Home > Events, Film, Interviews > Interview: Actor Denden – Uzumaki, Cold Fish, Himizu

Interview: Actor Denden – Uzumaki, Cold Fish, Himizu

“I found it really difficult. It was really hard because it was so real!” (Denden on filming Himizu)

Between 13 – 15 April 2012, actor Denden attended the Terracotta Far East Film Festival in London to promote the theatrical release of Himizu, a hard-hitting film by maverick film director Sion Sono (Love Exposure, Guilty of Romance) set soon after the 3/11 Japan earthquake/tsunami in which Denden plays a brute money lender, a character-type he is best known for to Western audiences. But in reality he is a very warm, funny, friendly man, which is a credit to his acting ability.

Thanks to our friends at Third Window Films and the organisers of Terracotta Far East Film Festival, Diverse Japan was able to interview the veteran actor and ask him questions about his early life and his experiences of working with one of Japan’s finest independent filmmakers.

With the recent release of Himizu on DVD and Blu-ray, now seems an appropriate time to publish that interview. Please enjoy!

Interviewer: Spencer Lloyd Peet (Diverse Japan Administrator)

At the Terracotta Far East Film Festival April 2012 Copyright ©Spencer Lloyd Peet All rights reserved

You were born on 23 January, 1950, which makes you an Aquarian. Is your character/personality typical of this zodiac sign; friendly, humanitarian, independent, original, perverse, unpredictable, detached? Do these words describe you?

It’s really spot on actually. I’m original and independent. But I think that that actually keeps people away from me. I never describe myself and I don’t analyze myself either. I really don’t like it when people analyze themselves.

What was it like for you growing up in the sixties, were they an exciting times?

My life started in poverty. It was a time when everything was being Americanized. We’d watch on TV the nice life in America, no poverty, you know, and we were all longing for or aiming for that kind of life. We’re now moving away from the poverty, but I’m still poor (laughs).

What made you want to become an actor?

Well, since I was really young I always liked making people happy and laugh, and because we were so poor I always wanted to be entertained by somebody. But actually it was me who was entertaining people. And I wanted to be famous as well, ever since I was really, really young.

So you were poor but rich with talent?!

I’m not sure about that (laughs).

Can you talk a little about your earlier acting roles?

When I was 23 I appeared in what you might call advertisement/educational films – there were three things we were working on. The first one was against drugs; the second was about a sexual transmitted disease; and the third I think might have been about something against crime. In the second film I played someone in the navy. There was another person who played my friend, a business man. Actually I have a funny story about that. The film was about a business man who went to America and came back to Japan carrying the sexual disease syphilis.  I was playing the part of a navy man and I met him somewhere, though, in the story, we’d met each other before. My dialogue was just to say, “Hi”, but I really had trouble saying it. That was my first ever piece of dialogue. So the business man came and said (in a camp voice) “Oh, hello” (laughs). I couldn’t act naturally.

Are these films available anywhere?

I don’t think so (laughs).

I’ll have to track them down.

If you find them, I will buy them off you (laughs). In another one of my ealier acting roles I was working in a noodle shop. I was serving a customer and had to say “Dozo” (“Here you go”). But I couldn’t say it. I couldn’t say “Dozo”. I had to act natural, but I couldn’t do it. The director was really upset. Now after 30 years, I’m still here. It is a miracle to me. I can’t believe I’m still doing it (laughs).

As serial killer Yukio Murata in Cold Fish (Courtesy of Third Window Films)

How did you get the part of the serial killer Yukio Murata in the Sion Sono film Cold Fish, did you have to audition?

I had previously worked with director Sono on another film [Be Sure To Share] and he had asked me to take on another role for his next movie. He really wanted me to be play a baddie this time because I had mainly played lighter roles.

Did you do any research for your role of Murata, such as studying real serial killers?

I had read the original novel. I didn’t really think that I was going to become this person, a killer. I picked up pieces from other people like my friends and then put a bit of myself into it as well. I have so many friends who are characters and I picked off various elements from different people and put myself in and condensed it to make the character. Well, I say my friends, but they’re not really my friends (laughs). They’re more kind of like people I know.

Your character is a very charismatic and childlike man – qualities that are very attractive to woman, as in the case with Taeko (Megumi Kagurazaka) and her daughter Mitsuko (Hikari Kajikawa). Was this something that was discussed or touched upon with Sono when talking about your character’s personality and appeal?

