Sunday, July 25, 2021

Takumi Hagiwara (Ren): 1999 Interview & Current Whereabouts | Article Translation

In today's post we present a translation of an interview with the Japanese voice and motion actor for Wuying Ren in Shenmue II: Takumi Hagiwara, which was published in the Japanese Dreamcast Magazine in early 1999. We also try to piece together Hagiwara's movements after the release of Shenmue II.

This topic was selected by the Phantom River Stone blog patrons via our monthly poll on the Phantom River Stone Patreon and was available for early access.

Dreamcast Magazine Interview with Takumi Hagiwara (March 1999)

The most memorable performer appearing in this game is probably Takumi Hagiwara, an actor that doesn't merely play the part of Ren Wuying, but rather embodies him completely. What's lies in his appeal? Let's close out our 3-week interview series by talking with someone who, in a sense, exemplifies the art of "getting into" a Shenmue character.

A Hong Kong street gang. His sharpened, abrasive personality has earned him the nickname "Ren" (which means "blade").

Editor's Diary: Yu Suzuki Recognized His Charm

Ever since the Shenmue premiere in Yokohama (December 1998), Hagiwara has been giving off a slightly different vibe. At the premiere, Yu Suzuki said, "I thought: this is the person I want to play Ren." But when I actually spoke with Hagiwara, there was a bit more to the story of how he was hired that was interesting to hear.

In the video that was shown at the Shenmue premiere in other cities, Yu said of Ren: "After all, he is the head of a gang. So I don't think he cares about what happens to the other members of his gang in Aberdeen. He's not the kind of guy who cares about others like that." But I think seeing how his feelings begin to change after meeting Ryo and Shenhua will also be something noteworthy to watch for. Looking back on it now, I have a feeling that Ren will live on in everyone's heart as a really distinctive character.

Hagiwara, who plays Ren, seems to be the type of person who would rather have people see for themselves how the game turned out than talk about it. I hope everyone will take a good look at Ren's performance in the completed game.


As with Ryo and Shenhua, Ren was modeled from a plaster bust, demonstrating the importance of this character's part.

Left: living in the dangerous city of Hong Kong, Ren is a tough and cool-headed man, and passionate at heart. What kind of encounter will he have with Ryo in the game? Right: the QTE shown at the Shenmue premiere was "actually filmed with us wearing handcuffs, until our skin stripped off" (Hagiwara). The result is a scene that will surely make your hands sweat. 

"The fact that they're using me is proof that the scale of this film is huge"

The last of our three consecutive weekly interviews with actors is with Takumi Hagiwara, who plays Ren, the rival (?) of the protagonist Ryo.

Q: What was the process of being selected for the role of Ren after being praised by Yu Suzuki as "the only one for Ren"? Let's start with that.

TH: Compared to Matsukaze, who plays the main character Ryo, I was in a totally different league (laughs). At the beginning, I had heard that this was a character-driven movie. And that it was almost decided that I would play the role of Chai. At that time, I thought, "I wonder if this is the right kind of role for me, it doesn't feel like much," so I decided to go for broke and said, "Let me try for other roles too". Then they said, "Well, can you tell us what you're good at?" I said, "You can decide that after you've tried me. So I'll tell you a bit about my everyday life." and I proceeded to do talk about whatever came to mind. Things like "I drink 364 days out of 365 days a year." (laughs) But I think it was thanks to that, that I made it to the final screening (laughs). And then... When I went to the final screening, Yu-san was there! I was so surprised. At that time, I was crazy about Virtua [Fighter], so I knew Yu-san's face. So I said to myself, "Ahhhh okay! It's not a movie, it's a game. Yu-san's amazing. Next I bet he's going to make a game that's like a movie". I was really excited inside (laughs). 

I might not have a chance to talk to Yu-san again, so I wanted to at least let him know that there are people like me in Japan. At the screening, I told Yu-san all sorts of things about my life. (laughs). The things I told him weren't anything of importance, but Yu-san seemed to be interested and listened to me.

Q: What was the most memorable thing from your conversation with Yu-san?

TH: You know the one about the coffee? The one about "Leisurely, Fully, Gently."*
*Note from Switch: in Yu Suzuki's talk at GDC 2014, he mentioned that these were the core concepts on rethinking the game's design after the decision move the game from the Sega Saturn to the Dreamcast.

