Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Our Top Ten Favorite Cameo Appearances

It's happened to us all: we're sitting on the couch at home watching a DVD or in a darkened theatre munching on popcorn when we suddenly see a familiar face on the screen. We do a double take, and if we are at home then we grab the remote and rewind. Could that really be...? This is usually what happens when a director includes an actor, actress, celebrity, or even a fellow filmmaker in a clever little cameo role. A lot of the time these appearances are over in a flash. Sometimes they're credited, most often not, but for this month's top ten list the J-Film Pow-Wow wanted to compile our favorite top ten cameos that had us jumping out of our seats and saying, "Hey! That's...!!!!!" Enjoy!

10. Naoto Takenaka in "The Happiness of the Katakuris"

If we ever do a list of the top ten Japanese character actors (and I'm sure that we will) then Naoto Takenaka will definitely end up ranking very high on it. The 53-year-old comedian, singer, TV host, filmmaker and of course actor has appeared in over 130 films, as well directing six with his most recent "Yamagata Scream" gaining international buzz for it's combination of broad comedy and zombie horror. If Takenaka is a household name in Japan then in North America he is still mainly an actor who's attained the "Isn't that the guy from...?" status amongst foreign and genre film fans. Remember Koji Yakusho's hilarious wig-wearing co-worker Tomio in 1997's "Shall We Dance?" or the evil warlord Kiyomasa Kato in Ryuhei Kitamura's "Azumi"? That's Takenaka. We at the Pow-Wow, though, consider a small cameo in Takashi Miike's 2001 zombie comedy musical "The Happiness of the Katakuri's" to be one of Takenaka's most hilarious performances. Sitting around the dinner table one night the Katakuris chow down while watching a very strange news broadcast on TV. A sweaty spastic newscaster played by Takenaka is reporting on a farm where the animals do all the work when suddenly a beetle crawls up his nose. The ensuing sniffling and wincing goes from funny to downright disturbing when we realize that the bug has probably crawled up into the newscaster's brain... but this is Takashi Miike, so things quickly get back to funny again, especially when the broadcast cuts to a sexy blonde singer... also played by Takenaka. CM

9. Hideaki Anno in "Otakus in Love"

Number nine on our list of top ten favorite cameo appearances doesn't involve an actor or a singer, but a famed anime and film director. "Otakus in Love", Matsuo Suzuki's 2004 directorial debut based on the manga by Jun Hanyunyuu, follows the romantic ups and downs between Mon Aoki (Ryuhei Matsuda), a starving manga artist who constructs abstract comics from rocks, and Koino (Wakana Sakai) a cosplayer and manga artist in her own right. It's a zany film loaded with celebrity cameos big and small. Shinya Tsukamoto, Takashi Miike, Kiyoshiro Imawano, George Asakura, and Jun Hanyunyuu himself all make appearances. Even Suzuki steps in front of the camera to play Ryuhei Matsuda's romantic rival, Marimoda, a once great manga artist who now runs a manga café. We could have easily based our entire list on just this one film, but one of the briefest cameos in "Otakus in Love" also proves to be the most interesting. When Koino drags Aoki along with her to a cosplay convention to see a totally over the top theme song performance two silent figures hug the walls. The man in glasses and the unkempt beard is none other than Hideaki Anno, the creator and director of the TV anime "Neon Genesis Evangelion" as well as the director of such films as "Love & Pop" and the live-action "Cutie Honey". What makes this extremely brief cameo even more interesting is that it is a two for one. The woman standing next to Anno is his wife Moyoco Anno, a manga artist and the woman behind "Sakuran" which was adapted into a live-action film by Mika Ninagawa in 2007. Both Mr. and Mrs. Anno had a cameo appearance in that film as well. CM

