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Roadshow - 01/2007
When it was decided that I would portray the married Saigo, to be honest, it was a big shock
Directed by Clint Eastwood and produced by Steven Spielberg, this dream team's large scale project - a two-part Iwo Jima production. The most intense battle in the War of the Pacific was first portrayed in "Flags of Our Fathers" using the American perspective, followed by the Japanese side of the story in "Letters From Iwo Jima", set to premiere on December 9th in Japan. Talent was heavily stressed upon during the screening process; within the list of actors, an important figure to be acting alongside Watanabe Ken, someone who will be sharing destinies with Kuribayashi Tadamichi, the one who has been conferred to take on such an impressive role is Ninomiya Kazunari.
- The character Saigo is a man who is already married, and at the same time becomes a father during that period of time at war. When this role was decided, how were you feeling?
To be honest, it was a big shock. Because during the screening, I was reading lines for another role. "How did this happen?", that's the feeling I got. Not only did I not consider the role of Saigo whatsoever, I wasn't sure if I even shared any distinguishing characteristics with Saigo...
- And the age decision?
At the time of the screening it was set at about 40 years or so. That's why I said it feels like this is something that could never happen, aren't I right? (laugh) But, what I was most concerned about wasn't the age, but the life experience. Because there will be scenes like giving guidance to sergeants whose rank had been lowered in the military or young soldiers about "living this so-called life" or "being a so-called human". Will I actually be able to let myself feel at ease, will I actually be able to make it so that the people watching will not find it peculiar... this is something that I must take notice of.
- The character is reportedly one who will persist to the very end without giving up.
Although it's to protect the country that he goes out on the battlefield, it's because of his family that he doesn't want to die, and at the same time he also doesn't want to kill those enemies who are in the situation as him. In actuality, every soldier is like that, and Saigo is just the one being featured.
- To be able to see the characteristics of Saigo in you, who is 22 years old, the director has a very remarkable sense too!
I heard that all of the staff in America was opposing it, telling the director that "he is not Saigo". There's probably nothing else more shocking to these people that you can find! (laugh) But when we let them watch tapes on the third or fourth day after filming began, it at least allowed those staff members to say "Clint, you're right, he is Saigo", and attained their acknowledgement.
- Before the filming began, was there time to make any preparations beforehand in regards to the Battle of Iwo Jima?
It's not things like the Battle of Iwo Jima, we looked at some data on the Japanese soldiers at the time. Like the differences between soldiers at sea or on land, the ranking order, the ways to salute, that type of thing. Because this is a society with a very clear division between superiors and their subordinates, when I watched "Flags of Our Fathers" and saw the scene where a sergeant sat down and played carts with his subordinates, I was amazed at the atmosphere of equality among American soldiers.
To be able to complete this movie with the likes of Watanabe Ken-san is the biggest gain of all
- Was it tough to film for approximately two months in the United States?
The filming location was between LA and Las Vegas, in a township that produced silver ore called Calico, generally known as Ghost Town. The scenes with surface explosions and underground battles that were filmed there, I already knew just from reading the script that it would be very tough. But if you really have to say tough, it's probably the fact that it was all desert over there (laugh)
- The director Eastwood wasn't very severe?
Nn, not at all. When we start filming he would call actors over, make a simple order like "hide over here", then stand at the side and go "bang~" or "bang bang", imitating the sound of gunfire or explosions, and then he would pretty much not speak after that. And he doesn't give orders like "Ready, start!" or "Cut!" either.
- How did you (and the director) refer to one another?
For the director, it was Boss. For me, at the very beginning it was Kazu, even when the people around me started calling me Nino, only Boss would still call me by the name of my character! Because Nino in Spanish apparently means child, so he thought it would be very impolite to call me that, and apparently worried over it for awhile (laugh)
- In order to experience the realism of warfare, were there any areas that you paid special attention to?
Not being used to the filming location! At the set, people with their faces drawn upon and make up done would take their cellphones and take pictures as commemoration. Even though it seemed like there was a great sense of unity, I would distance myself from them, and try to keep myself off to the side.
- During the filming process, did you ever feel like you were participating in an actual war?
When the extras who were running behind me got hit and fell one by one, that kind of feeling was pretty bad... also, on our way to shoot the scene of the battle, there was a day where we shot the scene before fighting. At the time I kept saying things like "Ah~ I want to go home" with Kase Ryo, who plays a sergeant. Because it was a scene that simulated firsthand experience, we were probably more or less a bit affected by it.
- At the production press conference, you issued the words "the most often thought about matter was continuing to stay human". Specifically speaking, what did you mean by that?
Soldiers become pawns of the country and move because of that, but it's not a one-on-one battle. Yet on the battlefield, as a human being to go and kill another human being, this kind of thing becomes the right thing to do. In a world like this, if you use a normal state of mind to look at it, you'll definitely feel uncomfortable about it right? In order to keep himself from losing that type of feeling, he would constantly think about the humankind. Whether you have a wife or family, whether you have any medals, it has nothing to do with the situation or standpoint. It is as a human being that you don't want to let yourself no longer be able to experience thoughts such as "this really is very strange" or "this really is going too far".
- What was the biggest gain in taking part in this movie?
The other actors. The biggest gain was to be able to finish this movie together with Watanabe Ken-san, Ikera Tsuyoshi-san, Kase Ryo-san, and Nakamura Shindou-san. Ken-san went to the studio almost every day, passing accurate facts about the Japanese culture and historical background, instructing those who were portraying soldiers on the proper Japanese term usage and actions. I was always together with Kase-san. When the translator was too busy and couldn't come over, he would help use English to translate. The director is Clint, the producer is Spielberg, and this kind of team is of course very amazing. But the distance between them and I is honestly too vast, so contrarily, to tell you the truth, it didn't feel very much real at all.
- You've successfully made your debut in Hollywood this time, so it is presumed and anticipated that you will be able to become an international actor and continue to rise up in the world.
Then... (points at the poster of the Korean film "Boku no, Sekai no Chushin wa, Kimi da" displayed on the wall) I want to act in this one (laugh).