I first saw her in the 2013 NTV series Woman. See Heisui’s review, “Woman: Ep 1.” This afternoon, I watched the last episode of the 2014 Fuji TV series All About My Siblings. In Woman, you suspect she’s an exceptional actress when she not only holds her own but dominates scenes with Oguri Shun, and you realize she does so with restraint and subtlety even as she plays the role of a shy and frail character.
However, it’s in All About My Siblings, where the lead roles are played by two dominating male actors, Tsumabuki Satoshi (妻夫木聡) and Nagayama Eita (永山瑛太), and the key female roles are shared with two very talented actresses, Nagasawa Masami (長澤まさみ) and Yu Aoi (蒼井優), that Mitushima’s gift becomes obvious. As in Woman, she plays a gentle soul, this time in a house filled with raucous and rough male siblings.
And again, she pulls it off, holding her own in scenes where her parts are less dramatic, less vocal. She has a presence, which is captured in a face that can only be described as the epitome of pixieish, especially her eyes, and the camera zooms in and lingers there even when her lines are minimally critical.
Mitsushima’s gift is in her ability to get into a role by being rather than acting. In contrast, her costars look exactly like what they are, actors playing roles, applying methods that have come to define their unique approach to any and all roles. It’s in this contrast that we begin to appreciate Mitsushima’s seemingly natural and methodless approach. She leaves the viewer with no option other than to believe that she is the character she’s playing.
The overall effect of her presence in a scene is not in what she does but in how she suddenly makes the other actors look as though they’re overacting, that they’re trying too hard. This ability to act without appearing to act is extremely rare, and Mitsushima seems to do it naturally, effortlessly.
For female leads, the natural tendency is to be cute, enchanting. Mitsushima is somehow able to get past this curse. The directors and especially the wardrobe designers and makeup artists have something — perhaps a lot — to do with her ability to avoid cute. She wears no obvious makeup, her hairdo is simple and rough, and her costumes are uniformly drab and shapeless. Her movements and gestures are utilitarian, not meant to convey cute or sexuality. Yet she appears natural, credible, comfortable in but not conscious of her attractiveness.
I hate to say it because it conveys so little, but she brings depth to her characters. The roles don’t merely hang on her like so many costumes. They are her.
Thus far I’ve only seen her in these two roles. It’ll be interesting to see how she comes across in the more stock roles usually associated with pop genre such as comedy, romance, adventure, mystery, and action. From what I’ve seen, I don’t think she’d have any problems bringing depth and credibility to these roles.