Does Rachel Keller Speak Japanese? Did She Learn it?

In Max’s crime drama series ‘Tokyo Vice,’ Rachel Keller plays Samantha Porter, an American hostess who fluently speaks and sings in Japanese. Even though she is from the United States, the Japanese language doesn’t challenge her. The language helps her communicate with several people, ranging from her clients at nightclubs to influential Yakuza bosses such as Hitoshi Ishida. To authentically portray the character, Keller had to learn Japanese. The process of acquiring the language was hard and lasted multiple months. The result of her commitment and hard work is evident in her performance!

Mastering Japanese

When Rachel Keller started learning Japanese to play Samantha Porter, the process was nothing but challenging. “[…] it [Japanese] is such a tricky language. I felt it was a pretty tight couple of months for me of just sort of like wrapping my head around at all. I like to kind of go at my own pace and go slowly towards something. So, it was a little fast to get ready for it, but I was excited by it,” the actress told Forbes. The language, however, was familiar to Keller, especially since her mom grew up in Japan.

“When I was little, I always learned how to count to 10. I always knew that, but I didn’t really know any other Japanese. I only studied it for a couple of months before we started shooting,” Keller told Looper. Since Japanese isn’t similar to English grammatically at all, the actress found the endeavor hard. “The Japanese language is so difficult, partly because the sentence structure has no relation to English grammatically. It’s almost the opposite. My Japanese teacher actually sent me this graph that showed how the sentence is actually completely opposite. […] I shed some tears learning Japanese,” she added.

Keller was not demotivated by the challenges. As an artist, she wanted to do justice to the language of her character. “It felt like absolute magic, learning the language and getting to know the people traveling around, and, of course, Samantha’s Japanese is much better than the foundational Japanese I was learning. It’s a beautiful language, and we had so much fun trying to achieve something with some dignity and truth to it,” Keller told Variety. “Because I really felt like I had a responsibility to the language and the people and this show to get it as right as I could,” she added.

The Japanese language was not the only thing Keller learned to portray Samantha. She dived into the hostess culture of the country to understand the nuances of her character’s profession and life. “And the Japanese hostess culture, there was so much. Even through the eight months of studying and living there, I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface. It’s such a deep, wonderful, fantastic thing to be researching this time… Japanese culture, Japanese language, why do these women work in this job?” she said in the same Forbes interview.

After mastering the language, Keller had to sing Guns N’ Roses’ renowned song “Sweet Child O’ Mine” almost entirely in Japanese. She had to practice “a lot and over and over” to sing the song. It was not the only song she sang for the crime drama but the other one was originally written in Japanese. “The other karaoke song I sing later in the season is originally a Japanese song, so in a way, that one was a little bit easier to learn because the original lyrics for it are written in Japanese and the vowel sounds, it’s all in the same cadence. It was a really fun challenge,” Keller told Looper.

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