Magazine Interviews with Koji Yakusho about SAYURI
1. CINEMA SQUARE
I felt it rather hard to perform speaking English in this film. During the filming
sessions, I actually had an English practice with my dialogue coach a couple of times
a week. To be honest, though, there were occasions when I wondered why I should
not use Japanese while talking to Japanese people in a story-line rooted in Japan.
My turn was during the latter half of the shooting, so I had to wait for a long time.
While waiting I tried to enjoy my daily life, visiting a supermarket to buy food, for
instance. it was as if my bachelor窶冱 life had come back! Of course, it was OK to go
to see the filming at the studio, but I rarely went there. I found that the filming
procedure was the same as in Japan, the only difference being the language. During
the filming, Chinese, Japanese and English were heard; there were lots of interpreters.
It was rather an unbelievable atmosphere; Rob must have had an unusual experience
which he did not have to have .
We actors can understand one another, for all of us have learned how to act in films,
so there is no difference between us as professional trained actors; but there was a
little difference in culture. For instance, there is a scene where Sayuri (Ziyi) gives
Nobu her handkerchief when he has got injured. Then Ziyi commented, 窶廬 am
angry now, so it does sound rather funny for me to give Nobu my handkerchief!窶
�nbsp; At this point, talk begins about why a handkerchief is needed in this scene.
While acting, the challenge of how to put feelings into words is the same, but this time
there are words that I do not know. Even though I consult in a dictionary, there is a
limit to understanding translated words, so in the case of those words I simply had to
use my imagination. If the words were Japanese, I could act while feeling the nuances
of the words. But during those five months of filming, I had learned how to express
feelings using English words.
Rob told me that once I had decided on the words I had chosen to stress, I could act
as I wished. I read through the scenario very thoroughly, comparing the original
novel so as to grasp the character of NOBU. I also had to locate my role in the whole
SAYURI is a film attempting to express the beauties of Asia or Asian women that
Rob Marshall has imagined but his imagination goes beyond reality. Rob must have
studied a lot before filming, but after all it is a Japan that is depicted through a
Westerner's eyes. Since the film was aimed at the world-wide audiences, it was
essential that the whole world could understand the story easily.
Take Kimono for instance. I think that the image of sexuality when Kimono is worn
seems to be stressed more than usual for a Japanese audience with their different
It was quite interesting that there was a difference between images that the Japanese
and westerners have.
2. NIKKEI ENTERTAINMENT (Nov. 4)
Koji Yakusho's hard English training for half a year
Question: What did you feel was hardest during your first Hollywood movie shooting?
Yakusho: I was first perplexed at the situation that the language used in this film was
English despite the fact that I played the role of a Japanese character. As a result of
having English lessons every week and listening to cassette tapes for nearly half a
year, including the rehearsal sessions, I managed to utter the remarks to be used in
the film somehow or other.
I had never been involved in playing the same role for such a long time in Japan
itself; therefore perseverance was really needed in Hollywood. Since the shooting went
along following the story-line and my appearance was due in the latter half of the
story, I had to wait a long time. So enjoying my daily life, I tried to concentrate as
the date for the shooting was approaching. I found the shooting sessions at the studio
to be the same as in Japan, except the fact that I did not understand the staff's
I think that artistically speaking, the film is set in a Japan that Americans saw and
beauties are expressed to the point where they exceeded reality. As for Geisha
costumes, it seemed that the American staff had studied Takeshita Yumeji pictures
and the like; in these costumes the actresses looked more sexy than real Geishas.
Question: English talking between Nobu and Sayuri in the scene beside the river
sounded so natural as to let us forget that two performers窶�mother tongues were
Yakusho: The sessions to put one's feelings to the words are the same even in English.
If you get the five-month training in using a language which you don't know, you will
be able to express your feelings very well. Unexpectedly the director allowed me to
play as I wished to the extent that only occasionally did he say to me, 窶弋ry to say
that word more strongly窶�br>
Even though the countries were different, what the actors felt through the scenario
was basically the same. But culture difference sometimes came out; I think that the
Chinese actresses had a hard time in expressing Japanese customs and manners.
Question: Do you intend to appear in foreign films after this film?
Yakusho: Basically, I would like to do my best in Japanese films. The language is still
a problem, all the same. Moreover, there are not so many Japanese roles where the
required language is non-native.
3. CREA (Nov.7)
In SAYURI, Koji Yakusho plays the role of a man, Nobu, who genuinely loves the
heroine, Sayuri. Since 窶弑nagi/The Eel窶�gained the Palm d窶冩r in the Cannes
Film Festival in 1997, appearance offers reportedly have come to him incessantly.
Then, why SAYURI?
Yakusho: I would call it 窶廢N窶�fortunate happenstance). When Steven Spielberg
was supposed to direct this film, I met him at his house (in the U.S.) A f ew years
later, the new director, Rob Marshall asked me to appear in this film, so I felt that
this must be 窶廢N窶�
窶彜AYURI窶�is Koji Yakusho's first Hollywood film, but when referring to this
film, he talked quite naturally, without getting carried away at all; this naturalness
gives one the impression that he is 窶話ig窶�
Yakusho: As for English, Spielberg told me to learn English hard, but it was actually
after Rob took over him that I started learning it desparately; My English level was
below that of a junior high pupil. (Pymmik's note:Typical Koji's joke!)
