Hiroyuki Sanada as Seibei with his two daughters (left to right), Kayano (Miki Ito) and Ito (Erina Hashiguchi), in "The Twilight Samurai." Courtesy of Empire Pictures.
Sanada Hiroyuki: Reinventing The Samurai Movie
New realism and attention to detail are enlightened by Japanese actor, Hiroyuki Sanada's portrayal of a highly skilled swordsman and dedicated man of the household in ďThe Twilight Samurai.Ē
Click here for the preview of Japan's submission, The Twilight Samurai, for the 2004 Academy Award
Sanada Hiroyuki has earned one of the greatest compliments an actor in Japan can receive, ďengi-ha,Ē translated to mean ďan actor who can really act.Ē Not only has he demonstrated his talents on the screens of Japan, but he has also displayed his swift martial arts abilities in America and around the world, in Warner Brosí film The Last Samurai. In addition to film, Sanada has a rich history of theater acting performing in productions including Romeo and Juliet, Little Shop of Horrors, and Hamlet. He was the first Japanese actor to become a part of the Royal Shakespeare Company and starred in King Lear as the Fool. Sanada has won five Japanese Academy awards for Best Actor, including one for his lead role in Tasogare Seibei (The Twilight Samurai) which nabbed an American Academy Award nomination for Best Foreign Film.
Actor Hiroyuki Sanada. Courtesy of APA.
Interview with Hiroyuki Sanada
March 2, 2004
Interviewed by Carl Wakamoto
Transcription by Jennifer Lee and Minnie Chi
...So thatís why I love Seibei - the character in The Twilight Samurai
. I love that. It was so special for me and for the Japanese audience. It was so fresh for them.
APA: Do you think it made quite a bit of difference that in The Twilight Samurai, it was [directed by] a notable Japanese director, Yoji Yamada. I know that he was friends with the late Akira Kurosawa and they often times talked about realism, trying to portray the samurai as they really were, and I found in the The Twilight Samurai a lot of details - the costuming wasnít extravagant or fancy, it was very plain, very natural of that period. And also I noticed the details of even the fencing. Could you tell us a little bit from your standpoint as an actor?
Yeah, thatís the biggest point of this film. We try to make it more authentic, a culture-authentic samurai film, samurai life. After Kurosawa was gone, samurai film changed a lot. Too much stylized. When we fight, we just fall and it is like a dance. Not real, not powerful. And also, the costumes, are always clean, you know. Yeah, sometimes Japanese actors put on their makeup too much - [eye]shadows - and the women have the rouge. You cannot believe them; this is unbelievable for a samurai film. But the actressesí mascara Ė sometimes the actors use mascara, always beautiful Ė all these people are boring [because they are so vain]. [It is] like a cartoon, you know. So this time we never used [this kind of] makeup and the women use mostly lipstick and we try to change everything this time. So I think this is a good chance to change for Japanese filmmakers. But at that time, they were not so rich; so the costumes have to be dirty, or getting older and we tried that. And also about the wigs. In Japan, a lot of makeup artists were using the nets here so we tried to change that. We used our own hair and just a small wig or extension.
No I didnít. But we made it more authentic; we tried.
And also about the fencing, the fighting, we try to make real choreography. The director, choreographer (a real sword master) and me, we discussed a lot about what is real fighting. We tried hard and we changed the choreography many times. Yeah, thatís why it was so fresh, the film, for the audiences.
I hope so, I believe so. But on TV, in TV shows and on TV programs, [they are] still doing that. But on film, maybe they canít do it again, anymore because we changed.
APA: I noticed, as you mentioned, the detail even with fencing in your last duel - the last battle you have with this person that Seibei has been ordered to kill, I noticed the opponent is looking at the ceiling, and this is very real. To see if there is space, you know, for his sword.
Mm hm. Because he has a long sword and I am using a short sword. So he had a handicap. Thatís why itís always scary. Thatís violent, you know. But finally, when I fell down on the floor, he thinks that ďI will win!Ē Thatís so real, and thatís human beings too. So thatís why itís very important for the director and for us, that kind of detail, itís very important for fighting.
