Interview with Daisuke Suzuki
Daisuke Suzuki is not a familiar face in Hollywood, just yet…but his voice certainly is. Daisuke is the man behind the Japanese character, Toshi, on the hit Fox Network show, “American Dad”. True to his roots, Daisuke translates his funny lines into perfect Japanese humor as his character Toshi becomes a fan favorite.
Up next for this rising Japanese name is voice work on the Sci-Fi film, “The Guardians of Luna” where he plays the role of Kazuya. Currently, he is organizing a workshop that would help Japanese actors stretch their body, mind and creativity. He hopes people in Hollywood will discover something new about the Japanese, not just the stereotypical images. Eyestrane interviewed Mr. Suzuki. Let’s understand a little more about the man behind the voice!
It is a pleasure to meet you. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and where you were born?
Daisuke: Nice to meet you. I was born in Hamamatsu, Shizuoka, Japan. I grew up in a countryside of Hamamatsu where a lot of farming was still going on. My grandparents were farmers and I sometimes went up to their farmland to help their works. A lot of times I ended up playing in the woods that was behind their farmland though. Although my family was never well-off, my mom was very passionate about her childrens’ education. She would give me money for stationaries and books but not for candies or games or most of the time even clothes. She made me take piano, Japanese calligraphy, abacus lessons since I was 5 or 6. I was a very athletic kid so eventually sports started to weigh more but I stuck with what I started for about 10 years. I was a captain of the basketball teams in my junior high and high school, even though I was pretty much the shortest guy on my teams. We went to the final four at our high school state championship, so I did all right. I was a kind of kid who’d naturally take a leadership role and the rest take it for granted. Even I myself can’t help admiring this guy. I wonder where this guy’s gone to now. I miss him… Anyway, I believe all these experiences in my youth helped me build all kinds of muscles and senses that could be useful for my career which is acting. So I’m grateful to my mom for putting me through all of these.
I have read that while studying at the University you decided to quit and come to America. How did your parents react?
Daisuke: Actually, I didn’t come to the US while studying at a university. I came here as soon as I graduated from high school. What happened was even after my parents paid for the fee for me to participate in the National Center Test for University Admissions, I just couldn’t find the purpose of going to one. I went to the best high school in my city and all my family naturally assumed that I would enter one of the prestigious universities in Japan and I was simply doing what everybody expected of me. I was pretty much lost in the classroom where everybody was pumped up for the upcoming test.
One of my friends got tired of looking at me acting like that, so he joked me and said, “Get out of my sight, you punk. You are so annoying. Anywhere in Japan wouldn’t be far enough. Go to America or something.” That’s all I needed to hear to decide to come to the US. I finally realized what I wanted to do for my life. In 2 1/2 months, I was already in the US.
My dad didn’t even move his eyebrows when I told him about my desire at first. He became very supportive right away. He even got excited for me saying he thought about it when he was young, too. That was quite amazing. On the other hand, my mom invested so much in me she couldn’t hear me at first. Later she told me she couldn’t say no to me anymore after she saw me cry on this matter. She is still very strict and hard on me but she hopes for my success more than anyone, like no comparison.
When you got to the US did you move immediately into acting? Is it something you have always wanted to do?
Daisuke: The first time I dreamed about becoming a Hollywood actor (a Hollywood superstar to be exact) was when I was 13. Growing up in a very conservative family in countryside didn’t help me nourish the dream. I gradually forgot about it except it always stayed somewhere inside me. So I never acted in Japan and I wasn’t ready to jump on an acting career when I came to the US, but I believed I would be ready when the time came. Besides, I wanted to make my parents feel good about my coming to this country first so I got a Bachelor Degree (in Film Studies) to show them that I didn’t come here to mess with them. I also wanted to learn about this country and its culture first, to boost my confidence, that I could make it here. So it was after I graduated from UCSB, when I made up my mind that I would spend the rest of my life as an actor… 7 years after I came to the US.
Some actors say it is hard for Asian American actors to land roles in the US. Have you found this to be the case?
Daisuke: I don’t know, is there any other way to put it? If they are from their own Asian countries like myself and try to get an American role, then it’s even worse. American roles, Japanese roles, Chinese roles, whatever they are, our chances are always limited by required native English, English with an accent, or native Japanese or Chinese or Korean, blah blah blah. Yet we are also treated like all Asians are the same and you lose the advantage of being a native of your own country. You have no idea how lucky and blessed I feel about my American Dad gig. Thank you, FOX, for creating such a character. That kind of a role is so darn hard to come around.
You have a funny story about your audition for American Dad. Can you tell it to our readers?
Daisuke: I was working as a part-time sushi chef back then. One day I got a message from my manager at that time regarding an audition with a phone number attached. I didn’t quite understand what exactly he said and I didn’t know what the audition was for. But since I got the phone number he told me to call, I called the number during my lunch break expecting I was getting my call time and the location for the audition. It turned out the person who answered the phone was the casting director herself, Linda Lamontagne, and she said we would have an audition over the phone right there and then. So there I was in a sushi chef uniform sitting on a bench placed in the back of the restaurant. I translated a couple of English lines she gave me into Japanese and performed to the phone. Since I didn’t know what kind of project I was auditioning for, I was like, “what a cheap audition.” (Sorry, Linda. there is no disrespect.) At least, Linda sounded very excited about my performance so I settled with that. Even when my manager informed me that I got the part, I still wasn’t aware that I was going to work for FOX. Now I think about it and I don’t know how I was so ignorant about the whole situation. It’s ridiculous. Maybe I just couldn’t believe it… I don’t know.
