Reviving a Movie Company

View from the dressing room in Yokohama

The fourth episode of “Haru – The Woman of a General Trading Company” will be aired tomorrow.

In this episode, Haru’s former husband, Director Wada of the Corporate Planning Department of Itsuki Shoji, played by Naohito Fujiki, reawakens his passion for cinema that had been buried deep within him since his student days and takes on the challenge of reviving an affiliated movie company. Although he would normally have left it up to Haru and his other subordinates, this time is different. He finds himself unable to sit back and watch, and becomes actively involved himself.

The world of movies is full of dreams, propped up by the passion and benevolence of those who love the silver screen, but upon actually becoming involved in this business, it is also an extremely harsh world. It is no mean feat to create a quality product that is also loved by everybody. Making a commercial movie is like gambling; it can often make or break a company depending on its box-office success. This rise and fall in the movie industry also applies to producers, directors and the actors who are involved in the making of movies, and they have no choice but to stay on their toes at all times. But it’s a strange world in which, people gather from everywhere, attracted by their love for movies.

Director Wada becomes more enthusiastic than ever, almost like a wide-eyed boy. He delivers a fervent speech to try and rouse a young producer into action, whose passion has begun to wane, played by Shinnosuke Mitsushima, persuade the president played by Ichirota Miyakawa, who is on temporary loan from a trading company and is only interested in figures, and draw out funds from an IT millionaire played by Yasushi Fuchikami.

Meanwhile, Haru’s beloved son Ryo has a meal for the first time with Director Wada, and both Wada and Ryo find themselves bewildered by their emotions.

Reviving a movie company is the stuff of men’s dreams, and I thoroughly recommend everyone to see how the story unfolds.
The fourth episode of “Haru – The Woman of a General Trading Company” will be broadcast on the 11th at 10:00 P.M. on TV Tokyo.

The Hostile Takeover

Tires for special motor ehicles

In the third episode of “Haru – The Woman of a General Trading Company,” which will be broadcast tonight, a company affiliated with Itsuki Shoji, the trading company where Haru works, becomes the target of a hostile takeover. The entire Corporate Planning Department ends up running around in confusion after given orders to implement measures in response to this situation.

To rescue Nishimoto Kogyo, a company with 250 employees that sells special wheels for linear motor trains and heavy machinery for agricultural use, the people of the Corporate Planning Department where Haru works, as well as Tomoharu Hasegawa, Kazuyuki Matsuzawa and other people of the Research & Development Department of Nishimoto Kogyo are roused into launching a new business. I too, was excited by the scenes in which Haru visits the factory frequently with her subordinates, Aoyagi and Kawakami , and finds herself working toward the same goal in solidarity with the people of the Research & Development Department who have devoted themselves wholeheartedly to developing a new product in their quest for survival.

Moreover, the reunion for the first time in 10 years between her former husband, played by Naohito Fujiki, and her son, Ryo, played by Kokoro Terada, was heart-wrenchingly touching. Including Haru, the story unravels in a way that will leave you wondering what lies in store for these three in the future.

Meanwhile, behind the scenes, Takashi Yamanaka, who plays Fujio, a character of the Corporate Planning Department who is like the epitome of conservatism, revealed himself to be a master curry chef. He excels in making genuine Indian curry using whole spices, and we selfishly insisted that he make curry for everyone, including the staff and cast. With the help of Jin Shirasu who plays Haru’s confidant and subordinate, Aoyagi, Shugo Oshinari who plays Ichijoji, a completely unproductive employee who got into the company through the backdoor, Masaki Kaji who plays Kawakami, and opportunistic person who loves gossiping, and Kunito Watanabe who plays Yajima, the next most conservative person after Fujio, they finished making keema curry and lentil soup after more than four hours. They were absolutely delectable with the perfect balance between umami, spiciness and flavor. In the past, I traveled around India eating curry every day for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and I actually ate enough curry to last me a lifetime. So, although I still enjoy Japanese-style curry, I have an aversion to Indian curry, but Mr. Yamanaka’s secret recipe has once again awoken me to its deliciousness.

