Some might say that Japanese pop star, fashion model and actress Sumire Matsubara ’09 was born to be an entertainer.
Jerusalem, Tokyo and Budapest. These far-flung locations are home to alumni who have found their purpose thousands of miles from their Hawai‘i home. One a dancer, one an entertainer and the other a health services advocate, these three alumni have immersed themselves in new communities, and embraced new cultures and lifestyles, using their talents to make a difference on a global level. As cross-cultural understanding becomes vital to success, these global citizens model the skills necessary for students as they prepare to live and work in a global society.
Read additional profiles in this feature about Rachel Tina Horii ’87 Factor and Marcus Oda ’05.
A Star is Born
By Scott Osborn ’94
Some might say that Japanese pop star, fashion model and actress Sumire Matsubara ’09 was born to be an entertainer. Her paternal grandfather was a foreign correspondent with Japan’s national public broadcasting organization, NHK, and covered historic moments such as the Apollo moon landing and the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. On her mother’s side, her grandfather was a film actor and her grandmother acted for the iconic all-female theater group, The Takarazuka Revue.
On top of that, both of her parents are famous television personalities in Japan, where Matsubara was born. “I was raised in Japanese television studios,” she says with a laugh. “I have my parents to thank for being able to enjoy performing in front of people.”
After her parents divorced, Matsubara moved to Hawai‘i with her mother at the age of seven.
Matsubara discovered musical theater when she took the summer school course Elements of Musical Theater as a rising eighth grader. “It was a great experience; I realized that I could do all of the things I love while in school,” she says. It was also around that time she first met Punahou music faculty member Alicia Scanlan. “I loved singing when I was little, but she made it fun for me to learn more about musicals and music theory.”
Later in the school year she uncovered a passion for poetry in eighth-grade English class. “Mr. Tsujimoto’s teaching is a big reason why I love poetry, words, lines and lyrics.”
After entering the Academy, she began taking dance lessons from Charlys Ing ’63 and her daughter, Kristin Ing ’90 Aune, and performed in four Academy musicals: “Mikado,” “Pippen,” “West Side Story” and “The King and I.” Working on these musicals introduced her to Punahou’s director of theater at the time, Paul Palmore. “He played a huge role in my career,” she says. “I would talk to him about my experiences in college and ask him for advice. He will always be my mentor.”
To this day Matsubara insists that Dillingham Hall is her favorite stage to perform on.
After graduating from Punahou in 2009, she attended Carnegie Mellon University to study acting and musical theater. Seeing the devastation caused by the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami in 2011 compelled her to move back to her native Japan, where the multi-talented Matsubara has carved out a place for herself in the Japanese entertainment industry, modeling in fashion magazines, releasing pop albums, and starring in Japanese commercials and television shows.
Her presence has also been felt across the Pacific Ocean. She has acted in an episode of “Hawaii Five-0,” starred in the film adaptation of the novel, “The Shack,” and was featured in three episodes of the recent CBS show, “Marvel’s Inhumans.”
As her celebrity star rises, Matsubara dreams of using her influence to generate conversations about global issues and to make the world a better place. In April 2016, after Kumamoto prefecture was hit by two large earthquakes, she quickly moved to organize a charity event that raised $50,000 for affected families. She hopes to be able to work with other charitable organizations in the future. “The reason I do this is to put smiles on peoples’ faces.”
While being an entertainer isn’t always easy, Matsubara says she loves the path she has taken in life. “The industry is constantly changing, but that is what’s so fun about it.” She has some simple advice for any aspiring entertainers, “Hone your craft so that you can do what the role requires.”
No matter where she goes in life, Punahou holds a special place in Matsubara’s heart. She relished the opportunity to return to her favorite stage when she performed in “Punahou Presents,” a celebration of performing arts at Punahou School in honor of Punahou’s 175th anniversary in June 2016 in Dillingham Hall.
“So many teachers at Punahou inspired me, and it was wonderful to work with them again,” says Matsubara. “It was amazing for all of the cast to show our love for Punahou and give back for all that the School has done for us.”