When I went to our first table reading and met all the professional (voice)actors like Seth MacFarlane with cameras around us, that’s when I finally realized what kind of project I got myself into and I freaked out and felt like I was in heaven, although I automatically assumed I was there for one time gig. It was just so hard to believe that a Japanese actor could land on a character on a FOX animation. It took me a couple of years to accept the reality. That audition got me this show and now we are 7 years into it. Who would’ve thought this could happen to me back then? Obviously I didn’t.
Do you voice the characters from a script and then the animators animate to the audio or is it the other way around?
Daisuke: All the actors in American Dad record their voices before the animators create the scenes. The actors can perform without any limitation this way and I prefer this style to the other way around. When I worked for Disney and Cartoon Network pilots, they did the same way, too.
When you play the role of Toshi, how much is it Toshi and how much is it your own personality we see onscreen?
Daisuke: A very good question. I cannot control what Toshi says or does. It’s already in the script. However, when I get the new script, even Toshi’s lines are written in English. So I’m the one who translate all those lines into Japanese. When I translate them, my main goal is to make my lines sound as natural as possible so that I can even satisfy the audience who understand Japanese.
They are, of course, are the toughest critics. I can’t simply translate the English lines directly into Japanese. Sometimes I can’t even find the right words in Japanese no matter how easy the English lines are. So I have to do a lot of interpretations, my own way of interpreting. Also, the standard Japanese tends to sound flat and I’ve learned no matter how cool what Toshi says is, American audiences wouldn’t get my intention from the sound of it. Through this process, I ended up using my own dialect from time to time because it could add more color, rhythm and ups and downs in tone. So the way I word them must be pretty similar to how I would say them in my real life. Not that I love to curse. People left and right like Toshi, but it’s not too much to say Toshi’s got a lot of my DNA.
“American Dad” premiered in 2005 and is still going strong in 2011. That has been a long run. Is it still fun for you and have you learned a lot in the process?
Daisuke: I feel very grateful and yes, it’s still a lot of fun. I can’t wait to find out what Toshi would say in his next episode. Toshi surprises me a lot. So every recording is a new experience. If I’m lucky, I get to meet and talk with guest stars in the lobby. Sandra Oh is such a cool person. She is the voice of Toshi’s mother. I’ve learned a lot through this project. I learn myself as an actor through Toshi and I keep getting better at translating, which is a plus. Also, working at such a high level keeps reminding me of what I’m here for and gives me confidence, even when I have doubts about myself.
I also read you will be doing voice work on the Sci-Fi film, “The Guardians of Luna” where you play the role of Kazuya. Can you tell us anything about your new project?
Daisuke: Thank you so much for mentioning it. First of all, I have to tell you, I’m super excited about this gig. Kazuya is a big role. Guardians of Luna is a feature animation which follows the story of Carson Stone (voice: Kellan Lutz from Twilight, Eclipse, The Twilight Saga, etc), a young man who is drawn to the city of Steelhenge by a mysterious letter from the father who abandoned him as a child.
Steelhenge is a cursed city: On the eve of each full moon, a werewolf menace plagues the city, terrorizing its citizens and shaking the city to its core. Now Carson, who discovers his bloodline connection to an ancient race of shapeshifters known as the Gurrn, on whose hallowed ground Steelhenge was erected, becomes embroiled in their fight. To protect the trapped and tortured souls of the Gurrn spirits from city leaders intent on harnessing their ancient powers for nefarious purposes, Carson teams up with three of his fellow werewolves — and some even stranger allies — only to discover that the humans may not be his only enemy… Well, I got this description from the producer, Avi Melman. My English is never as eloquent as his.
And where does Kazuya come in? Well, Kazuya has come to Steelhenge to find his younger sister, Etsuko. Both of them hail from an ancient lineage of dragons that live in northern Japan. Kazuya finds that Etsuko has been employed by the main villain, Constantine (voice: John Noble from Lord of the Rings, The Airbender, etc), as a mercenary…but when Kazuya is saved by the werewolves, he decides that he must even the odds, and joins their fight. As both Kazuya and Etsuko are about ten times more powerful than any of the werewolves, their clashes are epic. Much like the cinematic samurai clashes of Toshiro Mifune.
Kazuya speaks English almost all the way through and he is a good looking young man. This character is a million miles away from Toshi in every aspect, although Toshi will probably disagree with me. I deeply appreciate Avi-san for trusting my English ability and giving me such an important role. This is why I’m super excited. I will make sure that I will provide what Avi-san is looking for.
If you want to find out more about Guardians of Luna, please check out our official website and facbook page:
Official website: www.guardiansofluna.com
Facebook page: www.facebook.com/guardiansofluna
I wrote an article on the very fabulous [intlink id="824" type="post"]Kaz Matamura[/intlink]. How do you know Kaz?
Daisuke: I met Kaz-san several times here and there before but what lead us to get to know each other well was the LA Cosplay show she organized early this year. Thanks to Toshi, I was invited to the event as a guest judge along with the voice actors like, Tom Kenny (SpongeBob), Jess Harnell (Transformers, Cars 2, Toy Story 3). and so on. That’s when I really talked to her for the first time.
Soon after the event, Kaz-san offered me a role for a Japanese theatre play she was directing. “Mabuta no Haha (Memory of Mother),” is a very classical Japanese theatre play and I was honored to perform in it and I found Kaz-san’s directing very helpful and professional.
I believe you may be the only Japanese voice over actor who has a regular spot on TV right now. What is next for you?
Daisuke: My passion for films is very strong. I’d love to land roles in some big movies and hopefully that trend will continue for a long time. Currently, I’m organizing a workshop that would help Japanese actors stretch their body, mind and creativity tremendously.
The show that will come out of this workshop will be very unique and powerful and people in Hollywood will discover something new about us Japanese, not just the stereotypical images of us. This show could have a big impact on the Japanese actor community in Hollywood. Anything to promote our bright future and that’s what I stand for.