For 6 months Yakusho had made some round trip journeys between Japan and the
Yakusho: I repeated those sessions of going, waiting and filming a little. My scenes
were towards the latter half of the filming, so I had to wait and wait during the first
half of the filming; I did not like this waiting.
Did you feel that there would be a possibility that the Geisha film made by Americans
might turn fake?
Yakusho: Since this is the film in which Americans depicted Geisha according to their
image of Japan, there are somethings different from reality, such as the styles and
manner of wearing kimonos. If these differences make people worried, then it may
mean that this film is a failure, whereas if the movie itself has the power so that these
differences wouldn't bother people, it would be all right. There was a film starring a
German person speaking English , and that was accepted.
Commenting on his first challenge at an American movie, just before he becomes 50
years old next year,
Yakusho: I felt like peeping to the filming studios.
Yakusho's next film is going to be an omnibus movie, entitled, 窶廝abel窶�directed
by Alejandro Gonzﾃ｡lez Iﾃｱﾃ｡rritu in which Brad Pitt appears, too.
Koji Yakusho is indeed an actor of whom Japan can be proud.
4 SCREEN (Nov.21)
Comments on SAYURI by two Japanese actors.
Two top Japanese actors now talk about SAYURI: Ken Watanabe, who has joined
the status of Hollywood stars, and Koji Yakusho ,who has become one of the top
Japanese actors with his subtle performance.
(Interviewed by Ryo Okamura)
Interviewer: I have mainly been to see foreign movies, but as a Japanese, I have
always wanted to support actors from my own country. In that sense I am so pleased
that Koji Yakusho has made a debut in American movies. I feel that I would like to
let overseas people know that there is such an actor in Japan as is capable of making
a subtle performance.
Yakusho: At first, wondering why Japanese language should not be used, I was
dismayed that I had to speak English in this film, even though the background of the
film is set in Japan. As for English, since I had done numerous practices under the
guidance of a dialogue coach, I thought it would be all right. In either English or
Japanese, the procedure to put feelings to words is the same, but as I had either to
speak English often consulting an English dictionary or from time to time read the
translation of the scenario, I was afraid that the variation in the nuance had become
less than that in Japanese.
Interviewer: Since this is a Hollywood major film, the time allotted for the shooting
was longer than usual. As Yakusho remarked, it took about five months to shoot the
film and nearly half a year in total, if the time for rehearsals is added.
Yakusho: I had to return to Japan once a month for work, which as it turned out
brought a good change of mood. Ken-chan (Ken Watanabe) and I occasionally
appear in the latter half of the film, so while waiting, I tried to enjoy my life and as
the shooting time approached, I came to feel concentrated. My life in Hollywood
went on like that.
After the more talk about his life in America, the interview continued:-
Interviewer: The character portrayed by you, Mr. Yakusho is Nobu, who is a war
comrade of the chairman (played by Watanabe) and a co-worker in the chairman窶冱
company. The impression of Nobu in the film seems to be a bit different from that in
Yakusho: The Chairman, who started his own company when young, is a smart
person who can go to geisha houses. Nobu on the other hand, runs the company very
hard. While performing the role of Nobu, I had to be conscious of my part in the
whole story and also had to make my character vivid enough.
Interviewer: How did Yakusho feel about Rob Marshall's Japan?
Yakusho: This is a film viewed by Americans and director Marshall made an attempt
to portray the beauties of Japan according to his own image of Japan.
For example, when he found the 窶弋oro nagashi", literally 窶惑lowing lantern窶
�festival (which is actually a summer Buddhist event) to be beautiful, he made the
Toro (paper lanterns) flow down the river, even in spring, the cherry blossom season.
As for Geisha's kimonos, unlike the real kimono styles, Geisha actresses窶�kimono
styles looked much sexier, being something like kimonos in the pictures painted by
Takeshita Yumeji. Actual Japanese Geishas might feel uncomfortable on seeing the
ways of wearing kimonos in the film, but I feel that it would be OK that while the
beauties of Japan as normally portrayed by Japanese do exist, there are also beauties
of Japan as viewed by foreign people. However since this film is targeted on a world
market, I think that beauties are well expressed on this point, even though they are at
variance with reality in Japan.
The interviewer then asked about the collaboration by actors and actresses whose
nationalities, languages and cultures are different.
Yakusho: I felt that there was no difference in performance because they had learned
in their own countries how to act so as to make a good showing on the screen. As for
the staff, I was able to identify the light and set-making staff, for instance; I could
instinctively recognize them.
Interviewer: After this film, Yakusho is due to participate in the shooting of the film
窶廝abel窶�directed by Inarritu (from the film, 窶�1 Grams窶� This is a
humanistic drama set in Mexico, Tunisia and Japan, starring Brad Pitt. Yakusho
reports: While I was in Los Angeles, director Inarritu contacted me; we duly met, and
we then agreed that I should appear in his new film.
About his future work, Yakusho mentioned that he would basically like to work in
Japanese films, adding that he realizes the roles for Japanese characters who cannot
speak native English must be quite limited.
Taking into consideration his performing ability, I for one, wish that he would
continue to be an actor not only for Japanese films, but also for international films.
Created on October 28, 2005
Updated on November 23,05
(Pymmik's unofficial translation)
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