Interview with Yuriri Naka – Konnichiwa Brick Lane Actress

By Mike Sullivan

Please introduce yourself and your background. Where in Japan is your family originally from?

I was born and grew up in Tokyo. After graduating from high school in Tokyo, I moved to the UK to study drama and pursue my career as an actress.

Last year you starred in the feature movie 47 Ronin, although it is a fantasy version of the original 47 Ronin story, what did you feel about the Japanese culture that was represented in this movie?

It was a Hollywood retelling of a widely respected Japanese legend. Some people responded well to the fantastical additions and others not so well. Personally I enjoyed the project and thought it was fun. It looked beautiful too. Regarding how Japanese culture was represented in this film I think that it looked to create a world that is not unlike many in Japanese comic books and games. This part of our culture has a broad appeal in the west and that is cannily included in Hollywood’s interpretation.

Soon we will see you in the movie All That Remains, a movie based immediately after the atomic bomb blasts in WW2, it sometimes seems like this part of Japanese history is still quite sensitive. How do you think the filmmakers dealt with this kind of story? How did you feel about being part of this movie?

The directors were fantastic at dealing with the subject. They spent a lot of time researching the moments in and around the bombing, and the subsequent tragic aftermath. They were very sympathetic with how they told the story and were open to hearing suggestions from the Japanese cast. I felt they had a great respect for the culture and a passion in telling the story. The filmmakers have also spent a great amount of effort and time in crafting beautiful and stunning visuals for each scene – which I can’t wait to see! I was very privileged to be part of this project.

What was the most challenging aspect of making this movie for you?

As I was growing up in Japan, I remember being told a lot about the war at school. My primary school used to invite elderly people to tell stories and their experiences of the war to the students. Coming from that background, I felt very honoured but responsible at the same time to convey a genuine and sensitive conviction in my performance. Even though I had heard, read about and seen pictures of the incident, I knew I would never be able to wholly understand what it must have actually been like. I decided to focus on how my individual character coped, her point of view and the regrets she had.

Do you think that alongside the growing popularity of Japanese culture in America and Europe, that there is also a growing reputation of Japanese actors and actresses?

It’s hard to say because there aren’t yet that many Japanese actors known in America and Europe. I think there are certain genres of Japanese films that have made an impact in the west (like horror) and some of the Japanese actors in those films are gaining interest. But when it comes to Japanese actors in the Western world performing in English, I must say we are not quite there yet and still have a long way to go. There are a few of us around now, so I suppose we just need to keep at it.

Can you tell us more about your recent part in the short movie Koumiko? What role did you play and how did you prepare for it?

This was a lovely little film about a Japanese girl, Koumiko, who is loosing her grip on reality and can’t figure out if she’s stuck in the past or lost in the present. My role, Akina, is her best friend, who is a little cheeky and outspoken. The script was in English so we all had to translate our lines. I enjoyed the process since I had more freedom in creating the character with my own interpretation and with my own words.

You also starred in the short movie Konnichiwa Brick Lane, how did it feel to have a movie written and directed by a fellow Japanese person, Saera Jin, but located in the UK?

It was a pleasure working with a fellow Japanese artist, who lives and works in the UK, and a woman. The industry is very male dominant and it was refreshing and exciting to meet a film director who was not only Japanese but also female! We got on really well and discovered that we had similar experience living in London. The film was great because it represents London now, how multi-cultural London is and how people interact each other in their own unique ways. People’s feelings are universal especially for love and friendship, which is why I think the film can reach anyone’s heart.

You can find out about this movie and see a trailer here: http://www.konnichiwabricklane.co.uk/

Konnichiwa Brick Lane - Still
Konnichiwa Brick Lane – Still

In 2011 you did the voice over for Six Months on: Japan Tsunami Survivor’s Story, how difficult was it to do this when listening to the survivor’s stories?

I remember watching the news for hours and hours to follow what was happening in Japan at that time. I saw many clips and interviews of people that were affected by that catastrophic incident. I was shocked and felt very upset. I found however that bravely when people were trying to explain what had happened to them, they held their emotions together and no one really broke down in tears, which in my opinion makes their report even more moving and poignant. My job was to convey their words authentically and not to embellish my delivery or add any of my own sentiment.

How often do you go back to Japan? What is your favourite thing about Japan?

I try to go back once a year but sometimes it’s less. But I do check out Japanese news regularly thanks to the Internet, so I still feel relatively in touch with the country. My favourite thing about Japan is the food. I think you will always miss the food that you grew up with wherever you are. Every time I go back to Japan, I am busy eating as much Japanese food as possible! Though recently there are more Japanese restaurants in London that serve more than just sushi, which I am very excited about. I especially appreciate ramen restaurants as ramen is one of my favourite foods and hard to cook at home.

What do traditional Japanese crafts mean to you? What is your favourite craft?

I remember learning about traditional crafts in primary school and they fascinated me. We were also told that some crafts were dying due to a lack of successors. So for a while I was seriously considering becoming an apprentice to one of those crafts. I like the way that it takes years and years to perfect. My favourite is pottery and I especially like Bizen-yaki. When I saw the pictures of the pottery in my schoolbook for the first time I thought they were absolutely beautiful!

If you could learn to make anything, what would you love to do?

I would definitely like to try pottery! But I am also interested in kimono textiles. I’ve always been fascinated by traditional kimono patterns and embroidery.

Finally, any last words for anyone interested in Japanese culture?

Japan has got so many different faces. We have super modern technologies and people’s lives are westernised yet our traditional philosophy is still very much alive. It’s great that more and more Japanese culture has been introduced to the West (not just sushi and samurai)! I hope that people find Japanese culture inspiring and also something that they can relate and feel close to themselves in some way.

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