Joichiro Fujiwara EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: ‘Pending Train’ actor & J-pop singer stretches with disaster drama & upcoming film. Now he’s ready for more

Joichiro Fujiwara Interview: Pending Train actor and J-pop singer stretches with disaster drama and upcoming film. Now he’s ready for more

Starring in Netflix Japanese fantasy drama Pending Train and singer in J-pop group Naniwa Danshi, Joichiro ‘Jo’ Fujiwara talks to TheReviewGeek about the responsibilities of the ‘first penguin’ and a desire to stretch his wings as an actor.

In an exclusive interview, 27-year-old Fujiwara is ready to embrace every opportunity, more than happy to give anything a try to build his way up to his dream as the leading man in a love story. He’s made a start by establishing himself in strong supporting roles, including Netflix’s global release, fantasy/disaster drama, Pending Train and soon-to-release film ANALOG.

Fujiwara plays the perpetually cheerful Daichi Yonezawa, one of 56 people on a commuter train that’s thrown into a future that no one recognizes. The role was clearly made for Fujiwara, who’s full of fun as we chat. Yet he takes each question seriously, respectfully considering before responding, his tone going down a register. It’s in between questions – where he’s teasing the translator while ensuring I’m in on the joke – that the fullness of his personality is on display.

Merrily pulling people into the fold – a chief penguin perhaps – is Fujiwara’s day job as part of J-pop group Naniwa Danshi. He explains that his group role is to keep everyone’s spirits high and on pointe. We talk of his part on Pending Train and other dramas and how that links to his ambitions for Naniwa Danshi.

Joichiro Fujiwara as Daichi Yonezawa in one of his more serious moments on ‘Pending Train.’

“Yonezawa’s bright personality is similar to my own and so is the fact that he’s caring and kind – which I always try to be. The major difference is the unreal situation he’s in. Expressing the importance of life and communicating that with the other characters was difficult, especially with all the drama and emotions going on in any given scene, but I hope I do it justice.

Pending Train has a huge cast and there’s a lot happening with reactions veering per each character’s circumstances – a lot like how a real disaster would feel. Wondering who in the cast made the biggest impact on Fujiwara he immediately talks of lead actor Yuki Yamada who plays Naoya Kayashima. Yamada advised him to act with as much passion and energy as possible. It seems an almost easy – certainly natural – task for Yonezawa who’s full to the brim with vivacity.


“He gave me a lot of great advice. One of the things that stuck with me was, ‘perform to the fullest – share Daichi Yonezawa’s thoughts and feelings with everyone.’ So, that’s what I did.”

It worked. Yonezawa’s character stands out, keeping it watchable at its lowest moments, when everyone else is despairing. How did he manage to remain so delightfully uplifting with all the adversity swirling around?

“Everyone talks about how my character is so cheerful and I’m really happy that’s the takeaway. The most important characteristic of this role was to behave cheerfully, both in spite of and because everyone around me was angry or depressed, so I was always conscious of everyone’s emotions in the scene. In parts where everyone else was down or overwhelmed, I would turn up my energy and be as bright and cheerful as possible so the energy overflow might help fill them up a little.

I do the same in real life – for example, when Naniwa Danshi perform live, the dancing is intense and we can get pretty tired. I try to keep everyone going and the atmosphere fun. Of course, dancing on stage is different to acting and certainly a far cry from the terrifying situation Yonezawa finds himself in but it’s a commonality that really allowed me to connect with him as a character.”

We continue comparing the two roles, moving onto his strength, were his group to suddenly become stranded. Whereas he’s one of the younger cast members of Pending Train, he’s the elder of Naniwa Danshi.


“There’s an expression in Japanese: ‘first penguin.’ It refers to something scientists in Antarctica observe when a group of penguins are standing on a ledge, none moving until one jumps. When it comes to Naniwa Danshi, I am that first penguin. If we were in a situation as in Pending Train, I would be the first to check things out – like an unfamiliar food or an unexplored cave – to ensure it’s safe for everyone else. It’s the protective nature of the big-hearted older brother,” he says with a smile.

