(Nobuko Tanaka’s article appeared in Japan Times, 10/16/21.)

Rena Matsui plays the pivotal role of Mark Antony, a general and follower of the charismatic leader of the Roman republic, in “Julius Caesar.” |

Rena Matsui always knew she wanted to enter the acting world, and launching her career by performing in idol-pop groups was all part of her plan.

She started out as a member of the Nagoya-based SKE48 in 2008 before joining Nogizaka46 in Tokyo, becoming one of the top stars of Japan’s many all-female singing and dancing troupes. In 2015, she left both groups to dedicate herself to acting.

“I was determined to be an actor, so I decided to be an idol in order to get that chance,” she says in a recent video call.

Growing up in Toyohashi, Aichi Prefecture, Matsui developed an early interest in stage performances through her mother’s love of the Takarazuka Revue, a long-running all-female musical theater company.

“Then, when I watched a DVD of (playwright and director) Koki Mitani’s musical ‘Okepi!,’ which shows the goings-on and gossip between musicians in an orchestra pit, I was amazed by how great it was to explore the entertainment world by focusing on people who aren’t always in the spotlight,” she says.

“I realized that theater has room for unconventional ideas, and I wanted to be an actor who uses their own rich imagination to express intangible things on stage.”

Now Matsui, 30, is taking her acting career to new heights by tackling her first Shakespeare play, an all-female version of the Roman tragedy “Julius Caesar.”

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