Honami Suzuki reflects on stardom, family and a middle-aged comeback

Honami Suzuki reflects on stardom, family and a middle-aged comeback

No longer shy of celebrity, "Tokyo Love Story" star Suzuki dons the period-drama gear on her own terms
Honami Suzuki
Honami Suzuki is making her acting comeback aged 44.

On a recent visit to the offices of Japanese public broadcaster NHK, the one-time A-list actress Honami Suzuki gives us her take on making a post-family return to acting at the grand old age of 44.

Suzuki, once renowned for her portrayal of Rika Akana in the 1991 drama “Tokyo Love Story” has just made her comeback after 11 years out of the business.

Reflecting on both her past, and her new role as a 16th-century princess in the serial “Go – Himetachi no Sengoku,” which is currently airing on NHK, Suzuki says, “I didn’t like stardom at all and I thought I might not be back.

“I have a family now, but there is also just myself in my life, so I needed to think about what I can become.”

Early days

Suzuki got into acting right after high school: “There were times I had other dreams like becoming an interpreter or a cabin attendant. Then I figured out that an actress could play them all.”

She auditioned for an agency and from her debut at the age of 19 in 1986’s TBS production “Asobi Ja Nai No Yo, Kono Koi Wa,” she built up her reputation in over 30 dramas in five years.

But the frank and forthright Suzuki has little nostalgia for her early career.

“I never watch those episodes now. I could not choose the roles, my agent chose them even when I didn’t like it – such is the system in Japan. I wasn’t interested in them after filming was done, I just let them go,” she says.

Honami Suzuki (left) in historical drama "Nobo no Shiro"Honami Suzuki (left) in historical drama "Nobo no Shiro."

Landmark role

In January 1991 Fuji TV broadcast an adaptation of Fumi Saimon’s manga “Tokyo Love Story,” the tale of fractured relationships and friends from a small town who find themselves working in Tokyo.

Remembered all over Asia, with repeats still broadcast 20 years on, for Suzuki the show was both a blessing and a curse.

I couldn’t deal with my popularity when “Tokyo Love Story” became a big hit, it was tiresome,” she admits.

Asian hit

“Tokyo Love Story” led a wave of Japanese popular culture across Asia and made Suzuki’s name in China, Hong Kong and Taiwan, as she found to her own surprise while traveling.

“I was unaware of it, but when I went to Hong Kong with my friends, people noticed me and chased after us. I was amazed by it,” she says.

A fan of director Wong Kar-Wai and actress Gong Li, Suzuki says she’d be delighted to work in projects outside Japan, but hasn’t yet been offered the opportunity.

Break time

Suzuki put away the greasepaint in 1999, following the NHK drama “Genroku Ryoran,” to finalize her aim to separate work from home life and bring up a family.

“I thought that raising children was real work and would be so tough, it would be impossible to cope with both that and acting.

“Also, I didn’t like to ask for help from other people. Angelina Jolie might have nannies, cooks and chauffeurs, but I wanted to prepare meals, do the laundry and change diapers myself.”

Suzuki thought she might never return, but after talking to fans during her time away about how inspiring the dramas had been, she felt it was time to repay them.

“Children grow up really fast so I needed to think about my life again,” she says.

“I can accept and deal with the fact that people see me as an actress now. I don’t mind at all now. I’d say ‘Wow, thanks. Watch next week too!’ I don’t know the reason why I changed, maybe I just matured.”

A more relaxed Suzuki is approaching work on her own terms.A more relaxed Suzuki is approaching work on her own terms.

Picking projects

In the current NHK serial, Suzuki plays the mother of the titular Princess Go, and will bow out in a dramatic death sequence this Sunday. She says she chose it as her big comeback because, quite simply, “When I read it, it made me cry.”

She will also star in the film “Nobo no Shiro”, out on September 17. Apart from these, Suzuki is biding her time for the right project, knowing that this time around, the choices are all hers.

Although she says she is enjoying working again, she is, nevertheless, reluctant to put all her effort into projects that might affect her family life.

If there’s a project that requires me and it's one that I find interesting, I’d love to do it,” she says, “but, as you know, it’s rare to find an interesting role for an actress in her forties.”

She concludes, “For now, though, I can’t even think of going somewhere with a clear plan, so who knows what will come next?”