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Old 15-01-2012, 10:09 PM   #1   [permalink]
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Talking A Conversation with Nagi Kirima

The year 2010 marked the 10th anniversary of Boogiepop Phantom, the groundbreaking anime that challenged its audience through its unconventional narrative style. But the anniversary passed with little fanfare, and that was just fine by series star Nagi Kirima. Kirima had just been released from her third stint in drug rehab and wanted no attention whatsoever.

But now Nagi is in the spotlight once more. Sheís in the midst of a book tour promoting her autobiography, If Iím Alive, I Win. I sat down with Nagi in a Grecian bistro located in Tokyoís theater district. She had just finished a book signing appearance, and agreed to talk. Here is the first part of our conversation.

Question: First question, why the book?

Nagi: Simple answer? The money. Oh, it has nothing to do with avarice. I got out of rehab. I was broke. No money coming in. So the choices were sponge off my parents and friends, or find some way to make a buck. Now if from this book I can revive my acting career, or even just encourage somebody not to repeat all my mistakes, that would be a bonus. But mostly I needed cash so I signed with whoever would give me the largest advance.

Q: You donít get any money from Boogiepop?

N: Not unless it is aired someplace. The series was made under the old union agreement, so I get no royalties from DVD sales.

Q: And this is all your writing, correct? You had no ghost writer.

N: I wanted it to be honest and in my own words. I did work closely with my editor. He recommended leaving out passages which were nothing more than tangents, and suggested ways to spice up the language. But I wanted it to be my voice.

Q: Well, you got great reviews. Some suggested you may have a future as a writer.

N: (Laughs) Maybe.

Q: I donít want to give too much away, but letís skim over the highlights. First, your childhood was normal.

N: I came from an upper-middle class background. My father worked for a bank as a loan officer, then did some financial consulting. He worked a bit in real estate after his retirement. My mother was a semi-professional cellist.

Q: You got your interest in performing from her?

N: Some. My dad was into the arts. I have an older brother who is a successful artist. He was an influence. But I was a happy child, even though I was an opps baby.

Q: Opps baby?

N: As in, ďOpps! Iím pregnant.Ē My brother was already 15 when I was born. But I was loved.

Q: I understand you modeled for your brother. . . .

N: When I was 12. I was the model for a clay sculpture he did called ďA School Girl.Ē It was me, barefoot in my school uniform with a butterfly in my hair. My parents still have the original clay sculpture. A cast bronze version is in the Museum of Fine Art. So that is my first claim to fame.

Q: When did your interest in acting develop?

N: Early on. My mom was into old Hollywood movies, especially romances. Iíd watch with her and imagine myself as a romantic heroine swept up by her prince. But that quickly changed.

Q: How so?

N: When puberty hit. First my hormones were flowing, but I found myself more interested in finding a princess than a prince. That was my secret for about ten years. Then my body did not exactly develop in the same manner of a beauty queen. I was a bit more husky. But I started working out regularly at a young age so to keep myself fairly attractive. But I did not develop into the romantic heroine type.

Q: Did that disappoint you?

N: Actually? No. Around 16 and 17, I started getting roles in plays and a few shows. I realized I would never be the lead, but the supporting roles were more interesting. That and the fact character actors in this business seem to have longer careers. As long as I was acting, I was happy.

Q: What was your worst job as a performer?

N: I donít know if this counts, but I was Dopey the Elephant at a theme park just before I turned 16. I wore this hot and heavy elephant costume with a big head. It was fun getting the little kids to smile and laugh, but that damn thing was hot! At the end of the day, I took it off and was soaked in sweat. And the dressing rooms didnít have showers. You can imagine the poor people on the train going home who had to stand next to me.

Next: Boogiepop, love and drugs.
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Old 16-01-2012, 12:52 PM   #2   [permalink]
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Today our sit down with Nagi Kirima continues with romance, drugs and her Boogiepop years.

Question: So when in your life did you get the break with Boogiepop Phantom?

Nagi: When I was 22. It was odd finally having a lead role, but the producers saw my photos and said I was a natural fit.

