Throughout a 45-year profession within the motion pictures, Koji Yakusho has labored with each main Japanese director of his technology and inhabited over 80 characters, spanning salarymen, samurai, yakuza gangsters, taxi drivers, journalists, cops, killers, heroes, dancers, seducers and everymen of every kind. However in German filmmaker Wim Wender’s newest function, the Tokyo-set drama Excellent Days, the 68-year-old actor might have discovered probably the most pure automobile but for his persona’s distinctive mix of magnificence and inward dignity. And he inhabits a humble bathroom cleaner.
A deceptively easy character examine of slowly accumulating emotional heft, Excellent Days options Yakusho in almost each body of its 123-minute runtime. He performs Hirayama, a person who would seem to have dropped out of life if he didn’t take such apparent, palpable pleasure in his modest day by day routines. Hirayama works because the devoted cleaner of architecturally distinctive public restrooms in Tokyo’s metropolis parks (a real-life public works challenge). He approaches his work with unwavering diligence and a focus to element whereas savoring the lunch breaks that permit him to spend a quiet second staring up on the bushes, snapping an image or two along with his analog digital camera to catch the way in which the sunshine is streaking via the leaves that day. The movie’s screenplay, co-written by Wenders and Takuma Takasaki, finds its metaphoric cynosure within the Japanese idea of komorebi, which describes the play of sunshine and shadow via the leaves of a tree, each shimmering second distinctive.
With soulfulness and precision, Yakusho carries the viewers via Hirayama’s laidback day by day rituals — work, tidying his tiny condominium, visits to the native bathhouse, a tall drink in a back-alley bar, tending to his assortment of small crops, savoring cassette tapes of basic rock and dollar-store paperbacks of literary classics — till a collection of minor disruptions ripple via his rigorously constructed peace and provides us a glimpse of a doubtlessly extra painful previous. It’s no nice spoiler to disclose how the movie concludes: With an prolonged shot “held tight on the terribly expressive face of Koji Yakusho as his character drives via Tokyo reflecting on the rewards and maybe additionally the regrets of his life with the identical spirit of openness and acceptance, embracing the unhappiness as a lot as the enjoyment,” as The Hollywood Reporter‘s critic put it. It’s one of the crucial shifting sequences to be discovered on a film display screen this yr.
Yakusho first caught the eye of world movie buffs in 1996 along with his irresistible efficiency as an workplace worker-turned-amateur ballroom dancer in Shall We Dance (Wenders says he “systematically” made everybody near him watch the movie), which received a Hollywood remake in 2004 with Richard Gere within the lead. The subsequent yr he starred within the late, nice Shohei Immamura’s The Eel, which gained the Cannes Palme d’Or. And in certainly one of his exceedingly few Hollywood crossovers, Yakusho arguably turned the standout — in a forged that included Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett — of Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s globe-spanning ensemble drama Babel (2006).
Yakusho has collected scores of awards over his lengthy profession, however Excellent Days seems tipped to introduce him to a fair wider worldwide viewers. The movie premiered in Could on the Cannes Movie Competition, the place Yakusho gained the perfect actor prize. Excellent Days has since been chosen as Japan’s official entry for the Oscars’ in the perfect worldwide movie class, the place it’s thought-about a frontrunner (some have additionally referred to as for recognition for Yakusho in the perfect actor class). The film was the opening title at Yakusho’s hometown Tokyo Worldwide Movie Competition on Monday (it opens theatrically in Japan on Dec. 22, with a North American launch nonetheless to be confirmed). Shortly earlier than the Tokyo pageant, THR linked with the Japanese display screen icon for a quick dialogue of Excellent Day‘s creation.
What impressed you about this story and character?
So, the movie actually facilities across the stunning public bathrooms in Shibuya, from The Tokyo Rest room challenge, which was began by Koji Yanai (president of the Uniqlo clothes chain). And I used to be actually intrigued by the concept of a foremost character who was merely a janitor who cleans bathrooms. I discovered that to be a really compelling setup.
And the way would you describe your strategy of discovering and growing this character? I perceive Wim Wenders ultimately shared a really detailed backstory for the character with you, though the viewers finally solely will get glimmers of it.
So, on this movie, the concept of komorebi — or the sunshine and shadow that shimmers via the leaves of a tree — is an important idea. And the connection between komorebi and Hirayama is a really sturdy and fascinating one. As an actor, a part of what I do is develop the character by imagining what’s not within the script, making a fuller backstory and reflecting that into the character. However there was so little description of this character’s background within the script, so that would have been difficult.
