In Japan, you can pay an actor to impersonate your relative, spouse, coworker, or any kind of acquaintance.
Money may not be able to buy love, but here in Japan, it can certainly buy the appearance of love—and appearance, as the dapper Ishii Yuichi insists, is everything. As a man whose business involves becoming other people, Yuichi would know. The handsome and charming 36-year-old is on call to be your best friend, your husband, your father, or even a mourner at your funeral.
His 8-year-old company, Family Romance, provides professional actors to fill any role in the personal lives of clients. With a burgeoning staff of 800 or so actors, ranging from infants to the elderly, the organization prides itself on being able to provide a surrogate for almost any conceivable situation.
Yuichi believes that Family Romance helps people cope with unbearable absences or perceived deficiencies in their lives. In an increasingly isolated and entitled society, the CEO predicts the exponential growth of his business and others like it, as à la carte human interaction becomes the new norm.
I sat down recently with Yuichi in a café on the outskirts of Tokyo, to discuss his business and what it means to be, in the words of his company motto, “more than real.”
Ishii Yuichi (Roc Morin)
Roc Morin: Just to be perfectly clear, you’ve come as yourself today, haven’t you?
Ishii Yuichi: Yes, at this moment I am only myself.
Morin: What was your very first role?
Yuichi: I had a single-mother friend, and she had a son. He was trying to enter a private school, but they denied him solely because he had no father. I wanted to challenge the unfairness of Japanese society, so I posed as his father.
Morin: Were you successful?
Yuichi: Not in that situation. But, it inspired the idea for this business.
Morin: When was your first success?
Yuichi: I played a father for a 12-year-old with a single mother. The girl was bullied because she didn’t have a dad, so the mother rented me. I’ve acted as the girl’s father ever since. I am the only real father that she knows.