Along with the expansion of streaming, among the unintended consequences of COVID and the SAG-AFTRA actors strike has been global consumers’ growing consumption of non-English-language films and TV shows. That in turn has elevated familiarity with and acceptance of Asian local shows and Asian performers – not just those riding the Korean wave.
Japan’s Meguro Ren this week returned to screens across the world in Netflix acquisition of “Trillion Game,” a fantasy drama set in the business world, or the get-rich-quick end of it at least.
Meguro has trodden a familiar path – years of training within the Johnny & Associates talent agency (soon to change its name due to a sexual abuse scandal), insertion into a junior music and, since 2019, as a singer and dancer with the Johnny’s backed idol group Snow Man.
As a likable and ambitious – perhaps intense – performer, Meguro is increasingly adding film and TV roles as part of a parallel, solo career alongside his Snowman activities. He won a best newcomer award for Shochiku film title “Phases of the Moon” last year and also last year was the male lead of Toho’s “My Happy Marriage” (aka “As Long as We Both Shall Live”).
Meguro spoke to Variety ahead of the Netflix upload of “Trillion Game,” in which he plays the tricky lead character Haru, a young businessman who offsets his overarching ambition with wit and charm.
How did you become involved in ‘Trillion Game’? Had you read the manga? What appealed to you about it?
I had heard about the manga but did not have the chance to read it until after I first got the offer. After I was cast in the drama, I bought the whole series and read it many times. It’s very interesting and I have a lot of respect for the original story. While the production tried to stay as close to the original story as possible, I was glad for the chance to be able to add my own live-action spin on the character of Haru Tennoji.
How did you do that, become that character?
When I read the manga, I really homed in on Haru’s personality, and how natural he is when it comes to communicating with others. He’s got a personality that draws people into him and makes them want to follow him even down crazy or unorthodox paths. Though most of the time he’s bluffing, somehow, he always manages to accomplish what he says he’s going to
Haru is pitched as the world most selfish character. Did it disturb you or was it fun to play that role?
He’s certainly very different from me in that regard as I don’t think I’m a selfish person, but this did make it a very interesting role to play. That’s one of the things I love about acting; you’re playing pretend and getting to be someone else. Even though I’d never be that selfish in real life, it’s okay to act that way as Haru’s character. It’s part of getting into his head, so I didn’t hesitate to fully immerse myself in his outlandish indulgence.
You have been in the entertainment industry more than a decade, much of that was as a singer, and the last few years as an actor as well. How has that helped prepare for this role?
I’ve gotten to experience a lot as a performer, but when I was younger, I couldn’t connect to the roles I played that well. I took on a lot of darker characters thinking that was cool, but being so far removed from my own personality it was difficult to make them relatable or even believable. But [with] more stage work and the other performance opportunities my agency was able to give me, I started to find little ways to make connections that make the characters more believable for the audience and especially those who know me.
Looking back your acting career, it feels you have done a lot of different things. Did this particular role (contemporary but fantasy in the sense of being larger than life and truly unbelievable) present a particular difficult thing comparing to previous roles? How does that connect with or deliver differently from previous acting roles?
It goes back to finding that one piece about the character that I can relate to. Once I find that spark, I’m able to fan it out and start to develop who the character is. Haru is larger than life, but also believable because he’s sincere.
How was the chemistry with the Imada Mio, who plays the shows female anti-hero?
Having worked with Mio previously on the set of ‘As Long As We Both Shall Live,’ where we played a romantic couple, made the atmosphere of ‘Trillion Game’ much easier. While Haru and Kirika are very different characters from those we played in the previous film, as actors we were very comfortable with one another, and that natural chemistry made the inter-character chemistry more believable.
‘Trillion Game’ is your first lead role in a prime-time TV slot. Did it change you? The recognition, the people’s perspective of you, the recognition of member of Snow Man?
I don’t think it’s changed me per se, as I’m comfortable and confident in who I am and have always tried to bring my all to any role I do. However, I appreciate the opportunities to be part of a more visible media, because if I can keep growing and improving myself as an actor, I think it would only benefit Snow Man. Everything we do individually benefits the whole, and our success as a group opens more doors to the individual members, and I’m happy to be a part of that reciprocal growth.
This show is now moving to Netflix. Do you have more interest in looking toward the international market?
With ‘Trillion Game,’ I and the rest of the cast, as well as the staff and crew really put a lot of heart into creating the drama. When it comes to completed projects I’ve done, I feel like once they’re out they kind of take on a life of their own through interacting with new audiences, and I’m very curious to see how that plays out with first-time foreign viewers in addition to repeat or first-time viewers here in Japan.
As an entertainer who wants to experience being a part of more international projects — not just acting but together with Snow Man as well — I’m glad that more people around the world are getting the chance to experience TV shows that represent and show off what Japan has to offer.
What will be your immediate future in 3-6 months? What do you expect after 5 years?
For me, it doesn’t matter if it’s 1 month, 6 months, or a year from now, but I want to keep working as hard as I can to develop myself as an actor and as a performer with Snow Man. I have personal goals, but can’t disclose them. One thing I can say is that both as Ren Meguro and as a member of Snow Man, I want to go out into the world and see as much as I can. I don’t know if it’ll take three or five years from now or more, but I’m very excited to see where we end up.