I by no means requested director Wenders for extra backstory, however our producers had been interesting to him for more information. Wim’s response was at all times that he wouldn’t be making this movie if it may all be defined by a couple of phrases sketching out a backstory. However ultimately, he relented and shared his imaginative and prescient of the character’s background with me within the second half of the filming course of. It turned a extremely essential and useful a part of changing into Hirayama in these scenes within the latter half of the movie. It helped me add extra depth.
You talked about the idea of komorebi and the way essential it’s to the character and his philosophy of life. Might you elaborate on that a little bit?
I believe it’s one thing that’s helped Hirayama persevere in life. He’s received this quite simple routine. However when he’s resting or taking a second to mirror, it’s just like the komorebi is type of watching over him. By its nature, komorebi is completely different each time you expertise it, so it’s at all times recent for him. It’s type of like a little bit reward of life that solely he will get to witness each day, which brings him quite a lot of happiness. I believe Wim would be capable of go a lot deeper into this … however there’s additionally the sense that Hirayama is working in Tokyo, surrounded by all this inhuman concrete, however there are these quiet occasions when he will get to see the komorebi within the bushes, and thru that have, it’s type of like he has this sluggish life in a forest despite the fact that he’s in one of many world’s largest cities. It assume it’s a lot much less fascinating for individuals to listen to as an evidence in comparison with experiencing it within the movie. That’s why I initially resisted elaborating, however right here you’ve gotten me speaking about it. Oh properly… (Laughs).
You inhabit this character so absolutely, I couldn’t assist however wonder if there have been points of Hirayama that you just relate to personally. Have there been occasions in your life once you lived as merely as he does, or wished that you could possibly?
Whereas we have been filming, it appeared like everyone on the forged and crew was saying how envious they have been of Hirayama — and the way they wished they might dwell like that. The way in which he lives introduced me again to reminiscences of being a boy — the way in which all the pieces was simply easy and enjoyable. Simply the act of working was an extremely exhilarating expertise. My earliest years got here to thoughts once I was exploring Hirayama’s character.
I’ve to ask in regards to the creation of the closing shot. It virtually felt like an emotional komorebi, the place there are mild and darkish emotions flashing throughout your face in shut succession, but there’s additionally a way of stability and a sense of acceptance that shines via on the identical time. It’s actually outstanding. What have been you striving for in that second and what was your methodology for creating it.
Effectively, the crew spent quite a lot of time lighting the automobile that I’d drive in that scene, so I used to be ready in a rest room. And I believe my greatest efficiency truly occurred once I was rehearsing within the restroom on my own (Laughs). However I’m undecided how the viewers felt ultimately. I believe we as people don’t cry solely after we’re unhappy. And I believe Hirayama, after assembly his household once more who actually is aware of his previous, felt that his future is likely to be a a lot brighter one in that second. I wasn’t actually positive how it could end up if he was laughing and crying on the identical time. However I knew that, ultimately, it could be left to the viewers to find out how that second ought to be interpreted. And so, yeah, we simply type of needed to see what would occur within the second.
Hirayama could be very diligent and expert in how he goes about his precise work of cleansing the bathrooms. Was that one thing you wanted to follow or have been you already an completed cleaner?
I spent two days coaching with The Tokyo Rest room challenge of us. They gave me hands-on expertise on this they usually have been additionally on set with us more often than not to proceed to instruct me on tips on how to correctly clear the bathrooms. Truthfully, I believe the follow of this was one of the crucial essential elements for creating the character and the entire movie. We might go into the precise dirtied bathrooms and it actually trusted the day what sort of situation they have been in. People, unavoidably, after all, soiled these restrooms. However perhaps in the event that they go in and expertise a extremely clear and well-cared-for house, then they are going to be impressed to depart the bathroom simply as clear as they discovered it. That type of civic feeling is what The Tokyo Rest room of us informed us the challenge was created to encourage — and that actually left an impression on me. It was an enormous a part of the expertise of constructing this movie.
Are you the type of actor who can simply depart the work on set once you return to your individual life, or do characters are likely to devour you and linger inside you?
Whereas we’re filming — and this is identical for any position for me — I really feel like I’m by no means absolutely separated from the character. I really feel just like the character’s in some way hooked into me a little bit bit. I are likely to see issues via their perspective, even in my day by day life. However the second that I wrap a shoot — the second that I’m absolutely completed — there’s at all times this sense of launch, the place the character utterly let’s go of me.