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Beginning his career as one of Takashi Miikeís go-tos in films like The Way to Fight and The Man in White, hitting his stride in Ryuhei Kitamuraís Azumi and Godzilla: Final Wars, and even turning up as one of the Crazy 88 in Kill Bill, actor Kazuki Kitamura is one of Japan's most recognizable faces. 

As the recipient of Japan Cutsí Cut Above award, Kitamura comes to the festival with three very different new films; the noirish Man from Reno, the gory Indonesian nightmare, Killers, and in a complete changeup, the family-friendly, utterly charming, Neko Samurai.

Dig it!

 

Kazuki Kitamura

 

The Lady Miz Diva:  How do you feel about receiving Japan Cutsí Cut Above award here in New York?

Kazuki Kitamura:  Iím genuinely happy.  For awards, per se, in my career, Iím not that interested, but by receiving an award like this, whatís so great is that it opens a lot of windows and it gives me more opportunities to meet a lot of different people, as well as projects.  What specifically makes me happy and proud is that this is Japan Society, and it encompasses a lot of Japanese people who are working very hard in New York City, and to be a member of that, and to be inspired by that network and to consider myself as a member of such Japanese people, is something that makes me especially happy.

 

LMD:  I could talk about your career for hours, but we only have a little bit of time, so Iíd like to ask about the films presented here at the festival.  First, the movie that completely won me over, Neko Samurai. So many of your films have a dark or serious edge, was counteracting that part of the reason you took this role?

KK:  What I can say about film in Japan, is that I think weíre may be moving a little bit towards being isolated.  Or, I could say itís not the best atmosphere over there.  And thereís a bad cycle there, where the directors or the filmmakers really pursue high-quality, and they really want to be critically praised and they really want to be awarded and accepted. And thatís great too, but I feel like in some parts, they are ignoring the audience and not really thinking about what the audience wants or what they want to enjoy, so in that sense, this is a purely entertainment work.  I think itís a project in which even grandparents to grandkids can enjoy together, so itís not so much the quality as being pure entertainment and enjoyment.  Of course itís silly, but itís something thatís refreshing about it, and thatís something that I wanted to do.

 

LMD:  Of course we must talk about your beautiful costar, the ďNekoĒ of Neko Samurai. What was the cat like?

KK:  Itís a phenomenal cat; even if itís right there, itís really hard to believe how pretty and beautiful it is.  And you know how cats generally run away if you try to hold it?  But that cat was so well mannered, itís very gentle.  Even during the battle scenes, it would just fall asleep in my arms.  I would keep my center of gravity low and walk like a ninja a little bit in my samurai uniform, so I wouldnít move up and down too much, so the vibration wouldnít transfer to the cat too much. So it was like carrying a child, really, and I miss her so much.

 

LMD:  The film reads like an homage to samurai films & your character, Madarame is like a mashup of so many of my favorite jidaigeki actors.  Did you have any influences in mind when you created him?

KK:  So, the thing about this film is that itís quite silly and itís almost like a Japanese stand up, in a way, but it doesnít really pursue quality, per se.  But the important thing to remember is that you need a foundation in order to be silly.  So I took great care about the battle scenes, and as I said, I made sure to keep my center of gravity low and bend at the knees, which is comes from my very traditional training in battle swords and also Japanese dance.  So because I have that training, I was able to leap from that to being silly because I have that core foundation. As far as character goes, of course I just embraced the silliness of it

 

LMD:  Are you an actor who needs to find something humanising or relatable about your characters in order to play them, or are you able to create them straight off the script page?

KK:  It doesnít really have to be a character that I can empathize with.  For instance, Killers, the film that Iím screening tonight; itís a character that I canít even understand.  I canít even fathom.  But I guess itís all about the way you approach it, or think about the role; itís not so much about understanding, but how I show or present that character.  Of course, if itís a human drama, empathy is important, but for Neko Samurai, itís all about allowing the audience to enjoy the film.  So the more complex the character becomes, the harder it becomes for the grandparents to understand.

 

LMD:  Itís interesting to hear you say you didnít understand your character from Killers.  Then what did you think Nomura Shuheiís motivation was? Was he just crazy?

KK:  So, it was very hard for me to understand that character, but because all human beings have a motivation; they act because they have a will.  But I couldnít understand, so I asked the director, Timo Tjahjanto, ďWhy does Nomura kill?Ē  The answer he gave me is that you have to consider him like a god.  Just like a fish swims immediately as itís born, or human beings start breathing right after theyíre born, he was born to kill; so I needed to show that.  The director had a very set visual idea in mind already, so for me, it was about being a chess piece in his narrative and working and pursuing what the director wanted and envisioned for me.  So, it really was up to me to play him like a god, and thatís what the directorís advice for me was.  And the Indonesian actor, Oka Antara, his character, Bayu, was very humanistic; he has a reason to kill, so he {the director} wanted to give that contrast between Bayu and Nomura.

