By SHOJI ICHIHARA
THE YOMIURI SH
Japanese actress Masami Nagasawa builds on her international success
Masami Nagasawa is making big strides on the international stage. The actress, now 27, is appearing with Takeshi Kaneshiro in “The Crossing”, a new film directed by John Woo, and recently wowed small screen viewers in the Taiwan TV drama “Chocolat”, based on the Japanese manga of the same title by Eisaku Kubonouchi.
“I’ve always like working overseas,” says Nagasawa with a smile.
In 2007, she went to India to take part in shooting sessions there for the Japanese TV drama “Ganjisu-gawa de Batafurai” (“Butterfly in the Ganges”).
“I took a bath with crickets and slept in a room where there were many bugs. Luckily I get used to any environment quite easily,” she laughs.
But however good she is at adjusting to the environment, she’s even better at picking up other languages, speaking clear and fluent Chinese for her part in “Chocolat”, which was produced in Taiwan.
“I just worked hard to learn every line by heart,” she says. “But local Taiwan people noticed my Japanese accent all the same, however hard I tried. I put every effort into trying to get as close to natural pronunciation as possible.”
Her co-star, Lan Zheng-long, was a major source of encouragement. He told Nagasawa almost every day during the shoot that her Chinese was getting really good.
In fact, Nagasawa has had an interest in the Chinese language for years. Many of her favourite films are set in China, including the 2002 French-Chinese movie “Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress”.
“I’ve been attracted for a long time to the beauty of the distinct sounds of the Chinese language,” she says.
“Chocolat” starts with gangster Shih-wu (Lan) leaving prison after serving his term, only to find that the crime boss to whom he was loyal, Sung-chi (Ma Ju-lung), has quit the gang and become a patissier. Shih-wu is dumbfounded. Then a girl called Chie (Nagasawa), who looks like Maya, the deceased wife of the gang leader, comes to the pastry shop and says, “From today, I’m going to live here.” This is the beginning of a strange life for the characters at the pastry shop started by a former gangster.
“The heroine has a strong sense of justice and goes her own way straightforwardly. The story describes how she goes through a growing-up process of becoming someone who can be caring to other people.”
Nagasawa also comes across as straightforward in real life. Last year, when she attended the Cannes Film Festival last year to help promote the John Woo film, she was approached by people in the film industry asking if she might be interested in various projects they were planning. She found the whole experience refreshing.
Last year also saw her much praised for her acting skills when she performed in “Murasaki Shikibu Diary,” a two-person play written and directed by Koki Mitani. She played the role of Murasaki Shikibu, a medieval court lady known as the author of “The Tale of Genji”.
But while the actress is obviously on the road to becoming an international success, she confesses to having little ambition.
“I have no wish to be rich or become a famous star ... but I’d like to be someone about the people around say, ‘What you’re doing always sounds like fun’.”
On her days off, she exercises lightly in a gym, watches films or reads manga. Even when she goes out to a cinema in Tokyo, she never disguises herself by wearing a surgical mask, shades and a cap pulled low.
“No one has ever recognised me and shouted out ‘Look, there’s Masami Nagasawa!’” she says.
Perhaps, in this celebrity-obsessed world, that’s the secret to her success.