NYAFF 2011: An Interview With Takayuki Yamada, Star of 13 ASSASSINS & MILOCRORZE

Ben Umstead, East Coast Editor
[Crossed published at The Diva Review, a very special thanks to the always fabulous, Lady Miz Diva for the following interview with this year's Star Asia Rising Star Award recipient, Takayuki Yamada: star of what is thus far my favorite film at NYAFF, the delightfully, frightfully zany Milocrorze: A Love Story.]

 

The Lady Miz Diva:  Congratulations on receiving the New York Asian Film Festival's Star Asia Rising Star Award.  How do you feel about winning it?
 
Takayuki Yamada:  I've never been that interested in awards and things, and in a way it doesn't seem like a real thing.  What I mean by that is when a single individual comes to me and says, "I really love your work," it's something that I really feel and appreciate.  But if some people get together somewhere that I don't know and make the decision to give me the award and just hand it to me, I don't quite hear their individual voices.  So, it doesn't give me great joy, necessarily, but as an actor I really want as many people as possible to see my work and so I'm very appreciative of the opportunity it gives me.
 
LMD:  What did you think when you first read the script for Milocrorze?
 
TY:  My first impression was that it was really interesting and I'd never had the opportunity before to work on such an artistic film.  So it was something I really wanted to do and an opportunity I really wanted.  Having the opportunity as an actor to play three completely different roles was something I was really looking forward to, but there was a lot of pressure, as well.  Not only am I playing three completely different human beings, but there has to be cohesiveness between them so that it's a single work.  It was important to bring that cohesiveness to the entirety of the piece and I thought that would be something that would be amazing for the audience to experience, so I was very excited to do it.
 
LMD:  What was the more difficult challenge for you in Milocrorze; the long samurai swordfight or dancing in those platform shoes?
 
TY:  From a purely physical challenge -- the muscle work involved and breathing techniques -- definitely the swordfighting was more challenging, but I've had no experience with dance, and so to have to learn three different numbers and to dance in the platform shoes was really, definitely a challenge.  From a shooting perspective, definitely the swordfight scenes where more challenging, but in terms of my learning curve, the dancing was much more of a difficulty.
 
LMD:  You mentioned during the festival Q&A that it take you some time to get out of your character's skin.  Which of the three in Milocrorze was the hardest to leave behind?
 
TY:  I think the shooting schedule has a lot to do with it; that's probably why Tamon stayed with me the longest.  When we started shooting I started with the part of Ovreneli, they shot for 2 weeks and then immediately started the next day without a break, we went into the Besson scenes.  We shot those in the spring and then there was a bit of a gap until the fall when we shot the Tamon scenes and in between I actually made a different film altogether.  So I think Tamon was the one that lingered the most and also I think he's the character that has the most content.
 
LMD:  I think most people in the US might know you from 13 Assassins, which was directed by Takashi Miike.  Between Miike and Milocrorze's Yoshimasa Ishibashi, you've had the opportunity to work with two of Japan's most imaginative directors.  Is that kind of creativity what you look for in your roles or filmmakers you'd like to work with?
 
TY:  There's one big difference between these two directors and their work.  With Ishibashi-san, he has a very complete world built up in his mind.  He has a complete picture.  This is the impression I receive as an actor, but even with the staff that he works with, he has this complete picture: [If Ishibashi says] "This part's supposed to have a red line," so someone will get the red paint and someone will bring the red brush and paint the section. "This area's supposed to be blue, so get the blue brush and put this here." He has a very complete vision that he has brought to life.  With Miike-san, of course he also has a complete picture in his head of the film, but he understands it as his ideal picture and that it doesn't have to be exactly what he has in mind.  Again, this is the impression I've received, but he'll let everybody do what they think they want to do first at least to see where that takes them.  As an actor these are not the direct words that he gave me, but in terms of his general direction, I felt that I was given this role, Shinrokurō Shimada, and it was my role and that out of anybody there, I was the one who understood this character the best and I thought the most about what this character was thinking about.  So between the time that he says "action" until he yells "cut" even if the line is not exactly what's written in the script, if it comes from me organically as the actor inhabiting this role, then that would be okay.
 
LMD:  Do you think your understanding of Miike's technique is one of the reasons why you've now worked with him on three films? {Previously on Crows ZERO (2007), Crows ZERO 2 (2009)}
 
TY:  I think, again as my impression as an actor in terms of working with directors who have very different styles, at the stage where we're looking at the script, if I said to Miike-san, "This line in this situation doesn't really make sense to me."  He'd say, "Okay, then you don't have to say that line, but you have to say something to make the conversation stand up and hold together."  Then I'd say, "Okay, what should I say instead?"  And Miike-san would say, "Well, you choose.  You make it up."  So as an actor, it's a lot of fun, but there's so much pressure because all the responsibility falls to you.  I'm sure if I said something really terrible, the director would correct it, but it is definitely a whole different level of pressure that you experience as an actor working with Miike-san, but of course there's a thrill component to that, so it's something I've really enjoyed and hopefully I'll be regularly working with him.  In contrast, there's something very rewarding with working with a director like Ishibashi-san, who has something very complete in his mind and the challenge as an actor is to deliver something as perfectly close to possible to what he has envisioned.  That's a different kind of challenge that's also very rewarding and interesting.  There's a type of stress that builds up when I can't do exactly how I feel I want to do the part, which when I work with a director like Miike-san, just really flies away.  I'm able to learn a lot from that experience, which I can then take into the work I do with other directors, so it's a back and forth.  It's not that I get to pick and choose directors that often, but the script is the most important part in choosing projects.
 
LMD:  Are you interested in making films in the west?  I know you have a film coming up called Oba: The Last Samurai that features a mixed cast of Asian and American stars.
 
TY:  I love acting and so in Japan, I work in contemporary settings or period pieces as well as things that take place in the close future or in science fiction.  As an actor, I think the larger environment I have to play in, the better; so I would love an opportunity to work in different cultures as they have different things to offer, I'm sure.  I feel like if it's comedy I can really do anything, and I would also love to do parts that aren't necessarily written as a Japanese character.  If it's at all possible, I'd love to be in a Western.
 
LMD:  Between the New York Asian Film Festival and Japan Cuts, you have six films screening that were produced in the last couple of years. You're very busy and I wondered what's coming up next for you?
 
TY:  I'm not sure that the concept really translates well, but I'm playing the boss of a loan shark company.  It was originally a late night TV drama that's actually now getting a movie adaptation called Yamikin Ushijima-kun.
 
LMD:  You seem to learn so much from your directors, are you thinking about becoming a filmmaker yourself?
 
TY:  At the moment, not at all.  I don't think I have that type of talent and there's also something that I fear a little bit about this ability, because I feel that if I have experience as a director, and I understand where a director is coming from and their stance on what they have to deal with ... Right now I have the freedom to be ignorant of what the director has to deal with and I can be as willful and self-centered as I want. But then if I understand what they have to go through, then I feel that I will have to be a little bit more thoughtful about that.  But of course in the future I do want to try everything, and I'm sure if there's some material that I came across that I really felt very passionate about and really wanted to be the director of, I would do it.
 
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