Whenever the question of favourite actors working today comes around, I have stock answers which come straight out of my mouth. Tony Leung Chiu Wai and Tadanobu Asano are among the first names. The immediacy with which I produce these answers doesn’t make them any less true, quite the opposite. I believe it so much, I have to get their names out there as often as possible. Of course, Tony Leung doesn’t need my help in promoting him, he has a Cannes award from 2000 to show for his efforts, though it took him 15 years of solid work to get one and the recognition he deserved. I hope it will not take Tadanobu Asano as long to get the same, though if we count from his appearance on the world stage in Hirokazu Kore-eda’s Maborosi, it has already been 13 years.
Today sees the North American release of Sergei Bodrov’s Mongol, a Russian “prestige” picture starring Asano as Genghis Khan (I was tempted to say “Asano, in the John Wayne role”, but I resisted for any fans of The Conqueror out there). The film was nominated for an Academy Award this year, and while I haven’t seen it yet, it looks beautiful in the trailers and I hope it’s a massive success for Asano. But Mongol is not the only Asano project screening soon.
If, by any chance, you are near Harajuku, Tokyo, you must check out Asano’s first directing effort, screening now at the Short Shorts Film Festival. The project is called R246 Story, the R246 referring to the Tokyo highway which links a number of the swankier districts together, and is made up of six short films, each by a different director. Each director is not usually found behind the camera, and each has made a film of around 25 minutes, but the content varies wildly as you’d expect.
Asano’s effort is called 224466 and, according to Twitch, was written by Shinji Aoyama, of Eureka fame. The story involves an alien from the planet Rock N Roll, stranded on Earth, who needs the power of music to return to his own world. While I’m not sold on the premise, it’s certainly smacks of both Aoyama and Asano, who have already made a loose sci-fi music picture together with Eli Eli Lema Sabachthani, although the ’music’ in that movie is not the kind you might find playing in the background at Starbucks.
Tadanobu also starred in Electric Dragon 80,000V which ran only 55 minutes and was a science fiction, rock fuelled blast. I’ve always put the content of that film down to director Sogo Ishii, with his background in the punk movement and punk pictures like Burst City or Crazy Thunder Road. However, it’s clear music is a large part of Asano’s inspiration too when all these references keep adding up, having formed a band with Ishii, played a music producer in Taste of Tea, and having married a musician in real life too.
So while I may have my doubts about the plot on paper, I can’t believe anything that Asano is involved in won’t be at least watchable. In case I’m wrong though, the rest of the R246 Story project looks interesting as well. Among the other directors, two fellow actors are listed, Shido Nakamura, an actor perhaps best known abroad for playing the swordsman in the Jet Li movie Fearless, and Yusuke Santamaria, a Japanese comedian and television personality who is branching out into more serious work after making a name for himself in the Bayside Shakedown series. Two musicians are being given a shot, from J-hip-pop groups m-Flo and Rip Slyme, but I’m especially curious about the entry from the final director Genki Sudo, a recently retired mixed martial arts fighting champion, who has directed a light hearted short about nerdy UFO watchers!
While it’s unlikely these films will see the light of day outside of Japan (and perhaps an international festival or two), hopefully the eventual DVD collection will be import friendly and might enjoy some of the small success of previous Japanese short collections such as Jam Films.