A collaboration between a film launched from Fukuoka “Gachi-Boshi (Riding Uphill)” and Ippudo!
An Interview with Kan Eguchi, the director, and Kenichi Abe, the leading actor.
Struggle, struggle, struggle! What the audience saw on the screen was professional cyclists dripping in sweat and practising hard with tough instructors in ferocious, heated races. “Gachi-Boshi (Riding Uphill)” was the very first film directed by Eguchi Kan, the director of “KOO-KI”, a film production company based in Fukuoka. On the night of April 6, a day before its first release at Nakasu Taiyo Movie Theater in Fukuoka, a talk with the director Eguchi and Kenichi Abe, the leading actor was held at the Ippudo Tenjin Nishi-dori Stand. In the venue packed with a live audience, bowls of “Gachi-Boshi Ramen” inspired by this film were served, keeping the visitors satisfied as they listened to the behind-the-scenes story.
Words by Mayuu Yasunaga／Photos by Koji Maeda（Ushiro）
The movie “Gachi-Boshi” tells the story of the fresh start of a complete loser at the end of his tether.
Based in Fukuoka, Kan Eguchi is a globally active video director and led the creative direction of video and images for the bidding process of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. The first film directed by Eguchi, “Gachi-Boshi” was shot in Kokura, Kitakyushu City, which has been called the birthplace of Keirin (bicycle racing).“
From Fukuoka to the world. There was a sympathetic resonance between Eguchi, who put his heart and soul into the movie “Gachi-Boshi” and the Ippudo chain engaged in delivering ramen to the world: “The production was led by the ideas and imagination of Eguchi. We wanted to know everything about him and share our knowledge with everyone out there. We wanted to express our greatest respect and support for him with our dedicated ramen. This is how we ended up doing this collaborative work.”
Abe, the leading actor, gained as much as 10 kg to get into the part.
The movie “Gachi-Boshi” is a drama focusing on the life of Hamajima, a former professional baseball player dismissed from his team. After being thrown into an abyss of anguish, he is trying to start over as a professional cyclist after becoming separated from his family due to gambling, debt and infidelity. This movie shows how this middle-aged loser makes a fresh start, suffering, struggling and trying to crawl out of the depths of despair. There is an interesting contrast between the characters in the movie: promising teenaged students of the cycling school and the middle-aged Hamajima, who fights to overcome his frustrations.
Featuring very powerful sound and images, the intensity and grit of the bicycle race is expertly portrayed.
Kenichi Abe, who played the leading character, Hamajima, has trademark beautiful black hair and a pleasant smile. Far from the middle-aged loser, Hamajima, he is an extremely good-looking guy with a muscular physique. What kind of magic did the director, Eguchi, use to make this stud to look and behave like a complete scumbag?
Go and look for obscure actors in their 40s, who were struggling to gain recognition!
Auditions were set up to find a downtrodden looking guy.
The cast was decided through auditions, correct?
Eguchi：After discussions with the scriptwriter, we decided to look for an actor in the same situation as Hamajima from the very beginning. I said, “Please gather actors who are in their 40s, struggling and still getting nowhere.” In January 2016, we had auditions with 40 or 50 such actors.
Abe：Probably because the audition script was very intense, there was a strained atmosphere on the site. I was going to leave the acting business if I didn’t make it in this movie, so I was fully fired up. Unfortunately, I had a cold…
Eguchi：Are you sure you failed because of that? (Laughs) I heard that I have a reputation for being “tough” in the field (everybody laughs). We couldn’t find “the one” on that day, and eventually, all of the actors were rejected. I had high expectations for Abe-chan since he mentioned that his father was a professional cyclist though. Anyway, we went location hunting the next day without a leading actor.
Born in Fukuoka, Eguchi graduated from Kyushu Institute of Design and co-established KOO-KI in 1997. He produced a wide range of highly entertaining works including dramas, commercial strips and short films. Eguchi won awards at the Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival (AKA Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity) for three years running and was appointed as creative director of video and images for the bidding process of Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games in 2013. He directed the well-received drama, “Mentai Piriri” in 2013, receiving a number of awards. The drama has been made into a film, which will be released in January 2019.
Born in Oita Prefecture, Abe played baseball in junior high school, aiming for the Koshien (National High School Baseball Championship). However, he gave up his dream due to injury. Admiring his father who was a former professional cyclist, he tried to follow in his father’s footsteps after graduation but did not succeed. He pursued an acting career but spent a number of years in obscurity. Upon encountering the script of this movie, he felt inspired by the leading character, Hamajima. He recalled, “I was the one who could play Hamajima. I was going to quit acting if I didn’t make it.” He took the audition with his back to the wall and successfully got the main part.
“I will bet everything on him.” He landed the starring role with third-time luck.
Why did you pick up Abe as the main character even after he didn’t pass the test?
Eguchi：We went location hunting for a cycling school on the day after the first audition and needed somebody who could ride, so I asked him for help.
Abe：I was still feeling sick, but I got ready and went to the site.
Eguchi：We were location hunting while giving acting directions, however, he was totally useless! Early in the morning of the final day, I told Abe-chan that he had no chance. Then, he burst into tears.
Abe：If I continued like this, my career as an actor would end up in failure and I would have to go back to my hometown, Oita. Something had to give. I cried because I really needed a second chance. I desperately pleaded for help, and the staff gave me another chance to attend the audition in Tokyo the next week.
Eguchi：Now I can tell you the truth, but it was a major disappointment. I took him out to the cycling school because I expected him to do much better. I had no choice but to give him another chance since he started crying like a baby. Somehow, he gave a great performance at the third audition. I knew he was cornered and had abandoned his burden. He had changed and showed us something at the absolute edge. I thought, “OK, I will bet everything on him”.
