Koji Yakusho and Memoirs of a Geisha/Sayuri
Updated on September 23, 05
Koji Yakusho: Opening statement:
I performed the role of Nobu. It is quite a surprise to me to see such a lot of people have
rushed to this press conference. In the case of a press conference on a Japanese film, we can
hardly expect this many people. What a great film I have participated in! That is what I now
I really appreciate Mr. Rob Marshall who selected me for the role of Nobu.
Thanks to him, I have had a wonderful experience. When the film is completely finished, I must
feel its importance more strongly.
Although I did not actually participate in filming every day, I spent nearly five months on this
film. I had a very happy time during the filming, and I made a great effort trying to come closer
to the image that Mr. Marshall had in mind; but I also had to rack my brains as to how to
spend the waiting time.
Nobu is the company president who works under the chairman, a role performed by Ken
Watanabe. Nobu happens to be a friend of the chairman. Both of them had been to the war
together. Nobu has a scar when he got burnt over half of his body during the battle. Such a
man as Nobu, then with the scar on his body, falls in love with a woman called Sayuri but she
does not return his love. I think that Nobu symbolizes a hard-working Japanese business man
who had tried very hard to catch up with the USA in business after the end of the war. Thanks
to these Japanese businessmen, I think that Japan has become a big country from an economic
I am very proud that I was able to work together with such superb actors and actresses.
My sincere wish is that with your help this film will become a great hit.
It is the second time that you have worked with Ken Watanabe since filming "Kizuna". Did you
have any difficulty in speaking in English in this Hollywood film? How did you spend your free
I would say that I have made a new kizuna with him. Kenchan had once experienced the
Hollywood movie, The Last Samurai he kindly helped me in various way, showing a notebook,
something like a diary that he had kept during the filming.
Kenchan consoled me, saying that it would usually take a long time to make a film like this, but,
in due course, he himself became tired of waiting around and often made a phone call to me,
saying Issho-ni Asobo-yo! (Let' meet and enjoy ourselves together). I am really grateful to him
as many times he kindly cooked delicious meals for me at his own home. I feel that I have made
a good kizuna (bond) with him again. I have never experienced in going to supermarkets in
Japan like this. I have become familiar with many different types of food.
We hear that director Marshall never shows anger during filming sessions.
I have never seen him becoming angry. In fact, he often praised me. In Japan, it is often said
that actors and actresses should not be praised, but since I am a type of person who can act
better when praised, I felt very comfortable with him. I imagined that Hollywood movies must
be beneficial in labor, but as far as this movie is concerned, shooting sessions quite often
continued all night, so he must have felt fatigue in the latter half of the filming, but he never
forgot to keep smiling all the time.
Ken Watanabe: Opening statement
The year before last, I had the chance to meet Rob Marshall in New York City, after the
premiere of The Last Samurai and at that time I was directly asked to participate in Memoirs of
a Geisha I felt then that the filming of this era would surely be really difficult, even in Japan. I
think that director Marshall had boldly challenged a difficult culture. How far can we follow Mr.
Marshall sense of beauty? That was the challenge that we (Japanese) were given.
The role I portrayed is that of a man who changed the life of a woman. It was a really difficult
role of a type in which I had no previous experience. Nonetheless, I managed to perform that
role with the help of my colleagues on the set.
I am very happy to find myself at this press conference today.
You have worked with Yakusho san (Mr. Yakusho) once again since Kizuna. Did you have any
difficulty in speaking in English in this Hollywood film? Yakusho san mentioned that you had
plenty of waiting time. How did you kill such extra time?
From the experience of The Last Samurai, I advised Yakusho san and Momoi san that the first
schedule given is only temporary, and not to believe that it would go on like that. Apart from
two scenes, Yakusho san and I were together in the film itself, so we spent a lot of time together
on the set. He is such a reliable person that it was I who was helped by him to a great extent.
We hear that many times while filming The Last Samurai, you asked the director to portray
various things, such as Japanese customs, accurately. What about this time?
