The Asakusa Kid”, a movie about the bond between Beat Takeshi and his mentor Chisaburo Fukami, is now available on Netflix from December 9. The young Takeshi is played by Yuya Yagira, who gives an excellent performance as the comedian Beat Takeshi, and Yo Oizumi plays the role of the famous comedian known as the “legend of Asakusa” in a stylish way.
The film was directed by Gekidan Hitori, who describes himself as a “Takeshi-san devotee. Hitori, who describes himself as a “devotee of Takeshi,” started the project on his own and spent about seven years to complete it. This time, we interviewed Hitori just before the release of the film. We asked him to talk frankly about the “fear” of releasing his work and the influence that directing has had on him.
The film takes place in Asakusa, Tokyo in the 1965s. Takeshi (Yagira Yuya) drops out of college and joins the Asakusa France Theater, then known as the “Hall of Laughter,” and becomes an apprentice to Fukami (Oizumi Yo), a charismatic comedian. From him, Takeshi absorbs all kinds of things, such as “what is laughter” and “the manners of a comedian,” and his talent for laughter blossoms. However, as the times change to the heyday of television, their relationship as teacher and disciple begins to change.
I can’t even begin to regret it if someone else makes a film of it in the future.
–Takeshi has been an idol of mine since I was a child, and I want to make a movie about his younger days. This is a project that he has been working on for a long time, and I think it can be said to be a life’s work for director Gekidan Hitori. How do you feel now that you are about to release the film?
I’m really satisfied with the film, so I can send it out with pride, but I’m still worried about the public’s evaluation. To tell you the truth, I’d rather just make it, watch it with my family, and be done with it (laughs).
(Laughs) It’s not out in the world yet, but I’m really scared because I’m sure there will be a lot of reactions, including harsh opinions. I’m really scared. How nice it would be if we could just say to each other, “Well, you made something good, that was fun.
(laughs) For me, Takeshi-san has always been a figure of admiration, but there are many comedians who worship him as a god, not just me. I think there are many people, not just comedians, who have been influenced by Takeshi, and I wonder if those people will be OK with this film. …… I’m also a believer in Takeshi-san, so I feel even more scared.
–You started working on the script in 2014, and it took you about seven years to complete it.
I had a lot of fun making films after “A Bolt from the Blue” (2002), so I wrote a lot of scripts to see what I could do next, but something didn’t feel right.
No matter what I wrote, “The Asakusa Kid” kept sticking in my head, and I realized, “Oh, I want to make this film. But it’s not easy for me now. However, I knew that I wouldn’t be able to regret it if someone else made it into a film, so I started writing the script, even if it didn’t work, to get to the point where I felt I had done all I could do.
I started writing the script, and after going back and forth with producers I knew, I finally landed on Netflix. I can’t thank Netflix enough.
I really like Netflix, but this film is not Netflix-like. It’s not a death game, and there are no zombies in it (laughs). (laughs) In that sense, it’s different from other films, so I’m positive that people will be able to watch it with a fresh feeling.
–On November 10th, an event was held where the cast and directors of the most recent Netflix original films gathered. On November 10th, an event was held for the cast and directors of the most recent Netflix original films, including director Hitori, Yuya Yagira, Yo Oizumi, and members of “The Newspaper Reporter,” “Bokutachi wa Minna Ga Nai Nataeta,” and others.
Well, we were all on the edge of our seats (laughs). They were all competing with each other here, so even though they were smiling and talking, there was an atmosphere of “We can’t lose. That’s just what I thought (laughs).
–So that’s how it was!
Fortunately, the “Asakusa Kid” was in the center during the photo session, so that was good (laughs).
Takeshi-san’s image to me is that he is lonely as a person
–In the film, Takeshi’s (Yuya Yagira) mentor is the legendary comedian Fukami (Yo Oizumi).
I read a book about him and watched a little footage of his skits, but I couldn’t understand his personality. I could only imagine what he was like in his private life, but this time I had the opportunity to talk to Takeshi about many things.
At that time, Takeshi-san told me that he is a shy person. Basically, he doesn’t give compliments and Takeshi said, “It’s all the other way around. Although I’m not like Mr. Fukami at all, I understand a little bit about the part of him that is pretentious to his juniors.
For example, I can’t honestly give them pocket money. For example, I can’t honestly give him pocket money. Even if I know he’s in need of money, I can’t say, “Here, eat with this,” so I hide my embarrassment by saying, “Make it a great story that I gave you money, and tell it somewhere else in a year.
–Hiroshi Oizumi, who also worked with Fukami on “A Bolt from the Blue,” played the role beautifully. However, at first, the images of Mr. Fukami and Mr. Oizumi did not connect.
Mr. Oizumi’s public image is a little bit funny, isn’t it? But in reality, Mr. Fukami was so strong that “when I first met him, I thought he was a yakuza. Naturally, I had imagined such a type of person when I first cast him, but it’s a habit of mine that I don’t like it when people get too into it. It’s also my habit, but I don’t like it when I get too into it.
Then I watched “A Bolt from the Blue” again, and I couldn’t help but want to see Mr. Fukami played by Mr. Oizumi. It hadn’t even crossed my mind before, but I found myself getting excited about it. I didn’t care if it was right or not, I wanted to see it! I just wanted to see it.
If I felt that way, I was sure that the viewers would too, so I offered it to her. …… Well, it was really a brilliant performance. He was definitely better than the Chisaburo Fukami I had imagined in my mind. He was clumsy, kind, cool, and sexy.
–Do the other cast members have the same sense of “shifting” that you just mentioned?
