A Conversation with Kaoru Yachigusa

It’s difficult to fathom the impact that the ever elegant and beautiful Kaoru Yachigusa has had on Japan’s entertainment landscape. Between 1947 and 1957 she honed her trade as an entertainer with the Takarazuka Revue, all all-female musical theatre troupe renowned for their lavish Broadway-style productions, after which she transitioned from stage to screen, reciving numerous accolades and where she continues to enjoy a reputation as one of Japan’s finest character actors.

In fact, with her 83rd birthday approaching, Kaoru Yachigusa can be seen in two of 2013 most talked about films, the critically acclaimed adaption of The Great Passage (which took six major awards at the 2014 Japanese Academy Awards) and the touching Don’t Loose Heart, a moving biopic of the beloved Japanese poet Toyo Shibata.

In anticipation of her visit to Australia for the 2013 Japanese Film Festival, I was fortunate enough to exchange some questions and answers via email with the talented actress.

Fletcher: You have such an impressive resume having worked across film, television and stage. Can I ask what draws you to a role? Is it the story, the director or the challenge that the role offers you as an actor?

Kaoru Yachigusa: For films, there are three criteria I consider in deciding whether or not to accept a role: the script, the director, and the character. There’s no particular hierarchy among these – I place a lot of importance on how I feel about the project initially.

F: In Don’t Lose Heart you play Toyo Shibata, whose work resonates with her life experience. With your own career in the arts having spanned 60 years across such a turbulent era for Japan, did you draw on your own experience and observations to understand the subtext of Toyo Shibata’s poetry?

KY: Just like Toyo, I also experienced living through the war. It was a hard time, and a very sad time. I feel that this experience connects us.

F: Tasked with playing a person who found fame so recently, are you able to offer some insight in to how you prepared for the role? Did you feel a sense of responsibility to portray her honestly?

KY: Sadly, I never met her. To play the role, I went through her poems and photo albums, and pieced these together through my imagination. However, I tried hard not to alter the image that people had of her.”

F: What was your experience like working under director Yoshihiro Fukagawa and have you enjoyed promoting the film with him?

KY: Fukagawa-san gave very considered and appropriate direction, which did a lot to guide my performance.

The filming schedule itself was quite demanding, but publicity for the film has been more involved than I had expected. However, I feel it’s worth it because I want as many people as possible to see the film.

F: Also screening at this year’s Japanese Film Festival is The Great Passage, a film that follows the creation of a dictionary and the lives of those who work on it. The film encompasses a lot of themes. Was there a particular theme that resonated with you?

KY: The importance of care and consideration within a family, particularly between a husband and wife. I hope that people who see the film are inspired to rethink their idea of what it means to be a family, or what it means to be husband and wife.

F: Having such a long and active career as a working actress, I’m interested on your perspective of how Japanese cinema has evolved over the past 60 years?

KY: It may seem presumptuous of me to say this, but I think that Japanese film developed an artistic identity of its own around the same time that I started in the industry. Later, it began to change due to the influence of overseas films and TV dramas. However, in recent years it seems that there’s a move in the industry to return to origins, so to speak. I’m looking forward to seeing what this brings.

    J. Fletcher

    Based in Sydney, Australia. Entertainment Journalist. Critic. Photographer. Coffee Snob. Not necessarily in that order.

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