Q: What was it like doing that show?

N: (Laughs) Confusing. Many fans had to watch it four or five times to figure out what was going on. Imagine us actors. Oh, the story was explained to us, but still. Weíd film a scene, and that scene would be shown in three or four different episodes in different points of view. We were not always sure where a particular scene would fit in. But we did have some great young actors working on the show. Toka Miyashita was always a favorite of mine. Sheís been in contact with me recently, since my book came out. She called to wish me luck.

Q: There were episodes that centered on minor characters who made their appearance in just that one episode, where the major characters would only appear for a second. Was that a difficulty?

N: Ah, it meant we had to stick around all day so we would know how we fit in. And there were meetings. Thatís the Japanese way of doing things. Hold meetings. Only on Boogiepop we had more meetings than usual.

Q: How did you meet Misuzu Arifuji?

N: At a meeting. (Laughs) She was in one of the early episodes and had a very brief appearance an episode or two later. Of course her character had a rather messy exit. There was a Monday morning production meeting for the cast, with actual shooting for Tuesday through the next week. The meeting was at 10, but I thought it was at 9. Misuzu thought it was also at 9. So we both sat in the meeting room by ourselves for an hour. We talked. We hit it off.

Q: What was your opinion of Misuzu at first?

N: She was only 17, five years younger than me. But she had it all together. She was already out of the closet by that age, and I admired that. She was also a hard worker. It was a hard series to do, but she gave her one episode everything she had. At the end of the two weeks, she was exhausted. Thatís when the affair started. Shortly after, I came out to my parents. They were not too happy, but I was surprised they didnít yell, scream and throw me out of the house.

Q: So about Misuzu.

N: The last Friday of shooting, I invited her up to my apartment. We took a bath together, then cooked dinner together. I gave her a nice backrub. We talked for a few hours. Then we made love. Four months later, she turned 18, moved out of her parentsí home and into my apartment.

Q: You didnít think Misuzu was too young for you? At that point?

N: No. We Japanese are not hung up on age as much as Americans. Besides, I was 16 when I had my first sexual experience. It was with the older sister of a friend of mine. She was about 22. I was taught the ropes, so to speak. You know, the art of making love. I learned the pleasure oneís body can give you. It was a hellava summer.

Q: So when did your drug and alcohol problem start? When you were doing Boogiepop?

N: Well, thatís when things started getting out of hand. But if you want to start at the beginning. I was introduced to whiskey at the age of 16 by my first lover. At 17, I got my first role in a professional stage production. I forgot how or where, but thatís when I was first exposed to marijuana. I didnít start smoking until I was. . . . I guess just after I turned 18. Actually, I tried hash first, and didnít like it.

Q: And cocaine?

N: Oh. . . . I was 20. I wasnít doing powder regularly. It was expensive and my income wasnít steady. I did a few plays, commercials, bit parts on TV. . . . Then there were long periods in between. So only if I had the cash, Iíd do coke on the weekends -- unless I had to work.

Q: How and when did things get out of control?

N: When I began work on Boogeypop, drugs were easy to get and relatively cheap. There were about four or five individuals on the set at any one time who could get you what you wanted. Thatís standard industry practice, so to speak. With a steady paycheck, I could not only afford my drink and my weed, but I could do coke a bit more often. It was something I could control, or so I thought. I convinced myself of that. It would take about a year before I actually would have considered myself an addict. But at the time, I didnít realize it. I wouldnít admit it. There are two rules for a drug addict. Rule one: Addicts lie. Rule two: The first person they lie to is themselves.

Next time: Rehab.
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Old 19-01-2012, 11:33 PM   #3   [permalink]
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My PC has been down for a few days, so today I will post the last two segments together. We wrap up our little talk with Nagiís account of her rehab experience, and a few memories of Boogiepop.

Question: So when did you realize you had a problem?

Nagi: It took a while. First, my relationship with Misuzu started to fall apart.

Q: She didnít approve of your drinking and drug use?

