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Japan's latest diamond in the rough is the soft-speaking Gotaro Tsunashima, who proves that an archetypal leading man doesn't always have to be about guts and glory.
Click here for the review of Japanese Story
Gotaro Tsunashima, with his quietly mesmeric performance in the cross-cultural romance Japanese Story, has positioned himself as a new breed of hunk: strikingly handsome, understated and above all, emotionally complex. In other words, Colin Ferrell better run for cover. Tsunashima discusses, among other things, the state of cinema, the impressive abilities of his co-star Toni Collette, and shattering social, cultural, and aesthetic boundaries.
APA: Thank you for your time today. Would you first introduce yourself to the US audience?
Gotaro: (laugh) My name is Gotaro Tsunashima.
APA: Ok, here’s my first question. Your method of acting is refreshing because it is quietly restrained. Do you believe there are any cultural reasons for this? Or is it merely a product of your training as an actor?
Gotaro: Yeah, I’d say both reasons. There was a cultural difference, and I also acted that way because of my training.
APA: There was a clear difference between you and the other characters.
Gotaro: My character, Hiromitsu, is around 40 to 50 years old and is an office-worker. I am actually younger in real life. So I had to act to make the role out to be how it was originally written in the script.
APA: Your acting as Hiromitsu was quiet yet very powerful.
Gotaro: Yes, when I first got this role, my father came into mind. He had already retired, but he was also an office worker, and his age matched Hiromitsu’s. So I thought about my father a lot and used him as a model for the role.
APA: When was your first acting experience, and what made you decide that you wanted to be an actor?
Gotaro: When I was a child, my father often took me to the movies, and I really liked watching movies. That could’ve been one reason why I am an actor today. Also my first acting experience was back in my kindergarten play. I assumed the role of a barber. (Laugh) I can still remember that.
APA: But maybe these small things in the past can be the most important things.
APA: How did your involvement in Japanese Story come about? What about this film was most appealing to you?
Gotaro: First, I played a role in an Australian TV series called Changi. Its name came from the name of the prison in Singapore. I played a scary soldier. Anyways, the director of Changi —Kate Woods — and Sue Brooks, the director of Japanese Story—knew each other. So Sue told Kate that she was looking for a Japanese actor for the role, and that she and some others might even go to Japan and audition some actors. Then Kate told Sue Brooks about me, and I got a call. Though I was a lot younger than the actual age of the role, we decided to go ahead and meet anyway. So I auditioned. Then they brought the video and showed it to Toni Collette. She liked my acting. That was how I got this role. I was very surprised!!!!
APA: So these directors and co-stars were very attractive to you?
Gotaro: Well, I was a big fan of Toni Collette, but I did not really know about the director yet. Like I said before, being able to act in a movie was very attractive to me. This childhood memory of going to the movies with my father made me want to get into film. I really wanted to act in films. Before Japanese Story, I acted a lot onstage. Japanese Story was the first movie that I took part in.
APA: Why Australia?
Gotaro: I do not really know. (Laughs) It just happened to be Australia. If it had been an American TV series, it would have been America. But, I would also say that I got along easier with people in Australia.
APA: Have you personally visited Australia before?
Gotaro: Well, my production agency took all of us on a trip to Australia. That was a week-long trip.
APA: Did that trip deepen your interest in Australia as a place to pursue an acting career?
Gotaro: The trip? Not at all! Well If I think back about it now, it could have been related to where I am today, but back then, I never imagined that I would be in an Australian TV series or the movies.
APA: There have been quite a number of films depicting Japan or Japanese culture lately, such as Lost in Translation or The Last Samurai. Do you feel there are any stereotypes or cultural misperceptions being perpetuated in Japanese Story? What aspects of the film do you believe are accurate in portraying your culture?
Gotaro: In my opinion, none of them have been successful at painting an accurate picture. I have not seen Lost in Translation yet; I think it is coming out in Japan in July. But I did see The Last Samurai, and I thought it lacked in accuracy. But so did Japanese Story. Japanese Story was just more current. But the point is that I do not think that movies have to depict things accurately. I see no problem with it. If you get some kind of idea what people and their lives would be like in a particular country, I think that is good enough.
APA: What do you see as your greatest strength as an actor? How do you go about preparing yourself for each role? What about the role in Japanese Story?
Gotaro: Well for that role, the director, writer, and I discussed and developed the image of him. Later on, the director told me to act Hiromitsu as if he was myself, while still making the character as quietly restrained as the script required. If there had been no restraint at all, Hiromitsu could have been totally different—like, silly. As for my strength as an actor, I think that the kinds of roles and co-stars matter a lot more than any particular strength or weakness. Also, if you have the will, you can do anything. My concentration is the most important thing.
APA: Speaking of co-stars, tell us a little about Toni Collette. How did she affect the final product as well as your performance?
Gotaro: I have been acting for about 8 years now, but she is the best and greatest actress I have ever worked with. There is no doubt about it. She is a genius! I thought she was very sensitive, passionate, expressive and also very smart too. I would love to see how she does on an IQ test!
APA: She has a powerful onscreen presence without even having to say a line.
Gotaro: Yeah. There are some actors in Japan that I respect a lot, such as Toshiyuki Nishida, but I admire Toni just as much. We are still good friends, and we can talk and discuss many things. We still e-mail each other sometimes.
APA: So if there is another opportunity to work with her…
Gotaro: That would be great, and I would be more than happy to! If Japanese Story had not been with her, I would not have accomplished this much with Hiromitsu’s character. The film received favorable responses and also some critical acclaim, but none of it would have been possible without Toni Collette. Thanks to her, I could act up to a certain level, making it possible for the film to be released.
APA: Without a doubt, Toni Collette and Toshiyuki Nishida are very influential figures regarding your acting career. Are there any other actors/actresses that you would like to work with in the future?
Gotaro: Well, there are many that I want to work with. As far as Australian actresses go, do you know Connie Nielsen? She played a queen who falls in love with a general. I worked with her in the film called Great Raid, which was filmed in Shanghai. She is a wonderful actress. I have also talked a lot with Geoffrey Rush; he is a charming person, too. There are many more.
APA: What about Japanese or American actors?
Gotaro: Definitely Toshiyuki Nishida and Koji Yakusho, as well. Also, I would love to work with Johnny Depp sometime. The list is endless.
APA: I see some very well-experienced, artistic, skillful actors in your list.
Gotaro: Yeah. The very first actor that I liked a lot was Gary Oldman. I like all of his films. I think I am always inspired by those who have developed their acting experience on-stage. I do not know if Johnny Depp ever acted in a play, but those theater actors always become successful internationally.
APA: You first started your career on-stage too?
Gotaro: I like acting in a play.
APA: You mentioned Johnny Depp. Do you want to be in Hollywood films in the future?
Gotaro: Well, Great Raid will be released by Miramax this year. So I have already been in a Hollywood film. I worked with Benjamin Bratt and Joseph Fiennes. It is a war movie. I auditioned and was accepted for the role of a military policeman.
APA: What do you see as the greatest difference between Japanese and American film making? Which one do you prefer?
Gotaro: Hollywood movies are great forms of entertainment; they excel in techniques, too. I think they have built one cultural genre there. Their state-of-the-art techniques and passion to make this entertainment culture are exceptional. Japanese films seem to be favoring the quantitative over the qualitative lately. They also look like extensions of TV series. That is not how movies should be. Akira Kurosawa’s films are internationally praised and they are timeless. So movies should be something that only the movies can create—in terms of sensation and spectacle. Those aspects seem to be lacking in today’s Japanese filmmaking. But I do not only want to do Hollywood films. I also want to act in European, Australian, Chinese, or Korean films. I have no boundaries as far as where I want to work.
APA: So what are your future plans then?
Gotaro: Nothing has been really finalized yet. I have received some offers, and I have also been auditioning, too. I just auditioined for a Hollywood film, though I cannot really name the title, but the director visited Japan and auditioned for an actor there. Besides, I have heard from some European films and Chinese films, but like I said, nothing has been really determined yet. Funny thing is that, nothing from Japan. (laughs)
APA: I think that is actually really admirable. Saying that you have no boundaries.
Gotaro: Maybe you feel the same way as I do, but I think Japan is still closed off in terms of cultural exchange with other countries.
APA: Maybe people like yourself, Mr. Tsunashima, will serve as a bridge for this change.
Gotaro: Exactly. Like Japanese Story, Lost in Translation, or The Last Samurai. Even Kill Bill may expand horizons.
APA: This is going to be the last question. I came up with this question since I am a foreign student studying at UCLA. Do you have any messages for foreign students or even for Japanese students who study abroad, as someone who is successfully building your career internationally?
Gotaro: When you go overseas, you will see that you cannot always depend on others. You need more self-control than when you are in Japan. There is a noticeable cultural difference too, but you really have to go beyond walls or boundaries to be able to fully communicate and to exchange our culture with others.
APA: Do you feel the same way about being a Japanese actor in foreign films?
Gotaro: Sure. Whether it’s Toni Collette or someone else, you have to know, respect, and accept each other in order to do a great job as a whole. That is the fundamental relationship between people, friends, or even professors and students. If you can achieve those things in any relationship, I do not think there is anything to be afraid of.
APA: I see your point, especially in the role you play in Japanese Story. Thank you every much for your time today.
Gotaro: You are welcome.
Date Posted: 4/5/2004