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They grow up so fast.  In 2009, I had the great pleasure of interviewing the then-rising teen star, Shota Sometani, on the verge of his first film of what would be a fruitful collaboration with maverick director, Sion Sono.  Returning to New York with Director Ryūichi Hiroki for the ensemble, Kabukicho Love Hotel, Sometani chatted with me about spitting rhymes for Sonoís hip-hop musical, Tokyo Tribe, and the start of his own directing career.

Dig it!


NYAFF 2015

Shota Sometani and Ryūichi Hiroki


The Lady Miz Diva:  Director Hiroki, Toru is very much the anchor of Kabukicho Love Hotel.  All the action happens around him.  What made you believe that Shota Sometani was the correct choice to play this role?

Ryūichi Hiroki:  I would say that because Mr. Sometani was in this film, that this film was realised. Without him, it would have been impossible. Thatís how valuable he was, and he really helped me.


LMD:  With a story featuring so many different characters played by so many wonderful actors, how did you decide how much time to focus on a specific one?

RH:  So, really, we shot for two weeks, and at that time, we couldnít even sleep or anything like that, but I had to match and adjust according to each actorís schedules and work that way.


LMD:  Would you please tell us about working with Lee Eun-woo, who was at the Festival last year.  She is luminous in your film as the Korean call girl, Heya.

RH:  She is indeed a wonderful actress, and I would ask her to do many takes because she was just so wonderful.  And for the bath scene, especially, that was a long take, but she could get that in one take.  Before we began shooting, I asked her to research the role, and she would actually go and talk to call girls - or delivery girls, as we call them in Japan - and she actually researched the role that way.  I also asked her to live in Shin Okubo for a while, the Korean town in Shinjuku, Japan, so that she would have a sense of the town.


LMD:   You began your film career in in Pinku-eiga.  I wondered if the way that you depict the sex workers in this film, reflect your days in that industry?

RH:  Yes, I would say so.  I would say was influenced by my past career in Pink eiga to a certain degree, but of course, for this film, I took an entirely different approach.  In Pink eiga, for instance, the theme itself the sex, but in this film, I would say the couple is lifting the story, so itís a very different experience.


LMD:  This is not the first film youíve made that was centered around sexuality. Is important to you to hold a mirror up to society or initiate discussion about attitudes toward sexuality?

RH:  Iím not sure. {Laughs} well, what I feel is that you need the psychological and the physical, and I think it is my mission to depict both aspects of the human experience.


LMD:  Shota-san, when we spoke in 2009, you hadnít yet made Himizu.  Now, all these years later, you seem to be one of Director Sonoís favorite actors, appearing in many of his projects.  Can you explain what it is about his direction that makes you want to keep collaborating with him?

Shota Sometani:  Heís so crazy that I like him. {Laughs} Heís so extraordinary and unexpected, youíre constantly threatened, as if heís going to break down the film, but that is whatís amazing about his direction.


LMD:  Last year, your Himizu costar, Fumi Nikaido was here at the Festival for Why Donít You Play in Hell.  She said she believed Sono is someone with a lot of love and humanity. Do you agree with that assessment?

SS:  Yes, I agree.


LMD:  The other film of yours showing here is Sonoís Tokyo Tribe, which is a hip-hop musical.  What was it like for you to do all the sung dialog, and was it always planned that you would be the filmís narrator, as opposed to one of the main characters?

SS:  Yes, it was already decided that I would be narrating the whole thing.  Sono-san approached me and asked me, ďDo you want to be in Tokyo Tribe,Ē and I said yes, and I was quite startled to know that that was the role; the narrator, the MC, with no dialogue, whatsoever.  So I wondered, I mean, shouldnít a pro rapper do this role?  But I felt his love, so I had to take it on.


LMD:  To prepare for the role in Tokyo Tribe, did you have to research or listen to a lot of hip-hop records?

SS:  Iíve always loved hip-hop, so I listened to it. And I have friends who are rappers, so they taught me.


LMD:  Does that mean thereíll be a MC Shota mix tape, soon?

SS:  Iím no rapper, no.


LMD:   At 22 years old, you have worked with many of the premiere directors of Japan.  I recall when we spoke in 2009, you were very observant of your directorsí approach, and by now you probably know more than many filmmakers just through observation.  Has working with directors like Hiroki-san, {Natsuki} Seta-san and Sono-san, inspired you to want to make your own film?

SS:  Actually, I am making a film.  Similar, But Different, thatís the title of the short film that I did.  It got a one day screening in Japan, but thatís what I worked on.  Next year, Iíll shoot another one.

RH:  Wow, amazing.


LMD:  Is there any way we can see the short film in the US?

SS:  No, I donít think so.  Not right now; thereís no plan for that.  Can you talk to Japan Society for me a little bit? {Laughs}


LMD:   I know congratulations are in order; you are recently married to the wonderful Rinko Kikuchi.

SS:   Thank you.


LMD:   She has become successful both in front of and behind the camera of Western productions.  Has she inspired you to expand to more international projects?

SS:  I donít know if inspiration is the word, but I want to continue doing what I do and put in as much effort as I can in doing and continue on the same way, and I hope that she supports me in that.


LMD:  Are you interested in being involved in Western productions?

SS:  Sure.  I donít see working in international production as an end goal, but in a way, I would consider that as an option; as something I would consider along the way in working hard towards my career.


LMD:  You mustíve just finished promotion for Strayerís Chronicle.  Bakemono no Ko/Boy and the Beast, your 2nd collaboration with director Mamoru Hosoda, has just come out.  Since 2015 began, youíve released 5 movies and 1 TV drama, and itís only July.  Do you ever plan to take a rest? What drives you to work as hard as you do?

SS:  Iím basically on a freelance basis, I have to be hired to have a job, so itís hard to turn down work. {Laughs} It just so happens that I got a series of very appealing jobs and projects.


LMD:  Is it simply a matter of not wishing to turn down work that is offered, or is it the quality of what is offered is so irresistible you canít bear to turn it down?

SS:  I donít feel that I constantly need to be working.  And of course if I have time, I want to do my own projects, as well.


LMD:  Youíve been in a wide variety of films through your career; contemporary dramas, historicals, comedies, romances, horror, sci-fi.  Is there a particular genre you enjoy most, or one you would like to explore more?

SS:  I think Iíve done all of them, right?  Well, what I do look forward to, is that as I get older, the variety of roles that are offered to me expands, as well.  So, the roles that I couldnít do when I was younger open up to me.  For instance, the character of a yakuza; Iíd love to try that on.


LMD:  Iím almost afraid to ask Shota, but what is next for you both?

RH:  For me, I have no project planned as of yet.

SS:  I have a film planned for the end of the year and Iím actually in training.  I canít divulge any information yet, but I will say that Iím training for it.  And the film that I shot myself, itís being edited right now and I believe it will stream online, so hopefully you will be able to see it in the States, as well.


~ The Lady Miz Diva

July 4th, 2015


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