The third episode of “Haru – The Woman of a General Trading Company” will be broadcast tonight at 10:00 P.M. on TV Tokyo. I thoroughly recommend everyone to watch it.

The Hospital Acquisition Plan

A barbershop on the street in India

The second episode of “Haru – The Woman of a General Trading Company” will be broadcast tonight at 10:00 P.M.

Itsuki Shoji, the trading company, is trying to break into the new medical business field, and orders the Corporate Planning Department that Haru, played by me, works for, to examine the feasibility of acquiring a hospital group in Singapore.

As always, Haru takes on this huge-budget project with great vitality, and based on advice from Wada, her former husband, who is Director of the Corporate Planning Department, she begins making moves to try and persuade the president of a certain medical corporation, played by Minori Terada. However, he turns out to be a difficult character, who even makes getting an appointment a hassle, let alone persuade. Haru and an employee assigned to the Singapore branch, played by Renn Kiriyama , use every means to try and get the stubborn president to let down his guard.

Meanwhile, Haru’s son, played by Kokoro Terada, comes down with a fever. Haru, despite having proposed to go on the business trip to Singapore herself, is left with no choice but to cancel the flight. Her worries are never ending as a working mother, but she is more passionate than ever about her work, and vows to achieve the same results working from home, as if she had gone to Singapore.

I spent very fulfilling days listening to Mr. Minori Terada talk about various episodes, such as the time Toshiro Mifune almost made Alain Delon envious when he acted in the movie “Red Sun”, or an interesting story about how the only words that Director Shinji Somai spoke to actresses were “boke, tako, kuzu (fool, useless and loser).” According to Director Somai, he did this because male actors are weak-hearted, but actresses are strong, and those who hated his strict supervision and screamed, “Drop dead, Somai!” at the back of the studio always gave superb performances on-screen. If he did that today, it would cause a furor, but perhaps it was because of this bigotry and passion that he was able to make the kind of movies that he did.

“Haru – The Woman of a General Trading Company” will be broadcast tonight at 10:00 P.M. on TV Tokyo. I thoroughly recommend everyone to watch it.

“Haru – The Woman of a General Trading Company ”

The Stelvio Pass in Italy

This is an original drama based on the actual experiences of Miwako Kurihara, a producer whom I worked with in the past on the drama, “Ren’ai Hensachi .” The story unfolds at a general trading company where I play the heroine, Haru Kaibara , a single mother who has returned from New York. It is a story about how she fearlessly crosses a dangerous bridge while embroiling others around her who fear innovation as they strive to avoid rocking the boat, sit on the fence without taking sides, and constantly butter up the administrators for their own social gains.

Haru was headhunted and invited to Japan to work for the elite Corporate Planning Department. The department is responsible for carrying out all kinds of operations, from reorganizing unprofitable divisions to executing business contractions, and proposing and executing new business plans. However, Haru finds herself assigned to work as an assistant director under her former husband, Wada, played by Naohito Fujiki, who is the director of the department. Being her former husband means he is also the father of her son, Ryo , played by Kokoro Terada. The drama offers interesting viewing seeing the way they draw the line between work and private communication at their workplace.

Haru’s subordinate, Aoyagi , played by Jin Shirasu, gradually rediscovers his latent passion for work as he is inspired by Haru’s directness with no beating around the bush, which is a breath of fresh air at a company that had become stifling. The vice-president and the director-general of the Corporate Planning Department, who often opposes the president and perpetuates the “don’t rock the boat” attitude, is played by Eiji Okuda.

All the regular characters of the Corporate Planning Department, and the many other guests who appear every time they become involved in a new situation, are very charming. The first episode features Hiromasa Taguchi and Yoji Tanaka who struggle to revive a ramen chain business that has been performing poorly.

