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Graduated from her best-known role as the first breakout star of Japanís phenomenally popular all-girl singing group, AKB48, Atsuko Maeda has gone from strength to strength in the acting world, in films directed by the likes of Takashi Miike, Hideo Nakata, Kiyoshi Kurosawa and Jun Ichikawa. 

At the Japan Cuts film festival to talk about her role as an almost-wed expectant mom in ShŻichi Okitaís The Mohican Comes Home, Maeda chatted about lessons learned in AKB48, her international film hopes, and her upcoming movie with the biggest star of all.

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The Mohican Comes Home

Atsuko Maeda


The Lady Miz Diva:  Welcome to New York, or should I say welcome back?  I saw you perform with AKB48 in 2009, and you returned in 2010 for a photobook shoot.  Now as an actor, what does screening your film in New York mean to you?

Atsuko Maeda:  I came to New York with my former group AKB48, I believe it was for Anime Expo {It was the New York Anime Festival, they played Anime Expo in LA the following year}.  Now that Iíve come here with this film, and Iím all by myself as an actress, it hasnít hit me yet.  It was something totally unexpected and unthinkable for me that I would be able to present a film to New York audience.


LMD: Yuka, your character in The Mohican Comes Home, is a very bright light in the family with a lot of energy.  What were some of the instructions Director Okita gave you about creating this character?

AM:  When I read Director Okitaís script, I realized that Yuka was a very fully realized character, so in that sense, I knew I had a big task before me.  But at the same time, Director Okita is someone that really cherishes our individuality as an actor, so he said, the script is there, but you are free to act however what you wish, at will.  So, in that sense, it always brought a lot of joy in me and it made me really happy to see him laugh as we acted.  We were completely in sync with each other.


LMD:  There seems to be a genuine comfort level amongst the cast that you can sense through the film.  Tell us what it was like on set?

AM:  We were shooting in Hiroshima, on location.  We were staying there for one month together, so it almost felt as if we were living under the same one roof.  It was the first experience for me to do something like that.


LMD:  The folks at Japan Cuts are highly aware of my fandom for your costar, Mr. Ryuhei MatsudaÖ

AM:  For me, too, I was a fan of Mr. Ryuhei Matsuda as an actor.  He was one of the first people I wanted to costar with.

LMD:  You have my great admiration and envy because you have acted with both Brothers Matsuda, Ryuhei and Shota.  What are the differences and similarities in acting technique with each brother?

AM:  I think theyíre both very natural in their acting, but as people, they are very, very different.  So, I guess in that sense, there might be a slight difference, but I would just say their acting is very smart.


LMD:  This film is a kind of reunion for you Ryuhei Matsuda.  Tell us what itís like to make a movie with him again after eight years {Suicide Song}?

AM:  In the last film, we didnít get to talk much, but for this filmÖ  Matsuda-san himself says he doesnít remember telling me this, but my very first scene that I shot, the scene where he comes home to our shared apartment and Iím sleeping and he fixes the frown between my eyebrows; he did tell me that were playing not just friends, not just lovers, but weíre going to be playing a married couple, so he did tell me that we should try to get along as well as possible.  He really led me along, and he really helped me have fun.


LMD:  I feel like you have your choice of appearing in blockbusters, or in smaller, quiet films like this. What goes into your choice of roles?

AM:  In reference to Director Okita, I love his work and I consider myself one of his fans.  I feel that when I consider my roles, I think at all times I just consider what sort of world I want to enter into.  What world if I entered into it would make me happy?


LMD:  You were also in Kabukicho Love Hotel, which showed at last year's New York Asian Film Festival, where you played a young woman who is quite ambiguous in her feelings about her lover.  The audience never really gets a sense of how she feels about him all through the movie.  Do you enjoy playing roles like that, which could be seen from many different points of view?  Is it more difficult as an actress to perpetuate that kind of ambiguity?

AM:  I think itís often the case that a sort of image of a girl or young woman is picked out for me as a role.  But at the same time, because I was formerly an Idol, I really understand that people have a certain image of me, but I firmly believe that underneath it all, there is a human being inside.  So I think in that sense, I think I have a very unique position and insight into my characters that way.


LMD:  Okita-san mentioned that he liked to stick pretty strictly to the script. Do you favor that direction or do you like to be more collaborative?

AM:  I think I prefer a more straightforward script, very much in detail, instead of the director saying just go ahead and improvise.


LMD:  What did the experience of AKB48 give you that still helps when making films or doing publicity for those films?

AM:  Iím still a very young person, but looking back, I know that I was in an incredible environment with AKB, and so I think I very much got my strength, both physically and mentally.  I think thatís what I garnered from my experience with AKB; I really learned how to be in this entertainment world.  When I started to act on my own, it really made me really happy and glad that I didnít have to start from scratch.


LMD:  You released a book of essays on movies with interviews that you conducted with directors Patrice Leconte & Darren Aronofsky.  Are they filmmakers you would like to work with one day?

AM:  I very much believe that film is a universal language, so I would love to have sessions with many different filmmakers.  Language-wise, I still have a lot to learn and a lot to study, but I think I would love to meet film lovers from all over the world and just get together, and I hope that will help me meet different people from different parts of the world.


LMD; I understand your next film is with the biggest star of all.  Please tell us how you feel about being part of the newest Godzilla film from Toho and joining that cinema history?

AM:  He is a worldwide star! {Laughs}  He is very big! {Laughs} My scene in the Godzilla film is actually very brief.  That actually is the same thing for a lot of the amazing cast that we have.  There are so many amazing people involved, but they all still wanted to be in the film even though their scenes are very, very brief.  And I think that is a testament to the passion that went into this film; that so many different people got together.  I canít wait for it to be received in Japan, and Iím very excited to see how it will be received in the world.


LMD:  Will you please give a message to your US fans?

AM:  It makes me very happy that there is this opportunity to show Japanese film to the New York audience.  Itís good As I said before, I love films of many different countries - all countries, really - but thereís not always an opportunity for those films to be showcased or released, so I hope this film acts as an opportunity for everyone to get to know contemporary Japan, and also to just be interested in Japan.


~ The Lady Miz Diva

July 14th, 2016


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