8. Sonny Chiba in "Fall Guy"

The creative collaboration between Sonny Chiba and director Kinji Fukasaku goes back to the very beginning of both of their careers. Chiba starred in the very first Kinji Fukasaku film, 1961's "Wandering Detective: Tragedy in Red Valley". It was just Chiba's fourth role in a feature film. The two became friends and Fukasaku would end up casting him in 16 of his films, mostly during the 70's and early 80's. You can count 17 films if you include "Battle Royale II", the sequel to Fukasaku's groundbreaking 2000 cult classic. Fukasaku died while making the film and his son Kenta would go on to complete it with Chiba appearing in the role of Makio Mimura. Actually it's wasn't 16 films that Chiba and Fukasaku worked on together, nor was it 17. If you include number eight on our cameo list it brings the total of their collaborations up to 18 films. In 1982 Fukasaku adapted Kouhei Tsuka's hit stage play "Fall Guy" to the big screen. This comedy of errors tells the story of Yasu (Mitsuru Hirata), a loyal disciple of narcissistic and childish movie superstar Ginshiro (Morio Kazama). When Ginshiro tests Yasu's loyalty by demanding that he marry his pregnant girlfriend Konatsu (Keiko Matsuzaka) Yasu feels he has no other choice but to say yes. With an expectant wife on his hands Yasu is forced to take on the dangerous job of stunt man. In the montage sequence that Fukasaku uses to show Yasu's rise to fame taking hits and punches we're taken to the set of a gangster film where a lone gunman in a white suit battles it out with a gang of pursuing bad guys. That man in the white suit is none other than Sonny Chiba. He doesn't say a word, but he doesn't have to. He's Sonny Chiba, and he's got a rifle in his hands. Got it?! CM

7. Riki Takeuchi in "Dainipponjin"

Fans of yakuza films are used to seeing Riki Takeuchi in action, but that action usually involves guns, knives, and fists, not jumping up and down on one leg and yelling for joy like a crazy person. That's exactly what Takeuchi does in Downtown member Hitoshi Matsumoto's 2007 directorial debut "Dainipponjin". The film, which tells the story of Daisato (played by Matsmoto himself), a mild-mannered, slightly depressed everyman who also just happens to transform into a giant hero, features a motley gallery of "baddies" who Daisato must battle for the protection of the Japanese people. One of these is the "Jumpy Baddie", a one-legged creature who simply likes jumping around and screaming at the top of his lungs. He doesn't mean any harm, in fact he only has the mental capacity of an eight-year-old, but when you're several stories high all that jumping around can cause a lot of damage. Japanese film fans will automatically recognize that giant computer-animated head that sits atop the single bird-like leg from it's trademark grimace and pompadour hairstyle. Yup, Takeuchi provided the motion capture features for this monster and he gloriously plays against type by bringing the proper child-like joy to his characters destructive rampage. There are other computer-animated cameo appearances in "Dainipponjin", most notably by Itsuji Itao as the "Stink Baddie" and singer Ua as Daisato's manager, but Takeuchi's is easily the most hilarious of the bunch simply because we'd never expect to see the tough star of the "Tokyo Mafia" and "Dead or Alive" films acting like such a wonderful idiot. CM

6. Kaneko "Beat" Kiyoshi in "Kikujiro"

Loyal fans of Takeshi Kitano will know that the actor/ TV host/ writer/ painter/ director (I'm running out of breath here...) didn't get his start on his own. Kitano began his career in show business as part of the wildly successful manzai comedy duo, The Two Beats. "Beat" Takeshi and Kaneko "Beat" Kiyoshi developed their fast-paced, irreverent, and often downright offensive style in the comedy clubs of Tokyo, finally taking it to television in 1976. Their standard performance would feature Kitano going off at the mouth about from being rude to the elderly to such taboo subjects as sex and death all the while peppering his verbal tirade with "ass", "shit", "cock" and "pussy". It was Kaneko's job to simply try and keep up. Eventually this proved too much and the duo split up in the early 1980s. Of course Kitano would move on from his manzai roots and launch not only an internationally acclaimed moviemaking career with films like "Violent Cop", Sonatine" and the Golden Lion-wining "Hana-bi", but he would also become one of the most ubiquitous faces on Japanese television, hosting dozens of game, news, and panel shows. Kaneko didn't fare nearly as well after the split, appearing throughout the years on various TV variety shows and dramas. It was in 1999 that The Two Beats had a reunion and lucky for us it occurred on the big screen. It was in Kitano's lyrical road movie "Kikujiro". Out of money and lost in the country it looks like little Masao (Yusuke Sekiguchi) and his inept guardian Kikujiro (Kitano) will never reach their goal of finding Masao's estranged mother. When the two sit down to wait at an old bus stop who do you think comes along? "Beat" Kiyoshi and for the first time in nearly 20 years Kitano and Kaneko gave audiences just a taste of their off the wall humour, and provided one of the funniest scenes in "Kikujiro". CM

