Togo Igawa was born in Tokyo and is a Japanese actor who works primarily in British films and television. In recent years he has had roles in major motion pictures such as Revolver, Memoirs of a Geisha, The Last Samurai, and Sunshine. He doesn’t just limit himself to films though, as he lends his voice to video games and cartoon series as well. It was a real honor to sit down with Mr. Igawa and ask him a variety of questions about the business, and his future projects. You can catch him in the new film, Johnny English Reborn, which is in theaters now and in 2012 you can catch him in 47 Ronin! Read below for the full interview…
Your early work in Japan was mainly in theatre. lots of television work. Was the transition to film smooth or did you find the process hard?
Togo: My theatre company in Japan was The Black Tent Theatre which had an enormous tent and we toured with it all over Japan. It was extremely hard work so I didn’t have time to work for film or television. When I moved to England it wasn’t difficult to start working for films but of course acting for stage and film are technically different so I learnt a lot through my work.
As a professional who has voiced characters in animation, starred in major films, and voiced video game avatars, which do find the most enjoyment doing?
Togo: I think enjoyment doesn’t depend on the kind of work. It depends on the quality of the work. Even if you work for a small scale voice-over if the quality of the work is high it will be very enjoyable. On the contrary even if it is a huge budget film it doesn’t guarantee your enjoyment.
You can be seen in the new 47 Ronin film which is aiming to be a huge movie in 2012. How was it working on the set with Tadanobu Asano and Keanu Reeves?
Togo: The scenes I was involved in were only with Mr. Reeves and I didn’t work with any other actors. He was a nice man and so was Carl Rinsch, the director. Both of them were very tall. What wouldn’t I give to be much taller and talking to them at the same height? But it was impossible as they had the huge background of the so called ‘film industry’ in Hollywood!
Many of the Asian themed films you have starred in have been helmed by American directors such as Rob Marshall. Do you feel this provides a dual culture perspective/advantage to these types of films?
Togo: If you live in a foreign country you can see your own country more objectively from outside. But if you see a foreign country while you are living in your own country sometimes you miss the real aspects of that country. When you make a film with crossover cultures you have to have objective eyes for both countries. Otherwise your observation is biased and ignorant or arrogant towards one of the countries. In the worst case it becomes meaningless. For instance when you make a film based on a Japanese old story, if you don’t engage with the story earnestly you will miss the point and the structure of the story and it could be Robin Hood or Billy the Kid. To understand other people or countries is the most difficult thing.
Could you tell us a bit about the Ichiza Theatre Company and what kinds of Japanese art forms it explores?
Togo: Ichiza Theatre Company was established in 2006 in London with mainly Japanese actors. Our aim is to produce shows in English based on various Japanese art forms. Now we are searching for suitable pieces from old stories such as noh, kyogen, kabuki as well as old folk tales. And at the same time we organise Japanese play-readings in London to introduce Japanese contemporary plays to English audiences so that some of them will be picked up by other companies to perform.
You turn 65 this year (happy birthday!) and have no signs of slowing down! What kind of projects can we expect to see from you in the future?
Togo: I am hiding various signs of slowing down! I may work for a Hollywood film next year but nowadays they are very secretive about their projects. I had to sign a contract not to disclose the title, storyline and names of the characters, so I’m afraid I cannot tell you what it is.
If you could work with any director or star in a film with any actor (your dream movie), who would you pick, and why?
Togo: I would like to work with Ben Hopkins. I worked with him for National Achievement Day, his final work at the Royal College of Art. We were paid only for travel expenses but that was the most enjoyable work I’ve ever done. Regarding an actor it would be Garance Le Guillermic. When I worked with her for The Hedgehog in 2008 she was 11 years old and I would like to work with her when she has become [an] adult. I hope I am still alive by then!
You have a vast array of projects in your filmography. In the film The Hedgehog, your character has probably the best line in the movie: “Every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Meaning, all happy families resemble one another. Do you feel this logic applies to the types of films you choose, where each project is as different & unique as possible?
Togo: If I were a film star I would like to choose my work based on the first line of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina. I try to choose work which is as different and unique as possible but unfortunately I have to work for my rice and miso soup from time to time. I am a bit too old to become a star.
Roger Ebert said of your performance that you were ‘perfect to an unlikely degree.’ What kind of methods do you use to get into character?
Togo: I often imagine what sort of animal my part should be. For instance, in The Hedgehog, I thought my part, Kakuro, was a dog whereas Renée was a cat. She doesn’t like to communicate with other people and hides herself and she pursues what she want to do. Kakuro is curious about other people but objective and is calm but passionate. He is like my dog, Bruno, an old Labrador. If you get bored by analysing characters whatever the method may be, it is rather enjoyable imagining a suitable animal for your character. I feel as if it is a sort of meditation. Anyway, human beings are a kind of animal, aren’t they?
I believe so, yes! So, as an actor who has had such a long and successful career, what advice can you give to an up-and-coming actor?
Togo: Festina lente! (a classical Japanese adage and oxymoron meaning “make haste slowly” or “more haste, less speed”.)