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Friday, Dec. 30, 2011

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Multi-tasker: Yuki Matsuzaki, who portrays a tsunami survivor in the play "Bridge," chats with audience members and collects donations for disaster victims Dec. 4 at The Complex in Los Angeles. KYODO PHOTO

Actor takes on tsunami survivor role


LOS ANGELES — "Why? Why am I the only one left?" actor Yuki Matsuzaki cries as he plays the sole survivor of a family caught up in the events of March 11 on a stage in Los Angeles.

Matsuzaki, 30, who has appeared in Hollywood films including "Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides" and "The Last Samurai," plays one of three characters contemplating suicide when a saxophonist tries to talk them down in "Bridge."

The play is now in its second run until Jan. 14 at The Complex, one of a few dozen small theaters in an area dubbed Hollywood's "Theater Row."

Written by Los Angeles-based playwright Willard Manus, the story portrays the lives of a drug addict with a tragic past, a transvestite with AIDS and a Japanese relative of tsunami victims as they each encounter the jazz musician, who has overcome his own personal tragedy.

The Japanese character is a musician who found himself in the United States while his family and friends perished in the tsunami. Had he taken over the family business instead of following his dream to play music, he would have been in northeast Japan on March 11, too.

Wracked with guilt, he meets the caring saxophonist, played by William Stanford Davis, who befriends the Japanese musician and encourages him to live in honor of those who have died.

Manus said that the character was originally going to be a Japanese man who had learned his grandfather committed atrocities during World War II. But after input from Japanese friends, Manus decided that a disaster-related character would be much more poignant.

Matsuzaki felt it was too soon after the disasters when he was asked to play the role before the play opened in July, he said after a recent performance. But he knew that someone would have to play the part.

So he decided he would do his best to bring the character to life, adding his own brief monologue in Japanese. He has also collected $2,250 (about ¥175,000) in donations for disaster relief efforts from the audiences.

Now that nine months have passed since March 11, he also hopes the play will help renew awareness of those still living with the aftermath.

"I feel a great sense of responsibility toward the survivors. To me, this is not a fictional character," Matsuzaki said, citing stories of depression among tsunami survivors.

Kelly Maglia, who was in the audience, said she had forgotten about the tsunami until she saw the play. The 39-year-old said she found the character realistic and could relate to his struggle with family expectations. As a sometime musician herself, she said she has firsthand experience of the healing power of music.

Bruce McBurney, 47, another of the more than 500 audience members who have seen the play since its first run in the summer, praised Matsuzaki's performance.

"There was truth in it," he said, noting that Matsuzaki's personal connection to the role as a Japanese native was apparent.

Originally from Miyazaki Prefecture, Matsuzaki could relate to the loneliness his character experiences while living abroad.

The actor moved to the U.S. in 2000 to pursue his career after graduating from high school.

Things did not go well for him at first, and for nine months he found himself homeless and performing for tips at Times Square in New York.

After moving to Hollywood in 2001, Matsuzaki has looked for roles that challenge the stereotypes of Japanese as stoic and unemotional, typified by a young soldier in "Letters from Iwo Jima" directed by Clint Eastwood.

"I want people to see 'Bridge' and realize that the pain Japanese feel is not much different from their own," said Matsuzaki. "I also want people not to forget those who lost their families."

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