Chihiro Yamamoto is Supergirl! She started Chinese martial arts at three years old then got a gold medal for Sojutsu and silver medals with Kenjutsu and Chang quan in the 4th World Junior Wushu Championship. In person, she is very pretty and soft. We don’t see any physical strength in her appearance — a very typical 18-year-old Japanese girl. But once she speaks and is holding Katana (samurai sword), we can see her strength.
How did she find her acting debut with this film? What did she learn from her co-star, Kirareyaku actor Seizo Fukumoto? Their relationship is like The Karate Kid but in this film, there is very much a Japanese Samurai spirit in it along with sweet love.
Q: What did you learn from Fukumoto-san as far as acting, sword fighting and as a person?
Well, during the shoot, he would always help me by teaching me staging and other things. His view of humanity is one where he is always thinking about those who came before, even though he has been working so hard himself. I just thought he was amazing and have such deep respect for him.
Q: What similarities do you see between you and your character, Satsuki?
When I began playing Satsuki, I saw that she was the type of person that kept going without giving up. It’s like that in martial arts as well. She had a lot of pressure that made her uneasy, and when I was training for martial arts tournaments, I felt feelings very similar to those. Honestly, in this movie, I didn’t feel like I had to put too much acting into it because I was able to play a character so much like myself. So instead of there being times where I thought that Satsuki and I were different, it was really the other way around. There were many more times where I thought, “We’re really alike,” or “It would be nice to become somewhat like Satsuki.”
Q: It seems you are very tough under pressure.
It’s true that martial arts isn’t the kind of sport where in a competition you can just go, “I’m sorry, could I try again?” But you know, when you’re in the middle of a real showdown, or in the middle of shooting an action scene, you really like to think, “No matter what, I want to land this in one go.”
Q: Tell us your favorite scene in this film.
Hmm… My favorite scene would have to be where Fukumoto-san (Kamiyama) is walking together with Satsuki through the “movie town” attraction at night, when Satsuki says to him, “If I were to ever get married, I would like it to be someone like you.” That scene just fills me with so many feelings.
During production, and even up to just before shooting the scene, the day of, I kept trying and trying to figure out how to deliver that line. By the time we decided on how to say it, it must have been about midnight or 1 AM, but until that time, we had gone over it over and over again. When I gave it that time and got the OK, all of the staff that was working at the time gave out a huge applause. It was a scene that I really had to pour a lot of time and effort into.
Q: How much did you train for sword fighting for this film? Did you mix it up with Chinese martial arts sometimes?
Well, I was okay with choreography, but really after I was chosen to do Uzumasa Limelight and up until the shooting, there was about a week gap beforehand. During that week’s time, Fukumoto-san showed me that style of sword fighting from the basics. In my head I kept thinking, “This is really different,” or sometimes, “This is tough.” But the more I used the sword in this martial art, I found the movements really enjoyable and got excited to practice every day. There were times when those habits came out, but there were also things in it that really suited me, and others where I thought, “I can’t do this.” Normally, even if my martial arts habits came out and sometimes interrupted things, it was still a very fun experience.
Q: Who is your favorite martial arts actor?
I could never really choose, but in the end I really love both Jackie Chan and Jet Li.
Q: Did you start martial arts to become an actor?
When I was younger I did admire people like Jet Li and Jackie Chan, but it wasn’t something like, “I want to learn martial arts to be an actor like them.” Before, I just focused on martial arts and wanted to become a world champion. I thought, “Maybe I’ll become a martial arts teacher.” But since the world championship, I began receiving a lot of praise and I thought about what I could do. Martial arts like Wushu are still such a minor thing these days, so I thought, “How can I make it more popular?” I started to realize that since people look up to actors, being an actress would make that martial art look cool, and that’s when my dream became much bigger.
Q: Are you aiming to become a martial artist who does acting or an actress who can do martial arts?
There isn’t much of a meaning in an actress that can only do action. Well, there is meaning, but at this point I don’t think I could do stage plays. That’s why I want to learn more about acting. But my distinguishing genre is definitely action. That’s why for Hollywood I want to become a prominent actress that is proficient in action scenes. Right now, I’m still in the middle of studying English.
Q: In this film, Satsuki got a big chance. What was your biggest chance so far?
Well… You say “big chance,” but I really had a number of people and moments, like my coach who taught me about martial arts with all he had, and my parents who supported me with all they had. So instead of having a “big chance,” there were really a number of different things from many different people who helped me continue this far.
Uzumasa Limelight is in theaters December 5th.