Continuing with our fantasy conversation, what would he do if given the chance to write Season 2 or recast himself in Season 1. There’s an expectation that he’d be keen to appear as a lead, perhaps in the Kayashima or Shirahama role, but he saves that idea for Season 2, instead introspecting over what it would be like to play his character’s counterpart, Kato. “It would probably be educational to interact with Yonezawa as someone else.”

We move on to previous dramas, such as Keshigomu wo Kureta Joshi wo Suki ni Natta (I Fell in Love with the Girl who gave Me an Eraser), a school drama based on a true story where he plays another comical character, best friend and ‘advisor’ of the lead (Kazuya Ohashi, also of Naniwa Danshi). How was the preparation process different, considering subject matter and the hugely different co-worker pool?

“Thankfully, both characters have the same kind of personality, similar to my own, so I didn’t have to shift outside my own head too far for either role. However, the dialect and accent were very different. In ‘Keshigomu,’ I was conscious of the Japanese standardized Tokyo accent used by the character – so different from how I naturally speak. In contrast, I was a lot more relaxed with Yonezawa, since his rough Kansai dialect and his informal jokey sense of humor is similar to my own way of speaking. It helped me become Yonezawa more naturally.”

We move on to his favorite piece of work, the one that was the most fun or provided the best learning opportunity. Fujiwara bullets straight back to Pending Train as the place where he built the best memories.


“The time with the Pending Train cast is definitely up there as some of my best memories. We had to make a two-hour journey each day – up a mountain to the set – from where the transport bus could drop us off. It allowed for a lot of time to really get to know one another. We also spent time together when we were off camera or not shooting. Not just the cast, but the crew too. We formed very deep bonds and we’re still close, even now.”

Unsurprisingly, Fujiwara took that momentum straight into another project and another opportunity to grow. His upcoming film, ANALOG, is about a couple embracing traditional ways, one even eschewing a cellphone. They carry on a romance, meeting weekly at a pre-arranged time, until one week the cellphone-free Miyuki doesn’t show. Fujiwara tells us in English with a laugh, “No phone, no life! – I can’t live without my phone.” He carries on to elucidate on his role, a shift from his previous pieces.

“A fun connection between my characters in ANALOG and Pending Train is that both speak in a Kansai (Western Japanese) dialect, though that’s the only similarity. I play Shimada, a corporate suit, trying his best to be upstanding. On the other hand, Yonezawa is a student, still unaware of how the world works. While filming ANALOG, I was very conscious of my posture and way of communicating, especially with characters that are superiors or seniors. I had to make sure I was coming off as a real adult, compared to Yonezawa where I could appear relaxed and less concerned with how the other characters perceive him.”

After discussing ANALOG, we circle back to career goals and how many of his roles are for characters that are younger than his real age. Is that purposeful or lucky happenstance? Through this we land some specific aspirations.

“I never really thought about it but I guess I have played a lot of roles where the characters were younger, so it would be interesting to play someone who is married or has a family – basically, someone who is a little more mature. That may be why I want to try a love story, or if that’s not possible then something like an action role. For Pending Train, Yonezawa was thrown into a sci-fi situation but had to act and engage with the rest of the cast in a calm, soothing, friendly way. Next time, I want to pick up a sword and go fight alien zombies or something.”

You can imagine the timbre of the conversation. In English he shares, “I have a dream – and that’s to have a starring role.”

He continues, “It can be a drama or a film, big or small. As for genre, I really want to try everything including action, horror, zombies, fantasy – anything! But if I had to choose one, I’d say a love story. I’d love to be a leading man in a romantic drama. But would my fans actually watch that? I’m kind of worried they don’t see me in that way.”

At TheReviewGeek, we believe his fans will be thoroughly charmed to see him transform into any role, including that of a romantic lead. Ganbare Fujiwara-kun!

Are you ready to see Joichiro Fujiwara as a romantic lead or fighting zombies with a sword? Let us know in the comments below.

See the Full Q&A and read our review of Netflix’s Pending Train. To catch Joichiro Fujiwara introducing himself as ‘Jo,’ see his video intro here (don’t forget to click to hear the audio) or on any TheReviewGeek social pages. #PendingJo

For more reviews of Japanese movies and dramas, click here. For more interviews, click here.

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