Acting comes with many perks, from being able to experience life in feudal Japan to living as a member of Spanish nobility.
Last Thursday, Japanese actor Nakadai Tatsuya visited the Whitney Humanities Center for a screening of his film “Age of Assassins.” Known for his ability to portray various types of characters, Nakadai’s appeal attracted a crowd of roughly 50 viewers.
Besides the film shown Thursday evening, Nakadai also appeared in another screening the day after, “Harakiri,” in which he plays an aging samurai. The two films were preceded by an acting workshop last Wednesday during which Nakadai taught 20 students about his approach to acting.
In “Age of Assassins,” a parody of the spy-film genre, Nakadai plays the role of Shinji Kikyo, a psychology professor who unwittingly finds himself being hunted by assassins. From having a bust of his deceased mother accidently fall on an assassin to avoiding another assassin’s deadly gun through inadvertent use of a hand-made “pen-gun,” Kikyo humorously manages to survive all of his assailants’ attempts at murder.
“[Nakadai] is so versatile that there is no Nakadai style,” said Aaron Gerow, a Film Studies and East Asian Languages and Literatures professor. “There is a core to his acting style, a strong sense of humanity.”
The versatility of Nakadai’s acting style is apparent in some of his previous stage appearances, which include the lead roles in Japanese production of “Othello” and “Don Quixote.” Gerow said that in other films, Nakadai is known for the “cool, stylish and attractive” characters he plays. Still, when performing as Kikyo, Nakadai breaks from the theater archetypes he is usually known for, taking on the role of an unrelaxed and anxious character.
From escaping military-class bombs to tending to feet plagued with athlete’s foot, Nakadai develops a character defined by disorganization and weakness in “Age of Assassins.” Justine Wiesinger GRD ’17 recalls a starkly different role played by Nakadai in another film, “Yojimbo,” as a menacing gangster character who is described as looking like a rabbit while actually being as dangerous as a wolf.
According to Jared Fellows ’17, Nakadai’s style is characteristic of a continuity between every role that he plays, with each one influencing and informing the other. Nakadai’s movement and presence within each film carries over on to the next, he said. Comparing Nakadai’s movement and physicality between “Yojimbo” and “Age of Assassins,” Fellows said that although Nakadai is “very languid” overall, he still manages to take the basis of his own movements and let the character shape them.
Still, Nakadai’s contributions to the world of acting outshine his own involvement with films. He also leads his own acting school in Japan called Mumeijuku, which teaches his techniques to other young, aspiring Japanese actors.
“[Mumeijuku] for its 40-year run has been completely funded by Nakadai himself,” Gerow said. “The school accepts five students per year.”
Gerow said that Nakadai has allocated a large portion of his own money into providing scholarship programs for young actors who need it within the school. Despite the prestige of Nakadai’s acting school and the personal connections he has to it, the actor still loves to take the time to see Broadway plays when he has the chance. In a discussion following the film Thursday evening, Nakadai joked that he watches a lot of shows on Broadway, which reminds him of how his students need to study harder in order to match American actors.
However, Nakadai’s own contributions to the acting profession cannot be discounted.
“Nakadai was one of the reason I started studying films,” Gerow said during the discussion. “As an actor, Nakadai is certainly one of the bright lights of cinema.”
Before becoming an actor, Nakadai worked as a shop clerk in Tokyo.