5. Tadanobu Asano in "Swallowtail Butterfly"

We've already had one couple in our top ten, Hideaki and Moyoco Anno, but they're not alone. There's another couple who showed up in a film together, but this time only one was making a cameo while the other was a lead character. "Love Letter" and "All About Lily Chou-Chou" director Shunji Iwai explored a ramshackle near future Japan in his 1996 Pan-Asian success "Swallowtail Butterfly". In this world people from across the Asian mainland have flocked to Japan looking to make money, specifically the almighty yen. The cities have become home to shanty towns that house thousands of these immigrants who have become so synonymous with with this mad dash for cash that they and the slums that they inhabit share the same name: Yentown. One of these Yentowners, a prostitute with big dreams named Glico (played by Japanese pop star Chara) rises out of the ghetto to front a multicultural rock band managed by ex-con Feihong (Hiroshi Mikami). Glico's band makes their debut in the club which Feihong opens, defiantly called Yentown, and it's here that they soon build a huge fan base. Amongst the crowd rocking out to the music? None other than Tadanobu Asano, Chara's real-life husband. The two had actually just meet a few months before on the set of another Shunji Iwai film "Picnic" and were married shortly there after. CM

4. Takashi Miike in "Neighbour No.13"

Yasuo Inoue's 2005 "Neighbor No.13" is a dark psychological revenge tale based on the manga "Rinjin 13-gô" by Santa Inoue (no relation). It's story of the splintered Murasaki (Shun Oguri) who moves back to his childhood neighbourhood to seek revenge for the brutal bullying that he suffered at the hands of his classmate Akai (Hirofumi Arai). To better have access to his boyhood enemy Murasaki moves into the apartment below Arai and his wife Nozomi (Yumi Yoshimura) and their young son, but it's in this cramped little apartment that the murderous, spiteful and insane part of Murasaki begins to truly take control. This is the Neighbour No.13 of the title and he is given life in a truly frightening performance by Shido Nakamura. So, a pitch black film about death and revenge with an often surreal split-personality conflict at its core. Who would be best to appear in a cameo of this kind of film. Well, a man whose dark, often surreal and psychologically twisted films have gained him a huge cult following around the globe. That's right. Takashi Miike appears for only a few seconds as an unfortunate manga-obsessed shut in who lives next door to Murasaki. You'd be forgiven if you didn't recognize the director of such films as "Ichi the Killer" and "Audition" though. Miike's known for going everywhere wearing his ultra-cool sunglasses, but in his scene in "Neighbor No.13" he looks pale, confused, perfect for someone who spends their days locked in their apartment escaping into a world of fantasy. That is until his neighbour from apartment 13 comes knocking on his door with a horrific dose of reality. If you haven't seen the film I won't say anymore. CM

