Blog-a-thon: Who is Japan’s Best Actor? Masanobu Ando [ Vol 1, Part 1 ]

Fierce, antagonistic, sexy, playful, confused. When you think of an actor who can undergo such emotions in a blink of an eye, then it’s Masanobu Ando. It’s funny that I have to see him play in a Chinese action movie (The Butcher, the Chef, and the Swordsman) before I discovered his Japanese cinematic gems.

But he is no idol or celebrity desperate to remain in the spotlight. He’s a consummate actor relishing his time spent with such filmmakers as Takashi Miike, Kinji Fukasaku, Shinya Tsukamoto, Kaige Chen and Wuershan.

It must be a conscious act on his part to stop people from putting him in a box – he is probably the most vocal when it comes to being typecast. While his smashing good looks enabled him to get some pretty boy roles at the beginning of his movie career, it is the same quality that required him to work harder to get roles that would have been given to someone less beautiful but technically equipped to play the part. When good looks can be such a curse!

But let me leave such petty discussions of good looks to the younger set, because for now, there is so much to say about Ando’s work on the big screen!

In his Midnight Eye interview, Ando was quoted as saying: 

No matter what role I play, I try to devote myself to it completely, and it’s that focus that is the reason for those side effects. Generally I am attracted to more difficult roles, parts that are quite heavy psychologically. Probably I enjoy the experience of devoting myself to the character entirely. That’s how I feel that I’m truly playing that character, it’s where I find the satisfaction in my job. Also, I want to return all the love that the director gave me when he chose me for the part. [ source ]

I would have been thrilled to sit face to face with one of my favorite Japanese actors, and ask him questions about the many roles he played and what he thinks about Japanese filmmaking, his fellow actors and auditioning for roles outside Japan. But then again, that would have been almost impossible…

In 2006, Masanobu Ando attended the Berlinale Film Fest, where Takashi Miike’s Big Bang Love Juvenile A was shown. An interview opportunity came for film gallery site OutNow.ch, and Ando said the following about “dream roles”:

I do not really have a dream role but there are a lot of people I would like to work with, domestic directors and filmmakers. In my next project for example I am going to be able to work with Shinya Tsukamoto (Japanese film director with cult status, Anm. d. Red.) and this really is one of my dreams come true. In the future I would like to work with Takashi Miike again, of course, and I also would like to get back to work with Takeshi Kitano. Furthermore, this is the first time for me to join the Berlinale and I certainly would like to come back to this film festival in the future. [ source ]

What makes him a great actor? Ando is fearless and versatile and has obviously shunned away from the limelight. 

He has portrayed a variety of roles, many of which, would have been unthinkable for the likes of Yamapi, Toma Ikuta or even Satoshi Tsumabuki. They are obviously actors in their own rights, but in the case of Ando – there is no ‘star’ factor. He is utterly and completely acting for the sake of acting.

In Karaoke Terror, Big Bang Love Juvenile A, and the more recent Smuggler, his characters all died in quite violent manners. His most famous performance at the beginning of his career, Battle Royale must have paved the way towards this apparent lack of concern for the ‘hero factor’ of his roles. Characters die, and so Ando has no qualms if almost all of his movie characters did too. It may seem he relish being a model of anti-hero awesomeness!Then there is his willingness to show his body. This kind of confidence is almost a mirror image of his characters in most of his films. While the Swiss/German writer who did the interview in 2006 at Berlin may describe him as shy – there is a complete absence of such shyness when he is acting a part.

He is more of a Ryan Gosling than a Johnny Depp as many have assumed. He values his privacy as the Canadian star did, but while Gosling has succumbed to the commercial appeal of movies and of Hollywood, Ando continues to thread a path he has come to walk on since he started his career way back in 1993.

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