The privilege of covering film festivals is to interview the talent behind the stories. Having covered this year’s Fantasia International Film Festival, I had the chance to see some exciting films. The one that stood out to me is “Yakuza Princess”, which led me to interview the lead actress. MASUMI, a musician, takes a foray into the world of theater with a tough performance that reinforces her place in the theater pantheon. I had the privilege of sitting down with her and we discussed what this new chapter means for her career.
Gabe: What made you want to become an actress?
MASUMI: I never really thought about becoming an actor. I needed a little break from music, and at the time my husband suggested that I continue to be creative in a different area. And it was acting because he was an actor and he introduced me to drama school. So I was just going a few months and, three months after starting acting class, I understood: the “Yakuza Princess” opportunity. So that’s really how it started.
Gabe: I didn’t know it was such a quick process. Was it kind of like your agent came over to you and said, I have this role, and I think you would be a good fit for that?
MASUMI: At the time, I didn’t have a manager. I just got an agent. He was actually my husband’s agent, and I was only there for a few months. I was in acting class and my husband called me up and said, “Hey, you have to come home immediately.” And I was like, oh, I don’t know what’s going on! So I came home, and he told me that his manager had met the producer of “Yakuza Princess”. He showed the producer my self-recording of another audition at the time. He wasn’t my manager, but he showed it. And the producer liked my performance on the auto-cassette, and he wanted to have a reunion. So I did my self-recording a few days later and then I think a week or two later I had the audition.
Gabe: So this seems like a pretty quick process all in all?
MASUMI: They really needed someone. They had been looking for the person for a while, and I think when they found me, they really liked me. So it was quick.
Gabe: It’s very cool! So now for this samurai revenge story, were there other types of classic movies, different genres that you watched to prepare for the role?
MASUMI: Well, I watched “Dirty Hearts” (one of the director’s first movies) and “13 Assassins” and stuff like that. I also studied “Lady Snowbird”. The thing with me is that I didn’t grow up watching a lot of action movies because I’m pretty sensitive to blood. So even though I’m Japanese, you know, watching samurai movies is a challenge for me. My father is the same. He’s very sensitive to blood and stuff, and I got it from him.
Gabe: With a character like Akemi, what do you think is the most important thing you’ve learned from playing her?
MASUMI: It deals with two cultures that intersect Japanese and Brazilian. She has both elements here, she’s Japanese which is the same as me, but I also have the American experience now that I’m also a little Americanized. We both deal with issues of belonging and identity. I even learned that I was very unsure of my acting skills. I didn’t have a lot of experience in it, but by the end of the movie I felt very confident and strong about my experience and what I could accomplish. Like Akemi, she is greatly impacted by what she does at the end of the film. So what I learned from it is to trust ourselves, we all have it within us, but we continue to doubt ourselves and our abilities.
Gabe: One of my favorite parts of the movie was your dynamic with Jonathan Reese Meyers. What was it like working with him?
MASUMI: Working with him was amazing. It was one of the highlights of this movie for me because it supported and encouraged me so much. He was like a brother to me, you know, throughout the movie, he helped me, and he always made sure that I felt his support. I couldn’t have done it without him.
Gabe: And was there anything you learned about the acting process or just being an actor in general in this business?
MASUMI: There are so many things he taught me, but one of the things I remember by heart is when he said to me, “MASUMI, you are always going to be beautiful. Go against it. Wow. Thank you. I mean, you know, someone that good looking and he doesn’t care if he looks good. He always wants to understand the raw emotion of the character because that’s where the power is. So I thought, okay, that’s what I’m going to do. Now. We’re going to stop thinking about how we look at the camera and just focus. This is great advice he gave.
Gabe: Was there a day on set that was the most memorable for you, or was the whole experience memorable in itself?
MASUMI: Well, yeah, it was all very memorable for me, but there is one that strikes me for sure. And this is the one where I choreographed a fight with my husband, and I fight with him.
Gabe: I was going to say, I bet the whole process was pretty entertaining, you know, from the script to the screen on how it all worked.
MASUMI: Yeah, yeah. And he’s made it to the final cut, and that really doesn’t happen often.
Gabe: If you had to pick another action star or other famous character from action movies, who would you like to see Akemi face in a movie?
MASUMI: Well, I don’t see anyone else.
Gabe: While I was watching I thought of someone like Uma Thurman from “Kill Bill” or Sylvester Stallone from “Rambo”. I just think Akemi’s fighting style in the movie, and the way she uses that sword, would be cool to see, taking on another classic action hero with her own set of artillery.
MASUMI: I see what you’re saying, but I also think she must be Japanese. I don’t think this part can be traded with anyone else. It made it unique that she was an authentic Japanese woman.
Gabe: My last question is: what’s in store for you in the future, upcoming projects, new songs coming up, anything we can watch out for?
MASUMI: I’m dropping a few new songs with the movie launch and September 3rd, and honestly, I’m just waiting to see what happens. But I am very excited about what the future holds.
Well, as you can see MASUMI is a rare performer who wants to expand her talents. Having the privilege of speaking with her and seeing this film, I can’t wait to see her more on the big screen!