Yu Suzuki talking about the three key concepts of Shenmue - "Leisurely, Fully, Gently" - at GDC 2014.

Yu-san said, "With this game, I'm not going to be making a cup of coffee, but a barrel of coffee". When I heard that, I told him, "Since you say so, I'm going to really act up - if you use me - because I'm not like milk. I'm not the quiet type!". Then he said, "That's okay - I'll make a bigger one. If you stick out too much, I'll make it even bigger". In fact, the project became so big that even a guy like me couldn't have stuck out (laughs).

Originally Hagiwara Was To Be Chai, Not Ren!?

Chai: a brutal and cunning assassin whose brutal and terrifying appearance made an impression at the premiere. In fact originally the role was almost given to Hagiwara. "At first I was quite dubious about it. But then I thought that well, maybe we do look a bit alike". (laughs) I asked them "Shall I play the role something like this?" and they told me "Yeah, that's pretty creepy", relates Hagiwara.

Hagiwara devised various ways to demonstrate Chai's frightening movements...

"I play the role of Ren with freedom, without giving it thought. That's my style."

Q: You've been playing the role of Ren for over a year, and recording is still going on currently. What is your personal take on the character of Ren? 

TH: If you were to ask me if I identify with Ren, I'd say... "I don't know". Yu-san told me he wanted me to act just the way I am. I'm trying to act in my own realistic way, rather than in a theatrical way. For example, I consciously try not to do things that I think would be uncool or uncomfortable to do in front of my friends or women. Also, after acting this part for so long, you develop a preconceived idea of the kind of person Ren is, so I deliberately try to "forget" this kind of information. That's not easy to do. In short, for me, Ren is all about how to keep bringing out the authentic part of myself.

Q: What differences are there compared to your previous acting work?

TH: It's interesting. First of all, I've been working for over a year now, and I go in to the Sega studio every day. I feel like I'm working for a company for the first time (laughs). Well, I'm joking, but motion capture doesn't allow you to take shortcuts with your acting, so you have to take every performance seriously. For example, I had to practice a lot in the beginning for the fighting scenes. I was told, "Done correctly, you'll strike the collarbone, so aim there", so I was doing actual kicks. Looking back on it now, I guess that was dangerous. I was really going for it (laughs). I feel that over the past year everyone on the project has learned things where conventional wisdom does not apply, while at the same time we've gained new wisdom.

Q: What did you learn from working with the project team?

TH: In today's world, there is a tendency to rely on mature technologies. But, thinking about the future, I would like to say that eventually this will lead to stagnation. With this project, we are doing things that no one has ever tried before. But that's why I have a lot of hope that something will come out of it.

Q: Finally, do you have a message for readers?

TH: I've already put everything into my work, so I've nothing to say right now. Rather than tell you about how amazing I am, I'd rather talk after this game is in everyone's hands.

This Week's Give-aways

This week we're giving away an autograph paper signed by Takumi Hagiwara.

We're giving also away an autograph card jointly signed by Matsukaze (Ryo), Ishigaki (Shenhua), and Hagiwara (Ren)!

Takumi Hagiwara's Profile

Real name
  • Takumi Hagiwara
Date of birth
  •     September 15, 1974
  • Gunma Prefecture
  • Height 177cm / Weight 55kg / Head circumference 58cm
  • Chest 90cm / Waist 65cm / Hips 87cm / Feet 27cm
Special skills
  • Skiing, Motorcycling, Japanese drums
Performing career
  • "Oshaberi Denroku" / Meiji-za Theater
  • "Looking for Lady Anne" / Tokorozawa Community Hall Muse
  • "Dream Express" / Jells Hall
  • "Pacific Beltline" / Akasaka Playbox
  • "THE RATS" / Tsukiji Buddhist Hall
  • "Toryuden" / Toei
  • ANB Weekly Drama "The Firefighters" (regular appearance)
  • CX Weekly News & Information "Mezamashi TV"
  • CX "Taikyoku no Ten"
  • CX "Guest at Table No. 3"
  • CX "Shase" by Hideyuki Nakayama (Winner)
  • ANB Saturday Wide Theater "Woman Contractor"
  • CX Friday Entertainment "The Third Secret ~The Man Who Knew Too Much~"
Live appearances
  • "Yugata Chance!"
  • "Brand New Species Show"

