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【FEATURE】

Actor Yakusho sees life from the director's chair
初監督作品『ガマの油』に込められた、名優・役所広司の人生観

By Hiroshi Matsubara, Asahi Weekly

 『うなぎ』や『Shall We ダンス?』などの名作に主演し、今や日本を代表する俳優の一人となった役所広司の初監督作品、『ガマの油』が6月に公開される。本人が演じる、人生のはかなさと素晴らしさに気づく中年男性を主人公に、「天使のような存在」のガマの油売りも登場するファンタジー。インタビューでは、人と人が「ずっとつながっていられる温かみ」を込めた作品だと話してくれた。

 Award-winning actor Koji Yakusho has portrayed everything from a weary salaryman to moral samurai to drug-addicted gang-ster, and has worked with some of Japan's legendary film directors, including Shohei Imamura and Kon Ichikawa.

 In "Gama no Abura" (Hoptoad's wax), Yakusho finally steps behind the camera, showcasing his own budding directorial talents in the film that opens in June.

 Yakusho calls "Gama no Abura" a "fantasy human drama," showing audiences that this versatile actor's own world is filled with rather basic and introspective elements - his strong affection for ordinary people, a subtle sense of humor, and a philosophy of life and death derived from traditional Japanese culture.

 "This movie is not just about secular life, and to connect this land of living and that of the dead, it was necessary to have fantasy elements, which are represented by a hawker of hoptoad's wax," Yakusho, 53, said in a recent interview in Tokyo.

 "The toad wax hawker is an angel figure to connect the two worlds, going beyond time and space to appear in front of humans at any moment."

 The film offers a portrait of the Yazawa family who live in Tokyo and the people around them, who are coping with the sudden loss of the family's only son, Takuya.

 The protagonist and Takuya's father, Takuro, played by Yakusho, is a loudmouthed day trader and millionaire who is depicted as an iconic figure of secular greed.

 But after his son's death, he embarks on a spiritual journey to find true happiness through heartfelt, often comical and even mythical interaction with Takuya's friends, the dead and spiritual beings.

「隠し味」は日本人特有の死生観

 The movie's theme is highlighted by Yakusho's favorite line from the hawker. "The hawker character says that people die twice - once die physically and then die again in perfect silence when people who knew the person stop remembering him or her," Yakusho said.

 The spiritual character is based on Yakusho's own childhood memory of a real toad's wax hawker. Such hawkers traveled around Japan selling the wax as an ointment in their heyday during the Edo Period (1603-1867).

 "It feels warm when we feel that we are permanently connected to the dead by remembering, and I produced this film, hoping that audiences intimately remember their important people, including those who have already died, when the credits roll."

 Takuro's gradual departure from materialistic values also reflects Yakusho's concern over the increasingly materialistic Japanese society, the actor said.

  "One of the motives behind this movie is my concern that today's people think only ‘now' and ‘future' as important elements of their life and always worry what will happen in their future," he said, calling this concern a "hidden taste" or implicit message of the film.

 "In the process, we got rid of the traditional philosophy of life and death that we inherited from our ancestors as somewhat obsolete.

 "But now we feel stuck, and I have been feeling that there must be precious hints from the past to help people live the future in better ways," he said.

 And while the film dramatically contrasts the old and the new, or secularism and spiritual thoughts, it maintains a strange harmony and realism.

 Yakusho said that it is because the film's conception of life and death, or the relationship between the living and dead, is deeply rooted in Japanese culture.

 "This conception of life and death (depicted by the film) is not even a religious dogma, and must be so convincing to all Japanese that they can accept it naturally," he said.

 "I still have a clear childhood memory of the real toad's wax hawker who told me to respect ancestors or keep the family altar clean. He belongs to a fantasy realm of my memory, but is still a clear memory."

 But a director cannot afford to be just sentimental. While expanding his artistic imagination, Yakusho, as a freshman director, also had to struggle to turn his fantasies and emotions into a finished piece of work.

初監督の苦労と日本映画への思い

 "It was my first experience, and the most difficult thing was to efficiently film all the materials within limited time and uncontrollable ambient conditions,'' he said.

 "I placed a top priority on that our staff and cast love this story and enjoy doing their roles, and in the end, I truly enjoyed the process of producing a film in which so many people work together for such a long time to produce one piece of work."

 The film may also be Yakusho's homage to past Japanese film legends and an attempt to boost the resurging Japanese film industry.

 During his acting career over three decades, the actor said he has seen the ups-and-downs of the Japanese film industry, which was once sidelined by Hollywood films, but is now surpassing foreign films at the domestic box office.

 "Not long ago, Japanese films were usually shown only at smaller theaters, yielding bigger ones to Hollywood films, and I feel it truly rewarding to see it reviving both commercially and in terms of quality," he said.

 "I would probably concentrate on acting work for a while, but as I learned the fun, difficulties and depth of filmmaking, I want to try directing again if I meet a good material like this film."

  • has portrayed 〜を演じてきた
  • weary salaryman 人生に疲れたサラリーマン
  • Shohei Imamura 今村昌平(1926−2006)。日本を代表する映画監督で役所広司主演の『うなぎ』(1997年)でカンヌ最高賞を取った
  • Kon Ichikawa 市川崑(1915−2008)。『ビルマの竪琴』(1985年)などの作品を残した名監督で、役所広司主演の『どら平太』(2000年)を監督
  • Hoptoad ヒキガエル
  • showcasing…talents 監督としての新たな才能を披露した
  • rather…elements より根本的で内面的な要素
  • going…space 時空を超越して
  • iconic…greed 世俗的な欲望を象徴する人物
  • die…silence 2度目の、完全な死を迎える
  • ointment 軟膏(なんこう)
  • in…heyday 最盛期には
  • when…roll 映画が終わった時に(credits は、最後に流れるキャストやスタッフなどの名前)
  • increasingly…society より物質主義的になりつつある日本社会
  • religious dogma 宗教的な教義
  • fantasy realm 幻想の領域
  • cannot…sentimental 感傷的になるばかりではいられない
  • uncontrollable…conditions 人為的にどうすることもできない気象条件
  • homage オマージュ。敬意
  • ups-and-downs 浮き沈み
  • was…by 〜に一時は脇に追いやられた
  • yielding…to より大きな劇場を〜に明け渡して

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