Thursday, June 24, 2010

Asae Onishi

A disparate mix of rural kabuki performance art, wartime tragedy, star cross’d romance and post-war recovery unfolds throughout Beauty, the movie by Toshio Goto that debuted at the Tokyo International Film Festival in November 2007.

While capable Japanese actress Kumiko Aso (Casshern, Red Shadow) is the undoubted female star of the film, there’s an apparently aspiring relative newcomer - named Asae Onishi - included in the mix, and she makes a remarkable impression in her abridged amount of screen time.

As it turns out, the 26-year-old Kyoto native is hardly a novice. Rear-vision about four years then cue press release.

“Diagnosed with an incurable degenerative brain disease in junior high school, a young woman resolves to live her remaining years to the fullest,” waxes weepy Toei’s propaganda notes for the 2004 bio/drama/tearjerker 1 Liter of Tears (1リットルの涙, Ichi Ritoru no Namida), directed by Chikara Okamura.

“Her effort pays off as she manages to advance to her desired high school, but as her physical condition gradually deteriorates, she finds herself facing surmounting adversity.”

Get the picture?

1 Liter of Tears was a disabled-kid flick so calculatingly winning in its emotional grip on the unsuspecting Japanese audiences who fell for the yarn that it also spawned a spin-off series on Fuji TV the following year.

The original film’s success was due, in no minor part, to its star: Onishi, the actress cast at age 19 to fill the (immobile) boots of real-life scribe and reluctant Spinocerebellar Degeneration victim Aya Kito, whose diaries were incorporated into the shooting script.

“It was my first movie,” Onishi says, “and coincidentally the first time I was cast as a leading actress.”

Which is one of the probable reasons that said tale remains an ongoing favorite for the actress, alongside the Gwyneth Paltrow vehicle Sliding Doors, and Japanese movies like Garusu no Kamen (Glass Mask, 1997), and the recent hit comedy/drama Hula Girls (2006).

Her choice for favored Japanese director parks itself beside Shunji Iwai (Fried Dragon Fish). “I love his movies, as they have this unusual view of the world,” she says.

Onishi made her TV debut in 2001 - “It was in a drama called Kiminomamade, and later I was in Heavenly Forest (ただ、君を愛してる, Tada, Kimi wo Aishiteru 2006) directed by Takehiko Shinjo” - and she’s also been busy doing asides in commercials for the likes of the illustrious sake brewer, Hakutake.

All in all, Onishi attests, it’s been a relatively pragmatic career path despite her age and earlier uncertainties.

“At first, I didn't know what I wanted to be,” she admits in retrospect.

“I found acting to be a lot of fun, though I thought it wasn't for me. Then I realized that I like it when I can do things I didn’t dream of doing before. It’s difficult to work and earn money - but it would be the same even if I chose another job.”

Onishi also has one pure acting motivation that she’s keen to share: she’s just as curious as the rest of us.

“I love finding out what's going to happen to the characters I play.”

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