N: Well, she did drink socially herself. There were times I liked to get wasted. Sheíd never sleep with me in the same bed when that happened, so I did cut down on my drinking for her. We both smoked pot. Misuzu like it after sex. But the coke is what came between us. She didnít like it in the apartment. At first, I hid it from her. But after a while I got careless. About everything I got careless.

Q: Such as?

N: Work in particular. Iíd get hired for jobs and then fired. It was all their fault, of course. This is the addictís paranoia. They fired me because they were out to get me. I never thought if they were out to get me then why hire me in the first place? I was not exactly thinking in a rational manner at this point. I got back to drinking hard as well. Five nights of the week, Misuzu would be sleeping out on the sofa just so she wouldnít have to share a bed with a drunk cokehead. Finally she laid down the law.

Q: Her or the coke?

N: Yep. She said, ďItís either me or that coke.Ē I told her to get the f-ck out of my apartment. It was my apartment and I could do what I wanted. I called her a bitch and a few other names only to hurt her. I know I hurt her and I still feel badly about that, even though she has forgiven me. But I convinced myself she was in the wrong. She betrayed me. She turned on me. What were those two rules I mentioned earlier? Addicts lie and the first person they lie to is themselves.

Q: You talk about the breakup in your book. Arenít you afraid that reliving this publicly would hurt Misuzu?

N: Sure. Which was the last thing I wanted to do. So I showed her the first draft manuscript before I showed it to anyone else. I told Misuzu that anything she wanted out of the book I would take out of the book. She ended up having no objections to any of it. The only issues were a few items where I remembered details differently than she did.

Q: Such as?

N: Our first anniversary dinner. I made my motherís ramen pork. She remembers it as ramen chicken. It stays pork in the book.

Q: And you were about 25 at this time at the time of your breakup. You were just about to go into rehab for the first time. What made you go?

N: An argument with my agent. HE tried to fire ME! Can you image! He said no one would hire me. I started screaming and yelling at him. He too was turning against me. If there was anything strong and healthy about me at this time, it was my paranoia. Somehow we came to an agreement. Heíd keep me as a client if I successfully went through rehab. OK. Easy bet to win. Since I really did not have a problem, I should sail through rehab easily. The doctors will release me wondering why I was admitted in the first place. After all, I was in complete control. Boy! Was I in for an awakening!

Q: What happened?

N: Withdrawal. (Laughs) Consulting with the doctors, I told them I could quit cold turkey. Why not? I didnít have a problem. Have you ever had your entire body attack you? Thatís withdrawal. I wanted to tear myself to pieces. Everything hurt. I was dehydrated from the sweat and constant sh-tting in my bed. They restrained me. Eventually they gave me morphine to wean me down. For the first time the truth got through my thick skull. I was an addict. I had a problem.

Q: And so you got clean. But about two years later you were back in.

N: Almost two years. The first thing I did when I got out of my first rehab stint was to call my old friends. I wanted to go out and celebrate. Just out of rehab and I was going to party hard. I didnít go back to cocaine right away. But the first night out, I got good and drunk. I started smoking pot again shortly thereafter. Pot was not my problem. Neither was the booze. It was the coke. Then I remembered how I could control the powder when I would just do it occasionally, so I figured on special occasions it would be OK. The things you can convince yourself of. . . . Itís amazing.

Q: What made you go back to rehab?

N: I had an appearance scheduled at an anime convention. I guess I showed up pretty wasted. I donít remember if I did any coke the night before, but I sure did some drinking. They threw me out. I wasnít allowed to go on stage. Toka was there. I remember her giving me this dirty look. For a brief moment, my sanity returned. I knew I needed to go back to rehab. The book gives more detail. Letís not give too much away here.

Q: OK, not too much. But the second stint in rehab did not work either. Why?

N: I was trying to do it alone. I went in without a support network. I thought I was strong enough to beat this thing myself. I was wrong. The drug was stronger. So after I was out and about for a while, I had to go back a third time.

Q: What was different the third time?

