EoM contributor Thomas Manning recently had the opportunity to interview singer-songwriter and actress MASUMI about her role in the new film Yakuza Princess, an action thriller from director Vicente Amorim. MASUMI speaks on the physical demands of this martial arts action thriller, the influence of her background as a musician on her acting debut, and how her personal life experiences helped shape her approach to her character in the film.
Thomas Manning: What was your experience in preparing for the martial arts and stunt choreography required for this role? That was a really impressive element of your performance, so I’d love to have you share a little about the process of training for those specific demands of your role.
MASUMI: For one month we trained sword fighting, Martial Arts fights sequences, and Kendo. It was my first time doing martial arts and sword, but I was lucky to have my husband Kenny Leu with me, who is a long time martial artist to help me out with it all. I worked with Action coordinator, Agnaldo Bueno and Ricardo Rizzo to patiently teach me all the moves, and went home to practice more with my husband and prepared for the acting scenes. Initially, the fight sequences were twice as long and we ended up shorting for time sake. So I had to learn a whole lot in the beginning and I ended up doing about 90% of my own stunts, and I’m very proud of it!
Kenny and I also got to create a fight scene together, where it ends badly for him. We found time during our off days to choreograph this so we were so happy to know it made the final cut!
Thomas Manning: How do you work to balance the demanding physicality of acting in a role like this along with the significant emotional awareness you need to carry with your character (Akemi), who is at the heart of the script?
MASUMI: As a first time actor doing martial arts for the first time, there was no time to think about balance. In the beginning, there was twice as many fight sequences than shown in the movie, so I kept training and worked until my limit every day. Looking back, I could’ve delegated more to the stuntmen and focused on the scenes. But it’s my tendency to want to do it all! So I did, and there’s pros and cons to it. But I will say that the physical aspect is an extension of her emotion. So learning the fight scenes definitely helped to connect to the character.
Thomas Manning: Were there any aspects of your performance – or how you approached this role in general – that were influenced by your musical background?
MASUMI: I approach songwriting and singing like a diary. It’s really only meant to be shared with myself, not with anybody else. So everything is from the heart, intimate and honest. So I think I approached acting the same way. Everything I created about Akemi was personal to me and from my honest perspective.
Thomas Manning: As someone fluent in both Japanese and English, how did that knowledge assist you in telling the story of this character and this film?
MASUMI: I guess it was more about knowing both cultures than the languages. I know how split a person can feel, when they strongly relate to two very different countries. I’m fluent in both Japanese and English, yet I always felt I didn’t quite belong in either country. So my experience helped me imagine the internal turmoil the character carried everywhere she went.
Thomas Manning: As far as working with director Vicente Amorim, were there any certain facets of his filmmaking style that you found to be especially interesting from your perspective as an actor on set?
MASUMI: Vicente was very open to having discussions with me, and implementing ideas I had for the character! I’m so grateful with his open approach and how we got to build Akemi together.
Set in the expansive Japanese community of Sao Paulo in Brazil — the largest Japanese diaspora in the world — Yakuza Princess follows Akemi (MASUMI), an orphan who discovers she is the heiress to half of the Yakuza crime syndicate. Forging an uneasy alliance with an amnesiac stranger (Rhys Meyers) who believes an ancient sword binds their two fates, Akemi must unleash war against the other half of the syndicate who wants her dead.
In select U.S. theaters and on VOD beginning September 3rd, 2021.
Available on 4K UHD, Blu-ray, DVD, and digital November 16th, 2021.
For more information, head to Magnet Releasing’s official Yakuza Princess website.
Thomas Manning is a member of the NCFCA and SEFCA, and also the co-host of the television show and radio program “Meet Me at the Movies.” He has served as a production assistant and voting member on the Film Selection Committee for the Real to Reel Film Festival. He is currently studying film, television, and English at Gardner-Webb University.
Categories: Filmmaker Interviews