 

LMD:  Did you hesitate at all or worry that a film that violent and gory might keep your fans from seeing it?

KK:  So, for me, to be critically praised, or to do something for the fans is not so much important to me: I donít consider myself an idol.  In that sense, I just want to do various roles in various projects as much as possible.  Even if itís a controversial work; if itís a role that I can believe in and want to pursue, I will give my all to that role.  Itís not really about the result for me, but just pursuing something that I believe in and carrying it through.

 

LMD:  When youíre playing someone as warped as Nomura Shuhei, are you able to shake him off at the end of the day?

KK:  I try to transition right away, but I canít change 100%, so it tends to put me in a darker mood. {Laughs} So while I was shooting, weíre so concerned about how itís being portrayed, or weíll talk about the scene, the different technical aspects of the scene; but once you see the result, thatís when it really strikes me because it was so gory.

 

LMD:  Man From Reno was also featured at the festival.  What brought you to that project?

KK:  I received the screenplay through my agency, actually, and it really intrigued me when I read it.  I looked over the directorís previous work and I really felt that he had a great sense of taste.  Iíve seen a lot of American films with Japanese actors, but in Director Boyleís film, I feel like thereís a meaning why the Japanese actors are in the film.  I felt like I could play a human role even as a Japanese part - itís a human part.

 

LMD:  Man From Reno is has a very classic film noir vibe.  Did you look at old film noir movies to achieve the feel of that performance?

KK:  No, not so much that era.  The 40s and 50s film noir, I watch it on my personal time, but when it comes to researching before I play a role, it tends to stick in my mind, so Iíd rather be a blank canvas before shooting.  And here itís a Japanese person, so I just considered how do Japanese people really act in everyday life?  So, before the shooting I might be watching something thatís completely unrelated, but even if itís completely unrelated, it stays with me, so maybe it does play a part somehow, all the films that I watch.

 

LMD:  What is the perfect filmmaking environment for Kitamura-san?  Are you someone who prefers to have everything strictly mapped out, or do you prefer to have freedom to improvise or contribute?

KK:  If Iím given a lot of freedom, itís a lot easier for me, psychologically, but I prefer the minute-by-minute instruction, because if thereís a structure, itís the meaning of taking on a new project - a new structure.  But of course, we meet beforehand for the shooting and I talk to the director and I give him all my opinions, but when it comes down to the choices on set, I leave it to the director.

 

LMD:  Working many times with innovative filmmakers like Takashi Miike and Ryuhei Kitamura, is there a common thread with directors of that quality?

KK:  Itís always the case that they ask me, and I consider that very fortunate and lucky that they approached me and asked me to be part of their projects.  The choices always lie with the director and the production side for me, they usually come to me.  As for Miike, both of us started working together before we became we are today, so I consider him part of my family, and the same for Kitamura, too.  So for me, itís not about what I want, but itís about becoming as close as possible to what the director wants, even if itís not 100% but as close to 100% is possible to what they envision. Thatís whatís most important for me.

 

LMD:  Youíre one of very few Japanese actors to successfully transition into international filmmaking, including Chinese, Korean, Indonesian and American productions. What made you want to expand your talent overseas?

KK:  I came from Osaka, originally, and people said to me, ĎOh, Tokyo is so much different than Osaka.í  But once I grew up, I knew that Osaka and Tokyo, they are both part of Japan, itís all the same.  I approach film in the same way; whether Iím shooting in Indonesia or in the United States; itís all part of the world, thatís how I see it.  And of course thereís a language barrier, but itís really important for me to shoot in different parts of the world, and itís all about experiencing different shooting styles.  And itís something that I wanted to do; that I wanted to be involved in since a very long time ago, and itís something that I want to continue doing.

 

LMD:  Having worked with so many impressive filmmakers, have you ever wanted to direct?

KK:   When I read a screenplay, I construct scenes in my head.  Itís inevitable. I wouldnít say itís impossible, but Iíve worked with so many great directors that I know that intuition alone is not enough.  You need years of study.  But from time to time, when working with a certain director, I feel like, ĎWhy arenít you shooting it that way?í  So, in that moment I feel like I want to direct.

 

LMD:  What is next for Kitamura-san? I am hoping for a Neko Samurai album called "Madarame Sings!"

KK:  This is still under wraps, but Iím still negotiating and wondering if weíre going to do the Neko Samurai sequel, but my personal opinion is that Madarame should come to New York.  It would start with a close up of his face and the camera would pull back and open up to reveal the New York City subway.

 

LMD:  I must ask the real burning question; is Kitamura-san  a dog person or a cat person?

KK:  Cat!

 

~ The Lady Miz Diva

July 19th, 2014

 

 

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Photos  

Exclusive Photos

 by L.M.D.

Stills courtesy of

AMG Entertainment - Neko Samurai

Well Go USA - Killers

 Eleven Arts - Man From Reno

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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