An interview with actor Junichi Kajioka

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Interview by Mike Sullivan

Junichi Kajioka is a prolific actor based in London who has been in numerous movies over the last twenty years, and incredibly he graduated from Tokyo Sushi Academy, which means he is a qualified sushi chef. He has had many appearances in TV dramas in China and has had a number of supporting roles in productions across the world including 47 Ronin. His recent passion has been his own film project, IMPHAL 1944, a movie about a war veteran who comes to London for reconciliation between the British and Japanese who fought in Imphal in 1944.

When did you know that you wanted to become an actor? Were you inspired by anyone in particular?
It was when I was in high school – I wanted to do something different from everyone else. I’m still exploring different possibilities though. I was hugely inspired by the Kurosawa’s films. When I was younger I wasn’t a keen cinemagoer but after being involved in the making of Devils on the Doorstep in China, I started my passion for films. I watched 555 films in the year before I came to London. Kurosawa’s 30 films were the most impressive and I could see how his style changed as his life progressed.

How do you prepare for an audition?
First of all, I try to get any script for the role so that I understand the context for the piece I am performing. If I know who the director is, I will check their style and try and get inspiration from their past work. The rest of it relies on spontaneity!

What was the first part you ever had? Were you nervous?
My first role was a croupier in a one-off TV drama. There were so many famous actors in the shooting including my then-mentor Teruyuki Kagawa. Of course I was so nervous before the shooting and got a severe headache on set but once the shooting started my headache and nervousness were gone and all my attention was concentrated on listening to the director and paying attention to camera positions and the other actors. Concentration! It turned out to be an enjoyable experience and I can say that I learnt some really useful things on set!

What has been your most memorable role so far and why?
My most memorable role was, I have to say, the one for 47 Ronin because it was my first Hollywood film. I went to the auditions three times and each one was for a different role. In the end I was given a speaking role but it was just one line! It was very tough! Actually I was cast for another big-budget film at the same time in China. However, in the time that I waited for the 47 Ronin shooting in London, the big role in that other film was filled. It’s not the only time that potential projects have clashed. I wish I had two bodies!

Looking back at all of the projects you have been attached to it seems like you work really hard! Although you are based in London, are you normally moving from one place to another? Do you often have work in Japan?
I worked as an actor in Tokyo for seven years and then moved to China in 1995. I’ve acted in films and TV series in China. I was often away from three to six months for Chinese projects and moved from one place to another. These days I’m still moving a lot. I’ve just come back from a tour in Glasgow and Paris. I hope to go to India again soon and a film festival in Monaco in December. Yes, definitely I’m often on the move!

Your latest project is IMPHAL 1944, a place in India where there was an important battle between the Japanese and allied troops. It seems that you have been the driving force behind this?
Yes, I’ve been involved in another Indian film project which has had a long gestation period. It was originally intended to be finished in time for the 70th anniversary commemoration of the Battle of Imphal this year. In March when I realised that this wasn’t going to be possible I decided to make my own film instead. It was a very intensive project due to the timescales involved. Of course, it’s so hard to make and produce one film but it’s so rewarding! I will definitely continue with writing and producing my own films now.

What kind of reaction have you had from the audience for this film?
So far it has only had private presentations in Imphal and Delhi screenings, including the 70th anniversary commemoration in Imphal. When I received a round of applause from hundreds of people in the theatre I felt very emotional. A lot of newspapers and magazines in Japan and India wrote about our film and my acting life. Now that I am back in the UK, it is wonderful to know that so many people are interested in our project.

What do you think are the differences between being an actor in Japan and in the UK?
There are always different challenges. In Japan belonging to a good agent and being established definitely helps to get you a job. In UK, there is always an audition to get a role so it’s based more on one’s ability to perform in a particular role. But there is not such a great variety of roles for minorities so you tend to be typecast. That’s why I’m exploring more opportunities not only in Japan and the UK but in other countries. I am also not just waiting for auditions as an actor but also making my own films with a UK/Japan theme. I want to find and tell little known stories to the world through my film making.

What are your favourite things about Japan, and your favourite things about the UK?
I love eating out and shopping in Japan – it is cheap and convenient. The first thing I do when I go back to Japan is go to a sushi restaurant to eat as much sushi as I want and then pop into convenience stores in the middle of the night. This is my obligatory routine!

I love the easy-going life style in UK, and the cultural diversity in London. I feel a sense of freedom living in London. People here are so patient and open-minded. They never put you in their box and judge people. You are just comfortable being yourself.


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