Haru finds that the greater the obstacle, the more glory there is in overcoming it. If she had time for complaining, she would much rather spend that energy dealing with the issues right before her, and her lines even made me feel more positive about everything. I still love taking on challenges, but the drama has brought back fond memories of my younger days when I was even more courageous and had nothing to fear from having nothing to lose.

Of course, being like Haru, fearlessly asserting your opinions to a man in a higher position and rocking the boat intentionally by questioning tacit understanding to move forward, is something that only a few outstanding people, or reckless fools, are capable of doing. Many people differentiate between their public positions and private intentions, and keep their true feelings hidden as they strive to get through life by remaining loyal to their companies in order to protect their families and the security of their daily lives. There are also people who devote less time to their work in pursuit of more freedom and fulfilling lives instead of material wealth. The wonderful thing about this drama is that it doesn’t ignore such people, but also turns a warm eye to those who have no choice but to work as cogs in the wheel of society.

“Haru – The Woman of a General Trading Company” will be broadcast every Monday from 10:00 P.M. starting tomorrow, October 21, on TV Tokyo. I thoroughly recommend everyone to watch it.

Condolence Message

The meadow garden designed by Piet Oudolf at Potters field in London

My deepest sympathies go out to the victims of the recent Typhoon Hagibis. My sense of impending crisis for climate change deepens every time a tragic disaster of this nature strikes. I offer my thoughts, prayers and well-wishes to all the victims during this difficult time in the hope that peace will be restored as soon as possible in their daily lives.


Non suger sesami cheesecake made by M.K

A new commercial will hit the airwaves for “hadakara,” a revolutionary body wash that prevents the moisture retaining ingredients from being washed away, allowing them to remain on the skin. The act of washing your body deprives it of natural oils and moisture, leading to dry skin that causes itchiness. However, hadakara offers a dependable solution to these concerns. This new commercial, as in the previous one, portrays a secret heart-to-heart conversation between a student, played by Mana Ashida, and her teacher played by me. They talk quietly about the body wash that the teacher uses in her silent effort to maintain moist skin.

In addition to the regular type, there are a foam dispensing type, a smooth finish type , etc., with a variety of textures and aromas to ensure the enjoyment of a relaxing bath time even for people with little time to spare. I too, have little time for body care, and recently I have been jumping out of bed at 5 o’clock in the morning every day to take a shower in a great rush, and head off to the filming of upcoming dramas. My bath upon returning home is more a time for reading my script than relaxation, so my hadakara has become indispensable because it allows me to wash myself and take care of my skin at the same time.

A new fragrance of citrus & cassis has been added to the lineup of hadakara products. I recommend everyone to use hadakara for their daily baths.

“Ano Ie ni Kurasu Yonin no Onna (Four Women Who Live in That House )”

Embroidery stitched by Wakako Horai

In the special drama, “Ano Ie ni Kurasu Yonin no Onna (Four Women Who Live in That House),” written originally by Shion Miura and set in an old European-style building, I played the part of Sachi Makita , the heroine and embroidery artist who continues an eccentric lifestyle of living with her mother, Tsuruyo , her friend, Yukino, and Yukino’s colleague, Taemi.

Producers Junpei Nakagawa, Jun Kurosawa and Mizuho Shizukuishi, whom I worked with in the past on the drama, “Mohohan(Copycat Criminal),” were the people who offered me this role, and I spent days devoting myself wholeheartedly to acting out a person who lives in Director Yoshihiro Fukagawa’s world, which is nostalgic, like a fairytale, and yet offers us a peek into comical and real human relationships.

I am actually fickle-minded to the point that I have never even managed to knit more than 10 cm of a scarf, and although I consider myself to be relatively dexterous with my hands, I am not very proficient at sewing or handicrafts. I completely lack the patience to engage in steady, mundane handiwork. That is precisely why I have so much respect for dyeing and weaving artisans, potters, embroidery artists and other such people who toil with their hands to create beautiful pieces of art.

