(Nobuko Tanaka’s article appeared in the Japan Times, 8/26; Strong bonds: Keito Okamoto (right) says his admiration for his father, Kenichi (left), drew him to the role of Nicolas in Florian Zeller’s play, ‘The Son.’)
When Keito Okamoto was offered the title role in French dramatist Florian Zeller’s latest work, “The Son,” he felt the play was written about him.
“It was completely astonishing,” he says. And what makes taking on the role more special is that he will be making his stage debut opposite his actual father, Kenichi.
“The Son,” which is set to open Aug. 30 at the Tokyo Metropolitan Theatre in Toshima Ward, centers on a fraught father-son relationship. An intense dissection of family dynamics, the play is mainly set in the apartment of the father, Pierre, whose deeply troubled teenage son, Nicolas, has been caught skipping school. Withdrawn and angry, Nicolas’ behavior baffles Pierre and his ex-wife, Anne (Mayumi Wakamura), who try to help their child while balancing their own personal lives. Despite their best efforts and those of Pierre’s girlfriend, Sofia (Kayo Ise), who has just given birth, nothing seems to draw Nicolas out of his gloomy world as he darkly repeats: “I don’t understand what’s happening to me.”
“The Son” is the final installment of Zeller’s family-themed trilogy, which began with 2010’s “The Mother,” whose middle-aged title character is beset with feelings that her life has no meaning, followed by “The Father” in 2012. Centering on an old man who begins to suspect his daughter is trying to steal his apartment as he grapples with dementia, “The Father” garnered numerous awards in France, Britain and the United States, in addition to a best actor prize from Japan’s prestigious Yomiuri Theater Awards for Isao Hashizume when it was staged by French director Ladislas Chollat at the Tokyo Metropolitan Theatre in 2019.
Chollat, one of Zeller’s closest collaborators, has now returned to Japan to present the last part of the trilogy. Rather than being concerned about a real father and son pair playing the lead roles in this edgy drama, Chollat says he was “so pleased” that the Okamotos accepted this offer — “despite it being quite risky casting due to their relationship.”
Kenichi, 52, is the former vocalist and guitarist for the Johnny & Associates pop group Otokogumi. After the group split in 1993, he immersed himself in theater as an actor and director, winning awards, such as a Yomiuri Theater Award for best actor, along the way. Keito, 28, has followed a similar path, spending most of the past decade in the Johnny’s boy band Hey! Say! Jump. In 2018, Keito decided to take a break for two years to study at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York, before leaving the group in April to dedicate himself to theater.