-- End of article translation --

Interview Source: Dreamcast Magazine 1999 Vol. 8 (March 5th)

2018 Anecdote: Shenmue II Motion Capture

One of the original developers on the Shenmue project, who goes by the handle of Morio Ashizuka (@ashizuka16bit) on Twitter, gave a little insight into the editing of the motion capture for Ren's scenes, in this 2018 tweet:
Morio Ashizuka: I edited all the motion for Ren in Shenmue (for the cut scenes). At the time, mo-cap was not very accurate, so I had to fix it up while watching the video that had been filmed. In the background profile, Ren is said to practice the Jeet Kune Do style, but the reason he doesn't use its moves is because Yu-san said that Hagiwara's movements were just as Ren's should be. Street fighting is cool, lol!

What Became of Takumi Hagiwara?

Hagiwara's subsequent career and activities following the release of Shenmue II in 2001 are somewhat shrouded in mystery, and there is little information to be found online.

Soon after the game's release in December of 2001, the Muecas fan club section of the official Shenmue website mentioned an end-of-year party held by Yu Suzuki, which Hagiwara attended together with Matsukaze. According to the text with it, Hagiwara would be going on to aggressively pursue his career as an actor, with appearances on the stage and elsewhere.

December 2001: Hagiwara at Yu Suzuki's end-of-year party. He intended to continue to be active as an actor.

Then several months later, in an August 2002 entry on the website, Muecas staff member "T.C." (an acronym for "Top Cat", in fact being Matsukaze himself) put out a cryptic call to fans to "Find Hagiwara", even posting his photo and profile information.

A call to find Takumi Hagiwara (September 2001 entry on the Muecas page)

The message read as follows:
"Takumi Hagiwara (a.k.a. "Giwara"), the actor who plays Wuying Ren, seems to have left on a journey recently. However, since he went on this wander without informing anyone where he's going, we are 120% worried in case he gets shot by the mafia at his destination. We at the Muecas team have decided to search for Giwara through the Muecas network in order to confirm his safety! There is a possibility that he has moved overseas, so overseas Muecas fans are encouraged to join the search. I'll be offering a generous reward for any useful information, so please do your best to gather information. All the best in your search".

After this, there were no further reports or mentions of him.

In early 2006, a blog post appeared online concerning Hagiwara, relating to a personal matter. In fact the blog appears to belong to Sho Tagaya, who is credited on the first two Shenmue games as Action and Stunt Director. The following message was posted on it publicly under the title "I'm looking for Takumi Hagiwara":

"Does anyone know the whereabouts of a man named Takumi Hagiwara, the actor I coached in the action sequences of SEGA's Shenmue?
When we were working on the game, he told me, "I'll fix your broken bike," so I left my 250cc Virago with him, but it has been years and I haven't gotten it back.
To Takumi: what happened to the bike? I'm still paying taxes on it, even though I don't have it. Please contact me".
There was no further mention of this topic on the blog, and this was also the last reference of note relating to Takumi Hagiwara that I have been able to locate online.

Many years later, a different voice actor was engaged for the role of Ren for 2019's Shenmue III, presumably because Hagiwara had not able to be located for him to reprise the role. Given his lack of online presence after Shenmue, it would seem that he retired from the acting scene and disappeared from the public eye altogether. We hope that he is safe and well.

Related Post: Ryo & Ren Comedy Video

In 2001, the year of Shenmue II's release in Japan, Takumi Hagiwara joined Masaya Matsukaze to create a slapstick video of themselves filming in the city of Shanghai - dressed as their characters - for the promotion of the upcoming release. If you haven't seen it yet, check it out below.

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  1. Reminds me of Jane Child's case, from the hidden gem "Don't Wanna Fall In Love" -- amazing track with an even better video of old school New York City...

    It's as if they existed in an alternate timeline.
    It'd be interesting if there was an established network to find "unofficially" missing people.

    1. That's a great track! (I didn't know there was a missing person story related to Jane Child). I hope Takumi shows up again one day.

  2. had no idea he'd crazy! there seems to be so much more loyalty from the eng VA's!

    1. It's a mystery, as he was highly popular in his role as Ren.