For this drama, I was initiated into the world of the embroidery artist, Wakako Horai, who lives in Kyoto. I practiced passing the needle through the fabric at a perpendicular angle, but found myself writhing in impatience trying to complete the embroidery in the image that I had envisaged. The beauty of Wakako Horai’s embroidery is not only in its composition and stitching, but also the outstanding choice of colors in the fabrics and threads used, characterized by smoky, soft tones that are suited for mature women.

Getting back to the drama, I was once again blessed with a wonderful cast. Sachi’s mother Tsuruyo, who is naïve and egocentric as if she is the princess of Musashino, was played with great wittiness and subtlety by Nobuko Miyamoto, an extraordinary comic actress. Sachi’s friend, Yukino, who has given up on the myth of love and affection, spends all her time traveling back and forth between her work and the European-style house, and finds inner peace through yoga, was played in a cool and comical manner by Hiromi Nagasaku. Yukino’s colleague, Taemi, played charmingly by Riho Yoshioka, ends up living with them in order to get away from a hopeless loser-come-stalker. The old-fashioned farmhand who has lived in a separate room on the same premises since before the heroine, Sachi, was born, is played by a boorish Min Tanaka, who charms people throughout the world with his dancing. Then there is the interior finisher played by a straightforward Jun Kaname, whom Sachi, who has given up on love and fashion in order to meet her busy work schedule, has feelings for. Everyone’s acting was superb during filming, and I found myself intrigued by the delightful dialogue and line delivery as if I were a member of the audience. However, after it had been edited by Director Fukagawa, the completed drama was more amusing and absurd than I had imagined, and yet it had a heart-warming storyline, allowing me to enjoy it from the bottom of my heart despite having performed in it myself.

In the original novel, what left a deep impression on me were Yukino’s words, “Having an affection for someone doesn’t mean understanding that person, as it is nothing but a subjective preconception. Love is a disposition and feeling of resignation in which you decide to continue a relationship with someone you can never come to understand, after your preconception has been shattered.” But in spite of this, Sachi continues to dream, telling herself, “I want to realize mutual understanding, even though this feeling is not limited to men.” In a narrative passage that follows, she also states, “Perhaps it is because the night is long that we have an insatiable appetite to pursue light, understanding and love. If that is the case, people are living beings with lonely, loving souls.”

Old-fashioned patriarchy is on the verge of disappearing in many developed nations, and I believe it is common knowledge that the structure of families is diversifying. The communal lifestyle led by four women and one elderly man is perhaps like another form of “family.” I hope you enjoy a long autumn night watching this adult fantasy of a gathering of people who each have their own flaws and eccentric quirks.

The special drama, “Ano Ie ni Kurasu Yonin no Onna (Four Women Who Live in That House)” will be aired at 9:00 P.M. on TV Tokyo, Monday, September 30.

Early Fall

A day on the mountain

For the past two months, I have been immersing myself in the nature and the music of Salzburg.

As you may know, this area is known as the Lake District, and surrounded by the mountains of the Alps are numerous beautiful lakes scattered throughout the region with water so crystal clear that you can almost see all the way to the bottom. I have been SUP boarding on windless mornings, paddling effortlessly across the surface of these lakes like “Issun-boshi (character out of a Japanese folk tale),” or enjoying the mosses and ferns growing on the side of mountain tracks after the rain. On cloudy days, I have been weeding the garden, while spending sunny afternoons sitting in the shade reading the script in preparation for the filming of an upcoming drama, or studying German, which I have been racking my brain over recently….

I want to continue taking on new challenges in life, which is why I acquired my driver’s license past the age of 40, and moved to Austria. However, learning a new language at my age is not so easy as you can imagine, and I have been struggling. It is so difficult that it is almost enough to make me want to utter with resentment, “Who was the mastermind behind the language, who decided to incorporate such complicated grammar into German?” I end up spending days pretending not to see the textbook every time my brain nearly overheats.

