SanadaCorner Interview with Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa
He is a Japanese born actor with lots of talents….
Hollywood knows him with such outstanding roles like “Shang Tsung” in Mortal Kombat, “Commander Minoru Genda” in Pearl Harbor and more… . But he is more than just an actor; he is a martial artist, a coach and also a healer. More and more to be known about this “sensei”, that he is the founder of a breathwork techniques called “Chuu Shin”…
HSC got the grand chance to have an interview with this respectful “sensei”. In this interview, Tagawa-san talked about Keanu Reeves, Jin Akaniahi , 47 Ronin’s shooting and above all…..our Sanada!
N: Nancy | CHT: Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa
N: Hey Tagawa-San thanks a lot for taking the time to take yours and Sanada-San’s fans’ questions. Let’s start shall we?
1. Tell us a bit about your part in the up-coming 47 Ronin?
CHT: I play the part of Tokugawa Tsunayoshi “The Shogun”. In the story the Shogun is forced to make decisions that force Sanada-San’s character “Oishi” to formulate a plan of revenge for his master’s death. The part is a cameo part and comes in to simply make decisive choices that shape the story.
N: Do you get to show any fighting skills or using weapons scenes?
CHT: No not at all. I was happy not to fight. It was unusual but I enjoyed thoroughly watching very skilled martial artists at work. Of course Sanada san was the most skilled.
N: How can you describe your time with the cast off the camera while being on set?
CHT: I purposely chose to interact in a very discreet way. I wanted to maintain a professional character distance from them since the Shogun was a highly singularly-minded character. I typically play characters that need that kind of space to stay in character. I did witness the cast interact quite a bit certainly befriending each other and enjoying each other’s company. I did interact individually by helping, discussing any issues that the actors may have had. In some cases I helped represent their opinion to the director and producers. Hopefully it added to smoother communications to enhance the film.
N: This is your first time to work with Carl Risnch. How could you describe working with him?
CHT: I’ve worked with several first-time directors and the experiences were very similar. In Carl’s case his unique personality made for a very different kind of relationship. Carl is, I hope, a sign of change in Hollywood to have more artistic, intelligent and highly creative directors. Carl comes from an artistic family which has made him not only creative but highly intellectual and intelligent. He was most open to my creative ideas and we worked well together.
N: What about Keanu Reeves?
CHT: Many people underestimate Keanu Reeves. He is a highly, highly serious actor with a great range of experience both on and off the set that is a great basis for range of emotion in acting. Some say that he is aloof and standoffish but I believe that it is with good reason. As an actor that kind of space is necessary most of the time to maintain the consistent quality of any character. What I found was at other times he was very open and personable and once engaged was very opinionated and sharing about his opinions. A very wonderful, caring and professional actor.
N: And Hiroyuki Sanada?
CHT: My scenes with him were all simply acting, as opposed to action, and I was honored to work with him. Many think that because he is such an action star that his acting skills were less than excellent but I found the contrary to be true and enjoyed the experience thoroughly. It’s so rare to meet such a popular celebrity who is so humble, sincere, kind and compassionate. Would love to work with him many times in the future.
N: What other things impressed you on the set?
CHT: Amazing AD department. The AD’s on any set determine the tone and attitude of everyone involved. Since this is a big scale movie with many, many extras the organization and movement of those extras was critically important. The AD’s handled it with expertise and care that made me proud to be part of this movie. The details of the elements of the set were unparalleled.
N: I know too many Jin Akanishi’s fans who are dying to know how he was on the set (fighting skills…etc.)
CHT: Jin, along with Hiroyuki-san, represent the next wave of young Japanese actors coming to Hollywood and making their mark. Jin-san is such a highly skilled actor that his presence on set when I did scenes with him was so powerful. I didn’t see any of his fighting scenes, ours were just dialogue scenes, but if his fighting skills reflect the intensity and power of his acting skills I’m sure no one would be disappointed.
N: This is a Japanese epic story, yet it’s adapted by western mind, how did you about that before and after joining the team?
CHT: Well before I joined the team it was all too evident and reminiscent of my career of Hollywood. If there was ever a country and people that covet and protect interpretations and perceptions of themselves it is the Japanese and understandably so – Japan has such a rich and deep culture that may never be fully understood by western society and western society has historically been in a position globally to dictate to rather than communicate with other countries. Given that kind of history, to try to represent someone else’s culture and history, Hollywood has sadly failed forever. I have found myself in most cases getting caught between the two countries with probably the most comprehensive understanding of the problem and a very clear solution. At times I won, at times I lost.
Knowing this was the most coveted historical samurai story in Japanese history I knew from the beginning this movie was going to be massively problematic. I believe the director and the studio have kept the intention of authenticity and reality to be highly important. We know that many Japanese films have been made on this subject and Hollywood could never match the Japanese versions but I don’t believe that this film was made with that intention. Artistic license, CGI, and introducing a main character who was not part of the “47” history is where this production begins. Hopefully that plus the perception of high samurai ideals and morals will present the 47 Story in an engaging interpretation. One must, going into a theater, understand that this is entertainment; an entertaining historical interpretation, nothing more, nothing less. To expect something more would only be truly disappointing and upsetting. Better to go with the expectation of entertainment.
N: How did you prepare yourself for that role?
CHT: I prepared with a total open mind and an opening up of my own artistic being to receive direction and input from my Hollywood movie mind and not necessarily my Japanese sensibility. I read some history but realized that the more I knew about the true history, it was not important for me personally, for I have found that the interaction of the director with the actors and crew, and the energetic tone that was set, was most important to deliver a performance rather than critically analyze the production.
From: Kelley Uselton-Eckart – USA
1. I love his villain roles – especially Rising Sun. Does he like playing villains better than heroic roles?
CHT: You can only like something so much and for so long. I had great reason to enjoy those roles and express my deepest characteristics. My rebelliousness is certainly a major trademark of my life and performances, it comes from a major drive to be creative and out of the box. However, after 27 years of playing bad guys it is time for a radical change. After having played a 70 year old man befriending a six year old boy in “Little Boy” this year, I found it amazingly refreshing and look forward to more roles with good characters.
2. Also, what elements does an actor need to bring with a villain to make him stylish and memorable?
CHT: To make these characters stylish and memorable it helps to have your own personal style and fashion. I have always simply incorporated that into my roles and sprinkled at times a major dose of experimentation with colors and physicality. To make characters memorable it helps to have the kind of personality that is not seen greatly in American society. To be a fashionable, intellectual, witty, opinionated Asian in American society was not really common in my day. I was all those things and expressed myself before Hollywood in that fashion. Hollywood simply gave me a stage to present myself.
From: Marco – Italy
3. What’s the most precious memory you had on the set of the 47 Ronin and what was the most difficult part in the movie?
CHT: There were two: One with Sanada-san and with Keanu. In the scene with Sanada-san he expresses to me his love and respect for the men under him. It elicited a most powerful emotion from him and I understood this from a deep space within myself. In another scene with Keanu, we collaborated to add an artistic moment in which I give him respect for being a samurai. I felt very connected to him in giving him the respect that he deserves both as a actor and as a person.
When an actor works in digital rather than film one is expected to reshoot scenes without stopping. It saves time and money but can be very unnerving for those of us from the old school. On film when a scene is cut everything is reset and gives the actor time to collect his emotions to deliver in another take. When it’s digital it’s like talking in run-on sentences without time to regroup to give the power of the emotional content of each scene. We are simply asked to repeat over and over again if necessary emotional content in a powerful way. It is like emotion on demand over and over again like a robot. It can be disconcerting.