Yoko Minamino was a teen sensation in Japan in the early nineties working as a pop idol, modelling and singing. She has since moved into television and film, and is a regular fixture on the Japanese late-night variety shows. She was in Okinawa with her new film Omu-Raisu (Omellete Rice), directed by Japanese comedian Yuichi Kimura. It is the story of a man with a powerful imagination wandering around town collecting the ingredients for the titular Japanese version of the classic omellete. On his journey he spots curiosities hidden amongst the everyday life of his town.
Translated by Adam Higgins
FIJ -Is this your first time at the Okinawa film festival? How are you enjoying it?
YM -Yes, this is my first time. I’ve been an actress for twenty five years and been to many film festivals, but here there’re a lot of comedians, so it’s really lively despite the cold. Everyone’s having a great time.
FIJ - Could you tell me what ‘Omuraisu’ is about please?
YM - It’s a film that couldn’t have been made without the director, Kimura. Just reading the script it’s a little hard to understand. Even watching it there may be some people who find it hard to understand. You have to give it several viewings.
FIJ - You were only in it very briefly but your segment was very funny. Could you describe your part in it for me?
YM -There were close to one hundred famous talents in the film, so yes my role was very small. My character is a typical housewife from Japan of yesteryear. The husband begs the wife to get married, but after they’re married he starts ordering her around: “Where’s my dinner” etc.
FIJ - How did you become involved with the film?
YM - I was friends with Kimura from before, so he spoke to me about the film. I saw some promotional materialand was intrigued. Then there was a photo shoot.
FIJ - The cast is full of famouscomedians and talents what was it like working with them?
YM - Everyone knew the director was little different, so we listened to what he had to say. The comedians were very actor-like and the actors tried to capture their essence. We naturally came together.
FIJ -What was it like working with Yuichi Kimura?
YM -He is a modest, well mannered man. He wants everyone to enjoy a world of imagination and laughter.
FIJ - When you were making your section did you have original input?
YM - The director can’t change your expression every second - so it’s something an actress needs to think about for herself. You need to present your character properly without too many words.
FIJ - The film has many funny sections, which ones stood out for you in particular?
YM -The Korean barbecue scene. If you are told to change something about yourself, you do it. But then if you are then asked why you changed you’re not sure. This is typical Japanese behavior.
FIJ - What do you think is special about Japanese comedy? What makes it unique?
YM - Even in Japan the humor in Tokyo is different from the humor in Osaka. I’m from Osaka so I like physicalhumor. The director is from Kyoto so again it’s slightly different. But, ultimately, the purpose of comedy is to amuse people. And I want to work with people like who enjoy doing that.
FIJ - What Japanese actors, actresses or maybe comedians do you admire?
YM - Yamada Isuzu. A little old, but an actress everyone respects. Despite looking pretty she’d act bad and speak sarcastically. At first I didn’t like it, but then I came to see it as very human.
FIJ - How did you get into acting? Originally you were an idol. How did you make the transition?
YM - I think the time was right. Other idols mainly did songs, while some acted. It was a very natural progression for me: T.V. dramas, the stage, film - I had chances to act. I didn’t think it would last this long though (laughs)
FIJ -So, you’ve worked in T.V. and film. How are they different and which do you prefer?
YM - Now filming on films and T.V. dramas is fundamentally the same. We used to shoot with VTR with many cameras. You couldn’t see the film on set, so the professionals would be nervous. Now you can see the film so you can review and edit while filming. I think I’m getting old as I liked the old way.
FIJ -What are you going to be working on in the future?
YM - I’m mainly doing dramas, I don’t have a movie lined up. In spring, I will also do a programme that introduces traditional Japanese art like Kabuki and No. Young people and foreigners aren’t familiar with these so I’m looking forward to doing this.
FIJ -In the wake of the Tohoku earthquake do you have a message that you’d like to send to the people affected by this tragedy?
YM -Sixteen years ago I was in Hyogo, Kobe. I’d almost forgotten that earthquake then another struck. When I think of those affected I’m overwhelmed with emotion. I won’t forget it or the fragility of life. It will take time but I know they are in the middle of building an even greater Tohoku.