With over 30 years in the film industry – [and previously, many other ones as Mini Mini discovered on this day] – Denden came to the UK’s attention majorly with the Sion Sono film “Cold Fish (Tsumeitai Nettaigyo / 冷たい熱帯魚)” in 2011 and the viciously black comedic character of Murata. Denden has since gone on to star in two of Sion Sono’s films, one of which was having it’s UK Premiere in London on this very day – “Himizu” is an almost embodiment of not only the roles we know him for but also of his career’s characters and experience up to that point.
It was clear from Denden’s involvement with the Terracotta Far East Film Festival itself and it’s festivities, that he was loving every minute of being in London. This was visible in his presence before the Premiere of “Himizu”, the Q & A afterwards and indeed the below interview.
I invite you to experience the company of Denden.
MM: Regarding your early career, can you tell me what you did prior to your first feature film? Was that time all spent in training, i.e. film school, studying or did you have another vocation?
D: I had been working as a security person, as a part-timer which lasted 4 years. But I did take auditions around that time as well. Before those 4 years, I… well, I wouldn’t say I was employed but I was working here and there sometimes, and just hanging around a little bit. But I think in those 4 years, when I was wandering about, it sort of created my character as an actor now… So I did learn quite a lot. Especially for a role like Murata, in Cold Fish – I utilised some sorts of experience I had gained from around that time.
Before that, I was a business man… well, working in a department store, on the men’s floor… for 4 years… It’s always 4 years! And, because my work always lasted 4 years I thought my role as an actor would only last 4 years too.
People were calling me the ‘Olympic man’ because I was always working in 4 year stints. [laughter all round] Before those 4 years I worked in a book shop, but I don’t read books that much.
MM: Your first role was as the character Shinsui in “Something Like It (No yohna mono)” in 1981. Why was there a large gap, of approximately 10 years, until your next film?
D: I was 30 then. I was in TV dramas and things so I was working, but not in the movies. That role was really something that just happened – the one I took in “Something Like It”. That was quite lucky, because I actually belonged to a comedians group… It wasn’t an acting group I was with. I didn’t belong to an [acting] agency in those 10 years, but then I joined such an agency when I hit 40. So, when I joined that acting agency things started to happen and that took over from the comedian side of things… I got a manager then and so forth.
MM: I’d like to move on to Cold Fish. This was your first* collaboration with Sion Sono, I believe?
[*Mini Mini feels very ashamed – It’s actually the second one. Mini Mini sits corrected]
MM: What was the first one?
D: It hasn’t actually screened in this country so that may be why you haven’t heard of it, but it’s called “Be Sure To Share” [Chanto Tsutaeru / ちゃんと伝える].
MM: Were you already an admirer of his films and how did you end up working with him?
D: I don’t know why he chose me. For that first movie, he chose me and then after the first movie I was told by my manager that Sion Sono wants me to take the main role for the next movie, but to be honest I don’t know why he chose me. I really don’t know.
MM: Sticking to the subject of working with Sion Sono, what drew you to the film “Himizu” – the one playing today [at the Terracotta Far East Film Festival] – apart from the fact that it was him directing it?
D: It’s just a movie that gives you loads of energy. All the characters you see in the movie, they want to liberate themselves from society in some way. That’s why they become homeless or similar. That includes my character, Kaneko. He is actually a Yakuza, but he couldn’t be a businessman. He’s someone who doesn’t like to be in such a society of those people and whom are actually underneath somebody. So they just liberate themselves from that kind of society. And… the two young people, the main characters, they sort of liberate themselves from a restricted situation, which is the school. They just leave the school and do whatever they need to do. So again, it’s a kind of liberation.
By watching this movie, you can probably find something to liberate yourself from something and relate to, or give you hope… or that energy for living. That’s what I’m hoping anyway.
[Mini Mini could have started the next question with, “speaking of Hope…” or indeed “moving on from a land of Hope” and so forth…]
MM: Your latest film, “The Land Of Hope” [also directed by Sion Sono] is under way presently. Can you tell me a little about your character?
[Denden begins to demonstrate on the table – with his hands, not by standing on…]
D: The main character is here… I’m here… My role that of a farmer who lives next door to the main character. Firstly, when the nuclear explosion happens there is a restriction placed, which is that anyone within 20 kilometres of that explosion point has to evacuate the area. My character is actually in between that area of evacuation and that of those people who could stay. He must therefore decide whether to stay, as do his friends and neighbours. That is my role really.
In summary, my role is that I’m a guy who knows this neighbour very well and it’s probably a combination of the neighbourhood love, family love, couple[-y] love and everything altogether. It’s a love story really. Sion Sono’s films are always about – or the main theme is – love. So if you have to sum it up in one word it’s ‘love’.
MM: Both “Himizu” and “The Land Of Hope” have a similar theme, this being the Tsunami and Earthquake tragedies. Do you think there will be a whole load of films dedicated to these recent events?
D: There are so many already, so you will see some movies related to those disasters. Sion Sono’s take on things was quite an immediate one. It was immediately after the event. Many others followed but maybe he was the first.
MM: Going back to “Cold fish”, do you find it easy to fall back into a character like Murata? For example, you also did a short special 3 minute promo film in character as Murata. Could you elaborate on this aspect of getting into character a little?
D: After a while having done Murata’s role, people told me “you are being Murata!” So, it was quite hard to get back to myself fully. It took me a while to do it actually and I was unconsciously being Murata sometimes. There were some times when I felt, myself that whatever I wanted to do I could do it, because Murata’s role was so embedded. I kind of believed it myself. Especially towards women…
MM: We won’t go there then…
D: …But that was just a hallucination.
MM: Have you been asked to, or thought about working on films outside of Japan?
D: What I’m working on at the moment is a Hong Kong movie. And last year, there was Amir Naderi… from Iran… I was in his movie. That film is called “CUT”… But it’s actually a Japanese movie because the monies are coming from Japan.
MM: Also, one by Michel Gondry, called “Tokyo!” He’s quite a characteristic director. It’s a film about Tokyo but told by 3 different stories & directors. So, one of the stories was by Michel Gondry. So, yes quite a lot… pretty international.
MM: As a final question, why ‘Denden’? Why just that one word, one name?
D: Denden is actually an insect in Japan, well actually its a snail. It’s actually ‘Denden-mushi’ which is ‘Snail’ but Denden is a short word for snail. I was a standup comedian, alone doing it. A snail has it’s own home, alone on it’s back and I was standing in my own home or world when on I was stage. So that’s really the connection between snail and ‘Denden’.
MM: I guess it could be that it took you many years or different careers to finally arrive at one as an actor…
DD: Hmm. There are a few other meanings as well, but hey… that would be too long a story for today.
MM: Thank you very much for your time, Denden.