Interview with Koji Yakusho
--Pymmik's unofficial translation--
Talking about Akira Kurosawa, in a TV Interview, March 2003
Yakusho: " The first Akira Kurosawa movie that I saw was "Ikiru"(1952). When I was very young,
one of my elder brothers ( I am the youngest of five brothers) used to tell me the story of "Ikiru"
again and again beside my bed before I fell asleep, until I remembered the whole story. I also recall
that he sometimes sang the song of "Gondola" which the hero sings in the movie. Later when I grew
up, I went to see "Ikiru" at a movie theater in Tokyo. I saw the movie, remmbering my brother's
story. I then found myself enthralled by the movie and came to realize that Akira Kurosawa was
Yakusho says that his favorite Kurosawa movies are "Ikiru", "Kumonosujo/The Throne of Blood"
(1957), "Akahige/ Red Beard"(1965) and "Shichini no Samurai/Seven Samurai"(1954). He also
mentions "Yojimbo"(1961) as being one of the most impressive Kurosawa movies.
Yakusho:" I would say that "Yojimbo" is a movie which one can enjoy more than "Seven
Samurai". The combination of Akira Kurosawa and Toshiro Mifune seems to be one of those rare
cases in movie history. I believe that Toshiro Mifune is certainly the type of the actor who truly
represents Japan. Mifune's manliness, strength, agreeableness and sense of humor are really striking.
Through "Yojimbo" I get the impression that Kurosawa himself simply enjoys seeing the two villains
fighting each other. I feel that lots of rehearsals were done for Kurosawa's movies. Take
"Tachimawari" (fighting) scenes, for instance. In such scenes in other director's movies where a hero
fights against lots of enemies, I cannot help noticing that there are sometimes some samurai actors
who do not know what to do next; but as far as Kurosawa movies are concerned, I find that there are
no such samurai actors at all. I must confess how strong a hero looks to me when there are no such
samurai actors around him wondering what to do next. I think that Mifune's fighting is best. His
speed and power in fighting scenes would be difficult to find even among the present-day Japanese
Yakusho then referred to Tatsuya Nakadai, his acting teacher at the
Mumeijuku Actors' Studio.
Yakusho: "When Nakadai appeared in Seven Samurai" as one of the passers-by at a scene where the
villagers started looking for seven masterless samurai, I hear that he had to take part in lots of
rehearsals requested by Kurosawa. Nakadai later reported that, when everybody else was having
lunch, he was trained by Kurosawa how to walk as samurai and thought that he would never want to
work with Kurosawa. Now we know that Kurosawa trained Nakadai on purpose because he found he
had within him great talent as an actor. We can tell this from the fact that Nakadai was subsequently
given some important roles in Kurosawa's movies. I think that Nakadai was naturally a gifted actor,
and that Kurosawa, for his part, had the talent to find good actors."
Yakusho: " My impression of Mifune in "Yojimbo" was that he looked like a Japanese Samurai,
whereas Nakadai looked rather like a westerner, even though he
was wearing Kimono; the fact that he was wearing a scarf around his neck and
carried a gun might have given me such an impression. Nakadai, as he was in this movie, would not
give any sense of incongruity even in so to speak "Spaghetti Westerns." It is, therefore, quite
understandable that "Yojimbo" was actually remade as "a spaghetti westen." I hear that Nakadai
with a scarf in "Yojimbo" had a reputation that his action looked like that of a ballet dancer. I
think that Kurosawa succeeded in drawing Nakadai's charm out of him very well.
Talking of Nakadai, I remember his "Kagemusha" and "Ran". "Ran" is the adaptation of a
Shakespeare's drama. Nakadai in "Ran" really convinces me of the existence of Shakespeare's world.
In Kurosawa movies, all the actors look great, don't they? The actors all look lively, especially in his
black and white movies. His directing was thorough. I feel that Kurosawa enjoyed directing actors
in various ways. My impression is that in Kurosawa movies, even the actors with minor roles
performed convincingly well. The greatest charm of Kurosawa movies, I would say, is that the actors
all look very attractive. This is partly because his direction was firm, as a result of repeated
rehearsals, but partly also because the setting and art were good, too. The actors, after all, act in a
false world, but when the chair I sit on or the walls, for instance, are all similar to the real ones, I feel
that I can work comfortably even though I am in such a false world. Actors can give better
performances in such an atmosphere. Every time I see Kurosawa movies, I feel that I am encouraged,
thinking that I may be able to appear in such good movies. After seeing Kurosawa movies, I feel
that I have been given courage. When I'm depressed and see his movies, I gain hope in my mind that
I'll be able to appear in such good movies one day. His movies are really good."
Translated by Pymmik on March 24, 2003.