Close-up: An Interview with Mina Fujii

MINA Fujii is one of the brightest talents in world cinema. Close-up Culture caught up with Mina to talk about her upcoming films, her love for writing and her hopes for the future.

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Q: You star in Kim Ki-Duk’s film The Time of Humans. Can you tell us about your character Eve and your experience working on the film?

A: THE story begins with a group of passengers from various backgrounds sailing with the crew of a warship. I play the role of Eve, an ‘average’ lady who just happens to be on the ship with her fiancé.

On the trip, the enormous ship suddenly rises above the clouds and we are faced with tremendous challenges. We all battle the fear that we will never return. Throughout the plot, Eve rises to the occasion to stand up for herself and lead some of the other passengers.

I felt pressure working with some of the greatest stars from Korea and Japan, but I really got comfortable after meeting with the director and cast before shooting and doing our numerous read-throughs of the script. It was helpful to spend time with the crew prior to the shooting because it gave me a deeper understanding of my character and helped build rapport with the rest of the team.

We shot the film in script order which is rare. Shooting like this helped me express the subtle emotions of Eve as she deals with the numerous conflicts along the way.

Q: You will also star in Jay Chern’s Omotenashi: The Ceremony later this year. What can we expect from that film?

A: I AM truly blessed and honoured to have had the opportunity to work with Taiwanese director Jay Chern. He beautifully portrays the traditional Japanese “omotenashi” ethic – a term used to define Japanese hospitality.

The movie provides an excellent opportunity to learn about Japan, especially for those who are not familiar with our culture. It also allowed me to reflect on our traditions and gave me a chance to look back at my historical roots.

Although the characters face cultural conflicts, they acknowledge the problems and live their lives to the fullest. I hope this movie can inspire everyone who watches it.


Q: If I am correct, you started performing at age nine. What have been the key influences in your development as a performer and an actress?

A: I STARTED acting on stage when I was 9 years old and my first major film debut came when I was 17.

I have had some ups and downs in my career but I had my biggest slump when I was 22 and 23. I felt anxious not knowing what to do while many of my college friends began focusing on their careers.

I was initially reluctant to follow my dream because I did not know what the future held. Now, when I think back, I am thankful for all the hard times because they have made me what I am today.

The time away gave me the opportunity to learn the Korean language which has opened so many doors for me. Although I currently work half of my time in Korea and half in Japan, I hope to work on other international projects and be able to use more languages.

Q: I have read many of your blogs and the column you used to write for Barfout magazine. You write beautifully and insightfully about film and life. Do you still write?

A: THANK you so much for reading my work. I have always loved to read and write since I was a child. It seemed only natural for me to major in literature at university.

I wrote monthly essays for Barfout magazine for two years and I still take time to blog post. I am still getting used to writing short Instagram captions and I would love to write essays again because writing is in my blood.

Q: In one column you talked about the importance of seeking happiness over fame and money. How do you stay grounded and choose the right projects?

A: I HAVE to admit that I am just a regular girl. After spending a long time in the entertainment industry and having the opportunity to meet so many extraordinarily talented people, it keeps me humble.

There were times when I felt a little insecure, especially when I compared myself with other actors, but that made me work much harder. On the other hand, I have also noticed that there are plenty of roles for a normal girl like me, so being ‘average’ is not so bad after all since we are all special in our own way.

No matter how rich and famous I might become, I still enjoy having dinner at my neighbourhood restaurant and catching the train to get around. I know it is important for me to live a fulfilling and normal life and my writing reflects that.

Q: Why do you love to act and perform and what are your passions and interests when away from the cameras?

A: SINCE the beginning of my acting career, I have always felt an inner joy being able to bring different characters to life. I knew from an early age that I wanted to spend my life as an actor.

When I am away from the cameras, I really enjoy learning languages. Now, I study Korean and English in my spare time. It is funny – when I first started studying Korean, I was just hoping to be able to watch Korean dramas without subtitles. I did not try too hard at first but later I started to really apply myself and show more progress.

I definitely would not be where I am today without learning Korean. I am motivated to learn even more languages and continue to broaden my horizons.

Q: You were born in California before moving back to Japan. Do you have any plans to work in the America or Europe?

A: I HAVE not properly experienced working in the US or Europe yet, but I was so excited to attend the Berlin International Film Festival with Korean director Kim Ki-Duk. He had so many devoted fans, not just in Asia but also in Europe. As a leading actor in his movie, I hope more people get to know me outside of Asia.

My first time performing in English was in movie “Omotenashi: The Ceremony”. It really made me want to improve my communication skills and possibly appear in other foreign films.

Q: What are your ambitions? Are there any directors or actors you would love to work with?

A: I HAVE always wanted to become a performer who would make an impact. I feel like I am gradually making inroads internationally including Japan and Korea. It was a remarkable experience working on Taiwanese film “Omotenashi: The Ceremony” and I want to keep challenging myself and pushing my limits.

I would love to work with Japanese film director Hirokazu Koreeda. He is a true master at capturing the intricacies of everyday life on film and I respect him from the bottom of my heart.

Q: Lastly, do you have any upcoming projects you can tell us about?

A: “OMOTENASHI: THE CEREMONY” has just been released in Japan and comes to theatres in Taiwan next month. Right now, it is so much easier for new films to reach people worldwide. Hopefully, audiences will have the chance to see all of the hard work we have put into this movie. I truly thank you for all your support.

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