Yakusho’s Artistry on the Big Screen Wins Recognition on the World Stage

Koji Yakusho’s high level of acting skill, delicately expressing the emotions of a taciturn protagonist, has been recognized around the world. The achievement of one of Japan’s leading actors must be praised.

Yakusho, 67, who starred in “Perfect Days,” set in Tokyo, won the Best Actor award in the Competition section at the Cannes Film Festival.

This is the first time in 19 years that a Japanese actor has won the award since Yuya Yagira, 33, did so for “Nobody Knows,” a film directed by Hirokazu Koreeda. “I think I’ve finally caught up with Yagira,” Yakusho said. “I must do my best to live up to the award.”

This accomplishment by a veteran actor should be an encouragement to those who come after him.

“Perfect Days” was produced in connection with a project implemented by a foundation and other parties to install comfortable public restrooms in Shibuya Ward, Tokyo. The film depicts the life of a taciturn public bathroom janitor played by Yakusho.

The film was directed by famous German director Wim Wenders, 77. In addition to the fact that he agrees with the purpose of the Shibuya toilet project, Wenders has reportedly been eager to work with Yakusho.

Yakusho took his role in the film very seriously, actually learning to clean toilets. His understated performance as the main character, who lives an ordinary life and finds happiness in tiny happenings, was probably appreciated by viewers.

Yakusho, who had been working at the Chiyoda Ward Office in Tokyo, began his acting career after entering the Mumeijuku acting school led by actor Tatsuya Nakadai in 1978. In 1996, he starred in a series of high-profile films, including “Shall We Dance?”, sweeping the best actor awards in Japan.

In 1997, Yakusho starred in “Unagi” (Eel) directed by Shohei Imamura, which won the Palme d’Or, the highest award at Cannes. He has also appeared in Hollywood films, earning international acclaim.

He is known for his wide range of acting skills that allow him to play any role, and it can be said that his latest award is well overdue. It is hoped that he will further expand the scope of his career.

Also in the Competition division, Yuji Sakamoto, 56, won the Best Screenplay award for “Kaibutsu” (Monster), directed by Koreeda. This is the first time there have been Japanese winners in two categories in the same year. And it is the second time a Japanese film earned a Best Screenplay award, the first having been “Drive My Car” in 2021.

Japanese animated films often become popular overseas, but the latest feat proves the high quality of Japanese live-action films as well. The number of Japanese actors like Yakusho who are recognized overseas is gradually increasing.

Even while rejoicing at the achievement of the veteran actor, it is important to use the occasion as a springboard for the younger generation to actively take up the challenge of filmmaking, thereby revitalizing the film industry.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, May 30, 2023)