3. Kiysohi Kurosawa in "The Funeral"

After graduating from Tokyo's Rikkyo University in the late 70's Kiyoshi Kurosawa, the man behind such films as "Cure", "Pulse", and "Tokyo Sonata", apprenticed not only in the world of pinku eiga but also as an assistant director under filmmakers like Shinji Somia, Takahashi Banmei, and Kazuhiko Hasegawa. Amongst these veteran filmmakers though Kurosawa also worked as an assistant director for actor-turned-director Juzo Itami. By the early 80's Itami, whose career at that point stretched back over two decades with roles in films by Nagisa Oshima, Kon Ichikawa, Richard Brooks, and Toshiya Fujita, was interested in running things behind the camera. His directorial debut was 1984's bittersweet social satire "The Funeral" which, like Itami's better known follow up film "Tampopo" and "A Taxing Woman", starred his wife Nobuko Miyamoto as an actress who must plan the funeral of her father with the help of her fellow actor/ husband portrayed by Tsutomu Yamazaki. In a cheeky film-within-a-film scene near the beginning of the story Miyamoto's character learns of her father's death while shooting a commercial with her husband, and amongst the film crew is none other than Itami's own assistant director at the time, Kiyoshi Kurosawa. Both Itami and Kurosawa would continue to pop in cameos in each other's films for the next 12 years until Itami's tragic suicide in December of 1997 at the age of 64. CM

2. Tatsuya Nakadai in "The Seven Samurai"

Here's probably the briefest, blink and you'll miss it cameo on our entire list. The fact that it features one of Japanese cinema's most respected actors is reason alone to push it right to number one, but we've reserved that top slot for another special gentlemen. As it stands Tatsuya Nakadai's appearance in Akira Kurosawa's "Seven Samurai" marks only the second time that the now 76-year-old actor appeared on the silver screen. I can hear you now. "Tatsuya Nakadai wasn't in 'Seven Samurai'." Well, actually he was, but only for a few brief seconds, but those few seconds made Japanese cinema history. In 1953 Nakadai was a 21-year-old acting student with only one film under his belt, Masaki Kobayashi's "The Thick-Walled Room". He was brought in to play one of several samurai whom the three impoverished villagers Rikichi, Manzo, and Yohei (played by Yoshio Tsuchiya, Kamatari Fujiwara, and Bokuzen Hidari), consider momentarily for the task of saving their village from marauding bandits. Apparently Nakadai worked with Kurosawa for the better part of a day, with the director insisting on take after take to make sure that Nakadai perfectly captured his vision of a lone samurai. Of course Nakadai's samurai didn't get the job of saving the village from bandits, but that afternoon would end up translating into a fertile creative partnership with Nakadai starring in four of Kurosawa's most praised films: "Yojimbo", Sanjuro", High and Low" and "Kagemusha". CM

1. Kon Ichikawa in "The Magic Hour"

Koki Mitani's latest comedy "The Magic Hour" is all about films within films. The main plot involves Bingo, a young hotel manager played by Satoshi Tsumabuki, who in order to save his skin after being caught in a compromising position with the girlfriend of mob boss Tessio (Toshiyuki Nishida) must track down a mysterious hitman named Della Togashi. The only problem is that Bingo not only has no clue as to where to find Togashi, but he also has no idea who Togashi is. No one does, because no one has ever set eyes on him and lived. Facing being sunk into the river with a pair of cement shoes Bingo comes up tith a brilliant if unorthodox solution to his dilemma: he'll hire an actor to play Della Togashi! But who? Bingo discovers his deadly assassin in the form of Murata (Kochi Sato), a C-grade actor doing body double work on the sequel to Kon Ichikawa's 1961 film "Kuroi junin no onna" titled "Kuroi hyaku-ichi nin no onna". And guess who's sitting in the director's chair for this fictional film? None other than the director of the original/ real-life film, Kon Ichikawa wearing his trademark hat and chain-smoking as usual. The legendary director shot his cameo only a few months prior to his death in February of 2008 at the age of 92. CM


starsweeper said...

Great idea for an article but I have to say that I thought Naoto Takenaka's cameo in Twentieth Century Boys was even funnier... mainly because he gets killed off moments after making his appearance!

Marc Saint-Cyr said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Marc Saint-Cyr said...

Somewhat related to this great article is a little moment in Kurosawa's Dodes'ka-den that IMDb has listed as a cameo, but is in fact NOT. At one point in the film, a guy is shown sitting with an easel set up in the middle of a road, painting. IMDb cites this guy as Akira Kurosawa himself, but it isn't, since the actor (a Kazuo Kato) is given his own credit, and he looks nothing like the master. So next time you see Dodes'ka-den, don't get so excited when that scene rolls around.