Shina Shihoko Nagai is an actress who can play an impressively wide range of characters; however, the range of her talents expands even further. She is also a scriptwriter, director, dancer and a singer. With her career being so versatile, she finds pleasure in taking on various creative projects whenever her schedule allows it. Shina hails from Japan, but has spent most of her life abroad, including some time in the USA, where she studied musical theatre. She admits that her extensive travelling and her artistic life experiences have contributed to who she is now.
Like with any other artist, there is an interesting story behind it all to be found. When Shina was a high school student, she found American culture interesting; as a result, she applied for a student exchange. She left for the US to study for a year and there, she got a glimpse into what she could find for herself in the land of countless opportunities. After finishing her course, she returned to Japan to get her degree; during that time, she was very invested in dance. Luckily, Shina was soon able to return to the US and attend a musical theatre course at the University of Toledo. “I did a lot of musical theatre at that time, as well as acting in small projects. After graduating, I wanted to continue my studies and apply for Masters in LA or New York, but for some reason, I ended up in the UK (laughs).”
After she graduated, Shina first returned to Japan, where she worked for media, including radio and television; after a while, she set her sights on the UK. After arriving in London, Shina faced struggles of a working actress at first. “It was a challenge. I came to the UK as a student, I did my Masters at Drama Centre London where I was trained more in theatre and drama, it was great. However, thinking of the US and the UK, people’s attitudes are different, I had to learn a lot, it was an interesting challenge at the beginning, but now, after all those years, I finally can do what I love.”
In 2007, Shina Nagai wrote, directed, produced and also performed in the supporting role in a short Ibasho: Where You Belong, in which she addressed the question of belonging to a place, having firsthand experience as a person who lived in London for a long time, while at at the same time also performing in Japan. But there was even more meaning to the short film. “This short was very personal as I dedicated it to a friend who passed away,” Shina told me.
She decided to write the script purely because of that; luckily, since she was studying at the drama school at the time, so she was able to use all the tools available. While writing the short, she also managed to gather all of her friends who worked in the film industry and with their help, she made Ibasho. Did the short help her find her own place of belonging? “Living in London is great now, but do I belong here? I can’t really say it as I am not sure where life will take me next.”
In 2014, at the Monaco International Film Festival, Shina received an award for the best female supporting role in Imphal 1944, “A story about a war veteran who comes to London for reconciliation between the British and Japanese who fought in Imphal in 1944.” But even with the recognition and the success of her short, that was a painful time for the actress; during that time, she grieved the loss of a family member. But the road became more solid and the years that followed brought Shina more success; she was a part of productions such as Now You See Me: The Second Act, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and A Street Cat Named Bob.
From all of the productions that she has worked on so far, one has to wonder which of the projects was the most memorable to her personally. “I think I would have to mention 47 Ronin, that was the first big production I worked on.” Obviously, Keanu Reeves had to be mentioned here – “He was very nice and calm, always in Zen,” laughed Shina. She was also very pleased to work with Renée Zellweger and Tom Cruise, whom she sees as extremely professional artists.
While in London, Shina was picked by TV Tokyo to feature in the well-known show Why here in the world？Japanese People (世界ナゼそこに？日本人～知られざる波瀾万丈伝～), directed by Tomoya Saito. The show might only be shown in Japan, but the documentary is worth being a part of as Shina’s story might encourage the future generations to pursue their own careers in acting or any other professions abroad.
With 28 credits (in English-language films) as an actress under her belt, there is no sight of Shina stopping. Juggling between being a mother and a busy artist must be demanding, but she looks like she is always up for another challenge or an adventure, so there is no surprise that Shina is now working on a new film – we should be able to see it sometime next year.
Written by Maggie Gogler
Edited by Sanja Struna
Featured Image © AP WILDING
Pictures in Kimono © Jinny Park Photography for View of the Arts