APA: Yes it was almost as if what he was being aware of and careful of in the end is what defeats him. As you pointed out, he was so confident that he forgot about the ceiling and hit the beam, and then the fatal blow.
Yeah, even the strong samurai is just a human being. Thatís a new style in the samurai film.
APA: Speaking of new style versus what people are accustomed to. For example, a lot of Americans are familiar with Kurosawa Akira movies and also the actor Toshiro Mifune. Iíve read somewhere that youíve been compared to the new Toshiro Mifune. How do you feel about that? Do you like that?
I didnít know that, but yeah heís great, you know, one of my favorite actors. But I think Iím working in a different way, different style and always finding my own way, so, yeah, Iíve learned from him a lot but it is not my intention [to imitate him]. Iíd like to find my own style. It depends on the script and director, but I am very honored about that, but Iíve never [consciously] thought of being like that.
APA: But it is quite an honor to be compared to him since he is famous.
Yes, indeed. Not only famous though, heís a great [actor] - great character and powerful, and weak, and sexy.
APA: Yes, masculine.
APA: Personally, I felt that the comparison may have been made with your role that you played in the Last Samurai because of the intensity in the character. Because Seibei is not a Mifune-type character. Seibei, I think is very original to how you portray a very human style.
I am very happy about that. Thatís why when I read the script [I thought], "Gong! I should do that!" Personally I saw a picture of me on the set. This is the one, you know. And on the Last Samurai
, it's me very mad, but I wanted to show to the audience, both sides of samurai. Not only the soldier, but they have their own culture. So when they fight they are like a killing machine, but also they roll the pipe leaves, theyíve done the traditional tea ceremony and dancing. So I think in the US, when people think about the samurai, that they are just warriorsÖ
Yeah, but they have a subtleness and a very spiritual culture. Thatís why I have to try to show to the audiences both sides. So in the script just before the final battle, Iíve done [supposed to do] the dance of death. Just only by the sword, using the sword. But I talked to the director to see if I can use the fan for the dancing - thatís the traditional style. So I choreographed it myself for about one minute and a half and used the Japanese fan including Japanese traditional dance, and no theater movement; kagura and kyogen are included in the dance of death. It was so short in the film but [that was my contribution]. It was a very soulful dance to the God, to myself before death, you know. So, thatís why I really enjoyed Seibei's character.
APA: In reference again to the Last Samurai, your friend, Tom Cruise, actor Tom Cruise Ė I also interviewed him Ė and he was very much well versed with the fencing style. I asked him if this happened to be influenced by Miyamoto Musashi. And he said yes, he read the book Gorinnosho Ė The Book of Five Rings. Is there any particular fencing style that you are a specialist at?
Yeah of course Iíve learned from books, from the school, and Iíve done a lot of samurai films in Japan. When I first met him, [I had] already learned about the Japanese fighting - the spirit. But sometimes [it] still looked western style. So I gave him some pointers: how to create, how to use his eyes when he fights, how to wear a kimono. He was a great learner, a quick learner. He grew day by day and improved quickly. So we spent a lot of time for rehearsal, two weeks or three weeks for each fight; we had a lot of one-on-one fighting together so we spent a lot of time together, and he learned not only the form, not only the movement, but also he can understand the meaning
of the form, the meaning
of the movement. Heís so smart, heís so great. APA: And he had a good teacher - you.
I hope so.
APA: Thereís something of the nature of trivia where in this movie I noticed something in the first battle with Tomoeís ex-husband. You, of course, defeat him with a wooden sword, and he is a jealous former husband of the character Tomoe. I noticed that there was a ring on his finger. Was that purposely put there or did he forget to take it off, the actor?
No, at that time they had that kind of ring from maybe Portugal or somewhere. Yeah, at that time they had some. That ring was used just for his character Ė the rich and the nerd Ė that kind of character. So thatís why the director chose that [detail], and thatís real. Nobody knows, but they had that ring at that period. So, it was so fresh.
APA: Thatís great. Well, Mr. Hiroyuki Sanada, thank you very much for your time. UCLA is a great fan of yours.
Yeah, my school Ö my school now.
APA: And if you ever need help with your English please come to UCLA.
Yes, I will. When you see me, please say hello to me.
Date Posted: 5/7/2004