The timing seems right to do what I always envisioned doing as an actor, which is to also work outside of Japan and have a global presence in my career.

In 2004, Yûya Yagira received global attention for making history as the first Japanese recipient of the coveted Best Actor trophy at the Cannes Film Festival for his debut performance in Hirozaku Kore-eda’s Nobody Knows. At just 14 years old, he was also the youngest person to receive the honor—a record that remains uncontested to this day. Acknowledging an abundance of riches in the festival’s main competition that year, which included Choi Min-sik’s explosive performance in Park Chan-wook’s Oldboy, Jury President Quentin Tarantino declared, “I’ve seen so many movies at Cannes, but all I remember is Yagira’s expression.” It’s only last year that Kōji Yakusho, at 67, became the second Japanese actor to claim the same Cannes prize for Wim Wenders’ Perfect Days.

Yagira has continued to enjoy immense popularity and acclaim in Japan—surviving the minor scandal, and the expected career peaks and valleys that no actor shows immunity to. More recently, he entered the global conversation again with the success of Gannibal. Based on the popular manga of the same title, the series stars Yagira as a police officer who’s transferred to a sleepy village inhabited by murderous cannibals. Premiering in 2022, Gannibal became Disney+ Japan’s most-watched, locally produced series. So it’s unsurprising that the House of Mouse ordered a second season with Yagira reprising his role. New episodes will hit Disney+ in Asia and Hulu in North America this year, although the exact dates are currently unknown, as reported by Variety.

In the intervening time, Yagira has touched down in South Korea to unveil his latest film project, Tsutsumi Yukihiko’s A Conviction of Marriage, which makes its world premiere at the Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival (BIFAN)—Asia’s biggest celebration of genre fare—ahead of the film’s Japanese release in September from Warner Brothers Japan. In another popular manga adaptation, which Yagira is no stranger to, the film is based on Tarō Nogizaka’s Natsume Arata no Kekkon. In his new leading role, the actor plays a child protection services officer who, at the behest of an orphaned boy in his care, orchestrates a con on a suspected serial killer on death row with a marriage proposal in his desperate effort to recover the missing head of one of her victims.

Anthem met Yagira in the hours leading up to the world premiere of his new film to shoot the shit.

The 28th Bucheon International Film Festival runs from July 4 – 14.

[Editor’s Note: The following interview was conducted through the mediation of an interpreter.]

Hi, Yûya. Welcome to BIFAN.

Thank you very much.

Is this your first time visiting the festival?

Yes. It’s also my first time in Seoul. I’d only been to Busan, maybe three or four times.

There you go. You already know your way around a little bit.

But on this trip, I would really like to go get a massage. Do you have recommendations?

That won’t be hard to find. You’re asking the wrong guy, though. I don’t like massages!

[laughs]

Since you’re in Korea, what we really need to do is take you to a jimjilbang.

Jimjilbang?

A Korean spa.

Ah, okay! Thank you!

I know you’re no stranger to the Busan Film Festival. BIFAN is a genre festival so the programming is kind of different. If you noticed, there are a lot of horror movies.

Yes. I’m not a particular fan of horror movies. I don’t like to watch them.

I knew that about you. Yet, you’ve starred in your share of horror. My guess is that you don’t really choose projects based on genre. You’re more concerned about other things.

Yes, yes. What drove me to want to do A Conviction of Marriage, for example, is Tsutsumi Yukihiko. We had worked together before. The first time I worked with him was on The Bandage Club when I was sixteen years old. Now, eighteen years have passed. So I would say that, that was what really attracted me to this project. And, of course, the story is quite intriguing as well.

A Conviction of Marriage is making its world premiere tonight. Have you seen it?

I have. Once.

Do you want to tease it a little bit?

There’s a lot going on in this film, but I would say the two biggest elements are suspense and a love story. And I think the most tantalizing aspect is that the story revolves around a suspected serial killer on death row who receives a marriage proposal. If that premise sounds a bit manga-like, it is, because the film is based on a manga series. It’s like a fantasy. I think it’s quite wild. It’s not an easy film in some ways. It’s strange and usual. I hope the audience will enjoy it.

