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Issey Ogata is most well-known for his comedic roles in Japan. However, he plays the villain in Martin Scorsese’s Silence, yet the character is so likeable despite his clear antagonism to the Portuguese missionaries. Ogata reminisces his role in the film, and then shares how he crafted his brilliant performance. He also shares his experience of acting with English speaking actors.
Q: What did you find about Inoue during your research process?
Actually, he was a real person and had held a position much like the Secretary of Defense. He was the person who drew a sophisticated map of Japan for national defense. It was his job, but he went to Nagasaki to eliminate Christianity. Shusaku Endo also wrote a play called “The Golden Country” with Inoue as the main character. It was the prequel to “Silence”. This story was written about the apostasy of Ferrera, who is one of characters in “Silence”. It was my research process to read the original “Silence” and the play “The Golden Country”.
Q: What was the most challenging for you during filming?
I had no trouble. Everything was fun for me, so I wondered what I could do to make Inoue more fascinating and charming. And, when I tried my idea while filming, the director made the atmosphere comfortable to let me do more something fun. He had absolute trust in me, so my idea was drawn out much more. There were a lot of situations like that. I had ideas like driving away the files with a fun and fanning my head, and I thought these up while we were filming. It was not like adding ad libs, it was more like just being Inoue. My whole body was allowed to be Inoue.
Q: Inoue is a quite likable villain. Did you initially intend to play him that way?
I tried to avoid playing a simple villain because those kind of characters are superficial. Inoue’s role was to chase down Christians, but I tried to escape from being evil. The film was not about good or evil, but about a deeper theme of humans who felt cornered. Therefore, I thought by not making the villain only a simple evil man gives the film even more depth. I have played various roles, but I want to play every role as attractively as I can. Certainly Inoue was a villain, but I didn’t want to simply a villain, so I set aside his villainous nature and played him as someone I would like to admire. I needed to play Inoue not as a single-layered man, but many-layered. There are some sudden ups and downs with Inoue’s character. The moment these happen, I don’t know where he goes. Then, I want to act him out much more with thrillingly.
Q: The film is about religion and faith; what and how you believe. What would you say you learned about yourself and your belief system from doing this film ?
I wouldn’t go so far as to call it religion, after turning 60 I have started to believe there is god. At turning 60, I felt my life has turned around and it is ended my days of selfishness and ego. I thought I should be worth living with other than ego in rest of my life after 60. I began to start thinking of the existence of something more than myself. Not Christ or Buddha, but I thought it was God. I could understand certainly there was something greater than humans. For example, this casting. This film was derailed many times. I just coincided with the cycle of repeating of coming up and stopping the plan of the film. I just fit right in. I thought such a thing was also because of something to greater than myself. Besides, I could meet Mr. Andrew (Garfield) and other various people. Being present at the situation was something related with God. I was sure of this when I stayed in Taiwan.
Q: Could you give us for example about “other than ego” ? Is that like volunteer work?
“Ego” includes that. Everything which has words or names is ego for me. I believe “other than ego” is something not yet named. I’ll talk about Inoue again as example. In a word, Inoue was in a category of “Villain”, but it made him shrink by labeling with “Villain” because he was a person, complex and impossible to grasp. A “Villain” label reduced him to a simple mark. He became just symbol of “Villain.” I didn’t want to grasp the world like this. Therefore I create new nouns or adjectives without using circulating words. I believe it makes me get away from ego.
Q: As a one-man-show stage actor who also is a respected playwright, what would you say you learned from working with the legendary Martin Scorsese?
He is huge, so it is impossible to compare with me. What I learned most and felt was the pleasure of creating. He had been planning this project about 30 years, so that when he entered the set, he caught people’s eyes. He had dreamed about this filming more than anyone else. He was eager to create wonderful film, and he enjoyed the filming very much. I was just fascinated by his mind overcoming some theory or words. He really made an impression on me about creating. Then, I asked myself whether I have his level of enjoyment or dream when I create my next idea. [laughs]
Q: You are very well known as a successful comedic actor, do you believe comedic timing and comedic improve skill is natural or is it something that can be created and built with training?
I’ll talk about ego again. It is ego for me to do something as presumptuous, as make someone laugh. However, people often laugh. Why do people laugh? Laughing makes us happy. There is a close connection between living and feeling happy. Living is sad and hard, but fun. Everyone wants to come into a contact with laughter because it is our greatest instinct. Everyone wants to come into a contact with it, but just when you grasp it, it runs away like a mirage. Therefore, there is a distance between us and laughter all the time, but we hope to be close to it. We don’t have to know where the feeling is from. It is natural for people to hope to be close to laughter.
Q: What is next for you in 2017?
I am going to put on a new one-man play, my main occupation.
Silence is currently playing in theatres nationwide.
Interview by Izumi Hasegawa – @HNW_Izumi
Interview Translated by Tesshu Matsuo (video), Risa Kuroki (text)
Edited by: Jody Taylor – @RealJodyTaylor
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