N: This time I knew I needed help outside of the doctors and nurses at the center. I turned to my family and told them, ďI need you to stand with me. I need you to back me on this. I need your support.Ē It was a lot to lay on my Mom and Dad, who arenít exactly young anymore. But they were great. I owe them everything. I ditched my old friends who enabled me. My family is now more a part of my life. Iím with people who truly love me and want me to stay well.

Q: Iíd like to wind up this interview on a more pleasant note. Do any fans still stop you on the street recognizing you from Boogiepop?

N: Yeah. Sometimes. But what I like is when they see me, think they recognize me, but are not too sure. I get these looks. These funny faces. I try to keep from laughing. If itís been a hard day and Iím tired, Iíll ignore them. Otherwise, I might have a bit of fun. I might stare back, or ask them if they wanted something. If they get up the courage to ask, then I will tell them I was on Boogiepop Phantom. Unless they were thinking of someone else, they get all excited.

Q: Why were there only 12 episodes, rather than the normal 13. For that matter, why not 26? Was it because the series was so complex?

N: That did have something to do with it, but actually there were 24 episodes written. Not too many know that. It was felt that if they went the full 24, there would be too much for an audience to digest. But there was also a contract dispute with a writer who contributed on the scripts you did not see. There were actually sixteen scripts filmed, but four you will never see. The dispute was never settled. Probably never will be. Donít ask me to go into detail. Someone would be suing me next.

Q: It makes me wonder what we all missed.

N: Nothing that would have changed the storyline. There were a few more stories about individuals we saw for only a second, or would have seen only for that one episode. If you missed anything, there was an episode shot about Toka Miyashita and the whole story behind Boogeypop. You only got to see part of it in the last episode. But they had an episode with details you donít see. It would have been sandwiched in between. . . . I guess it would be episodes 10 and 11. It would have interrupted the meeting of Boogeypop and Boogeypop Phantom.

Q: We havenít mentioned Shinpei Kuroda yet.

N: Shinpei was a real person.

Q: What do you mean?

N: I mean there was no bullsh-t about him. What you saw was Shinpei. I liked working with him. One of the episodes not filmed would have dealt with when he first started looking into the death of my TV father and met my character. It would have been a great episode to do. I would have liked to have worked more with him.

Q: Do you still keep in touch with him?

N: Yeah, I have. Heís married now with a couple of kids. He hasnít done any anime since Boogiepop, but has been doing stage work. He played the doctor, the psychiatrist, in the Japanese revival of Equuis. Did you see that production? I didnít think it was all that great, but Shinpei kept it together. He did a great job, as I knew he would.

Q: What about all the Boogiepop rumors that have come up over the past ten years? Was the set really haunted?

N: If it was, I never say any ghost or spirit. No one I ever talked to ever saw one. I have no idea where that story came from. Are you going to ask about Tokaís tattoo?

Q: What about her tattoo?

N: (Laughs) There isnít one. There was a story going around about Toka getting a tattoo of Boogiepop on her ass. It isnít true. I mean, Iíve never seen her ass, but Toka says it isnít so. I take her word for it. Why would she get a tattoo like that anyway?

Q: How about your personal life? Is there anyone special?

N: Not right now. Someday I hope there will be. But I had to cut off contact with all my old so-called friends who enabled or encouraged my drinking and drug habits. Itís hard to replace them. But Iím trying.

Q: I wanted to ask about the meaning of your bookís title, If Iím Alive, I Win. It seems to be your new motto in life. Reading from the last paragraph in the book, you write, ďI have nothing to live for at present, but that does not seem important. Someday I may renew my career. Someday I may find love. Someday I may find myself making a positive contribution to this world. That is why I want to keep going -- not for what I have or donít have, but what I may someday obtain and achieve. For if Iím alive, I win.Ē

N: Yup, that says it all. (Laughs) And thanks for giving away the ending! Seriously though, I figure as long as I live, I have a chance to fight for. I donít know how long of a life I will have. All those years of self-abuse did take their toll. I have a bit of kidney and heart damage that needs to be monitored. I probably took ten years off my life. But whatever life I have left, I intend to use to the max.
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