Shopping for safe and delicious foods requires me to drive from one end of Salzburg to the other, going to a fish shop that sells delectable salmon roe and organic prawns, a butcher that sells dry-aged meat, a market where rare Steinpilz (stone mushrooms) are sometimes sold, a farm that sells fresh sheep milk cheese, and a flour mill that sells ancient wheats like emmer and spelt, among others. When organic coconut milk yogurt, soy milk, etc., are added to this list, shopping becomes a one-day ordeal, but the hassles of shopping are all blown away the moment I settle down to eat fruit in the morning, a snack for lunch, afternoon tea, or dinner outdoors in the clear and crisp mountain air.

Simply living life from day to day is enough to make the time fly by, but the Salzburg Festival, said to be the greatest festival in the world for music and drama, held at the Großes Festspielhaus located in the Altstadt, is also a must-see. I listened to the smooth performances by the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra of Mahler’s Symphony No. 5 conducted by Daniel Barenboim, and Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 14 sung by the soprano, Asmik Grigorian, whom I adore. Today, I was also given the pleasure of listening to Schoenberg’s Violin Concerto and Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5 being rehearsed by the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra with Kirill Petrenko assigned as their new chief conductor, and the extraordinary violinist, Patricia Kopatchinskaja. Needless to say, Mahler’s Symphony No. 5 and Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5 are beautiful and gentle on the ears, but Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 14 and Schoenberg’s Violin Concerto were a little esoteric. But even so, when the performers put their hearts and souls into playing the music as if talking to the audience through sound and rhythm, even this esoteric music devoid of tonality becomes enjoyable to the listener as if it had become accessible. I am not a musician, so I cannot talk about the details, but I feel that it was because Asmik Grigorian and Patricia Kopatchinskaja have the refined sensitivity to understand contemporary music and the technical skills to perform it that they can visualize the landscape created by the music, which in turn is conveyed to the audience. Of course, the performance of the orchestra supporting the soloist was also outstanding. The experience inspired me to vow to strive in being an actor capable of conveying the emotional landscape behind the characters that I play.

I plan to return to Japan soon, after recharging my batteries in preparation for the filming of “Haru – The Woman of a General Trading Company,” which will be airing soon.

It is early fall, and I wish you all the best in getting through the unbearable heat, which will last a little longer. Take care.

Yokohama French Film Festival 2019

Plaque commémorative Henri Jean Pilot in Paris

Yokohama French Film Festival 2019 has begun.

I was assigned the role of Festival Muse at the event, and was blessed with the good fortune of welcoming Director Michel Ocelot, Director Nils Tavernier, and Director Gilles Lellouche from France to the opening ceremony held at Yokohama Minato Mirai Hall. Unfortunately, Director Claude Lelouch, who became world-renowned for his works, “Un Homme et une Femme,” “Les Uns et les Autres” and “13 Jours en France,” among others, was a day late in arriving, and I was unable to meet him. But I was able to share the joy of immersing myself in French movies I so much long for with all the other passionate aficionados of French films.

Back in the days when I was still a jittery teenager, it was the variety of French films that always quelled my inexplicable irritation, fulfilled my quest for the truth, and articulated my inner thoughts on my behalf. Art house theaters screening French movies were still popular back then, and I spent my youth hopping from one theater to another, where I would end up in a daze after watching a heart-wrenching love story, be exhilarated by a sensual movie, keel over with laughter at the powerful humor of a film satirizing society, or doze off during a perplexing and long-winded movie, and yet walk away as if I had understood its meaning.

I admired French movies so much that at one stage, I even rented a small room for a live-in housemaid, known as a “chambre de bonne,” in the attic of a brick apartment flat on the left bank of the river by the Pont Neuf, which was the location of Director Leos Carax’s movie, “Les Amants du Pont-Neuf,” and I spent time traveling back and forth between the flat and Tokyo. The room I rented at the time had a communal shower and bathroom, and it did not even have a refrigerator, but I hung eggs and “mentaiko” cod roe I had brought from Japan outside the window, which was like putting them in a natural refrigerator. I enjoyed the simple life, owning very few material things. However, what I found intolerable every time I cleaned the communal areas were the other residents who, without a moment of thought, left such places in a dirty state, and after a while, I ended up moving to an apartment flat on Rue Saint Sulpice. Living in the 6th arrondissement of Paris, packed with movie theaters, and visiting theaters like LE CHAMPO, Grand Action, L’Arlequin and mk2 on foot was a precious way for me to recover in mind and body from the feeling of being burnt out all the time from working relentlessly in Tokyo.

