The privilege that comes with covering film festivals is interviewing the talent behind the stories. Having covered this year's Fantasia International Film Festival, I got a chance to see some exciting films. One that stood out to me was "Yakuza Princess," which led me to interview the lead actress. MASUMI, a musician, makes the foray into the acting world with a tough-as-nails performance that solidifies her place in the acting pantheon. I had the privilege of sitting down with her, and we discussed what this new chapter means for her career.
Gabe: What was it that made you want to get into acting?
MASUMI: I never really thought about getting into acting. I needed to take a small break from music, and at the time, my husband suggested that I continue being creative in a different field. And that was acting because he was an actor and he introduced me to acting school. So I was just going a few months and, three months into the acting class, I got it: The "Yakuza Princess" opportunity. So that's really how it started.
Gabe: I didn't know it was that quick of a process. Was it sort of like your agent coming to you and saying, I have this part, and I think you'd be a good fit for it?
MASUMI: At the time, I didn't have a manager. I just had an agent. It was actually my husband's agent, and I was only there for a few months. I was in an acting class, and my husband called me and said, "Hey, you have to come home immediately." And I was like, oh, I don't know what's going on! So then I went home, and he told me that his manager had a meeting with the producer of "Yakuza Princess." He showed the producer my self-tape from another audition at the time. He was not my manager, but he showed it. And the producer liked my performance with the self-tape, and he wanted to have a meeting. So I did my self-tape a few days after, and then I think a week or two weeks after that, I got the audition.
Gabe: So it seems like a pretty quick process all said and done?
MASUMI: They really needed somebody. They had been looking for the person for a while, and I think when they found me, they really liked me. So it was quick.
Gabe: That is very cool! So now for this Samurai revenge story, were there any other kinds of classic films, different genres that you watched to prepare for the role?
MASUMI: Well, I watched "Dirty Hearts" (One of the director's earlier films) and "13 Assassins" and things like that. I also studied "Lady Snowbird." The thing with me is that I didn't grow up watching a lot of action films because I'm pretty sensitive to blood. So although I'm Japanese, you know, it's challenging to watch Samurai movies for me. My father is the same way. He's very sensitive with blood and stuff, and I got it from him.
Gabe: With a character like Akemi, what would you say is the biggest thing you learned from playing her?
MASUMI: She deals with two cultures that cross Japanese and Brazilian. She has both elements here, she's Japanese, which is the same as me, but I also have the American experience now that I'm also a little Americanized. We both deal with belonging and identity issues. I even learned that I was very insecure with my acting skills. I didn't have a lot of experience in it, but by the end of the movie, I felt very confident and empowered by my experience and what I could accomplish. Like Akemi, she's significantly impacted by what she gets to do at the end of the movie. So what I've learned from it was to trust ourselves, we all have it in us, but then we keep doubting ourselves and our abilities.
Gabe: One of my favorite parts of the film was your dynamic with Jonathan Reese Meyers. What was it like working with him?
MASUMI: Working with him was amazing. That was one of the highlights of this movie for me because he was so supportive and so encouraging. He was like a brother to me, you know, throughout the film, he helped me, and he always made sure that I felt his support. I couldn't have done it without him.
Gabe: And was there anything he taught you about the acting process or just being an actor in general in this business?
MASUMI: There are so many things that he taught me, but one of the things that I remember off the top of my head is when he said to me, "MASUMI, you're always going to be beautiful. Go against it." Wow. Thank you. I mean, you know, somebody so beautiful and he doesn't care about looking good. He always wants to understand the character's raw emotion because that's where the power is. So I thought, okay, that's what I'm going to do. Now. We're going to stop thinking about how we're looking at the camera and just going to focus. It was excellent advice that he gave.
Gabe: Was there one day on set that was the most memorable to you, or was the whole experience just something in and of itself memorable?
MASUMI: Well, yes, the whole thing was very memorable for me, but there is one that sticks out for me, for sure. And that's the one where I got to choreograph a fight with my husband, and I fight with him.
Gabe: I was going to say, I bet that whole process was pretty entertaining, you know, from script to screen about how that all worked.
MASUMI: Yeah, yeah. And it made it to the final cut, and that really doesn't happen often.
Gabe: If you had to pick another action star or another character who's famous in action films, who would you like to see Akemi go up against in a film?
MASUMI: Well, I can't see anybody else.
Gabe: While I was watching, I thought about someone like either Uma Thurman from "Kill Bill" or Sylvester Stallone from "Rambo." I just think the fighting style Akemi has in the film, and how she uses that sword, would be cool to see, go up against another classic action hero with their own set of artillery.
MASUMI: I see what you're saying, but I also think that she has to be Japanese. I don't think that part can be interchanged with anybody else. It made it unique that she was an authentic Japanese person.
Gabe: My last question is, what's in the future for you, any upcoming projects, any new songs coming out, anything we can keep an eye out for?
MASUMI: I am dropping a few new songs with the launch of the movie and September 3rd, and honestly, I'm waiting to see what happens. But I'm very excited about what the future holds.
Well, as you can see, MASUMI is a rare performer who wants to expand her talents. Having the privilege of speaking with her and seeing this film, I can't wait to see more of her on the big screen!