Popular dancer Anna Ishii learns joy of acting

Anna Ishii.

Anna Ishii, a dancer in the popular all-girl group E-girls, says she wants to develop as an actress through various acting opportunities in the years ahead.

Three films featuring the 16-year-old Ishii will be released this year, including one in which she has the lead role. Titled "Girls Step," the film is directed by Taisuke Kawamura and is scheduled to be released this autumn.

"I hope I can grow by acting in more films," Ishii said.

Before "Girls Step" comes to cinemas, however, the first instalment of a two-part film titled "Solomon no Gisho" (Solomon's Perjury) will be released today, with the second part out April 11.

Born in Tokyo in 1998, Ishii began dancing when she was a second-year primary school student. She then joined Exile Professional Gym, a dancing and vocal school, when she was a fifth-year primary school student. In 2012, she joined E-girls.

Ishii has fascinated audiences with her moving dance performances, but she is increasingly garnering attention as an actress these days. Not satisfied with the increased recognition, she remains highly motivated, saying, "I want to be recognised by more people."

After becoming active as an actress, she began appearing in various TV commercials, such as for Pocari Sweat and Docomo d video. The d video commercial was widely talked about for her appearance with actress Nana Komatsu, 18.

What makes Ishii particularly attractive are the pure expressions and air about her, which look as if they faithfully reflect how she feels.

Motoko Kimura, the producer of "Girls Step" who decided to cast Ishii in the film, cited how Ishii has both cute and cool personality traits as the main reason she picked her for the film.

"While she usually puts on a girly, cute and charming face, she looks so cool and stylish as a dancer," she said. "I find the great difference in expressions as her charm, and that makes her perfect for the role."

Last year, Ishii made a great leap.

"I always felt fulfilled at every film shoot, and the past year was so rewarding for me," she said.

"Girls Step" features a low-key high school student who begins to grow following her encounter with dancing. Ishii plays the protagonist, Azusa Nishihara. She begins to take dancing seriously alongside a group of four other girls, nicknamed "Jimiis" (low-key girls), and gradually finds out the joys of expressing herself.

For Ishii, it was the perfect role in which she can make use of her dancing expertise.

However, what made the role difficult was the character's lack of any distinct features, as the role was described as a high school girl you could find anywhere.

"Because the character has no particular characteristics, I had to reveal who I am," Ishii said.

The key for the film was dancing skills, but the four other main actors had no experience with dancing, so Ishii volunteered to help them.

"I told them things such as, 'You should try this or that,' while watching takes," she said.

She, of course, felt great pressure in acting the lead role.

"I felt nothing other than pressure before the shoot," she said. "I wondered whether I would be able to convey something, standing at the centre" of the film. But the instincts she built up through her experience of having danced in front of tens of thousands of people helped her.

"I was able to overcome [the hardship], thinking I should have the responsibility as the main actor," she said. "It turned out to be a film that can show our growth."

Last year, she spent more than six months on film shoots, which gradually helped her enjoy acting even more. One of the attractions is that acting has no finish line, she says.

"When you turn 30, you can be a mother, and at 50, a grandmother," she said. "I'd like to play roles as long as possible so that I can look back someday and be like, 'I played a student then.'"

She admires actress Sayuri Yoshinaga, who well represents the country's film industry.

"I want to be an actress who can keep being in films no matter how old I am, like Sayuri-san," she said. "Last year gave me the time to prepare myself. This year, I'd like to do more."

Ishii has just begun moving down the path of acting. A great deal of possibilities certainly lies ahead of her.