At first I talked with director Marshall in great detail about whether or not this film would
portray the authentic Japanese culture as accurately as possible, as for instance in The Last
Samurai. Rob replied quite clearly that in Memoirs of a Geisha without sticking to details, he
would rather portray a fantasy world, where a girl follows a fantastic life, just like he had done
in the film Chicago. Therefore, I decided to leave everything to Rob's sense of beauty.
I was sure that it would be difficult to film this kind of subject in Japan. I was ready to bet that
even Japanese actresses would find it difficult to play those roles in this story. Ziyi, Li and Yoeh
from a different cultural background boldly plunged into a different culture. I think that Rob
tried to evoke for audiences the energy these actresses would exude when challenging those roles.
This is quite a different film from The Last Samurai and I think that Sayuri has become a great
success as a fantasy film.
We hear that director Marshall did not show any anger on the set during filming.
Director Marshall is a very intelligent person. There were some scenes where the chairman,
character that I portrayed, expressed some harsh feelings. After shouting out I found Rob
crying, saying, Wonderful! Superb!; He must have felt as if he were one of the audience, even
while checking the actors's performances. I was very impressed at his genuine feeling. At the
last scene, he was crying to the extent of using up two boxes of tissues.
Since this role of Okabo (Pumpkin) that I was given was not of the type which I had been used
to performing, I felt that the role of a geisha might be quite challenging!
I had heard that although the background of this film was set in Japan, the production side
would not necessarily stick to Japan and moreover that they wished to produce an international
film with an international cast including such performers as Watanabe san, Yakusho san, some
Chinese actresses and Momoi san.
Feeling excited as I was already a fan of the film "Chicago", I was extremely happy to hear from
Rob himself that he thought that I was the only actress who would be able to perform the role of
"Okabo", a role which had some complexities to it. I accepted his offer with exuberant
happiness; but as soon as the filming started, I had to face lots of difficulties. That was when I
came to realize that it was such a difficult role! At that moment, I was really encouraged to hear
Momoi san remark that, had she been much younger, she herself would have wished to perform
As it turned out, though, I was the only Japanese actress to play the role of geisha in this film,
whereas all the other geisha ladies were Chinese. Finding those Chinese actresses
enthusiastically trying very hard to learn a lot of things about Japan, I thought that I, too,
would have to perform my own role, doing my very best. I now feel that the actual filming
session was all over in the twinkling of an eye!
As for a waiting time, I also had a plenty of such time just as Yakusho san has mentioned. I
wondered about how to spend the extra time; and indeed it was rather hard to maintain my
sense of concentration on my own role during periods of waiting time.
At all events, the filming has now finally ended and I am truly happy to be able to come here
We hear that director Marshall did not get angry at all during the filming session. Is this true?
Before the filming, I had prepared for that role of a geisha, practicing how to play the shamisen
and also Nichibu or Japanese traditional dancing. Unknown to me, however, on the very day of
filming, the plan for the scene where I was supposed to play the shamisen had suddenly been
altered. I cried and cried!
The next day, Rob took me outside the set and listened to me explaining why I had cried. From
that moment, I came to feel that it was really great to be able to work with him. In my opinion,
if it had not been for Mr. Marshall, this film would not have been successfully completed.
I performed the role of Sayuri during her girlhood when she was very earnest and perseverant.
At first I felt very uneasy since both the United States and English were first time experiences for
me, but luckily I managed to enjoy the filming. Thank you very much.
Q: We hear that director Marshall did not get angry at all during the filming sessions.
Is this true?
I found the director was a man who would speak to people while looking into their eyes. I
thought that was great! Every time one filming session was over, he never failed to come and
speak to me, looking directly into my eyes. My feeling then was that I was so happy to have
been able to join in this film.
Pymmik's unofficial translation
The statements by Koji Yakusho, Ken Watanabe, Youki Kudo, and Suzuka
Ohgo at the time of the press conference, held in Tokyo on January 31,
2005. Magazine interviews with Koji Yakusho about SAYURI: