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Apart from the fact that it’s simply an awesomely constructed film that blends the traditional with the very modern SUKIYAKI WESTERN DJANGO will leave you wanting. For some, the movie was a jarring blend of styles but, for me, there wasn’t a better film that dared to be bold in its execution and was different not for the sake of it but for what it could be if it was.
Of all the highlights in the movie, however, wasn’t Takashi Miike’s curious choices for locales or the way he decided to twist language but it was in the performance of Japanese film star Kaori Momoi that caught me unaware. It’s not to say that the rest of the cast doesn’t do well enough on their own but seeing Kaori in this film shows you the kind of respect this woman commands.
Those who need a quick primer of why Kaori is so compelling all you need to know is that in her career she worked with Akira Kurosawa, is a two time Japanese Academy Award winner, and pursues a life in, “producing, directing, screenwriting, and design in addition to her acting.” And, she’s released some 15 albums. She’s a real renaissance woman. Needless to say, when the opportunity presented itself to interview her there was no way I could pass it up.
Needless to say one of the peculiar things about this interview is that this is the first one I’ve ever done through a translator. Kaori’s English is quite good but there was still the language barrier to contend with. However, her jubilant spirit would not daunt her ability to answer the questions I tossed her way.
SUKIYAKI WESTERN DJANGO is now out on DVD.
CHRISTOPHER STIPP: First I would like to thank you for taking time for me. I just want to ask you a few questions but want to start off by saying it’s a pleasure and an honor to be able to talk to you.
TRANSLATOR: Please ask any questions.
CS: Thank you. I know that Takashi Miike has made a film that has blended some various genres together – the American Western and Japanese Samurai. How did you respond initially to being asked to be in this picture?
KAORI MOMOI: Now, I can speak a little bit English.
I have to say that I love Miike. I love to work with Miiki very much because he is a genius and a genius director, and a crazy artist, and fun person. He looks like a youngster but he is a very nice person and a shy boy. He always experiments everywhere. I love to work with him. This movie is Japanese history. This is not just a Western movie. This is Heike Western. I love the sound of Heike Western. I love that. Maybe it’s my accent. What do you think?
CS: As an actress, can you expound, or talk about how you approached the material in a way that could feel authentic, yet in the vein that Miike was going for?
MOMOI: Well, I have never been in an action movie before. I am old enough. I was a ballerina. I wanted to play an action role and felt this was the last chance for me to do so.
CS: You say you’ve never been in an action movie, how was it to actually see what eventually made it up onto the screen?
MOMOI: I just say too heavy for my body.
It was too cold. It was so scary like a bungie jump – I hate that.
CS: You mean it wasn’t fun?
MOMOI: Yes! I enjoy it very much. It was fun, but it was scary.
CS: I would definitely like to know your thoughts on the idea that many inside Hollywood like to take ideas and the riches of others like Japanese cinema, overtly, STAR WARS being influenced by THE HIDDEN FORTRESS being one example. In your years being in the film industry do you see a difference between how American’s like to see their films presented to them as opposed to, let’s say, the Japanese audience likes to have theirs presented to them?
MOMOI: I do like to make films. Filmmakers make Japanese old movies – I don’t like it. We have to experiment. We have to have new directors to make new movies as an artist. Originality is very important, I think.
CS: You’ve mentioned in other interviews about wanting to get work in some Hollywood productions. As an older woman in a market that loves it’s young talent, does going after jobs still thrill you as an older woman as it did when you were a younger one?
MOMOI: I don’t feel so much different because I look young.
Nobody knows about me in LA or USA or other countries other than Japan. As an actress, as a woman, no one knows how old I am. That’s good for me as an actress. I think actress has to be new. That’s good for me.
CS: Speaking about your career, in other interviews I’ve read with you, it’s your energy to be relevant and to experiment with different ventures really exceeds anyone I’ve ever read about. Where does that motivation and that hopefulness and look-forwardness come from?
MOMOI: I’m so hyper and vocal. If you have power you have to smoke and drink lots of wine. That helps you.
CS: You’ve challenged directors that you’ve worked with. How have directors responded to the idea that your job is not only to interpret the script but to add your own thoughts about the movie making process?
MOMOI: Dialog is in English. I can’t speak English, somebody said. English is good for me. I can speak English dialogue. I was like a young girl in a conversation with Miike. I didn’t do anything. I was just loving him. The movie was so special for me. Some directors are not so great, and sometimes I have to kick them, and I will push them away and I will get the job as the director.
CS: You got the chance to work with Akira Kurosawa. He’s revered here in America by those who really love film. How do you look back on the time that you got to spend with him?
MOMOI: He is a great person. We Japanese are very proud of him. He is a great director now too. I want to work with him more and more. He was a big person for me. I worked with him on Kagemushma. He was a big person in the studio and every person was scared of him. I called him and said, “How are you today and what do you want?” I want to make him more relaxed. I asked him, “What do you want, my body or something?” Every morning I took him and made him feel not so lonely. One day he called me. It was his birthday. He said, “If you have the time, let’s have lunch.” Then I went to the restaurant and we had lunch – that was a memory. That’s all.
CS: I know my time is short so I’ll ask one more question. You have done this movie with Takashi Miike, where do you see yourself going from here?
MOMOI: I think I have to speak English more. Because I want the world to know more about Japanese movies and Japanese actress. Any Asian can speak English well. We have to speak English now. I want to speak English dialogue and I will get another country’s movie and I will live in Los Angeles some time and for my English. I will then give me the job!
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