(Photo by Sylvain Lefevre/Getty Images)
Written by the sibling duo of Yuko and Shin Kibayashi (as Tadashi Agi), The Drops of God was an influential manga series in Japan. Its main characters, Shizuku Kanzaki and Issei Tomine, were locked in a contest to taste and evaluate the so-called Twelve Apostles of wine and, ultimately, a final vintage known as the Drops of God. Told across roughly 15 years in the pages of Kondasha’s Weekly Morning magazine and collected into 70 volumes, its two storylines represented something different in the cooking genre of manga, and it proved popular enough to spawn a Japanese television adaptation in 2009.
It also became an international hit, sparking a new interest in wine among young people in several countries and the English language translation reaching The New York Times bestseller list for manga. And now it has been adapted for an Apple TV+ series: Drops of God from Legendary Entertainment.
The story is a little bit different, though. Series creator and writer Quoc Dang Tran and director Oded Ruskin reimagine Shizuku Kanzaki as French resident Camille Léger (Fleur Geffrier), the daughter of a renowned oenologist who comes to visit him for the first time in decades, but learns he died while she was in transit. Instead of a tense reunion, she discovers the specifications of his last will and testament require her — or his protégé, Issei Tomine (Tomohisa Yamashita) — to correctly identify the label, vintage, and year of a selection of wines over a period of several months. The prize: the deceased’s home in Tokyo and a wine collection worth upwards of $150 million. But Camille has no training in oenology, the study of wines, and taking even a drop of alcohol produces a violent reaction within her.
Issei, meanwhile, benefits from years of training at the side of Camille’s father. And as Rotten Tomatoes learned while speaking with Yamashita about playing Issei, the role required some knowledge on the subject. The actor also discussed include the impact of the manga in Japan, the family conflict at the heart of Issei’s story, and the satisfaction Yamashita, a pop star in the early part of the century who always wanted to focus on acting, gets from roles like the rival sommelier.
(Photo by Sylvain Lefevre/Getty Images)
Erik Amaya for Rotten Tomatoes: To what extent did you immerse yourself in wine culture? Oenology is so complicated and Issei makes it seem so effortless. How much wine tasting did you do?
Tomohisa Yamashita: I took 40 hours of lessons from the Academy teacher before I left Japan. After I landed in Paris, one of the sommeliers took me to the great restaurants, and then we drank a lot of wine and tasted amazing food and try to marry [the qualities and tastes]. And then, we actually shot this series in the middle of vineyard. The owner of the winery told us what the wine is about. Through that experience, I’ve learned so many things.
Although this adaptation drops the adventure aspect of the manga series, and many of the characters have been renamed, the underlying relationships remain intact. In regard to Issei, how much do think changed from the page to the screen?
Yamashita: I think it’s a good balance. The manga is more focused on the exploration of the wine, but the live action is more focused on the human drama. So, I think it was a good change. I also respect the manga’s fun, as well. I took the philosophy from the manga [to help build Issei].
(Photo by Jean-Philippe Baltel/Apple TV+)
I understand that cooking stories are a big genre or subgenre in manga, but the wine aspect of Drops of God seems unusual. Do you have a sense that it created something of a sensation with readers? Did it feel like it did something a little different?
Yamashita: It was huge hit, and the manga has a lot of influence. Actually, Japanese people know about wine from the manga!
Did you watch the previous adaptation or did you feel it was better to keep your version of Issei uninfluenced by what came before?
Yamashita: I watched the whole season [of the 2009 series], and it’s totally different if I compare it to the manga, but I really like the philosophy and this story about learning an outlook on life through wine. Just like wine, humans are made up from many things, which is in intricately intertwined. [It’s] something that reminds us so we are part of nature.
(Photo by Apple TV+)
In this series, Issei fights against the expectations of his family. Is that still a big issue in Japan, or is there more leeway for young people to find their own pursuits and passions?
Yamashita: I think that’s real. It depends on, of course, the family. But I totally understand Issei’s feelings, Issei’s situation because, yeah, I think it’s real. He has a lot of pressure from the family, so he couldn’t maybe show his feelings. That’s why maybe he tried to become a wine expert and I think he’s describing his real emotion through the wine. That’s why he goes deep into it.
It’s very sad, Issei’s family, basically, they have everything but love. Their family shape is kind of weird [and it’s] very shocking.
Reading up on your career, it appears you knew that this is what you wanted all along and you found a way to get there. Were you supported in your pursuit of acting?
Yamashita: I really love to do acting, but, actually, my family is really supportive, so I really appreciate my family’s support.
(Photo by Fabien Malot/Apple TV+)
In the series, there are these depictions of Camille’s interior journey that she goes on when attempting to sample the wine, but Issei’s experiences remain an external thing. Do you think he experiences something as intense as she does, or is his examination of the wine more an analytical thing?
Yamashita: Camille has a superpower. Very, very sensitive … her taste and the smells, but Issei doesn’t have this kind of superpower. That’s why he tried to lose weight. When people lose some weight, [their sense of smells and taste] becomes more sensitive. So that’s why I actually lost weight – like five or six kilos [11-13 lbs.]. So, it was real hard for me. It was strict diet, but it was real. I tasted so many things and I realized the differences.
Are roles like Issei the kind that give you the most satisfaction? Although he is Camille’s opponent, the story never presents him as a traditional antagonist.
Yamashita: Right before I played this – the kind of elegant guy – I played a naked crazy guy [in Alice in Borderland]. I actually enjoyed the differences. It’s really fun. When I played Issei, I had a lot of layers [to explore with the character], so it was a fun process to make him. I enjoyed the character.