I was raised in Yamagata. I was a happy child, but in fourth grade I was bullied, so until sixth grade I was very quiet. At that time, I never thought I’d become an actress. But when I entered middle school I stopped being bullied and returned to my old self. I had always liked art like film and music, and back then I saw almost everything that came to Yamagata. I loved the movies. Of Japanese films, I especially liked those starring Morishige Hisaya. When I was little the series At the Train Station (Ekimae) came to Yamagata to film, and shot an episode near my house. I remember thinking how great it all was. I really adore comedies like that. I’m a big fan of period dramas and Ichikawa Raizo, and have seen them all. But, almost all the films I appeared in were like torture. I certainly didn’t do them for fun. Maybe it was because of Diary of a Shinjuku Thief, but I often got requests for those torturous types of movies. I really don’t like them, though. Today, Oshima (Nagisa) and Wakamatsu (Koji) are popular with young people and famous abroad. Tokyo at that time was a lot freer then, so I suppose I can understand why youth are attracted to that period.
When I first left Yamagata, 1 belonged to a theater troupe called Gekidan Seihai. At the time theater people liked to gather and discuss in bars, and it was in that kind of setting where I happened to meet Oshima’s producer. “You’re perfect for the lead role in our next film. Won’t you audition?” he asked. So half for fun, I went through with it. There was no response for over a month so I had given up on it, but then one day I got the call. After the camera test it was, “Yes, you’re it.” It was all decided before I was even given a script or told what kind of film it was, and when I finally read the screenplay I didn’t understand it at all. “What is this?” Wakamatsu’s Ecstasy of the Angels also had very radical content. I told my manager “I don’t like this at all,” but he said I had to go through with it because it was all decided. In my TV work, I was able to do the popular period dramas and comedies that I like, but my most famous performances are still Diary of a Shinjuku Thief and Ecstasy of the Angels.
I remember enjoying a shoot for a period drama at the Daiei Kyoto Studio. Katsu Shintaro took a liking to me. He’s a very interesting man, and that whole period was a lot of fun. Also, at Shochiku there was this film called Journey Into Solitude (directed by Saito Koichi), about a high school student so upset she runs away from home to travel in Shikoku. I played the part of a traveling performer, and it was a cute, pretty little film. One I actually liked.
Do I have any plans to return to the silver screen? At my age I don’t think there are many roles for me. I love films, and I really want to watch a lot of them. But there aren’t many films that call out, “Watch me!” That said, I recently saw a Polish film called Time to Die. The role of a 99-year-old lady is beautifully acted by a woman who was herself 99. I would like it if there were more films made in Japan with this kind of feeling, not out of frivolousness. But then again, films are things that change with the times, aren’t they?
(Compiled by Iwatsuki Ayumi, Keino Yutaro)
Interviewers: Iwatsuki Ayumi, Keino Yutaro / Translator: Kyle Hecht
Photography: Kimuro Shiho / Video: Kimuro Shiho / 2011-09-24 in Tokyo