The 29th edition of the Tokyo International Film Festival which is currently running at Roppongi, Tokyo has unveiled its first ever Asian project in collaboration with the Japan Foundation Asia Center called "Asian Three-Fold Mirror 2016: Reflections", an omnibus film featuring the best talents from Japan, Malaysia, Cambodia and Philippines.
One of the films in the omnibus project is, "Pigeon", a poignant story about friendship reaching across cultures and age which is directed by famed Japanese director Isao Yukisada and starring veteran Japanese actor Masahiko Tsugawa with Malaysia's very own Sharifah Amani.
"Pigeon" is set in Penang, Malaysia and revolves around a lonely old man who keeps pigeons and gradually develops a friendship with his caretaker, played by Sharifah Amani.
Shot completely in Penang over a period of just seven days (despite the earlier planned 10 days as actor Tsugawa found it hard to adapt to the local diet), the story is based as a homage to the director's grandfather who had lost two brothers in Malaysia during World War II.
As a big fan of the late Yasmin Ahmad, director Yukisada had also picked the character name of Yasmin for Sharifah Amani who she says is a great show of respect for the late director as the Japanese really love all of her films.
Not a stranger to working on a Japanese production, Sharifah had before this worked on "Redemption Night" as a prostitute which was a really different role than that of her current one, which she says is closer to her own personality. Despite that, Sharifah did find herself intimidated by Tsugawa on set, as he had made her cry.
Sharing a funny story with Cinema Online, Sharifah recalled how she thought Tsugawa was not friendly towards her as he didn't like her.
Read on to find out what she has to say in our interview with her in Tokyo at the 29th Tokyo International Film Festival.
Cinema Online: Tell us about this movie and the character that you play.
Sharifah Amani: I play Yasmin. I am assigned to find a job at Michisaburo (Masahiko Tsugawa) home as a caretaker. This is a story about two strangers who then form a bond with each other.
What was it like working with a Japanese director and cast?
I feel really grateful to have experienced how people from outside of Malaysia work on productions. In Malaysia... you know how we are, so when we see outsiders working with such a strong sense of dedication and focus, it's great. This is director Isao Yukisada's personal family story so when we see someone so passionate and so all out, you can't help but to feel the same. When I worked with a Japanese team I really do feel like a worthy actress, I feel like I'm really working. It's like collaborating with the late Yasmin Ahmad once again, where actors are placed on a high importance. It has been a long time since I felt that way! [Laughs].
My co-star Masahiko Tsugawa is a well-respected veteran actor in Japan, he adapted the method acting quite a bit that at first I thought he didn't like me at all! Japanese actors have a very strong core and dedication to their roles.
What made you want to take on this role? Was it the work itself or was it the opportunity to work with a Japanese production?
I always accept jobs based on the stories, nut thankfully I got to experience working overseas and with a non-Malaysian team. It was an offer I couldn't say "no" to and besides, Isao Yukisada is a great director and he is also a fan of the late Yasmin Ahmad.
Was there an immense added pressure for you as a Malaysian actor?
Yes. We may not always be appreciated or made to feel worthy as an actor in Malaysia, but to be able to feel like an actual actor next to legitimate actor who has been working for years and to be treated with such respect and honour is amazing. And of course when you are given such appreciation, your only way to respond is to give as much back.
We heard you had cried on set! What happened there?
Yes! There was an intimidating scene at the beginning which also made me feel very personally intimidated. When my character meets the old man played by Tsugawa for the first time, I guess the scariness was heightened as well because of Tsugawa's acting. His core was really strong that he doesn't even need to say anything to shake you from within. It's amazing. So he just stands there and he looks at you and it just shakes you! My Japanese lines just flew out the window! It was intimidation and also frustration with myself. I am the sort of person who never backs down and fights back, and this time around I was not supposed do that as Yasmin.
You said you had Japanese lines in this movie? Was it a challenge to memorise and deliver them perfectly?
Very much! Thankfully Yasmin's character is not a very fluent Japanese speaker as well. She knows conversational sentences so I could do it a bit. It was great as the team had prepared us with sound bites and dialogues to learn from. We also had Kyoko Kugai from the Japan Foundation Malaysia who was our on-set translator, she was great!