Rihito Itagaki brings a splash of color to Japanese television
While fluid gender characters populate the storylines of manga and anime series, there is still a lack of representation in mainstream Japanese media. A Yomiuri TV drama hopes to bring some more color to what has been a largely binary palette. “
Based on “My Androgynous Boyfriend”, a manga series by artist Tamekou, “Colorful Love: My Androgynous Boyfriend” focuses on novice manga publisher Wako (Ai Yoshikawa) and her relationship with Meguru, which she has rescued from bullies while she was in high school together. Often mistaken for a woman, Meguru likes to apply makeup and dress in a gender-neutral manner.
19-year-old actor Rihito Itagaki stars as Meguru, who won praise for her performances in the film “The Promised Neverland” last year and the television series “Kamen Rider Zi-O”. Like her co-star Yoshikawa, “Colorful Love” marks her first leading role in a drama.
“There was a mixture of nerves and excitement,” Itagaki told the Japan Times. “It’s a game I didn’t have to prepare too much for because Meguru and I are so similar. I felt comfortable with the clothes and the makeup, and it’s great to be able to work with Ai. His character allows Meguru to be himself and this gives him the confidence to be more assertive and not hold back.
Much like his character, Itagaki says he also enjoys expressing himself through fashion and makeup, a facet of his personality that he discovered while performing in college plays. This may explain his affinity with Meguru, who first appeared in Tamekou’s manga in 2018 in the monthly Feel Young magazine, which is aimed at young women.
“It’s a romantic comedy with two main characters whose love for each other is pure, and there is something remarkably heartwarming about it,” Itagaki said. “It’s also a story that addresses several issues that permeate Japanese society, including feminism – not only in terms of how it applies to women, but to men and to those who do not identify as men or women.
“We cannot see these issues as one gender against another, or minorities against everyone. Progress can only be made by cooperating with each other, and you can see this in (“Colorful Love”).
While the TV series Yomiuri is Itagaki’s first leading role, he has been working in the entertainment industry since he was 2 when he made his debut as a model. Understandably, he doesn’t remember the details of his first steps in the public eye, but he still has fond memories of commercial shoots as a child.
“They were a lot of fun because I could dress in wild clothes and be a different person,” Itagaki recalls. “It sparked an interest in taking action. As a child, I was more into dramas than cartoons, and I was particularly inspired by powerful scenes in which the actors showed strong emotions.
Itagaki made his big screen debut with a small role as genius boy Ryuo Edogawa in Sakichi Sato’s 2014 thriller “Tokyo Slaves”. The actor went on to appear in Jumpei Matsumoto’s mystery “Embers”, as well as in various TV shows. His most prominent role prior to “Colorful Love,” however, was math prodigy Norman in the live-action adaptation of Kaiu Shirai’s hit manga series, “The Promised Neverland”.
“Of course I was delighted to get the part, but the overwhelming feeling was one of anxiety because Norman is an iconic character for a lot of people and I didn’t want to disappoint anyone,” Itagaki said. “The response seemed positive, which was a relief and made me very happy.”
Itagaki discovered a different (but familiar) way to express himself while working on the 2019 medical show “Cheers to Miki Clinic”. During filming, he got close to lead actors Masanobu Ando and Takahiro Miura, who frequently took photos between takes.
“Ando and Miura were constantly clicking on their cameras while filming and the vibe was really good,” Itagaki said. “I jokingly mentioned that it would be nice to make a photo book. A few months later, my management told me about the ‘Rihito 18“and that (actor) Hayato Ichihara would also be involved. I wanted to do that immediately.
“Rihito 18” is a collection of artistic shots of the three actors with Itagaki playing the role of muse in a range of androgynous style outfits. Most of Ando and Miura’s photos were taken amidst the natural backdrops of the islands of Kagoshima Prefecture, with Miura choosing to give her model a more adult look. Ichihara’s hits, meanwhile, put Itagaki in the cafes and alleys that populate Tokyo to bring out a younger energy.
“It was interesting to see their contrasting techniques,” Itagaki says. “With Ando, it was like being on a movie set trying to create a story. Ichihara had a more relaxed and delicate style, and Miura was taking the pictures without me even realizing it. I had never experienced anything like this before. It was fun. “
While Itagaki is clearly a natural on camera, he says his main focus will remain to act and continue to explore where his particular gaze takes him.
“I have been fortunate to have had so many amazing opportunities at such an early stage in my career,” Itagaki said. “I love photoshoots – and drawing, which is another of my passions – but ultimately my main focus right now is to keep improving myself as an actor. Meguru is my first lead role and I hope there will be many more to come.
“Colorful Love: My Androgynous Boyfriend” airs Thursdays at 11:59 pm on Yomiuri TV until June 3. The episodes are also available to stream on Hulu Japan. For more information visit www.ytv.co.jp/colorfulovele (only in Japanese).
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