Child actor Kamiki is all grown up

There was a time when Ryunosuke Kamiki was known as "that cute child actor." Even now, many people's image of him probably comes from movies like Yokai Daisenso (The Great Yokai War). But that little boy is already 18 years old.

In Toaru Hikushi eno Tsuioku (Recollections of a certain pilot), which premiered Oct. 1, he voices a role older than he is, marking an important step in his growth as an actor. Recently, Kamiki spoke candidly to The Yomiuri Shimbun about his thoughts on his career.

The first time I saw "Kamiki-kun" in the flesh was in November 2004 at NTV's Shiodome headquarters in Tokyo for the premier of Howl's Moving Castle. He was just the cutest thing as he tried to cut the tape, a true angel. Audiences were enthralled with Kamiki in his touching role on the TBS Sunday drama Aikurushii (So lovely) and as the lively main character of NTV's Tantei Gakuen Q (Detective school Q).

"The other day, a junior high school student said to me, 'You've really gotten big.' People's opinions of me seem to have been put on pause a while ago," said Kamiki with a wry laugh. "It's not that I want to erase any of their memories, but I want to carve a new image on top of that."

In Toaru Hikushi eno Tsuioku, Kamiki plays the main character Charles, a 21-year-old fighter pilot. This is the first time for him to play a character older than himself, in either film or anime. "Charles has a lot of inner strength, and also a big sense of responsibility and justice," Kamiki said. "I tried to focus on making my voice lower, to sound like a steadfast adult."

Toaru Hikushi eno Tsuioku is the movie version of the novel of the same name by Koroku Inumura. In it, ace mercenary pilot Charles is charged with secretly delivering the heir to the throne, Princess Fana (voiced by Seika Taketomi), safely back to her nation by breaking through enemy lines in a lone reconnaissance seaplane. Risking their lives on the trip through the sky, the two gradually become attracted to each other. Released by Madhouse Inc., the film was directed by Jun Shishido, director of Saiunkoku Monogatari (Tale of the land of coloured clouds).

With several credits from Studio Ghibli under his belt, one might think of Kamiki as a voice-over specialist, but he said it took some getting used to. "At first my voice would get really high all of a sudden," he says. "During combat scenes with other planes, I'd unconsciously start moving my hands along with [the action]."

One memorable line in the film is after Charles avoids a missile and somehow causes it to strike the enemy plane that fired it. "Sorry," he uttered.

"Since [Charles] was discriminated against while he was growing up, I think he understands other people's pain and sadness twice as much as a normal person. He doesn't really want to kill people. I put a lot of different thoughts into my performance," Kamiki said.

Character designer Hidenori Matsubara praised Kamiki's work in the film.

"The strength of his voice really brought out Charles' purity. It really increased the sense that he was the main character," Matsubara said. "It's an incredibly poignant story of love between different classes, but it's also got white-knuckle battle scenes and a beautiful ending. I hope a lot of people get to see it."

On becoming an actor

The Saitama Prefecture native claims that since his debut in TV commercials at the age of 2, he has never thought of his job as difficult or considered quitting.

"Back then my health wasn't very good, so my mom tried to get me work [in show business] because she wanted some kind of concrete proof I had lived. Now she tells me I can quit if I want, but I enjoy it so I'm not about to stop." His first TV role came four years later, in 1999, on the TBS show Good News.

The first time Kamiki thought seriously about the job of an actor was during his first lead role in Yokai Daisenso. "I had a lot of new experiences, like acting with wires and shooting in out-of-town locations, but it was during the promos and interviews that I started to realize I needed to be a representative for everyone who was involved in the movie. That's when something like a sense of responsibility gradually started to take shape," he said.

Other major productions Kamiki has appeared in include 20 Seiki Shonen: Saishusho Bokura no Hata (the final installment of 20th Century Boys Series), as well as the Fuji TV series Kaze no Garden (Wind garden) and the NTV series Kokosei Restaurant (High school student restaurant). His anime voice-over credits are numerous and include hits such as Summer Wars.

But, has he really never run up against an obstacle? "People around me have all kinds of special talents, like singing or dancing," Kamiki said. "One day I started to think that there wasn't anything special about me, and I got really down."

When asked if he considers acting to be a special talent, Kamiki answers that before he didn't think of performing that way, it was just something people asked him to do. "But after talking to a lot of people, I decided I needed to have pride in my acting," he said. "If I think I need something else, I can give dancing or singing a try, but acting should be my foundation. I've gained enough confidence to trust that I should grow in the ways I think I need to."

Approaching 18 years of age, "People tell me, 'Wow, you've grown up,' but I want to mature in lots of ways, not just physically. Up to now I've had pretty tame roles, so I'd like to try playing someone evil. I'd also like to act in a love story. So far my real-life loves tend to stop at, 'You're a nice guy,'" Kamiki said shyly. With that expression, one sees that "Kamiki-kun" is still there, but there's an enchanting adult about to appear.