Following the European Premiere of Hiroki Ryuichi‘s ‘River’ on Thursday 26th April 2012 at FEFF 14, CUEAFS‘s Antoniya Petkova sat down with leading actress Renbutsu Misako to talk about the story of the film and her experience portraying the tragedy-stricken Hikari.
Antoniya Petkova: You are such a young actress, but you already have some experience in television and film. People know you as Nanase – the telepathic girl from the drama ‘Nanase Hida’, and Kazumi, the boy in a girl’s body from the film ‘Tenkosey – Sayonara Anata’, but this is the first film which is a full-blown individual performance as the camera is mainly focused on you. How did you find this as a professional challenge, working in a film that’s almost entirely based on your performance?
Renbutsu Misako: Yes, this experience was the first time where I would be the subject of the frame for such a long time; especially the first scene where we had 15 minutes where the camera is rolling only on me. Sometimes I was worried about getting the very last line wrong, that would be seen as an issue. So I needed to be within the role for 15 minutes, I had to be Hikari all the time. So I needed to work as much as possible on my concentration.
In Akihabara there were some constraints regarding the traffic, and we could not stop people, we could not stop cars; so, during the time we would film this with as few people as possible, there would still be some people looking at the camera, some people just ignoring the camera, and I had to ignore them just to be Hikari all the time. So it was very important to give all myself but in the same time it was a very enjoyable experience.
AP: Was the role challenging as a personal experience, because the film deals with two very big tragedies in Japanese society, things that have affected a lot of people. Did you find it challenging as a personal experience to play Hikari who goes through that?
RM: Yes, it was very challenging because this was the first time that I tried to perceive the feelings of those who would see the movie – the viewers; I tried to imagine what they might think and the way they would perceive and feel things by watching this movie. So from one point of view, I can say that I felt fear because I didn’t know what the reaction could be, but at the same time I did all my best so they would feel hope and expectancy. But this was the first time that I was thinking about what viewers could thing, which is not something I had done in the past.
In the story, there is one character who doesn’t actually come on the screen – Kenji – and Hikari is wandering the streets of Akihabara because of the loss of a person who was very dear to her. In the past, I did not have the chance to perform a character with this sort of intensity, so I thought what I needed to do was just to perform, to play this role as straightforward as possible.
AP: This is the first time you are working with Hiroki Ryuichi. How was the experience of working with him – did he give you a lot of guidance, was there a lot of influence on your performance or was it more of a style where he just let you experience the role by yourself and just become Hikari?
RM: Actually, he let me play my role completely freely. When we first met, we read the script together and he told me that I was not requested to learn all the lines by heart: if I felt I didn’t want to say a particular line, during the shooting, or if I wanted to change something, I was completely free to do so. While we were shooting, when we were on set, he just stood there quietly and looked at me. When he saw that the Hikari I was doing was not exactly what he had in mind, or I was not completely into it, he just said “No, let’s make another one” and another one and another one, and thus we made many rehearsals until the very moment when he felt that my Hikari was actually genuine and he said “Let’s start filming right now”. So I can say we enjoyed a speechless dialogue.
AP: Was that different from your previous experiences working with other directors? Did you prefer this style of directing?
RM: Honestly, I’ve had one or two directors that were too detailed and I actually do not prefer that style of work, when they get too much into the details of my characters. I prefer to be given some freedom, some liberty, because I can use this to be in character all the time. At the same time, I have to say that Hiroki didn’t give me a single hint so I used to get very worried. But working with him was a very good experience and it was easy for me to perform my role.
AP: In ‘River’, Hikari meets a few different characters who all impact in a different way – the boy on the roof, who had advised the killer where to rent the truck and was feeling his own guilt; the musician; and finally Yuji, who was going through his own tragedy of possibly losing his family in a tsunami. Which of those encounters were your favourite and which one did you find the most challenging to convey that type of transformation, the effect they had on your character?
RM: I think that Yuji was the most important character for me, because he’s the one that changes Hikari the most. Of course all the other characters are important because just by having a conversation with each and every one of them, Hikari decides to be more and more positive. But with Yuji is the first time they have the conversation about why he isn’t going to look for his parents, that he might still have time. This is the first time Hikari decides to convey what she thinks purely to somebody else and it is definitely the biggest growth within the movie.
AP: For your future projects, would you prefer to play characters more like Kazumi and Nanase, in dramas, or would you prefer something more realistic, like Hikari?
RM: Actually, I’m trying to concentrate as much as possible on making viewers think “Oh, Renbutsu Misako is doing this kind of character, as well”. I don’t want to fall into a single small frame of characters and not move from within that frame. I always want to create a fresh surprise in my viewers, to make them see that I am going from one challenge to the other, doing different characters, so this is what I want to do, if possible.