Japan Cuts 2017 Interview: Kan Hanae on Sex and Religion in WEST NORTH WEST and Unleashing Rap Fury in YAMATO (CALIFORNIA)

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Japan Cuts 2017 Interview: Kan Hanae on Sex and Religion in WEST NORTH WEST and Unleashing Rap Fury in YAMATO (CALIFORNIA)
Having begun her acting career at age 10 in the hands of legendary Japanese director Suzuki Seijun, Kan Hanae has never stopped working.  Attending Japan Cuts, with not one, but two films, Kan spoke with me about the challenges of playing a lesbian in West North West, and containing the inner rage of a wannabe rapper near an American airbase in Yamato (California).
The Lady Miz Diva:  How did you become involved with WEST NORTH WEST? 
Kan Hanae:  At first, I was confused because I have never experienced that situation.  And at that time, I didn’t want to work as an actress.  I wanted to stop.  I was thinking about it but director Nakamura really wanted me to act in the film.
LMD: What did you make of Kei when you read her?
KH:  Actually, the scenario had changed maybe five or six times.  And then Sahel [Rosa], [Yamauchi] Yuka, and I; we are good friends now, but it was awkward at first, because we had such an intimate relationship on the screen.  On our own, we went to cafés and we would talk about our situation, and we would talk a lot about the scenario, and we made our characters for each other.
LMD:  That’s very interesting because I wondered how you created the strong chemistry amongst the three of you that we see throughout the film?
KH:  It was very different for me.  Sahel’s character was a Muslim, so I didn’t know her feelings about things.  We were talking a lot, more than I was with Yuka, actually, about how to create the triangle relationship.
LMD:  What was the most important guidance that director Nakamura gave you regarding your creation of Kei?
KH:  Up to me.  He said, “It’s up to you. You, Sahel, and Yuka”
LMD:  Kei says “I’m not a lesbian. It’s just that I fall in love with women.” What did you take that to mean?
KH:  It’s not just a lesbian movie, because it’s about love.  They love each other.  Kei saw beyond that; the relationship between those two, she saw beyond that.
LMD:  In your research to create Kei, did you speak with lesbians or bisexual women?
KH:  Before shooting, director Nakamura said to me, “Kei is me. [Nakamura, himself.]” So, it was a little bit confusing, but the first time when I met him, he just seemed quite lonely.  Then he said “Kei is me.”  He said, “If you don’t want to act in it, then I don’t want to take on this film.”  I wanted to help him.  I feel like it was my job as an actress to help him make this film.
LMD:  My perception had always been that Japan, compared to other East Asian countries, was the most accepting of LGBTQ people, yet there’s that tense scene when Yuka’s mother meets Kei and says she’ll never accept their relationship.  Did you meet any people in your research who had to deal with that sort of alienation?
KH:  In Japanese society, today, the idea of women loving women, or men loving men hasn’t permeated as much.  Maybe recently it’s changed a little, but I believe that the society still has the idea that men are stronger within society, and women, perhaps, serve underneath.  And so, there’s still that sort of societal element that’s still alive.
LMD: What would you like WEST NORTH WEST to say to audiences?
KH:  Working on this film, there is definitely the element of religious issues that arise in the film.  For example, Sahel herself, she had trouble accepting the idea of a woman loving a woman due to her religious views.  But, through making this movie, Sahel and I were able to become friends, and we are friends now.  That is a result of us working together and seeing beyond maybe ideas that we already had.  
I think the power of movie is that it allows people to really understand each other and move beyond certain boundaries.  And I think these kinds of emotions are something that I hope people can feel from watching the movie, itself.
LMD:  Tell us about the process of training to play aspiring rapper, Sakura?  Did you study a lot of hip-hop beforehand, were you already a fan?
KH:  I did.  I liked hip-hop music, but I had never experienced rap.  So, I practiced with Director Miyazaki Daisuke.
Through rap, I felt like I can say everything. [Laughs.] [Everything] about the American and Japanese relationship.  If I say certain things through words, it’s a little bit difficult, but if I do it in rap, it’s easier, I think.
LMD:  Why did you think Sakura was such an angry person? 
KH:  In Japan, there are these issues within society; certain issues arise from having one-parent households, and I think there is definitely anger that is there through that.  These days, things might be changing a little, but still, personally, I have both parents, but there are issues from having one-parent household; for example, being raised by father, or being raised by a mother.  
The other part is that Sakura lives in this area called Yamato, where within the Army base is actually California, and being there and it’s actually really, really loud.  And all that noise, I think really does feed into motivating Sakura’s emotions.
LMD:  While her anger may be understandable, she still does very bratty, impulsive things.  What was Director’s instructions to you about how to keep her sympathetic?
KH:  When I was acting as Sakura, because she is always very high in emotions the entire time, so to keep that level of emotion was actually quite difficult and exhausting for me.
LMD:  It sounds like between Kei and Sakura, you live under the skin of your characters quite deeply.  Are you able to leave the characters on the set or do you take them with you after the day’s shooting is over?
KH:  I actually do take the character along with me too much. [Laughs.]
LMD: Like Kei in WEST NORTH WEST, when we meet Sakura she is quite lonely and searching for her place in the world.  Is this type of character journey that attracts you as an actor?
KH:  Actually, it’s more that people are offering me these type of roles. [Laughs.]
LMD: Your own story is very interesting, you’re that rare example of someone who began as a child actress, starting in a Suzuki Seijun movie {PISTOL OPERA}, going on to the brilliant NOBODY KNOWS, and working very steadily since.  What has kept you motivated?
KH:  Now I live in Tokyo, but my hometown is Shizuoka.  So, after shooting, I always go back to Shizuoka, because I want to want to change my mind.  I always get so emotional, and I want to take off my character, so always I go back to Shizuoka, and that’s what has kept me here, now.
LMD:  Has having worked with Suzuki, Kore-eda and Sabu, some of Japan’s finest, most influential directors, given you any desire to direct at some point? 
KH:  Yes, I would like to be a director.  [Laughs.]
LMD: Lastly, because we lost director Suzuki earlier this year, even though you worked with him when you were quite young, I wondered if there was a memory of him that you might share?
KH:  People said that he was quite scary, but I didn’t think so.  He was so gentle to me.  After he made my name, I probably wouldn’t be here if not for him.
This interview is cross-posted on my own site, The Diva Review. Please enjoy additional content, including exclusive photos there.
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Japan Cuts 2017Japanese ActressKan HanaeMiyazaki DaisukeRosa SahelWest North WestYamato (California)

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