Thursday, March 19, 2009

Ayako Fujitani Returns To The Spotlight In Michel Gondry’s Interior Design

Written By: Ken Hulsey
Sources: San Francisco Bay Times / Los Angeles Times

Ayako Fujitani is not a household name to most movie fans, but to fans of Japanese monster films and Asian cinema it is a name known very well. The multi-talented actress, model and writer, first caught the eyes of westerners back in 1995, when she made her cinematic debut in Shusuke Kaneko's, "Gamera Guardian of the Universe." By then Fujitani was already a veteran model, whose career had begun at the tender age of 12. As most fans know the actress would go on to star in two more Gamera films in the 1990s. By 2000 she had written, and stared in, the movie, "Shiki-Jitsu " (Ritual) which had established her as an up-and-coming literary.

After the success of "Shiki-Jitsu", Fujitani only starred in two more films, "Sansa" (2003) and "Ikusa" (2005) during the middle part of the decade, focusing almost exclusively on writing.

Over the past three years, however, it seems that Fujitani has once again caught the 'acting bug', making somewhat of a comeback in the films, "Captain Tokio" (2007), "Domomata no shi" (2008), and "Tokyo!" (2008). It is the later film, "Tokyo!", which has once again brought the actress to the attention of Western eyes.

The film, which is now getting a limited release here in America, is actually a series of three short films by three different directors, who illustrate their unique view of Japan's largest city.

Fujitani stars in the film's first installment entitled, “Interior Design”, which was directed by Michel Gondry. The film follows a young couple named Hiroko (Fujitani) and Akira (Ryo Kase) through their daily routine, walking the streets of Tokyo discussing their lack of ambition and the size of their apartments.

At the end of "Interior Design" Fujitani's character makes a rather sci fi inspired transformation which is ultimately the 'punch line' to the humor that permeates through the story.

In today's edition of the Los Angeles Times, writer Michael Ordoña sat down with Ayako Fujitani and discussed her career.

Here are some excepts from that interview:

For years, the quirky Fujitani was best known for appearing in the Japanese "Gamera" monster movies -- the tales of a giant spinning turtle from Atlantis that defends humanity from less-principled behemoths.

"When I first started it, I'm like, 'Hmm, I'm not good at all as an actress. So I have to get better,' " she says. "Still. That feeling is still there. I guess I'll never be able to stop it."

What she'd prefer not to be known as is the daughter of martial arts actor Steven Seagal and an aikido-master mother who is still teaching at 62. The couple split when she was very young, Fujitani growing up in Osaka with her mother.

"I'm not keeping my father as a secret, but I just want to ignore it," she says, noting it took years to get people in Japan to stop thinking of her as his daughter first."

"We are good to each other, actually. We don't have any weird things going on between us. We're chill."

For "Gamera" fans, the distinctly art-house "Shiki-Jitsu," with its dark themes of mental illness and suicidal ideation, was probably a shock to the shell.

"People say they find weird stuff going on in my novels all the time. But at the same time, they always say they find something warm. So I feel that's really good," she says.

The 29-year-old Fujitani has contributed essays and short stories to a number of magazines since her teens. Her first writing job was reviewing movies for an esteemed Japanese pop-culture chronicle, the now-defunct Roadshow.

"I can remember at 3 or 4, I watched horror movies, which is bad to American people," says the lifelong film buff with a laugh. " 'Oh! How Japanese movies are violent!' But my mom let me watch anything I wanted to -- horror, drama, psycho-killer movies, anything."

She cites the remake of the brutal "Funny Games" and the grim but brilliant abortion drama "4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days" among recent favorites. And she is a great admirer of iconoclastic director Gondry ("Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind").

"Even though he's a big-time guy, you just forget about it," she says of the wildly imaginative filmmaker's approach to conjuring movie magic. "He wants to do it himself, by hand. He has so many crew, but he'll say, 'Give it to me, I'll do it!' I helped too, sometimes. It's fun; you really feel like you're all making a film together."

Their segment of "Tokyo!" ("Interior Design," with other segments directed by Leos Carax and Joon-ho Bong) is based on the comic "Cecil and Jordan in New York." Fujitani concedes the surreal story could have taken place elsewhere: "I don't think it's about Tokyo. I think it's about a common feeling of young people who have desires or dreams from the countryside. They come to a big city; the young girl wonders, 'What am I going to do?' That's a common feeling at that age in any nationality."


  1. Hey Ken,

    Ayako Fujitani is definitely a household name in mine thanks to Shusuke Kaneko's excellent Gamera trilogy!

  2. She WAS amazing.
    Her part of Tokyo! is surreal, but humane(and funny as hell). Its like Kafka on film(but, again,funnier).

    The DVD drops June 30th (i think). You can pre-order on the website