Hamish Downie’s Five Questions With Shizuka Anderson
Editor Note: Hamish has another in his series of Five Questions With…
Hamish came up with this idea because he was accumulating too much material for his Famous News Sushi column and asked if he could do these mini-interviews. Why would we say no?
Thank you Hamish for being such a trooper for us. We really appreciate all for your hard work.
Let us know what you think of these interviews in the comments below.
TGG: Could you please introduce yourself to our readers?
SA: Sure! My name is Shizuka Anderson and I am an actress, TV and YouTube host, singer and narrator based in Tokyo. I do a little bit of everything! I currently host a YouTube channel about the Japanese food scene called “Japan By Food”, play the role of Carol in “The Benza” and “Benza English” series on Amazon Prime, and in 2020, I challenged myself to a beauty pageant and won the title of Miss Japanese Traditional Culture in the Miss World Japan competition.
I may be living the big city life in Tokyo now, but you may be surprised to know that I have very humble Canadian roots. I was born to a Japanese mother and Canadian father in St. Paul, Canada, spent my earliest years living the farm life on an acreage in a very small prairie town called Two Hills, Alberta, and then spent my school years growing up in the city of Edmonton, Alberta. I don’t think I ever would have thought of moving to Japan if my Japanese grandparents hadn’t suggested I attend university here. Being incredibly shy, I had never done any sort of acting or singing in Canada, but there was a part of me that felt the beckoning of the big city and the allure of the entertainment world. I took the chance, came to Tokyo and was serendipitously discovered by a talent scout who visited campus while I was studying in the Faculty of Liberal Arts at Sophia University. He was looking for a bilingual, half-Japanese girl to star in a new children’s English-learning TV show called “Piponza ABC!”— I auditioned, and against all odds, (with no acting experience!), I got the part. That was the start of my life and career in Tokyo… and, well, let’s just say I’m very far from where I started out as a farm girl in Two Hills!
TGG: Could you tell us about how you came to be involved in “Benza English” and “The Benza” series?
SA: I was first introduced to the creator of the series, Christopher McCombs, through a mutual friend. He had been thinking of adding a new character to the series at the time and wrote a part for me that he thought I would be just the right fit for: the happy-go-lucky Carol! I was thrilled to join the cast because I had watched “The Benza” previously when it was still only a short film and loved the humor and the way it brought attention, in a fun and light-hearted way, to some of the difficulties that foreign people face while living in Japan. I also appreciated how the character of Carol comedically brings light to the stereotyping of not only foreign people, but mixed-race people in Japan. Japanese media tends to dictate that foreign or mixed-race people always look and act a certain way, but Carol’s character throws this stereotype on its head by being the exact opposite of the expectation. She’s a biracial and foreign girl who looks very Japanese but doesn’t speak a lick of the language. She’s the epitome of the type of girl who would confuse a lot of local Japanese people and I love that!
TGG: I feel like your character in the series was based on a girl I did a two-week training course with at my previous job, but you’re actually quite bilingual in real life. How did you get into your character for the series?
SA: It’s funny you say that because when Chris and I were brainstorming Carol, we wanted her to be a recognizable character that you might see at a Japanese language school. I guess she can be found at training courses too! We imagined that, as a half-Japanese girl attending a language school with seemingly no motivation to learn Japanese, Carol probably comes from a wealthy family who sent her abroad to study. This led to a backstory that she has a horseback-riding hobby (a fitting nod to my own childhood horseback-riding days), which even comes into the storyline in Series 2. Her personality is actually loosely inspired by Alexis in Schitt’s Creek (played by Anne Murphy). Like Alexis, we wanted her to be a little ditzy, but loveable; and despite having an air of privilege, remain friendly and approachable, so I try to embody a mix of friendliness, sunshine and “clueless Valley Girl” in her character. Even though I speak fluent Japanese now, and Carol speaks none at all, I recall my early days in Japan when my Japanese was much more limited. I also sometimes try to tune out my fellow castmates’ Japanese lines in our scenes together to help Carol seem more authentically confused about what’s going on!
TGG: In my research for this interview, I came across a video of you doing a cover of S Club 7’s international hit “Never had a dream come true”. When did you get into singing, and how did this cover come about? Any plans for future releases?
SA: Oh no. I can’t believe you found that! I filmed that video years ago for my personal YouTube channel and I’m too embarrassed to watch it again! Hahaha. To be honest, I’ve been singing at home for as long as I can remember. When I was in preschool, I was obsessed with “The Sound of Music” and “Mary Poppins” and I had both soundtracks completely memorized. I loved singing so much but was always too desperately shy to sing in front of anybody, even though I so wanted to, and it took me until coming to Japan to really get over my stage fright. I saw coming to Japan as an opportunity to re-write who I was, so one of the first things I did here was to apply to a local karaoke TV show called “Karaoke Trial II” on Chiba TV where I both sang in front of a live audience for the first time and appeared on TV for the first time! After that, I was pretty unstoppable. I sang at Sophia University’s Campus Festival singing competition, at live houses, at the city hall for my own Coming-of-Age Ceremony and… even this one time on YouTube! I think I did it as a “thank you” to everyone who voted for me to be on a TBS show I was auditioning for (and got!) and I just particularly loved this song from S-Club 7 growing up. It’s very cringey looking back on now, but I’d love to record some singing videos again and maybe revive my channel!
TGG: Finally, how can we best support you?
SA: You can see me as Carol in “The Benza Series 2”, which is currently streaming on Amazon Prime Video in Japan and will be released worldwide at the end of April. “Benza English” is viewable on Amazon Prime Video and Plex in over 190 countries. You can watch it for free on Plex without a membership no matter where you are in the world! My song from the Benza English soundtrack, “Special To Me” is also available on iTunes.
Finally, you can see me every week on my “Japan By Food” YouTube channel or on Instagram @xshizzyx where I post a lot more of my daily life and fun, Japan things. Hope to see you there!
Japan By Food YouTube channel:
Personal YouTube channel: