November 14, 2004

Working On A Japanese Movie

Throughout my teens, I was lucky enough to work on a variety of British television and film productions. As a result, I got to meet many accomplished actors and filmmakers. I never could have imagined that someday I would work at a studio in the Land Of The Rising Sun.

Last year, I was given an opportunity to work on a Japanese film, called The Collage Of Our Life, as a dialogue coach to the increasingly famous young actor, Ryuhei Matsuda. It was a fascinating experience, which allowed me to contrast a Japanese set to a Western one.

Ryuhei is a delightful actor to work with. He was only 19 at the time, but a total professional. His father was the hugely popular Japanese actor, Yasuko Matsuda, who unfortunately died, aged 40.

Ryuhei's character was required to speak English for large portions of the movie. This was a major task for him, because he speaks virtually no English at all. Each day, I would either arrive on location or head out to Nikatsu Studios, where I would coach him in pronunciation and intonation. We had a lot of fun in the process, although months of further practice would have been beneficial.

When I was called to work on the production, I was both excited and nervous, because I was not sure of the dynamic of production here in Japan. However, both the cast and crew were charming and embracing. I felt entirely comfortable, and sensed no difference in production style to Britain, other than a general lack of theatrical egos.

A highlight of working on this film, occurred when I arrived early at the studios one day. The assistant director's office was locked, so while I waited for her to come, I sat on some steps outside, reading my newspaper. Suddenly, a large group of extras, dressed in full Samurai regalia, walked passed me to whatever set they were filming on. It was a wonderful reminder that I was working within a totally different cultural environment.

During my final days on the production, I was required to join Ryuhei at the sound studio, for the recording of the film's narration. The two of us sat in the sound booth, while the assistant director and engineers sat outside. Unfortunately, on one particular day, I had a terrible stomach that insisted on making hideous gurgle sounds. Of course, I blamed Ryuhei each time the engineers complained about picking up weird extraneous noises!

When I finally saw the movie, I must admit that I was disappointed by the confused tone of the direction, screenplay, pace and performances. The film did not seem to know what it was: One minute a silly, slapstick Japanese comedy, whilst the next, a mystery thriller.

As for Ryuhei's English, I was cringing throughout the long, long one and a half hours. He is a fantastic guy and a very talented actor, but months of further dialogue coaching would have improved his performance no end. However, I think he was very courageous to take on the challenge, and I would not have wanted to have done the same in Japanese.

Here's the movie's website:

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