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Four muses: bringing life to the Japanese silver screen

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Japanese actresses Sakura Ando, Yu Aoi, Hikari Mitsushima, and Aoi Miyazaki graced the red carpet at the opening ceremony of Asia’s largest film festival, the 30th Tokyo International Film Festival. These four women have had glittering success in the Japanese film industry of recent years, constantly providing inspiration to movie creators. Considered “muses of the silver screen”, a spotlight was cast on the four actresses at this year’s film festival. Let’s take a look at some of the works they have starred in, and other highlights of their careers.

●Sakura Ando

Her powerful stage presence and solid acting ability make her a leading member of Japan’s film industry. She made her film debut in 2007 in Out of the Wind, a film directed by her father, actor Eiji Okuda. At the 39th Japan Academy Film Prize ceremony in 2016 she was awarded Best Actress for her role in the 2014 film 100 Yen Love. In Our Homeland (2012), she gave an intricate performance as a character based on the film’s director Yang Yong-hi and her own experience. In this heart-tugging fictional drama, Ando played the lead role of Rie, a woman reunited with her older brother who had emigrated to North Korea 25 years earlier. “I felt more pressure than I usually would when acting, because I was responsible for portraying the director’s own memories,” said Ando. “While playing Rie, I felt the pain she experienced deep within my own heart, and wondered when it would ever heal for her. Perhaps making a film about it is part of the recovery process.” Her convincing portrayal of characters has generated high hopes for her future career.

●Yu Aoi

In her early teens, Yu Aoi began modelling for teenage fashion magazines. She made her acting debut in All About Lily Chou-Chou (2001), and won a Japan Academy Film Prize for Best Supporting Actress for the 2006 film Hula Girls. Aoi has also appeared in many TV series and feature films. Hana and Alice (2004), a film portraying the friendship between two young girls, is on this year’s film festival line-up. This title was a turning point for Aoi, and gives audiences a glimpse at her innocent youth. “My co-star Anne Suzuki and I had so much fun playing together on the set,” she remembered. “For one of the scenes, I had my face painted with traditional white make up. I had never done this before, and I felt so embarrassed in front of the director and crew that I started crying. But in my recent film Mix I had to wear panda decorations in my hair, and I didn’t care at all. I guess I’m less sensitive these days!” After these cheeky comments, Aoi said with a smile that she was glad to have been part of a film that people still want to see on the big screen more than 10 years on from its release. She thanked her fans for their support.

●Hikari Mitsushima

After entering the world of show business in her early teens as part of a female singing group, Mitsushima began to explore acting. Her performance in Love Exposure (2008) was highly acclaimed and she received many “new face” awards for it. In television series as well as on the big screen she portrays a wide range of characters, acting in comedies as well as more serious genres. In Traces of Sin (2017), a film shown at this year’s festival, Mitsuhima plays a mother who is arrested for abusing her daughter. This role was a shift from the characters she usually plays, which tend to be forlorn or lovable types the audience feels sympathetic towards. Mitsushima said that she paid special attention to the phrases and flow when delivering her lines. “I take care to deliver the right ‘sound’ when I’m acting, through my voice and the way I space out my words.” She also reflected on the period when she began acting. “When I was starting out, I just tried as many different things as I could, thinking giving things a go was the main point. It was a really enjoyable time for me.” When asked about who inspires her as an actress, Mitsushima named Sakura Ando. “Since becoming an actress myself, Sakura Ando was the first person I really looked up to. When we worked together on Love Exposure, I was so impressed by her acting ability. It was so powerful. I’ll always treasure the fact that I got to star alongside her,” she revealed.

●Aoi Miyazaki

Miyazaki began her acting career as a young child, and also started modelling for teenage fashion magazines in her early teens. Her performance in Eureka (2001), a film which won two awards at the 53rd Cannes Film Festival, garnered attention, and she went on to land roles in many films and classic Japanese TV series. Audiences love her cute appearance and feminine qualities, and she also has a dignified strength about her. Miyazaki was awarded Best Actress at the 40th Japan Academy Film Prize for her role in Rage (2016), in which she explored new avenues in the role of Aiko, a woman who is somewhat of a social outcast. Aiko falls in love with a mysterious man who suddenly crosses her path. Miyazaki said that Aiko was a completely different type of human to herself, so she had trouble getting into character at first. “Once we started filming, though, I felt like I smoothly transitioned into being Aiko. I really treasure the time I spent with Ken Watanabe [who played Aiko’s father],” she said with a smile. Miyazaki also expressed her ambition for her future career as an actress. “In my thirties, I hope to take on new challenges. To do things I’ve never tried before.”

These four actresses light up the screen with their uniquely dazzling personalities. The influence they will have on the future of the Japanese film industry definitely warrants our close attention.

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