Abe was recalling wryly how he was rejected during the audition.
The performance he devoted his entire life to, “Gachi-Boshi” was forged by the great passion and enthusiasm of those men.
How did you create the character of Hamajima?
Eguchi： I got some inspiration from reading an interview with a former baseball player who was dismissed from the team and actually became a professional cyclist later. Athletes who enter the glorious and successful professional world reach the very top as baseball players. I couldn’t help but imagine a life in which they had “fallen” from the top.
Abe：We exchanged notes text every day on how to make various facial expressions. I took selfies and sent them to the director. For example, I imagined how Hamajima would smile. I made the expression and sent the pictures to him.
Eguchi：In the beginning, he sucked. Normally he is such a pleasant and nice guy and laughs a lot. I told him to get frustrated and feel anger all the time to really get into the character of Hamajima.
Abe：It really hit me when he advised me to look back over my entire life and bring everything to the table. I recalled my whole career as an actor and the relationship with my estranged father, trying to incorporate it into my acting.
Eguchi：After all, Abe-chan himself was a living “Gachi-Boshi”. The real deal.
Abe：Exactly. The movie turned out to be the one to which I devoted my entire self.
The collaborative menu will only be available for a week. What is the Gachi-Boshi ramen offered by Ippudo?
During the talks, Ippudo served the bowls of “Gachi-Boshi ramen with Gachi rice” for a limited time to mark the release of the movie. We had an interview with Keisuke Masumoto, the Group Leader of Chikara-no-Moto Company Product Development Group, which was responsible for the product development.
This is the “Gachi-Boshi ramen” inspired by the movie. The ramen is topped with a heap of char-siu (Chinese-style barbecued pork) cooked at a low heat with a spicy sauce. The huge-sized onigiri (rice balls) come with the ramen, making it a filling dish.
Under what concept did you create the Gachi-Boshi ramen?
Masumoto：Here at the Ippudo, we have the brand named “Shiromaru Base”, which reproduced the extra thick soup we used to serve in the beginning. Also, there was the Tonkotsu (pork bone) soup called “zero”, which the founder used to make in his early years. It is a very fresh and aromatic soup, used just before it becomes rich and thick. Since the situation that Hamajima finds himself is “starting over from zero”, we decided to go with this soup this time.
Keisuke Masumoto is in sole control of the product development of Ippudo in Japan as well as other Asian countries.
The mound of char-siu and jumbo-sized rice balls have a strong visual impact.
Masumoto：The salted char-siu was created in the image of the slope leading to the cycling school captured in the movie. It is called “uphill meat”. The jumbo-sized rice balls were based on the recipe originally cooked for the restaurant staff. The rice was cooked with char-siu broth, and inside the rice balls, there was char-siu, mentaiko (seasoned cod roe), pickled takana and mayonnaise. We put various ingredients inside the rice balls to express the overflowing energy Hamajima has on the inside. It’s a dish that makes you greedy. We named the dish “Gachi-Meshi (Gachi dish)” after the movie “Gachi-Boshi” where those men greedily devour the challenge of the race.
Eguchi：It’s good. The “uphill meat” is especially awesome. I felt as if I accomplished something like ascending a steep hill after finishing the meat piece by piece.
Abe：He seemed to be very intense and focused on eating. I love ramen and eat it regularly, but he beat me (laughs).
There was a ramen place in the movie and the role of the shop owner was played by Hakata Hanamaru.
Eguchi：For me, ramen is something I’ve always been obsessed with. I can’t help it once I get cravings for ramen. I don’t care if it is the middle of the night or whatever, I just go out to eat. I conveyed the scene in which Hamajima abstained from eating ramen for the sake of training because I wanted to depict how he rigidly focused on his challenge without indulging in pleasure.
Scenes from the talk. The Ippudo Tenjin Nishi-dori Stand was full to capacity with several people standing. Mari Hayashida, the actress (originally from Omuta City of Fukuoka) who played the role of Hamajima’s wife in the movie, made an unannounced visit. They acted like a loving couple, completely the opposite of their roles in the movie.
To wrap it up, we asked them to share some of the highlights of the movie.
Eguchi：I think this is a sort of comedy even though the movie was made in a serious tone. This is the story of a man in his 40s, standing at the extreme edge of a cliff and struggling to get through. It is funny rather than heavy and serious, to see how those middle-aged men flutter around risking their lives to achieve something worthwhile. I hope you can watch how those men “struggle” for dear life on the big screens of movie theaters where you can fully enjoy the powerful sounds and images.
Abe：For me, one of the most remarkable things was the climactic racing scene at the end. It felt tense and realistic standing in line with those formidable athletes. Looking at the past and present of Hamajima, you can see a little hope for his future. The climax illustrates all of these things. I hope that the audience will see and feel something for themselves.
“Please enjoy the movie accompanied by ramen!”
After the advance screening at the Fukuoka Nakasu Taiyo Movie Theater, the movie “Gachi-Boshi” will be released nationwide, starting with K’s Cinema in Shijuku, Tokyo and Kokura Showakan Movie Theater in Kitakyushu City from May 26. Simultaneously with the release of the movie, “Gachi-Boshi ramen” will be offered for one week only at the Ippudo Hamamatsu-cho Stand. Please enjoy the Gachi-Boshi ramen as well as the movie “Gachi-Boshi”!
WORDS by MAYUU YASUNAGA
MAYUU YASUNAGA entered the Chikara Corporation in 2015 after various positions, such as writer, editor and planner. She has written a wide range of articles including gourmet, travel and economy, and is also responsible for branding efforts for enterprises and restaurants. She regularly updates a series of gourmet-related articles for “Qitters Fukuoka”.