The Russian part of the shooting for the new drama titled The Priest-San completed in Yaroslavl Region. Directed by Yegor Baranov, the film tells the story of a Japanese Orthodox priest Takuro Nakamura (Father Nikolai in baptizm) who, after having defended a young woman from the yakuza, was forced to flee Japan and went to serve in a small Russian village called "Glubokoye." But there Father Nikolai becomes involved in a whole different war. The protagonist is played by Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, a Japanese actor and martial artist known for his roles in Mortal Kombat, Showdown in Little Tokyo, and Hachi: A Dog's Tale. Most of the rest of the cast are Russian, including Ivan Okhlobystin, Pyotr Mamonov, Igor Zhizhikin, and Lyubov Tolkalina.
In the following interview, Cary-Hiroyuki speaks about his latest role, getting to know Orthodox Christianity, and a therapeutic system of his own invention.
Why did you decide to accept a role in a Russian film?
My entire career is fairly unusual. I am a Japanese actor working in Hollywood. Most of the projects I have worked on differed significantly from one another. All too often I receive invitations to play Japanese gangsters, but I have always been interested in trying something new. So when I was approached with the role of an Orthodox Christian priest in Russia, I did not hesitate a second. I said to myself: this is going to fit ideally with my filmography!
And a very unusual role it is. What was the hardest part for you in playing it?
To be honest, I had anticipated plenty of difficulties, but the reality turned out to be somewhat simpler. I had been afraid of a language barrier: you know, a Japanese actor conversing with the Russian crew in English. But we quickly learnt to understand each other. After the first filming day I knew that everything was going to work just fine. You know, we actors have a language of our own, a language that can penetrate any linguistic obstacles. I was very fortunate to work on The Priest-San with extremely talented people who are truly passionate about their profession. I think this is the most powerful film I have ever worked on.
Ivan Okhlobystin and Pyotr Mamonov are both very religious personalities. Did they help you in any way to get to know Russian Orthodox Christianity better?
I can identify with the spirituality of Ivan and Pyotr, I am deeply religious myself. You cannot just grasp the essence of the Russian Orthodox Church with its centuries of history. Getting to know it takes time, and it's a job for the heart rather than the mind. When I had first come to Russia I had very little time to get into the character. So I visited a number of Russian cathedrals in Yaroslavl and Rostov. Simply being inside had a very powerful effect on me. I am mightily impressed with Russia, although I know that Russians themselves are not entirely impressed with their country for some reason. (Laughs.)
Should you get invited to work on another Russian film, will you accept?
I am absolutely confident that this was the first of many Russian projects for me. I have a Russian manager now and we are already discussing possible further projects.
Moviegoers mostly know you as a martial artist. Did you get to demonstrate your skills in The Priest-San?
Perhaps not as extensively as you might be hoping for. In fact, I am not overly disappointed with the fact. (Laughs.) The film is more about me fighting myself. My preferred method is to heal people with martial arts. I have even developed it into a therapy system. Soon after I started studying martial arts I realised that this was not precisely my way. I certainly do value being respected for the roles of Shang Tsung in Mortal Kombat or Heihachi in Tekken. I have often demonstrated my skills and performed stunts myself. In reality though, I like healing people much better than fighting them.
Your protagonist is constantly trying to help people find a way out of difficult situations. Is there any personal message that you would like to get across with this role?
I hope the film will help men realise that violence, especially violence against women, is unacceptable. I have played a lot of bad guys in my career but in this one my protagonist has to face his own demons. I would be happy if watching The Priest-San would drive the viewers to a bit of soul-searching. There is a huge difference between a soldier and a warrior. I believe that the Russian men have a warrior's mentality, just like the Japanese men do. We live in a world of soldiers but we have much in common. Dignity and honour are the two qualities distinguishing the warrior, but they have absolutely no currency in the world of soldiers. I respect the Russian men for their manly qualities. Of course, they have their own problems, and I just hope that our film will help some of them sort theirs out.