Never disregard the monkey business in this one, for you’ll see red. Blood red. After seeing his entire clan killed, a smart but temperamental Japanese macaque (Fred Tatasciore) sets out for revenge. Yes, a macaque. It’s impossible to do it alone, of course, and so assistance comes in the form of the spirit of a smarmy assassin Clyde (Ted Lass—sorry, Jason Sudeikis). Yes, his spirit. Feel free to reread everything to really know how bonkers everything can, and will, get in this adaptation of a Marvel character. Yes, that Marvel.
As Hit-Monkey decorates the Tokyo underworld with strewn guts and bullet-ridden walls, hot on his trail are Detective Ito (Nobi Nakanishi) and rookie cop Haruka (Ally Maki). JumpCut Online got to chat with Nakanishi about embodying an “odd duck,” as in uber-grounded, character in a bonkers setting and folding his Japanese roots into his vocal performance.
Created and co-written by Josh Gordon and Will Speck of Blades of Glory and Office Christmas Party fame, the 10-episode Marvel’s Hit-Monkey features character design by Killamari (Rod Ben) and Ellie Martin, plus the voices of Olivia Munn and—oh my—George Takei.
JumpCut Online: To me, Ito-san is a very unique character in the sense that he’s very matter-of-factly, thoughtful about Hit-Monkey more than the other characters who can either see him as a menace or a joke. How do you sculpt your performance around that zone, and make it fit into this weird, over-the-top world?
Nakanishi: The way I crafted Ito is, you know, it’s really all on the page. So you can tell that this is a guy with a chequered history through what he talks about, the way he approaches Hit-Monkey. And in this case, you can tell that he does care about police work. He’s a hard drinker, obviously doesn’t care about his health, but he definitely cares about the work. And the fact that he sees something in these killings! It proves that he has really good instincts, because he’s the only one who really begins to believe that Hit-Monkey might be a good guy. Or a better guy than the people who are getting killed.
Or better than how the in-world media portrays him.
What I also find interesting as well is that, even though your character is unique, he is not alone. Because Haruka, she seems to have the same core as Ito, but obviously, she’s not as chequered. She likes answering the call of duty. How did you find the vocal chemistry with Ally Maki?
Oddly, you know, although I met Ally, and Ally’s fantastic, we actually didn’t get to really work with each other on the recordings. You know, we got some feedback here and there, but what was really interesting was just the directing—Josh, Will and [Neal Holman]—was so spot on that we really just needed their guidance to hit the character beats we needed to hit. They could hear it themselves; I think they had a picture of what Ito needed to sound like. And it was just about sort of aligning my performance, where I based it a little bit on people that I know were Japanese, and then a little bit, like, Clint Eastwood. The wry, dry, detective-type. And then it just kind of magically happened, like, all great things do. It’s just, you watch it now, and I’m just, “Wow, this is actual magic.”
I noticed that–and I hope you do, too–that this is a very special role for you in two ways. First, it’s a role in a Marvel property…
But more importantly, it seems to be a role where you can actually apply your Japanese heritage into it as well. I noticed that certain names and words are emphasised in a way that’s Japanese.
I really, really appreciate that you said that. For me, someone who uses the Japanese language at a business level, regularly, it was important I start from a Japanese performance. For myself, I went hardcore, like, “If I was a Japanese speaking English…” I was at [a high level] when I first started rehearsing on my own, and then just bringing it back to a point where it’s fluid for the American ear, but still keeping those things that are authentically Japanese—like certain pronunciations were very important to me to make sure that I hit that correctly. I’m impressed that you notice that, and I really do appreciate it.
Is it something that the creators encouraged? Or is it something that you pull at the 11th hour?
There was a lot of back and forth there, just because we really wanted to figure out how the accents could sound because even in Japan there are different regional accents. So how do you represent that, in a show that speaks English but takes place in Japan? You know, we could have gone all American, but it wouldn’t have worked as well; that atmosphere probably would have gotten lost. At the same time, we don’t want to step too deep into something that’s stereotypical or borderline offensive, which is always a danger. But I think that we all were listening, and that was what was great. We’re always discussing, conversing back and forth about what seemed to work, and what seemed authentic, for lack of a better term.
Talking with you, we have to talk about The Leviathan Chronicles. In there, you don’t play a single character, you have many voices, you have many tones. So how does that, if it does, prepare you for Ito-san in any way? Or did you approach it as a “clean slate?”
Oh, that’s really interesting. I wanted to do something a little different, so if anyone who listens to Leviathan I do play several roles, most of them Asian-based, part of that was out of necessity. When we started the show back in ’08, podcasts were not very popular; I could hardly find any actors to fit any of the roles, and anything that was Asian, I would do a temp [track], and then I would just keep the temp because it was very difficult to find people. Nowadays, it’s actually a lot easier; I wish we could go back and redo certain things. But for Ito, I think it was important for me to not take shortcuts. So I definitely started fresh.
Lastly, what’s your next dream role, Marvel-related or otherwise? Or the next thing that you would like to direct, even, Marvel-related or otherwise?
Well, maybe they’ll let me direct episodes of Hit-Monkey Season 2 if that ever happens. That’d be amazing. I love working with actors, especially. And in terms of roles, I would love to do something historical, or something like that. Maybe in a remake of a Toshiro Mifune or Akira Kurosawa film?
Great choices, great choices. Arigato gozaimasu.
Arigato gozaimasu. Domo.