Ms. Honami Suzuki, who played Mr. Fukami’s wife Mari, is completely like that. I was thinking that I don’t want to play the role too much like a “comedian’s wife” or a “supportive and healthy” one, when I saw Honami Suzuki. When I saw Honami Suzuki, I thought, “I want her!
As for Mr. Yagira, my image of him is that he is a lonely person when you take out the part of Takeshi as a comedian. Because he is a genius, he is lonely no matter how far he goes, and I can smell that in Mr. Yagira.
–I heard that Director Hitori used to tell his staff “I like it or I don’t like it”.
For the sets and costumes, yes. I know it’s not good to say something too abstract, but I don’t have an answer for what I like. I wanted the professionals to do their best, so that’s how I did it.
For example, if I didn’t like the red outfit, and I said, “Wouldn’t it be better if it was brighter,” they would just bring me the outfit. The real reason I didn’t like it might be that I didn’t realize it, but the length or the ruffles didn’t fit. I’m not a professional in this field, so I don’t know what I look for when I judge something as not good enough. So if I was going to say something random, I thought I’d just say, “I think it’s not good.
After all, I am the director, so even if I said something random, the staff would believe it and follow it. That’s why I made sure not to make irresponsible requests. On the other hand, when I had a clear idea of what I wanted to do, I would give detailed direction to the actors, such as “I want you to look here for a moment and then look away.
My play is not at a level where I can get paid for it.
–You didn’t appear in the film this time, did you? Did you change your mind after “A Bolt from the Blue,” your first film as a director?
I directed and acted in “A Bolt from the Blue,” and it was very difficult (laughs). (laughs) I don’t really want to do it again. I felt embarrassed to check my own performance on the monitor and give an OK, and I didn’t want to be like, “You give NG to other people so easily, but you give OK to yourself so easily.
(laughs) Also, after watching the first film, I thought, “My acting is not at the level where I can get paid. It’s fine to come out a little on the side, but I feel like I can’t stand alongside professional actors. That’s what I finally understood when I started filming myself. A comedian’s perfunctory acting can’t compete with a professional. It’s superficial and shallow.
Of course, this is not the case for all actors, and only those who can do it, but the depth and atmosphere of the play is completely different. I can’t do anything like that, including crying. I might be able to play a coffee shop clerk, but I found it difficult to express my feelings properly.
–After working as a director, you became more serious about your own acting, didn’t you?
Yes, that’s right. I used to think I was “good” at acting, but then I realized that it was like batting in front of Ichiro. From that point on, I only took on roles that were appropriate for my size.
I still like comedians
–This may be related to the part about “loneliness” that was mentioned earlier in the discussion about Takeshi’s image, but I think that Hitori’s works, such as his novels “Blooming in the Shadows” (2008) and “A Bolt from the Blue” (2010; the movie was released in 2014), have a structure that contrasts “dream/reality”. The reason why I am attracted to such themes is because of the way they are expressed. What is it that attracts you to these themes?
I guess it’s because I’ve done it before. There were times when I couldn’t eat, I had debts, and I was used as a jerk by younger workers at my part-time job. …… I think I am attracted to such stories because I have experienced the time when I thought, “What the hell.
–When I talked to you before, I was impressed by the fact that you said you liked comedians.
Yes, I do. I like comedy, but I also like comedians. Especially comedians, they do their best to hide their painful thoughts and feelings. It’s not like “I can’t even see my parents when they die,” but I like the sadness of going on stage even in such a situation. I would like to shed light on such aspects in my novels and films.
–I feel humanity very much in my work, including this one, so it made sense to me.
I think I like people myself. When I made “A Bolt from the Blue,” there was a person who said, “I called my mother for the first time in a year after seeing the film. When I hear that kind of response, I feel glad that I made the film. I’d be very happy if someone watches “The Asakusa Kid” and says, “I feel like calling someone for the first time in a long time.
Asakusa, Tokyo in the 1965s. Takeshi (Yagira Yuya), who quit his university job to work as an elevator boy at the France Theater, begs Senzaburo Fukami (Oizumi Yo), who has trained many popular comedians, to become his apprentice. Fukami, who is blunt but has his own unique view of the world, teaches him the essence of “geiwoto,” including tap dancing and comedy techniques, how to work behind the scenes, and how to take pride in being a comedian: “Don’t be laughed at, make people laugh. In accordance with Fukami’s teaching, “If you’re a comedian, you should always be funny,” Takeshi refines his sense of humor as he works with Fukami as an apprentice, and grows dramatically under the watchful eye of Chiharu (Mugi Kadowaki), a dancer who aspires to be a singer, and Fukami’s wife Mari (Honami Suzuki). However, with the wave of television, the number of customers at the France Theater declines and the business deteriorates.
Takeshi begins to think that he would like to compete outside the company, and is invited by Kiyoshi (Nobuyuki Tsuchiya), a former senior member of the France Theater, to form a comic duo called “Two Beat. Overcoming fierce opposition, Takeshi runs away from Fukami and gradually gains popularity. On the other hand, Fukami finds himself in a difficult situation as the times change. One day, the fates of these two opposing masters and disciples intersect once again.
Netflix movie “The Asakusa Kid
Now available exclusively on Netflix worldwide!
Netflix movie page】https://www.netflix.com/浅草キッド
Interview and text by： SYO
Film writer, born in Fukui Prefecture in 1987. Born in Fukui Prefecture in 1987. Studied film and theatrical expression at Tokyo Gakugei University. After graduating from university, worked for a film magazine editing production company before becoming a film writer. Has worked on a wide range of projects, including interviews, reviews, news articles, columns, event reports, and recommendation comments.
Photography： Yusuke Tanaka Scene photos courtesy of： Netflix