The Jigaigeki story is simple: a hero, who is the embodiment of justice, punishes villains through clashing swords. The hero always wins and people thank him for saving their village. He is always cool, dignified, and right. And the viewer focuses on him solely as he’s usually portrayed by a handsome, well-known Japanese actor.
Uzumasa Limelight, however, is not about the hero. It’s about the villain.
This true story made into fiction, tells the story of the on-stage samurai who has been killed 50,000 times on screen and gives the villain a chance to shine.
Seiichi Kamiyama, portrayed by Seizo Fukumoto (a real-life actor who mirrors the story), is a 70 year-old acting veteran. He’s a Kirare-yaku, which is the name of the villain archetype who dies by the hand of the hero.
Even in his old age, he still practices hard to be a better actor. His boss and his friends know how passionate he is about his art and they have great respect for him, but it’s an uphill battle.
While Uzumasa was once called the “Hollywood of the East”, Jidaigeki is seen as a little out-of-date. Viewers want more modern and stylish TV programs rather than the old samurai dramas.
In the film, Akihiko Kawashima, portrayed by Masahi Goda, is also a television producer who wants to revive this old way of telling stories, but even he knows it’s on the decline.
The problem is that people don’t want to see this kind of samurai drama in cinemas anymore. Actors like Kamiyama are getting on in years and have gotten used to being out of the limelight. Being based loosely around Charlie Chaplain’s film Limelight (1952), it tells the story of how these old school samurai drama get back up on their feet and return to doing what they love.
But Kamiyama and Kawashima’s struggles also focuses on many young actors, who often start out as extras in films and struggle to find their defining roles. While some may find their way, oftentimes young Japanese actors will give up on the industry.
Kamiyama will always be an extra and he’s content with that. He may have no lines, nobody pays attention to him, and his name may never come up on the ending credits. But he’s far from being unsuccessful. His acting career provides a stark contrast to the aspirations of younger actors.
As a character that is always killed, in his own way he has helped touch hearts in his own way and he has a solid base of fans that have supported him on the screen, but in his own film he’s made sure everyone gets due recognition for their roles.
“There are no extras at Uzumasa,” Kamiyama said. “They are all actors, they are all performers.”