It is impossible to consider the surprise impact of one of Japan’s most respected young actresses, Sakura Ando, without recognizing her family ties. She is the daughter of actor-director Eiji Okuda and writer Kazu Ando, younger sister of director Momoko Ando, and wife of actor Tasuku Emoto. It is easy to give credit to good genes and solid industry support, but in the past year Sakura has emerged as a singular talent in her own right. Walking a turbulent line between intense vulnerability and a violent edge, her performances have been lauded for their bracing sincerity and twisted range. In 2015, she was nominated for “Outstanding Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role” by the Japan Academy Prize Association for her role in 0.5mm, a feature film collaboration with her sister. It is finally time for the youngest Ando to take the spotlight.
AKIKO KUREMATSU: What was your childhood like?
SAKURA ANDO: I was really quiet. It was hard for me to communicate what I wanted, what I wanted to do and what I liked. Even though I liked girly pink dresses, I knew that my family preferred sophistication and refinement, so I was embarrassed to express my real desires. Even though I wanted to eat children’s meals, my family liked spicy food, so I didn’t speak up. Perhaps it is because I’m the youngest child. I was quiet and well behaved 90 percent of the time. I look back at childhood photos and I feel worried—most of the photos are normal, but there are a few where I’m posing strangely with a rigidly straight face.
AK: You didn’t find that funny?
SA: No. To be completely honest, it was disconcerting, but I haven’t changed one bit. For example, when I was barely walking and couldn’t yet swim, without hesitation, I jumped into the pool completely out of the blue.
I also questioned everything and never believed there was an ultimate truth or answer for anything. I aimed for originality, both in my perspective and in my character. When I saw a porcelain tea set in Italy, I told my mother that I didn’t want it because one day it would break. Grandma would probably break it.
That fearlessness and unapologetic spontaneity is the foundation of who I am now. My senses don’t caution me against danger, and I only have two gears—zero or a hundred. When I’m at zero, it’s not a state of nothing, or stillness. Although I may be at zero, my mind is going a million miles an hour. I try to use these tendencies to my advantage now, and I have a career that allows me to. As an actress, I can move and be any way that I want.
AK: How was shooting with Araki today? It was your first time working with him, right?
SA: I get uncomfortable when I’m sitting still in front of the camera. When there’s a rhythm to the shoot, like today, I don’t like the feeling of trying to create the image. I get embarrassed when I feel like I’m posing for the shot. So when I feel that way, I have to release that moment and bring it back to neutral. I’ve learned how to do that, to balance myself out.
AK: Did your upbringing usher you into the adult world at an early age? Do you think the pressure made you feel like you had to behave?
SA: Growing up, I was surrounded by adults. There were many different adults around me, but not the normal corporate business types. The adults I was exposed to were the ones who always made a ruckus. There was never anyone around who taught me to be still. It’s only recently that I’ve felt the need to control the wild part of myself a bit more.
AK: Did you have a hero that you looked up to?
SA: When I was eleven, my older sister Momoko told me to cut my long hair. She instructed me to cut my hair like a boy, not unlike the character Super Saiyan from the cartoon Dragon Ball Z. During my late elementary school years, she told me to go punk, to spike my hair, and wear striped T-shirts and shorts every day. After that, techno was popular, so she dressed me up like a cyber-raver. Then when I was thirteen or fourteen, every time I visited her in London, she took me to skate shops and told me what to buy. For a few years, I always had my skateboard strapped to my backpack. When I was around fifteen, she finally stopped being my stylist, but I always trusted her sensibilities. When you asked me if I had a hero, I didn’t immediately think of my sister, but now that I’ve talked it through, I believe it was my sister.
AK: Are there any artists who have impacted your career?
SA: When I was four, I went to see a performance of my father’s at the theater. It was a samurai period piece, but, strangely, a Janis Joplin song came on during the play. At that age, I had no idea whose voice it was, and I didn’t understand what kind of music it was, but I was blown away by her sound and her energy. It moved me so much. The song remains in my mind today, as if I’m hearing it for the first time. The sound seeped into my body. That was the first time I told my mother that I wanted to become what I am today.
AK: And what are you today, an artist? What do you consider yourself, an actress or artist?
SA: I think my mother was under the impression that I meant I wanted to be an actress. But the widely recognized profession of an actress and what I wanted to become were two different things completely. The part of me that wanted to become an actress got stronger and stronger. I tried drawing, painting, and dancing for a while, but I knew that I eventually wanted to do something in the genre of acting.
AK: What are you into right now?
SA: I’m really bored with myself right now. Really, really bored. In 2014, I threw myself into acting with everything I had. I challenged myself, like when I was a kid, with reckless abandon. I wanted to overcome all human limitations, so I left my human self-behind. 100 Yen Love is a film about boxing. I thought that doing the film would be the last time in my twenties that I could physically use my body in exactly the way that I wanted to use it. I abused my body as if it didn’t belong to anyone or anything.
AK: What does the year 2015 have in store for you?
SA: I’m trying to take better care of my body [laughing]. I know, I’m extreme. Because acting is so hard on the body and mind, this year, I’m focusing on my most basic human needs: food, shelter, and clothing. I’d like to be there for my family, and to be honest, I wasn’t focused on my femininity in 2014, so I’d like to spend 2015 being more of a woman. In preparing for the next step in my life, instead of urgently search for something new, I’d like to trust my intuition and regain balance in my everyday life. If something can come out of this process, if I can discover some- thing, then I can move on from my boredom. Thankfully, I’m able to go through this contemplative process because of my husband.
AK: What attracts you most to your husband?
SA: I can definitely rely on him, but I also respect him very much. We can be ourselves, unaffected, with each other. I feel that being with him is the luckiest thing that’s happened to me in my life, that I was able to find the best partner in the world for me.
AK: What types of roles are you interested in?
SA: I’m interested in Japanese period pieces and old Westerns where I can shoot guns while riding a horse. I’d like to play a trapeze artist in a circus troupe, a Japanese pop idol, and a gokudo (yakuza). I can keep going. Every time I watch a new film, I become infatuated with the characters. In between “action” and “cut,” there’s a part of the acting experience that stays with me. By going through the motions with my body, I can experience a time and a life that I would have never been able to experience. I find this to be extremely fascinating.
AK: Are you ever self-conscious about being a woman in your twenties?
SA: I try to stay true to my instincts. When I’m confronted with something, I protect what’s most important to me. I want to be both sensitive and strict when it comes to staying true to my instincts.
AK: What trips do you have coming up this year?
SA: I’m in Italy for a screening of my work at the Udine Far East Film Festival from late April to early May. Then in July, I will be traveling to New York for the first time, for a screening of 0.5mm.
AK: What do you want to do on your first trip to New York?
SA: I’d like to eat the corn with white Cotija cheese on it! It looks really good. That’s it [laughing].
AK: That’s it?
SA: My sister told me that when she came back from her first trip to New York, that there’s really steam rising from New York streets! I’d like to see that! And eat corn [laughing]!
Photography: Nobuyoshi Araki for NeueJournal
Fashion: Hidenori Nohara
Nobuyoshi Araki Courtesy of Yoshiko Isshiki Office, Tokyo
Hair & Makeup: Ryota Nakamura
Casting Director: Ko Iwagami