Recently at SMASH! Con 2016 at the Rose Hill Gardens, we were lucky enough to get a chance to sit down with legendary Japanese voice actor Hideo Ishikawa for an interview. Ishikawa is famous for his role as Sasuke’s brother Itachi on the Naruto anime series and has performed countless other iconic roles in series like Bleach and Slam Dunk. He even has some live action credits to his name having worked on tokusatsu series like Kamen Rider. In our interview we talked all things Naruto, Bleach and even explored his secret basketball obsession. Read on for our full interview with Hideo Ishikawa.
At the time of the character Itachi’s introduction, the Naruto series was already a hit in Japan. It has of course since gone on to become popular around the world. Did you ever expect the series to become a global hit like it has when you first signed on to do the role of Itachi?
I must say that it may be because Naruto is quite the same as Japanese culture. We do actually have Ninja academy and things like that. Also I didn’t know at first that Naruto had become so big of an anime. That said I am very glad for it because many people like the Australian people know me because of my work on Naruto.
What elements of the Itachi character drew you to this role and do you see similarities between yourself and Itachi?
Well at first I thought that he is so mysterious. I didn’t know how I should act and I was especially thinking about whether he was a good person or a bad person. After that though I started to think that Itachi just has to be a good person because I wanted him to be a good brother to Sasuke. Also he passed away in such a good way, I mean it is awkward to say that but I think it shows that he is a good person in the end.
Before the truth of Itachi’s past was revealed, he was somewhat of a villainous character as a member of the Akatsuki. Despite that he became a fan favourite character. Why do you think he connected with the fans so much although he is a villain for most of the series?
My feeling is that my fans feel the same as me. Of course we didn’t know how it all ends for him, but gradually and step by step I found out the solution for how I should act, be it as a good person or bad person as I say. Finally we know he became a good person when his past was revealed. So I feel like he is cool and a good person and the fans could see that as well.
In the anime Bleach, you played the character Ukitake. He is a seemingly innocent character who seems that he may have a darker side at times. He is a character that seems to have many layers. What was your approach to a complex role like Ukitake?
I haven’t ever said anything about this question in Japan, not even when I attended the Jump Anime Tour. On the Jump Anime Tour they have these things called pilots which is like a short movie sort of thing and I joined for the role in the pilot for Bleach.
In regards to the role I asked the voice actor of Ichigo Kurosaki (the main character), Masakazu Morita, how should I act and he just said “I don’t know.” When he said that to me I thought “Oh my god, how should I do this one?” Since it was the pilot I thought that it was only one scene I will attend and just do it. However since Bleach got made into a full series I ended up attending many more recording sessions.
So when it became a series I asked the director if I will become a regular on the series and he said “Of course you are one of the leaders of Gotei 13!” But I soon realized he is sick and has an illness so I started to wonder what is this character really about. As you said the character is mostly innocent but there is a mystery to him so I felt I should do it a different way, which is what I feel I have done.
With the Bleach manga coming to an end in Japan, have you had a chance at all the read this final storyline which continues on beyond where the anime ended? If so what do you think of the way it is ending?
Well you see… Ukitake passed away. So if you want you finally can see Ukitake’s grave! [laughs, turns to the side and does a praying gesture]
Rest in peace Ukitake!
So to be honest I didn’t read past there, I’m sorry to say. [laughs]
Many years ago you voiced some roles for the anime series Slam Dunk. What was it like working on a legendary series like Slam Dunk and did you develop a love for basketball while doing this role?
I performed many characters in Slam Dunk but my main role was as Kiccho Fukuda. During that time I was talking with Hikaru Midorikawa who also was a voice on the anime about NBA. Stuff like what was going on in NBA at the time and we ended up becoming so much into basketball. I must say I like Michael Jordan so much! We got so into basketball we even bought basketball shoes like Michael Jordan, I think I bought about 10 pairs of basketball shoes while doing Slam Dunk. [laughs]
Outside of voice acting you have also done live action roles for series like Kamen Rider. What challenges are there when you go from voice acting to live action acting like Kamen Rider?
This is a bit hard to answer because in a show like Kamen Rider I didn’t really show my face. So for me it was not too different because I mostly acted through my voice while in the costume. I must say I really love all the different phrases of Kamen Rider they are so cool. When I got the role for Kamen Rider I was so excited that I said many times “Henshin!” [does Kamen Rider transformation pose] which is of course the transformation phrase of Kamen Rider. I really love to say “Henshin!”
We have time for one more question and this may be a difficult one because you have done so many roles over your career. Do you have a favourite role and if so why?
Wow, that is a very good question and I am not sure how to answer this one. Well I have done many roles and in my mind I think of it first as performing the character and second about who I like and don’t like. There is still many characters that I am currently working on and haven’t finished yet so it is hard to say if maybe they will be my favourite or not. My approach is that I would like to know more about the character and I would like to love the characters as well, I try to do that with all my roles. If I do that maybe in 10 years time if someone asks me to do the same character again it will be like falling in love with the character all over again.
Special thanks to Hideo Ishikawa for taking the time to speak with us. Also thanks to SMASH! Con for arranging the interview.