Japan’s Koji Yakusho won best actor at Cannes on Saturday for “Perfect Days” by German director Wim Wenders, a touching tale about a Tokyo toilet cleaner.
“I want to specifically thank Wim Wenders… who truly created a magnificent character,” he said as he received the award.
Yakusho, 67, appears in most scenes of “Perfect Days” as a mysterious, bookish man without friends, content to spend his spare time reading, watering his plants, taking photos, and listening to songs on his car stereo.
The versatile actor’s roles in over four decades of movie-making have ranged from warlords and gangsters to killers and cops — and now an everyman who keeps the public washrooms of Tokyo pristine.
He also crossed over to Hollywood for “Memoirs of a Geisha” in 2005 and “Babel” a year later.
“Wim had given me very little information… There was a lot of mystery. Even today, it’s a character I know almost nothing about,” he said of his role, which involved almost no dialogue.
“It was the first time I shot like that, over a very short period, without rehearsal,” he said about working with one of the giants of European cinema.
Germany’s Wenders, 77, won the top prize Palme d’Or at Cannes in 1984 for “Paris, Texas”.
Born in 1956 in Isahaya, Nagasaki prefecture, Yakusho first worked as a town hall employee before turning to acting in 1979, after following up on an ad in a newspaper.
Out of 800 candidates he was one of four selected, “and today I am the only one to be an actor”, he told French media in 2003.
His first big role that helped propel his career was in the popular hit “Tampopo” (1985) about the hunt for a noodle soup recipe.
Since then among his notable films have been “The Eel”, winner of the Palme in 1997, and “The Third Murder” in 2017.
In 2009 he made his first and only feature “Toad’s Oil” in which he also played the lead role.
Asked what keeps him going in the trade, he told The Hollywood Reporter in 2019: “I always think I haven’t got it quite right, but in the next film I’ll finally nail it.
“I guess that’s the drug of this business for me, which has kept me going for 40 years.”
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