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Hey boys and girls, Japan Cuts really did it this time.  This yearís Guest of Honour is an actor who transcends genres East and West; starring in the fabulous 13 Assassins, the dreamily romantic Shall We Dance? and the Oscar-nominated Babel.  A suave mix of Cary Grant, the dashing Toshiro Mifune and loaded with everyman charm, KŰji Yakusho has risen to international heights while remaining Japanís top romantic leading man.

Dig it!

 

KŰji Yakusho

 

The Lady Miz Diva:  Welcome to New York.  How does it feel to be the Guest of Honour at the 2012 Japan Cuts film festival?

KŰji Yakusho:  I come from a small area outside of Nagasaki called Isahaya, so for a country boy like me to have a whole retrospective in New York like this is a great honour.

 

LMD:  Thereís a lovely moment in your new film, The Woodsman and the Rain where your character, a lumberjack living on a mountainside, sees himself on film for the first time and your face registers everything heís thinking.  Do you remember the first time you saw yourself on film?

KY:  Yes, I actually do remember the first time I saw myself onscreen.  A childhood friend had an 8-millimeter camera and filmed me at a beach and he had a screening and he said, ďWhy donít you come see the footage?Ē  I remember being slightly taken aback by seeing my own moving self on the screen and sort of having sense of maybe even detachment, of, ĎIs that person on the screen really me?í  So, I tapped into those memories for that scene.

 

LMD:  The Woodsman in the Rain follows the story of a young director making his first film.  You have directed a film, Toadís Oil, but itís only been the one and I wondered why that was, and did you relate to any of the struggles of the young director in the film?

KY:  For my first film, I had a much better crew, so it was a lot more fun.  But it is true that in my first film I was a little taken aback by what it means when youíre a director; that you constantly have to make decisions about everything right now.

 

LMD:  Did your experience as director change your perspective as an actor? 

KY:  Yes, my directing experience did significantly affect myself as an actor.  Before I had directed, I would just come on to the set as an actor, and on some intellectual level, I understood how much work went into creating a set and how much the crew worked hard to prep it.  But having now done that once as a director, having directed the whole crew to prepare the set and how much work it takes for them to bring it all together and also having done that work, {I understand} how much expectation they have of the kind of performance that the actors are going to deliver.  For me, I really feel like I have to be on my toes constantly because the crew is your best friend as an actor, but also theyíll see right through you if youíre taking shortcuts.

 

LMD:  I had the honour of speaking with your mentor, the great actor, Tatsuya Nakadai some time ago and I asked him what it was that gave actors of his generation like himself and Toshiro Mifune such a strong, masculine, larger-than life presence onscreen?  He said it was because theyíd all grown up watching Marlon Brando.  You also have that same commanding presence that those actors do.  Who did you watch that inspired you?

KY:  Certainly, I grew up watching Mifune-san and Nakadai-san, but in terms of international actors -- and of course Iím conscious of Brando -- but definitely it was the Robert De Niro of Taxi Driver and The Godfather Part 2.

 

LMD:  You are one of the rare Japanese actors that is recognised in the West and has made a number of notable films outside of Japan.  I wondered about the comparisons of making films in the West versus filming in Japan?  Is there a comfort level thatís different?  Does it interfere with your approach as an actor?

KY:  Well, the languageÖ {Laughs}  Actually, I would say other than the slight inconvenience of having to have a translator translate the directorís words, itís not really all that different.  I mean, no matter how big a Hollywood film it is, in general, thereís only one or two cameras, and mostly the crew is doing something similar, and Japanese soundmen look more or less like international soundmen, and the lighting crew is kind of the same.  So it feels comfortable in that sense.

 

LMD:  Is it important for you to appear in international productions?

KY:  As long as the part is right for me, then I am interested.

 

LMD:  Iíve spoken to many young Japanese actors who want so much to make films abroad.  What advice would you give them?

KY:  Certainly, I would encourage them to spread their wings and try acting abroad, but I think itís also important for them to act in their own countryís films.  I think there is a limit to the number of roles that are being written for Japanese actors in international films, so donít give up on your own film industry.

 

LMD:  Youíve played in so many different film genres, is there one that is particularly close to your heart, or one that you would like to explore further?

KY:  I feel that period films, jidaigeki, or what you would call samurai films here, itís so hard to make them now.  Itís a very distinctly Japanese genre that was built up especially by the crews over the years and theyíre all now really quite old men.  I think that genre needs to be constantly being made if weíre not to lose their wisdom and their expertise.

 

LMD:  What is next for KŰji Yakusho?

KY:  My new film thatís directed by Masayuki Suo, who directed Shall We Dance? will be out this fall, and Iíll be starring in another samurai film this winter.

 

LMD:  Will you please give a message to our readers?

KY:  Well, itís really very exciting to have six of my films showing here in New York at Japan Society.  Of course Iím interested in people coming to see my films for a second time, but Iím really interested in what new audiences will make of my films.  And I plan to keep on making films, so if you see my face somewhere, please check out the movie itís related to.

 

Bonus Question from KŰji Yakushoís Japan Society Q&A:

 

LMD:  Youíve mentioned the samurai film is very dear to you.  Can you tell us why and how the samurai film can appeal to younger audiences today?

KY:  The samurai film is getting harder and harder to make in Japan; theyíre expensive and it seems to be according to some research that Japanese young people donít relate to them as much anymore.  But whatís happening is the people who really carry that legacy of the knowledge of how to really make the nuts and bolts of how to make a samurai film, theyíre getting older and passing on, and the samurai film has such a powerful place in Japanese cinema.  I really feel that we need to learn from the people who are moving on before itís too late.  When I was growing up, we played samurai when we were kids with swords.  Young Japanese kids donít play that anymore, so when the actors are training for the sword scenes, they have to start from scratch.  But I really feel that itís a legacy that needs to be protected in Japan.  Also, there are so many historical characters, fictional and real, from our Japanese past that could actually be so empowering.  Their stories, their lives could be so empowering for Japanese people today and thatís another reason why theyíre important.

 

~ The Lady Miz Diva

July 20th, 2012

 

Click here for our review of 13 Assassins 

 

 

 

 

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