Once again, the film festival offers an extensive and wonderful selection of beautiful, dryly humorous movies brimming with love for the underdog, and I would like to recommend everyone to experience the joy of indulging in French movies in the city of Yokohama.

Yokohama French Film Festival 2019, runs until June 23.

Mark Rothko

Mark Rothko exhibition at Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna

With the dawning of a new era, I am sure everyone spent their time differently, with some enjoying the extended holidays, while others devoted themselves to working or studying as usual. I had not taken time off over Golden Week for the past several years, but I was able to take an extended holiday exactly in accordance with the calendar, despite being in the middle of filming “Followers.” This allowed me to return to Vienna for a while.

In Vienna, with the timeless allure of a tourist spot with a legacy left behind by the House of Habsburg, and famous composers such as Mozart, you do not need to do anything special, but a mere stroll through town is a meaningful way of spending time there. Compared to Tokyo’s population of around 9.3 million, the entire population of Austria is around 8.8 million, making it a surprisingly small nation. But Vienna, the capital of such a tiny country, is where a wealth of culture, including music, art, architecture, literature, psychiatric medicine and psychology, has blossomed (the highly renowned Freud and Adler were also from Vienna).

While in Vienna, I was blessed with the opportunity to hear Mahler’s Symphony No. 8 performed by The Vienna Philharmonic at the historical Wiener Konzerthaus. With the participation of a choir and eight soloists, it was a moving experience hearing the grand performance of the famous symphony by more than 200 people (it is frequently referred to as the “Symphony of a Thousand”) on stage.

Moreover, it is still light at 8 P.M. at this time of the year due to daylight savings time, and it is not unusual for me to take a stroll through town after dinner. So, I walked along the Ring Road lined with portraits of Holocaust survivors to visit the magnificent Kunsthistorisches Museum built under the orders of Franz Joseph I in the 19th century. My aim was nothing other than to see the exhibition of works by the painter Mark Rothko, whom I adore the most in the history of modern painting.

Mark Rothko’s pictures consist of nothing more than surfaces and lines painted in two or three colors, and at a glance, they exude tranquility, but upon closer inspection, I feel that they also exude fierceness.

Ever since I saw his works when I was around 20 years old, either at Centre Pompidou in Paris or the MOMA in New York, I have found his creations to exude agony as if portraying an unfulfilled longing to be understood by someone, which has taken my breath away every time I have come across his paintings. Mark Rothko, born Markus Rothkowitz, moved to the U.S. with his family as Jewish immigrants from Russia, and in his younger days, he experimented with a variety of painting styles. Although he was not a realist, he engaged in still-life and portrait painting, and dabbled in surrealism to try styles similar to Picasso, but the colors and motifs of his paintings became consistent from around the 1930s. He used fewer colors with increasing age, and his motifs also became increasingly simplified. As a result, each and every one of his paintings came to carry more weight, reverberating in the hearts of those who lay their eyes upon them. Later in his life, he felt that the rise of pop art through people like Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein threatened the value of his existence, and he came to mistrust people, dying in solitude.

In 2009, I saw Rothko’s series of pictures representing the darkness of his final years during the Rothko exhibition held at the Kawamura Memorial DIC Museum of Art, and I cannot forget the suffocating sensation I felt in my heart then. The exhibition this time only had a few of his dark paintings from the final years of his life, but I was offered a peek into how Mark Rothko’s paintings evolved from the diverse works of his earlier years to those that came to epitomize him.

It is in these ways that a stroll through Vienna is always so interesting, but come to think of it, there are many wonderful art galleries and museums in Japan, too. I am currently pondering on which art gallery I should visit next.