Theatre of memory: Masaaki Uchino

Blogging was the last thing on my mind this morning: plants to water, slugs to battle, laundry to do and two friends I haven’t seen for ages in London for dinner. But then I read Mark Schilling’s latest Japan Times film review.

Schilling is one of my favourite critics: clever, insightful, and always keeping the movie, rather than himself, front and centre. This weekend he was writing about Hajime Hashimoto’s Rinjo: Gekijoban (The Last Answer). Hashimoto’s leading man is Masaaki Uchino.

I first saw Uchino almost a decade ago, onstage at London’s National Theatre in Yukio Ninagawa’s production of Pericles, Prince of Tyre.  It’s one of Shakespeare’s less-performed plays, and the fable at its heart is often derided as silly, but I’ve always loved its rhythmic energy. Like a courtly dance, or a life viewed in the round, it keeps its own measure and makes patterns that may not be obvious until they can be viewed as a whole. (This may be one reason why, to the best of my knowledge, it has never been performed in Klingon. It is, in my opinion, far better suited to performance in Japanese.)

Ninagawa’s production was hauntingly beautiful. Its heart and anchor was a physically compelling and psychologically subtle performance by Uchino. He presented Shakespeare’s tortured Prince as a man striving to hold on to his humanity despite the loss of all he knows and loves to a series of seemingly senseless conflicts. People were weeping audibly during the final act. I was one of them.

Uchino has worked solidly in film, TV and musical theatre ever since his debut. Most recently, I saw him as a cameo seppuku at the beginning of Takashi Miike’s brutally gorgeous Thirteen Assassins. Now, reading Schilling’s review, I want to see him as police coroner Yoshio Kuraishi in the movie of Hideo Yokoyama’s novel/TV series. Mourning a beloved murdered wife, empathising with the dead to the extent of “listening to their voices”, and fully committed to the police drama trope of  pushing through to the truth against the determined opposition of colleagues looking for an easy arrest, Kuraishi sounds like a very attractive character.

Schilling cautions against reading parallels with American movie The Sixth Sense into Kuraishi’s empathy, but for me the unconscious parallels were with the late Peter Cushing, another fine and underrated actor, whose devotion to his dead wife was the stuff of romantic fiction. That’s why I think Schilling is wrong that Jeff Bridges should play him in the Hollywood remake. Leaving aside that Bridges is (as Schilling acknowledges) two decades too old for the role, the persona his recent roles have created wouldn’t work for the story. I don’t know if there is an American Cushing out there, but that’s the actor they need – assuming they couldn’t just dub Uchino.

The demand for Japanese crime thrillers isn’t as strong as for Scandinavian chillers,  so unless there is a remake, this is one movie that’s unlikely to hit our screens. I’ll just have to wait for the Japanese DVD and do some Internet shopping.

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