I’m not really sure why the girls were attracted to a character like him. But afterwards, so many people said they found him really attractive and charming. But I’m not really sure why he’s attractive to these girls. Also, those types of characters laugh really loudly. That’s also very characteristic of those people.

Was Sono very precise about how you should play this character or did he allow you to be in control as to how you will play him?

Sono makes the actors act how they want to act. If he likes it, he’s not going to say anything. But if he doesn’t like it then he will say something.

What was it like filming the scene where you grope Megumi on the sofa, was it a difficult scene for you to do? What was going through your mind at that time?

I was trying to be this person that could seduce this young wife. So I was thinking how an American gigolo-type person or playboy would act. It’s also a very typical yakuza way to seduce girls.

There’s a very graphic scene where you and your onscreen wife Aiko, played by Asuka Kurosawa, cut up a dead body. What was that experience like for you and what exactly was the body parts made from?

I tried not to make the viewer feel really sick. Because you know it easy to make them feel sick in a scene like that. We used real pig meat but it wasn’t real blood. It was filmed in winter so it didn’t actually smell that much. But it could have made it easier to act if it did smell bad and if the smell of blood was more real.

It was, in many ways, a comical scene; disturbing, yet comical. Your character had to look as though he was enjoying it, didn’t he?!

Your right! Perhaps if it did smell bad I wouldn’t have been able to act in a comical way.

When you get a script, do you read the whole thing or just your own parts?

I just read the part that I’m playing first. My roles tend not to be the main role, so often I don’t have much dialogue, so I’m looking to see how much dialogue I have to do a day. But of course, in Cold Fish, I was one of the main characters so I had to understand everything.

As brute money lender Kaneko in Himizu (R)

How difficult was it making Himizu at a time that was so close to the actual earthquake/tsunami of 3/11?

I found it really difficult. It was really hard because it was so real. It was at the time right after what happened. It was really real. I thought it was impossible to overcome what happened and to act naturally. So I was really surprised Sono made that movie at that time.  But I thought he was a genius for doing it.

It was a daring film to make at that time, don’t you think?

It was daring. But don’t you think it gives you energy? It’s a young person’s story. I thought the scene where I beat up the boy was unnecessary. I kept thinking, “Do we really have to do this?” But then when I saw the end of the movie I knew we had to do it that way.

What are your thoughts about the actual 3/11 event one year on?

The Iwate prefecture has had loads and loads of natural disasters in the past, so they know how to appreciate people. Their ancestors had all these disasters but over came and survived. So maybe that’s why they’re the nicest and kindest people and know how to appreciate other people’s help. Many of my friends come from the Iwate prefecture. One of my friends sadly died because of the disaster. He didn’t actually cry in front of me. He was being really strong. I really didn’t know what to say. I didn’t know what to say to make him feel happy. So in words, I don’t know what to say to those people. I mean, it’s only been a year. For all those people that suffered, it must be immense. I can’t begin to imagine the suffering. I’ve got no words for it.

Okay, to conclude on a positive note: What can we expect from Denden in the future?

The future’s bright. There are so many offers at the moment thanks to Cold Fish. So there are so many other characters I can play.

Thank you very much. It’s been a real pleasure talking with you.

Thank you.

With thanks to Adam Torel and Claire Marty at Third Window Films, and Joey Leung at Terracotta Distribution.

Special thanks to interpreter, Sayaka Smith

With interviewer Spencer Lloyd Peet Copyright ©Spencer Lloyd Peet All rights reserved

Related Posts:

DVD/Blu-ray Review: Himizu – A Film By Sion Sono

Himizu – Sion Sono’s Latest Film In Cinemas From June 1st

NEO’s Profile Series Continues With Maverick Filmmaker Sion Sono

Love Exposure A Film By Sion Sono On Blu-ray OUT NOW!

Film Review:  Guilty Of Romance – A Film By Sion Sono

DVD/Blu-ray Review:  Cold Fish 2-Disc Set

Terracotta Far East Film Festival Announces Opening And Closing Film For 4th It’s Edition

  1. Dr Rajesh
    January 6, 2013 at 7:42 am

    I’m an Indian. I saw Movie Cold Fish. I appreciate the action of all actors. But I observed the Japan movies show the Crime/Horror very crude. We cant bear that much intensity in presentation. Denden is a good actor. Hope I may meet him once.


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