That “big film” that was the hardest… “Actresses who struggled & actors who impressed me” as told by a charismatic equestrian instructor of movies and dramas. | FRIDAY DIGITAL

That “big film” that was the hardest… “Actresses who struggled & actors who impressed me” as told by a charismatic equestrian instructor of movies and dramas.

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This is the man who taught Shun Oguri how to play yabusame!
He has participated in more than 20 NHK historical dramas alone, including “Kamakuradono no 13-nin”.
Hiroshi Abe and Masato Sakai also trained here.

Mr. Tanaka and his actor-horse, Walla Walla Big Burn. He rode Matsumoto Jun in “Dare Ieyasu” and also appeared in Takeshi Kitano’s film “The Head.

I always make sure to have the director and the director-in-charge ride the horse before shooting,” Tanaka said. I always make sure to have the director and the directing staff get on the horse before filming. They don’t mind telling an actor, who is apparently a hunchback and wears several dozen kilograms of armor, to ‘jump on the horse with a flick! (laughs).

says Mitsunori Tanaka, 56, the president of Wrangler Ranch, a horseback riding club in the Yatsugatake Mountains of Yamanashi Prefecture. Mr. Tanaka has been involved as an equestrian instructor in movies and more than 20 NHK historical dramas.

Recently, he participated in the filming of the hit drama “VIVANT” (TBS), where he trained horses that could act, including Masato Sakai (50) and Hiroshi Abe (59), who will appear together in Mongolia.

The horses are not affected by noises or the movements of their riders, and can follow a specified route and speed and stop exactly where they are supposed to without the actors having to do anything,” said Mr. Abe. Only one in hundreds of horses has this quality, but for “VIVANT,” we had to take a wild Mongolian horse that was capable of biting people and turn it into a workhorse in just one month. It was the hardest job I have ever had to do, and I had to cut down on my sleeping hours.

Mongolia is a country of grazing culture, and there are only wild horses. Only horses that can defend themselves against wolves can survive when left alone on the steppe. I petted the horses every day, walked with them, and built a relationship of trust with them. I taught the horse to move little by little, and if he didn’t like it, I would go back to the drawing board. …… Cramming and training the horse would make him neurotic. There were days when we couldn’t train because of storms and wind storms, so it was hard to allocate and assemble the time, and to be honest, we got there pretty last minute.”

Among the many difficult scenes, including one in which people, sheep, and goats are all running around mixed in with each other, the most difficult scene was the one in which Fumi Nikaido (29) has to hand feed carrots to the horses.

He was inevitably still wary and would not eat from people’s hands. Of the eight horses we trained, only one ate a carrot at the last minute, so we decided that boy would be Nikaido-san’s horse.

Mr. Abe had the tallest boy, and Mr. Sakai had the most stubborn and leader-like boy to ride. Mr. Sakai had practiced all the way in Mongolia, and he laughed and said, “I was able to apply the way I ride a horse to the camel riding scene as well! He laughed.

Tanaka’s participation in “VIVANT” was at the direct request of Sakai and Abe. Tanaka has known Sakai, in particular, since the NHK historical drama “Sanadamaru” broadcast in 2004.

Usually, the show pays me for lessons, and many of the leading actors start visiting around six months in advance,” he said. But Mr. Sakai had been coming to our club to practice three times a week for a year at his own expense, driving three hours each way. When I asked him about it, he told me that Mr. Sakai had previously experienced a horse fall during filming, and that all the cast members had fallen off their horses at that site.

Perhaps because of that, he practiced until he could ride quite well. The horse that Mr. Sakai rode in “VIVANT” was not yet complete as a character horse and would not listen to the rider unless the rider shifted his center of gravity and communicated his will to the horse, but he rode it well.

Mr. Tanaka, who has participated in overseas productions such as the Hollywood film “The Last Samurai,” says that it is a Japanese-German culture that places importance on the actor himself riding the horse. In response to such requests, many stars have come to Tanaka’s club.

The late Ken Utsui, Toshiyuki Nishida, Hiroshi Fujioka, Haruka Ayase, Yukie Nakama, Hideaki Takizawa (……), and especially Shun Oguri (40), whom I have known for more than 10 years since the movie “Tajomaru. He always comes to the horse riding club to practice before the shooting starts.

Before the shooting of the historical drama “Kamakuradono no 13-nin,” he said, “I want to pull a bow with both hands apart. To master yabusame (horseback archery), you have to start all over again from the basics, and even if you learn it, only a few people will understand how great it is. Even after I explained this to him, he just said, ‘Yes, I will do my best,’ and he did it.

The only professionals in Japan protecting the quality of the masterpiece and the safety of the performers.

Fumi Nikaido (third from right) with the crew during the filming of “VIVANT” in Mongolia. Mr. Tanaka named the horse that Nikaido is holding “Choco,” and he and Nikaido played together.

From the November 24, 2023 issue of FRIDAY

  • PHOTO Yuri Adachi

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