By MIKEY HIRANO CULROSS, Rafu Arts & Entertainment
In a 2011 interview with The Japan Times, Kaho Minami addressed a role she had taken, one with very little dialog but plenty of emotion.
“Japanese tend to find it difficult to express their feelings in words. So this script, in which the family members cannot verbally communicate with each other, struck me as very Japanese,” she said.
For her U.S. acting debut, there were many words, but many she didn’t well understand.
“The hardest thing was to memorize lines in English,” said Minami of her small but memorable part in the independent film “Masterless,” written and directed by L.A. native Craig Shimahara.
“I used to live in the U.S., but I haven’t spoken English for a while,” she said. “Because it took longer to learn my lines, I ended up spending a lot of time thinking about the character and her words, and this actually worked out very well for me. It was an experience that I have not had before.”
Minami lived for several years in the Los Angeles area, mostly for the proximity to the work of her husband, actor Ken Watanabe. Five years ago, the couple returned to Tokyo, where she resumed her own career.
“Masterless” is a parallel-plot drama that follows a hard-working architect as well as his feudal Japan-era alter ego on a journey of spiritual discovery. The film has two screenings next week: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 1, at the Cinemark Theater at the Howard Hughes Center; and Thursday, Dec. 3, at the Edwards Alhambra Renaissance Stadium 14 & IMAX, also beginning at 7:30.
Shimahara will attend both screenings for a discussion afterwards.
Minami, 51, plays a temptress with less-than-honorable intentions who delays the wayward traveler on his search for truth.
Once she saw the script, however, her confidence level took a precipitous drop.
“At first, Craig told me my scene was in Japanese, so I didn’t have to worry about it, but his plan was changed,” she explained by an incredulous laugh.
“I thought this is a very good opportunity to learn English, so I studied as much as I could before I came to Los Angeles,” she said.
By the time the cameras started to roll, however, Minami felt confident and ready.
“After I arrived L.A., Craig and I rehearsed together, and because I was fully prepared, I didn’t worry about the English lines when we started filming.”
Since making her Japanese debut in 1985’s “Ruby Fruit,” Minami has compiled a formidable resume that includes some blockbuster hits, such as Takashi Miike’s “The Great Yokai War” in 2005. She had a 20-year career under her belt before marrying Watanabe, the second marriage for both of them.
As her husband’s Hollywood career took off, living in L.A. was a necessity, but she resumed acting after moving back to Japan. Minami has found that she can bring a wealth of veteran skill to a part, including providing her own wardrobe for “Masterless.”
“I know how to dress myself correctly in kimono, so I could do my own costuming while filming this movie,” she explained, adding that she brought her own wig for the role. She is also well-studied in Japanese dance and Japanese tea ceremony.
“I was in many samurai films in the past, so I know how to behave when I wear kimono,” she said.
Minami said in spite of the language hurdle, the art of taking on a character requires basically the same skill set, regardless of the zip code.
“How to act is same wherever I am,” she said.
For more information, visit www.masterlessfilm.com.
– Rafu staff writer Junko Yoshida contributed to this story.