Justin Lin gets the credit for making Asian America cinema hip, but some recent DVD discoveries provide concrete proof of our cultural amnesia..
Ritzy dresses and fancy suits danced across the red carpet, looking pretty for photographers, before proceeding to a lavishly adorned night honoring the accomplishments of Asian Pacific Americans in Entertainment.
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APA talks to Zatoichi's Tadanobu Asano and discovers the art behind the swordsman, uncovering the details behind the actor we love for his brooding, mysterious characters.
Tadanobu Asano is one busy guy. He has had so many movies out around the world recently and more coming soon, that it’s hard to keep track. But here’s an attempt:
Most recently in the US, there was The Blind Swordsman: Zatoichi. That’s one. Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Bright Future is slated for a late October release in the US. Two. Pen-Ek Ratanaruang’s Last Life in the Universe, in which Asano recently won the Upstream Prize for Best Actor at the 60th Venice Film Festival. Three. The Taste of Tea (Cha no Aji) and Living with Father (Chichi to Kuraseba), both currently out in Japan. Four, five. Café Lumiele (Coffee Jikou), released in Japan this month. Vital, coming to Japan in December. Survive Style 5+ is completed. And at least three others finished or currenly filming, including Rampo Juguko, based on the Edogawa Rampo novels.
That makes approximately eleven films. Kind of makes all the hoopla around Jude Law’s six movies coming out seem a little less impressive, doesn’t it?
Known as the king of independent movies in Japan, Asano has a definite knack for embodying quirky, off-beat, and sometimes downright disturbing characters. He’s built up a respectable actor’s actor reputation, forsaking silly roles in favor of art and challenges, leading many to refer to him as Japan’s version of Johnny Depp. Like Johnny, he’s managed to foray his way into more mainstream faire without losing his indie credibility.
Born in Yokohama in 1973, Asano has an unusual, but undeniably cool upbringing. His father was a painter forsaking Japanese conventions, and his half-Caucasian mother seemed like a free spirit who pierced his earfor him when he was thirteen and always blasted Led Zeppelin in the car, ensuring her son would have a keen ear for music. Asano always wanted to be a rock star and picked Sid Vicious as one of his early idols. Truly a man of many talents, Asano has been a part of multiple bands and is also skilled at art and calligraphy. On the film Labyrinth of Dreams, he met Sogo Ishii and formed Mach 1.67, and they composed music for his 2001 movie Electric Dragon 80,000 V. Asano has said in previous interviews that he depends on these differing venues to channel his seemingly unquenchable creative needs, especially while working on film sets, with all the excess time spent waiting around.
Asano made his screen debut at sixteen in the Japanese TV series, Teacher Kimpachi (Kimpachi Sensei). At twenty-one, he acted in Iwai’s drama Picnic, where he was introduced to his co-star and future wife, Japanese pop star Chara, with whom he now has two young children. Asano began to rise to prominence with the gay-themed Taboo (Gohatto), where he acted opposite Takeshi Kitano. Then came Ichi the Killer (Koroshiya 1), the gory flick where they notoriously handed out barf bags for people screening the film at the Toronto International Film Festival—Asano was apparently a huge fan of Manga.
Re-teaming with his Gohatto co-star, Asano played the role of Hattori in Takeshi Kitano’s 2003 remake of the blind samurai saga Zatoichi, and APA has some elaborate questions to strike him with. --Ada Tseng
Interview with Tadanobu Asano
Interviewed by Carl Wakamoto
Transcribed by Andy Liu
APA: Tadanobu Asano, you were on the cover of the October 21st, 2002 issue of Time magazine Asia. Have there been any changes for you as an actor since then?
TA: It was at the time that Ichi the Killer got distributed internationally. And, it was around that time that we had a website for my production company and we had many emails from international guests and foreign fans--fan mail and stuff like that. So it definitely gives me much greater international recognition, coincidently or not. But, it was around 2002 that those international reactions were much more than before.
APA: There have been at least three samurai films that have appeared in American theatres one after another. There was The Last Samurai starring Tom Cruise and Ken Watanabe where Tom Cruise's main character, Nathan Algren, views samurai through western eyes. Following that, there was The Twilight Samurai, starring Hiroyuki Sanada and Rie Miyazawa where realism and attention to detail were emphasized. And now, there's Zatoichi starring you and Takeshi Kitano. What kind of theme does Zatoichi have?
TA: Well, obviously Zatoichi is based on the film series starring Katsu Shintaro made during the 60s, 70s, and 80s, but Takeshi Kitano did a drastic rendition of the original and made a totally different film from it. So, I think it will reach a new wider audience.
APA: Zatoichi is a result of a collaboration between you and Takeshi Kitano. Would you see some of the collaboration in the form of swordplay, the use of the katana, the Japanese sword? I noticed that in some of the scenes I see some very original style of using the sword, with the drawing of the sword and also putting the sword back. It's almost like using a pistol and flipping it and bringing it back into the case.
TA: Actually Kitano choreographed almost all the sword fighting scenes in this film himself. And a lot of the flashy techniques that [I] ended up using playing my character were directly taught by Kitano. During the rehearsal, he shot all these flashy tricks which he did superbly well. Later, he was complaining to me about giving those flashy techniques so much to my character that he lacked the movement to adopt to his character. But, anyway the sword fighting style is very unique and original and that is one of the main attractions of this movie;you can see a lot of swordfighting techniques that Kitano accumulated throughout his entertainment career.
APA: In the last battle between you and Zatoichi, where your character, Hattori, does the last duel with Zatoichi, I noticed that you flipped the blade down in preparation to holding the sword with a different grip style similar to the way Zatoichi uses his sword. Is this true?
TA: Yes, you are right. And when the last time they met together, Zatoichi was able to draw faster than Hattori because of this back-hand grip and probably Hattori thought that with the back-hand grip he could draw faster than Zatoichi.
APA: One last question, before we go here. Does Bunodata still exist?
APA: And this is your stage name for your solo music career, correct? It is a reverse syllable of your name.
APA: And would you say that it would be correct for us to say that you are somewhat of a Renaissance man? Not only are you doing acting, but you are also doing music as well, and art.
TA: I don't know the definition of a "Renaissance man." I don't know if it means that a renaissance man is someone who is talented in all these different areas that he get his hands on. [If that is the case] then, I am not. But if a Renaissance man is someone who is interested, just interested, and having fun and doing all these things then, yes, I am-- I am a Renaissance man. I just hope to continue to explore all these different interests as much as I can and someday we will know what can come out of those endeavors.
APA: We believe in closing that both you and Takeshi Kitano are renaissance samurais. Thank you very much.
TA: Thank you very much.
Date Posted: 9/17/2004