to play a wide range of roles.

photographs by Uta Mukuo

 

Eri Nagai / Born in Tokushima
Actor

While at Shikoku Gakuin University, she was discovered by film director Mika Imai and played the main character in the film “Until Rainbow Dawn,” which was produced by a group of deaf directors and actors, and discovered the fun of acting and entered the world of actors.
After graduating from university, she became a student of the first class of “Deaf Actors Course 2022,” an actor training course for the deaf and hard-of-hearing.
She also starred in “The Tanaka’s,” which was screened at the Tokyo International Deaf Film Festival, and was a sign language performer on NHK’s “TV for Everyone, Enjoyed through Sign Language”. In 2022, she appeared in the film “SMALL, SLOW BUT STEADY (Keiko Me wo Sumasete)” (72nd Berlin International Film Festival).
In October 2023, she appeared in the film “Moon,” based on a real-life injury case, playing the role of the killer’s lover; she will also appear in the TV drama “Deaf Voices: Sign Language Interpreter in Court,” which will be broadcast on December 16 (Sat) and 23 (Sat), 2023, in two parts.

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