About being the protagonist and producer of the movie, cooperating with Daishi Matsunaga and Aju Makita, the action scenes of the movie, the Japanese movie industry and other topics.
Dean Fujioka started his career as a model in Hong Kong’s fashion scene in 2004 for both local and international designer brands. He continued to appear in Hong Kong’s leading fashion and lifestyle magazines. Simultaneously with his career in fashion, he also embarked on various advertising campaigns, appearing in TV and print commercials for both local and multinational clients in the Asia pacific region. In 2006, Fujioka started to pursue a career in acting. He moved his base from Hong Kong to Taipei and appeared in his first TV series Goku Dō High School with Bao Weimin, Bao Xiaobo, and Kingone Wang. His very first film August Story, starring Tian Yuan, Dean Fujioka, and Jan Cheung, caught public attention in film festivals all over Asia. In 2015, Fujioka starred as a private detective in his first Japanese TV series “Detective versus Detectives”.
On the occasion of “Pure Japanese” becoming available worldwide on Amazon Prime, we speak with him about being the protagonist and producer of the movie, cooperating with Daishi Matsunaga and Aju Makita, the action scenes of the movie, the Japanese movie industry and other topics.
*additional questions by Don Anelli
How did you end up starring and producing “Pure Japanese”? In general, what do you look for in the roles you pick?
This project started from the question “What does it mean to be a Japanese in the society today?” Even if you’re not Japanese DNA-wise, there are a lot of people who were born and raised in Japan. There are people with Japanese parents who don’t speak a word of Japanese or don’t have Japanese citizenship. As part of this “Japanese tribe” I have been thinking where that outline is drawn and came to a hypothesis that “being Japanese” is ultimately “someone who thinks and acts based upon the Japanese language.” If Japanese language is the human OS tool and if that OS is simply driving the human race to deliver “Language OS DNAs” to the future, the question is “where is this demigod-like language OS taking Japanese tribe to?” That was the idea.
Which were the hardest parts of producing the movie?
To execute the project that requires the process of finding investors, I couldn’t just create what I felt like creating. I had to make sure that the project can be objectively communicated to others. Yet back then, no one really understood the concept about this language OS myth I wanted to create. So that was the first big obstacle.
I had previously written few more proposals prior to this one, but this one was the first project that I could find an investor for. That process was very difficult. There were different obstacles in every phase of the project. As I entered the shoot, I was mainly playing the role of an actor. The physical aspect was the toughest there. Action scenes can take a lot of time to shoot but on top of that, since it took place in the deep mountains, I experienced hypothermia. I had been continuously training with strict diet and I also had other drama shoot going on at the same time so it was really tough.
In the post-production phase, director Daishi Matsunaga and engineers took the lead but as a creator of the project, I also had to oversee the entire production including the fine-tuning of sound and color until completion. Even that bicolored credit roll. I devoted my entire heart and soul.
How was your cooperation with director Daishi Matsunaga in your two capacities?
Working with Daishi was amazing. Initially, producer Ogawa introduced me to him. He became a big driving force of the project once he got on board. As the project progressed, I felt more and more that it was fate. During the shoot, I wanted to let him lead so that I could focus on my acting. I think it’s a form of trust to let someone take the lead in what you originally started. So blessed to be able to share the same passion and have a relationship like that.
How was your cooperation with Aju Makita?
I am thankful for the opportunity to work with an amazing actress, Aju Makita, right in that moment and time. For her to cross paths with the high school girl character Ayumi at that stage of her life and to be able to navigate the shoot as a professional actress, there couldn’t be a better timing for her. Of course, you learn more technique and experience with time but there are certain sensitiveness and sound that you can only play at that moment. This movie is full of Aju’s charm like that.
The film requires your character to go through various extreme emotions, from quiet and peaceful to romantic and finally forceful man-of-action. How did you cultivate this range?
During the pre-production stage, through the process of script development, I started to understand what it takes to play this character. I dare say the whole idea was very similar to human sacrifice. Everything, all the emotions and sensations, is meant to be consumed in the act of killing as part of a ritual to please/appease the Japanese OS demigod.
In general, how would you describe Daisuke Tateishi?
A host, who carries Japanese OS demigod myth, who cannot find a way to break the spell, thus ends up sacrificing his life to it.
It is strange to set the biological category according to the national border and it is difficult to say that someone is “100% Japanese.” But Daisuke, like the title “Pure Japanese,” sought purification. Other than DNA, to easily show and capture the local culture, I thought that it would be best to use the element of “violence” to create a myth. For example, in Japan back in the day, people used short swords for Seppuku. I projected the idiosyncrasy of that culture upon Daisuke working in Ninja shows. The word “pure” can sound cute but there are insanity and a dark side behind it. That’s what I wanted to portray.
How was your experience in shooting the action scenes?
Man, it was tough. Actual action and the Ninja shows are very different. Ninja shows are more like dance but action can be more violent or impulsive so I needed to train for it. I learned the Ninja moves in Nikko. I practiced with the actual Ninja players at Nikko Edo Wonderland a few times but prior to that, I spent more time in the studio with the action team to get the basic movements down. Other than that, I just kept working out between the shoots. Daisuke’s training is to be secluded in the mountains but I worked my imagination further to do what Daisuke would have done.
What is your opinion of the Japanese movie industry at the moment?
I started working in Japan about 10 years ago and as I spoke with the stunt crews on site, I learned that there are less opportunities for them to play an active part in recent years, which simply led me to think that we should make more action movies in Japan. Kind of like regeneration of old folk houses, I thought it would be great to see more opportunities for them to show the beauty of action stunts, Japanese legacy. So I gave the character the role of an ex-action stunt man. Not to copy the movie “Fall Guy” (1982) but I wanted to put the spotlight on action stars and stunt men characters. Stunt crew tend to think like “I got injured today so I think I did a good job.” Of course we do our best to avoid the injury, but you really have to love what you do to think like that. I felt very emotional every time I see them like that so I wanted to make a movie based on that idea.
Talking about Japanese movie industry per se, almost all the Japanese movies today are derived from the successful IPs like manga, anime, and novels with exiting fanbase, and it’s very difficult to make a movie with an original script. It’s always tough to pave a way but you should never give up if your instinct tells you that’s where your passion lies. Especially if you got a story to tell.
Are you working on any new projects?
Yes. Music, movies and more. Stay tuned!