Rising Star Sumire Matsubara…

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Image by: YOSHIHITO SASAGUCHI

…on bouncing between Japanese and American culture and her views on Asian women in Hollywood.

Sumire Matsubara is the kind of young woman that one can easily envy. The talented singer, dancer, and working actress is a pedigreed entertainer with not just one, but two famous Japanese actors for parents (Junichi Ishida and Chiaki Matsubara) making it difficult to believe that she was born for anything but the limelight. At 5’9″, the gorgeous 26 year old enjoys a model’s life filled with lots of travel, campaign work, and personal appearances. It is also quite apparent during conversation, that Sumire has been blessed with not just talent and beauty, but that she has been gifted with intelligence and a seemingly natural poise.

After being plucked from Japan by her mother and moved to Hawaii at age 7 when her parent’s divorced, Sumire struggled a bit to find a balance between living within the two cultures she rightly claims. She has now found a happy medium between the two worlds and seamlessly glides between both. Any envy you may have wanted to nurture at first glance, can quickly dissolve into respect upon getting to know the actress and what she stands for.

Sumire seems to accept that with her growing fame comes a certain amount of responsibility, which is reflected in the passion she feels about being a bridge that connects more Americans with Japanese culture and vice versa. She is insistent on changing the way the world views Asian actors and women in general, and is also adamant about flipping the script on some Asian cultural views with which she takes issue.

On a balmy summer evening in New York, and a wonderfully crisp summer morning somewhere in Japan, we sit with the affable Sumire to chat about her career, her 2017 Hollywood debut, and tackle cultural differences between Japan and The United States. We invite you to get to know her.

MD: You are Japanese by blood and by birth, but you grew up in the U.S. – Hawaii to be exact. Do you feel an affinity more to one culture, or do you feel really connected to both?

SM: I feel like I’m connected to both almost equally because I’ve lived in Japan and in the U.S. almost half and half. Because I was born in Japan and raised here until I was like 7 years old, I still have some Japanese cultural views and values. But, I guess since I grew up in the States for my adolescent phase, I think I do think very “American” a lot, too.  It depends on what kind of situation it is, and who I’m talking to, and where I am at the time. I’m like a chameleon.

MD: So it’s kind of like, you can switch; it’s easy for you. When you need to be more Japanese, you are, and when you need to be more American, you are.

SM: Right. Because I had to learn English from scratch, and then forgot most of my Japanese because I went to America when I was young, and had to learn Japanese again – kind of from scratch – my ears got good. I can do a lot of accents so it was really good for acting. And then I realized that also, culturally, like personality wise and just traits wise, I pick up things a little faster, probably because I had to adapt so many times.

MD: So, do you see yourself as an ambassador of Japanese culture to Americans and an ambassador of American culture to Japanese?

SM: That’s very interesting that you would say that. Now that I think about it…the past 5 years that I’ve been working here, I’ve been trying to teach more about – well, English, first of all – American culture, and trying to bridge some gaps, and make it a little easier, I hope, for the Japanese people to accept certain American views and American cultural aspects and people like me who are Japanese but grew up in America. And then when I go to the States of course,  I can bring my Japanese culture and my knowledge of Japan.

MD: So explain how your cultural duality has affected the kinds of roles that you accept and the kinds of roles and campaigns you’ve been offered. Do you see it as an advantage or is it something that possibly holds you back from doing things you would like to do?

SM: It’s funny because sometimes I do feel like it does come at, I guess, a disadvantage in certain ways. In Japan they’re like, ‘Well you can’t play super “Japanesey” roles because, sometimes we can tell that you’re not, you know, bred in Japan’, or ‘You know, because you have tanner skin than most Japanese people, it wouldn’t make sense for you to play this princess from a traditional Japanese show.’ Or they paint me white. Right now I know I probably look a lot lighter on this thing [computer camera], but I grew up in Hawaii, so I got really tan…