Tomorowo Taguchi

15 April 2004
picture: Tomorowo Taguchi

by ,

One of the most ubiquitous faces in contemporary Japanese cinema belongs to actor Tomorowo Taguchi. Best known around the world for his role as the mutating salaryman in Shinya Tsukamoto's Tetsuo films, Taguchi appears in an average of fifteen films a year. He has now moved behind the camera for the first time, directing Iden & Tity, the story of a young guitarist's search for the spirit of rock 'n' roll.

Iden & Tity is set during the years of the 'Band Boom', the sudden rise in popularity of Japanese rock bands in the mid-1980s. You were part of the music scene yourself at the time, with your band Bachikaburi. But you and your band were never part of the boom itself [which was the result of a popular 'battle of the bands' type TV show called Ikaten - TM & KS]. You saw all these new bands come and go very quickly. Looking at it from up close, but without actually being part of it, what were your thoughts on this Band Boom at the time?

I was part of the underground scene, so I never imagined myself performing on TV shows. Being on TV wasn't part of my world, so I watched TV like any normal viewer would.

But didn't it bother you that because of this TV show people would suddenly become fans of rock music because it was popular, people who couldn't separate between these new bands with no talent and spirited underground bands like yours?

Uhmmm… maybe.

Really, that's all, just maybe?

(laughs) Yeah, maybe.

But there's an important scene in the film in which the main character criticises his audience for taking part in destroying rock music. It's a very impressive scene and I have the impression that a lot of the anger of it comes from your own feelings about the subject.

It's not just that scene, but it's every scene in the whole film that I really identify with.

That scene really sums up what the original manga was about, though.

Yes. I think Miura's manga was about the fact that everyone has his own definition of rock 'n' roll. It was about the protagonist Nakajima's search for what rock 'n' roll meant to him. The reason why I felt an attachment to the manga is that it expressed the belief that that struggle in itself is what rock 'n' roll is about. Also, it's thanks to the manga that I got to know more about Bob Dylan. His lyrics are truly rock 'n' roll.

So before that you weren't interested in Bob Dylan?

Not really. At the time I preferred punk musicians like John Lydon, or Captain Beefheart.

It's interesting that Dylan represents this spirit of truth in the film in a way, because I know that in real life you have a similar appreciation for Charles Bronson. Your admiration for Bronson and Nakajima's veneration of Dylan are kind of parallel.

Yes, Bronson and Dylan are similar in many ways. They are unique people who really stand out from the crowd. They are elevated above the rules of what we consider common sense. If they deviate from the rules, no one minds. For instance, Bronson is kind of pug-faced but he's still cool. Dylan was maybe cool in his young days, but as he became older he would sometimes wear a wig or grow a thin moustache, the kind of thing that makes you wonder whether it still constitutes coolness, but he doesn't mind. Dylan and Bronson are their own persons, they decide what is cool for themselves and don't follow others. I really admire that type of person. I also like guys like Lee Marvin, Ernest Borgnine, ….

James Coburn?


Steve McQueen?

Hmm, only so-so. I like guys who have kaojikara ('face power').

It's a rare type today. There are almost no guys like that anymore.

Yes, that's really true. Today too many people want to look tidy and smart. They don't have that scale anymore. I really love the actors from Sam Peckinpah's movies from the 1960s. In that scene you mentioned before, I shot the moment the band take the stage in slow motion, and that was inspired by Sam Peckinpah.

pictures: scenes from 'Iden & Tity'

You are of course very well known for your work with Shinya Tsukamoto. Are there any similarities between how Tsukamoto makes his films and how you made Iden & Tity?

Within the Japanese film industry, Tsukamoto-san continues to make his films completely his own way by his own system. As an actor I work on various types of films, but when I'm on the set of a Tsukamoto film, I always feel a lot of inspiration and encouragement. You sense that if you really want to, then it's possible to make films by sticking completely to your own methods. In my career there have been moments where I became discouraged with being an actor. At those moments, when I look at Tsukamoto I become really inspired to keep giving it my all.

You still have these moments of discouragement today?

Yes. I get typecast so often. Or sometimes when a director wants me to be in his film, due to the politics behind the scenes somebody overrules him.

Did you have any difficulties of that kind on Iden & Tity?

Yes, but with a lot of crying and begging I got through it in the end. Of course filmmaking is a collaboration, so sometimes you have to consider other people's opinions. But with Tsukamoto it's about 'One Iron Man'. In his case it's also he who finds the budget, so he creates a situation in which nobody can complain. That's really remarkable. Sometimes I think that Cassavetes must have been like this too. Of course their films are completely different.

Tsukamoto's film Tetsuo: The Iron Man was his breakthrough as a director, but also your breakthrough as an actor. What does the film mean to you personally?

Tetsuo was the first film to have a big impact on me. It's thanks to Tetsuo that I'm a professional actor today. Without that film, I wouldn't have a career. Before that, cinema was something glamorous and far removed from my own world. I never imagined that I would ever be part of it.

You do up to 18 films a year as an actor. How can you make so many films in one year? What's the philosophy behind being not just in so many films, but also in such a wide variety of films, from Imamura's The Eel to the Guinea Pig series?

They are all very different films, but what they have in common is that they are always strange films (laughs). The most important thing is the screenplay. At the time of Tetsuo I didn't realise it, but now I'm more conscious about the question of whether my being in a film can add something interesting to it. Also, you have to work a lot to make a living. In Japan anyway (laughs).

Do you have the ambition to continue directing? And if so what kind of films would you want to make?

I'm thinking of directing more films, yes. To put it briefly, I'm interested in stories about marginal people who find discouragement but who re-emerge later. I've never been very interested in successful people. That's too easy. I was interested in Iden & Tity because it's a story about people who don't live in the world of gorgeous and slick rock music. But I must admit I'm a bit worried about how the audience will react to that. Maybe they prefer it to be gorgeous.