You’ve starred in your share of manga-inspired projects, too. Are you a fan of manga?

Not much. [laughs] But my daughter likes manga. I do read manga for the research when I become attached to projects like A Conviction of Marriage. And it can be tricky. They’re such different mediums. In this movie, you will see me in a very stylized performance because we’re also emulating the source material. I just trusted the director. That was my overall approach.

You had an incredible debut, winning the Best Actor prize at Cannes at fourteen years old with Hirokazu Kore-eda’s Nobody Knows. It’s an unbroken record. How do you feel about that award these days? They were calling you a genius out of the gate. That can’t be easy.

I’ve tried to not think about it too much. While it’s true that this thing happened and there’s a record of it, I believe that the most important thing for me is to work hard so I know I was deserving of that prize. It can feel like I’m working backwards. I’m always looking to fill the missing pieces to become a more complete actor. I’m always looking to improve. At this point in my career, one thing I really want to work on is my English, and I’m also realizing this as we’re doing this interview. Around twenty years ago, I had the realization that I wanted to go abroad. At the time, I was only working in the Japanese industry. I felt like I was being pulled in two directions. I didn’t really fit. Japan was looking to find success inside the country. People would say, “We support your desire to work abroad, but don’t you want to establish your career in the domestic market first?” So that’s what I ended up doing. Luckily, now, we’re in a different and more exciting climate. The timing seems right to do what I always envisioned doing as an actor, which is to also work outside of Japan and have a global presence in my career.

So Gannibal is the perfect series for you, isn’t it? It’s original Japanese content that’s both successful at home and worldwide. It’s the opportunity you’d been waiting for.

Absolutely. This feels like a new chapter.

Did you already film the second season of Gannibal?

I did.

Is there a release date for that?

They haven’t announced it yet.

As a Disney property, Gannibal is the perfect gateway project for you, too, because I know about your ambitions to become a part of the MCU. Which story arc are you interested in?

I want to act with Robert Downey Jr. [laughs]

I don’t think he has plans to come back as Iron Man. He can play someone else, I suppose. 

I’m also interested in joining the Star Wars universe. There’s a Korean actor who did that, right?

Lee Jung-jae did The Acolyte.

Yes. I want to do what he did. I want to follow in his footsteps.

Personally, I would love to see you collaborate again with Kore-eda as well. I think that would be so neat if you got that full-circle moment in your career. Do you guys keep in touch?

We text sometimes. I text him when I have concerns about something. I will ask him, “What should I do?” [laughs] So we’re getting along fine these days. We still talk and get along.

Do you have a first memory of wanting to act?

It was in junior high school. My friend was already acting and I saw her appear on a TV series. I said, “I want to do that, too.” I told my mother. Now, here I am. That’s a cool memory I have.

You’re a real go-getter. Case in point: you moved to New York City for awhile, didn’t you?

Yes. I was staying in Manhattan, and working in the Bed Stuy area. Well, not work work. I was just helping out staff at a restaurant to improve my English. It was at a pancake restaurant. When you work in that environment, you learn fast. I found a lot of confidence in my English.

And just so we’re clear, if anyone’s wondering, this isn’t the IHOP we’re talking about.

No. [laughs]

And you specifically wanted to experience the Bed Stuy neighborhood, didn’t you?

Because I love hip-hop culture. Jay-Z and Biggie are from there, right? I had a very good time. 

What hip-hop artists are you listening to these days?

BTS.

You don’t have to say that just because you’re in Korea.

[laughs] No, really, I also listen to BTS. 

So where to next? What’s a dream destination for you? Where have you yet to go?

The Maldives. Have you ever been?

I haven’t. I should look into it. Anywhere else?

I want to visit Africa someday.

On the final day of BIFAN, I’m actually starting my roadtrip in Kyushu. I would love your culinary expertise for Fukuoka, Nagasaki, and Shimonoseki. What are the essentials?

Hakata ramen in Fukuoka, Sara Udon in Nagasaki, and fugu in Shimonoseki!

Thank you, Yûya. It was a pleasure hanging out with you. And I’ll see you at the premiere.

Arigato gozaimasu!

Post a comment