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Unravelling the Memoirs of A Geisha man

Actor Ken Watanabe says that the role he plays in the movie is that of a generous man, who refuses to show his passionate side.

india Updated: Feb 18, 2006 15:43 IST
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Actor Ken Watanbe,who plays the Chairman in the Japanese movie Memoirs Of A Geisha talks about his experiences during the shooting of the movie.

When filming for Memoirs of a Geisha which was the biggest challenge you faced?
Ken Watanabe: I have always played the part of the active and aggressive guy. This time, though, I am playing a totally different type of character. The Chairman, the character I am playing, is generous and simple but he refuses to show his passionate side. It was difficult, very difficult.

Your character, the Chairman is vulnerable. Do you feel this is old-fashioned?
I don’t think so. The geisha world is kind of like a frame. We want to make it a real good love story.

Did you audition just for the Chairman?
No. When I met Rob after the premiere of The Last Samurai two years ago, he offered me the role of the Chairman.

You are a Japanese.Did you follow any tradition before shooting?
Yeah, usually in Japan before shooting, we pray about health and no accidents during shooting. And, yeah, usually we invite a real monk, but in this case we couldn’t do so.

So did that make it a Japanese movie?
I think this is not a Japanese movie. This is a Rob Marshall movie. And so the film is made up of many sounds, Chinese, Japanese, Malaysian, English. Though the tone of this movie was Japanese, but the music was written in English. The whole thing is complex, very complicated. Rob took his time before shooting for us, for each character, for each instrument, to get the harmony. And so he rehearsed for a month, and we got just some kind of ensemble. We found a way, a language created. And we were so fine and comfortable during shooting.

When the movie is seen in Japan, will they be seeing something Japanese?
This is totally different, not just a Japanese film. It is more of a Rob Marshall fantasy love story.

What do you think about difference in the customs of Japan and the West? Japan has a tradition dating back to hundreds of years. And the United States is very contemporary and creative. But I always looked forward to the different feelings of each culture as an actor. I am always inspired by the culture and customs of all places.

Have you ever been to a geisha yourself ?
Sometimes. I was still young and very embarrassed. But, yes, sometimes I was invited in the teahouse with a geisha. I understood about the geisha, a real good geisha presents a beautiful night, like a dream. The good service of a dinner, conversation and jokes, beautiful music and wonderful dancing.

And it’s not sexy?
Little bit, just a little bit.

What did you think about the novel the first time you read it?
I was very impressed. An American novel writer, writing in English about the geisha world. Oh, wow! Perfect. But it’s not reality. No, no, it’s not a reality of my life.

Eight years ago I read the book and I knew the project. It was Steven Spielberg, huge in Hollywood. But Steven did not know me, and I did not get the offer, of course. I just did not worry. But the novel is so impressive.

But when I read the script it was even more impressive. It is a simple story of love with lots of humour behind each character. I love the script.

Did the three Chinese actresses treat you well?
I treated them well! I invited them to some kind of dinner. I cook myself on some weekends. And it was the first time that I invited Michelle and Gong Li, and I cooked Chinese food for them. They really enjoyed the experience.

Who is your favourite actor in the movie?
Everyone, everybody, yeah, I was so surprised and impressed by all the characters. Each character has a sadness and a happiness and is angry and smart, has humour or something. I love them, every character.

After The Last Samurai, did you feel some pressure in your career?
Probably no, because an actor always focuses on the character in the making of a movie. But of course, I build up my career in Hollywood. Before that, nobody knew me. But after The Last Samurai, good filmmakers noticed me and I could choose a good opportunity. But after a film is over, I always focus on the next one. And try to feel every time that it is my first time on a project. Also, after Last Samurai, I was a little concer ned about whether to stay in Japan or head for the huge world of Hollywood beckoning me. But right now, I don’t worry.

First Published: Feb 18, 2006 13:06 IST