The 2017 Nippon Honor Award: Koji YAKUSHO

It’s finally that time of year again!  Nippon Connection, the largest festival devoted to Japanese cinema in Europe, will once again return to Frankfurt am Main on Tuesday, May 23rd, running throughout the week until Sunday, May 28th. And for the third time, one of the festival highlights will feature a special Honor Award presented to a pre-selected artist for their career contributions to the Japanese film scene. This year’s recipient, we are proud to announce, will be the legendary actor Koji YAKUSHO.

Born Koji HASHIMOTO on January 1st, 1956, in Isahaya in the prefecture of Nagasaki, he grew up in a family of five boys before graduating high school in 1974 and working for several years at a municipal office called a kuyakusho, which later provided the inspiration for his now well-known stage name: Koji YAKUSHO.

He first began to involve himself in stage performance after seeing a 1976 production of The Lower Depths, and just a few years later he was accepted into a program to be trained by acting giant Tatsuya NAKADAI. He finally started to make a name for himself domestically in the mid-80’s; he landed his first major leading role as Oda Nobunaga in the 1983 TV drama Tokugawa Ieyasu, and shortly afterward had his first acclaimed film success with Tampopo in 1986. A decade later he finally started making waves on the international scene with his other classic hit, Shall We Dance? Other well-known projects of his include the samurai epic 13 Assassins and the cult classic Babel, by Alejandro González Iñárritu.

One of the most fruitful collaborations of Koji YAKUSHO’s career has, without a doubt, been his regular work with the director Kiyoshi KUROSAWA, who himself happens to be last year’s recipient of the Nippon Honor Award. Over the past several decades, YAKUSHO has appeared in some of KUROSAWA’s best-known and most-renowned works, including Cure (1997), Purge (2001), and Tokyo Sonata (2008).

YAKUSHO has been consistently lauded throughout his career for his ability to bring a wide variety of characters to the screen. The list of honors he’s received over the course of his career include 22 different awards (most of them for acting) spread out over the past 33 years, the largest number of which were for Shall We Dance? He was also given a Model of Honor by the Japanese Emperor in 2012. Personal inspirations for his style of acting include, of course, his mentor Tatsuya NAKADAI, as well as another Japanese screen legend, Toshiro Mifune, but he’s also spoken of Robert De Niro’s early, career-defining roles in Taxi Driver and The Godfather Part Two as key experiences that shaped his approach to his craft.

When asked once what genre or type of movie was closest to his heart, he admitted he’s long been a particularly big fan of Jidaigeki, or period samurai films. However, he’s worried that, with older generations of filmmakers who specialized in this now legendary genre of film starting to pass away, the special talents needed to make them could end up lost. With both this type of film and the actual legacy of the samurai being such huge parts of Japanese history and culture, he would like to see younger Japanese continue to find inspiration and empowerment from the sorts of figures telling these stories can provide them with, and he hopes this will start to happen before it’s too late.

In addition to Koji YAKUSHO’s leading role in one of this year’s feature premieres, The Emperor in August (before which he will formally accept the Honor Award), the festival will also include screenings of Tampopo, directed by Juzo ITAMI (check our festival program for further details).

We are so excited to have him at the festival and to be presenting several of his life works in the process!

-Noah Franc

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