Yuya Yagira wears brown pants and shirt, a red rob, and carries a duster. He dances in the foyer of a house. There is a nude woman on the wall, a phone, and lots of knick-knacks.

ASAKUSA KID

Gekidan Hitori's new film celebrates legend Takeshi Kitano.

5 January 20226 min Read

Every legend has a mentor who helped them reach great heights. Director and screenwriter Gekidan Hitori captures such a story in Asakusa Kid. Set in the 1970s, in the Asakusa neighborhood of Tokyo, the film depicts the rise-to-fame of one of Japan’s entertainment legends, Takeshi Kitano, otherwise known as Beat Takeshi, known worldwide for his comedy career; memorable acting roles, like his portrayal of Kitano in 2000’s Battle Royale; television hosting (including global cult hit Takeshi’s Castle); and as a Golden Lion-winning film director, an award he won in 1997 for Hana-bi

Hitori’s film, based on Beat Takeshi’s book of the same name, focuses on the early years of his comedy career. For Hitori, it was a project years in the making: “I began writing the script in around 2014. I happened to be working with Takeshi at the time, so I asked him, ‘Mr. Takeshi, aren’t you going to make a movie of Asakusa Kid?’ He replied, ‘I ain’t doing it.’ I knew that if someone else filmed the story, I would regret it for the rest of my life.” 

Played by Yuya Yagira — the youngest person ever to win Best Actor at the Cannes Film Festival — Beat Takeshi’s transitions from elevator boy to apprentice of emcee and comedian Senzaburo Fukami (Yo Oizumi), entertaining the crowd between sets at the Asakusa France-za, a so-called “sanctuary of strip and comedy shows.” Yagira and Oizumi sat down to share what it was like portraying the story of a living hero, his mentor, and the road to success.

Yuya Yagira and Yo Oizumi stand in an elevator. Yagira wears a red robe and white shirt. Oizumi wears a white shirt, white hat, and black-and-white striped blazer.

Yuya Yagira and Yo Oizumi

Queue: What was it like to work together on set?

Yuya Yagira: I had been in a film with Oizumi once when I was around 16 and a few times after that as well. He has a way of talking, an aura, and a rhythm that draws people in. I can’t do that, so I really look up to him. It may actually be close to the relationship between Takeshi and Fukami. I learned a lot being on set together. There is a scene at the end where Takeshi and Fukami meet at a bar and make the other customers laugh. Oizumi told me how to speak with a tempo, tone, and rhythm that would keep the customers engaged. It’s thanks to his help that I was able to give a good performance in that scene. He’s very reassuring.

Yo Oizumi: Yagira is one of my favorite actors, and it’s great to see his work. I could simply say that he’s “good,” but that would be rude since I think he’s a really great actor. When I heard that the role of Takeshi had gone to him, I just knew this would become an incredible piece of work. While filming scenes together, he didn’t rely on any superficial techniques, and he gives a performance that will capture your heart. I was really impressed by him.

Yuya Yagira and Nobuyuki Tsuchiya wear white suits on stage. Behind them the walls are orange, red, and blue.

Yuya Yagira and Nobuyuki Tsuchiya

What were the hardest parts to film? 

Oizumi: Oh, for me, it was definitely the tap-dancing scenes! The longest scene where I had to tap dance was about 30 seconds, and it was filmed as a long, continuous shot which is how Hitori likes to shoot things. I felt pretty tense doing that, because even the slightest mistake on my part meant having to redo the whole scene from scratch. I was already nervous about being onstage with a spotlight shining on me to create this magical scene, without the additional pressure of not screwing up the take. I definitely think those tap-dancing scenes made me sweat the most.

Yagira: That’s right. Basically, scenes were shot from beginning to end as one long take. In those scenes, we couldn’t move on until I naturally expressed the character of Takeshi. There were many scenes with lots of dialogue, so I really had to work hard to give a performance the director was satisfied with — saying “You fool” like the real Takeshi the whole time, of course. I said that all the time. I also made this gesture (scrunching shoulders) a lot. I was worried about it becoming a bad habit because I would do it during filming, and even at other shoots I was told not to do Takeshi, but it was impossible while I was filming this movie. 

Yo Oizumi and Yuya Yagira stand along a brightly lit stage.

Yo Oizumi and Yuya Yagira

Who is Beat Takeshi to you? 

Yagira: I have a strong impression of him, and not just from variety TV shows. When I was in my teens, I was invited to an awards show where I could have possibly won lots of awards for Best New Actor, but I had to refuse because I was filming on location overseas at the time. Around that time, Takeshi held his film festival and said that he wasn’t sure if I was stupid or clever. I didn’t hear it from him directly, but he made a comment on TV that my future would be tough if I won all those awards at such a young age. I was 14 and really wanted to do my best, so when he said it would be tough on me, I was shocked. That became this burning motivation inside me to appear in one of his films. It might be a bit of a curveball that I’m finally playing the role of Takeshi when I am almost 30. Takeshi was a legend of my teenage years who pushed me to do my best. In my 20s, I started thinking that he was really cool, and he gradually became something of a spiritual guidepost to me. 

Oizumi: Beat Takeshi is an easy-to-understand hero for our generation. I love comedy and only ever thought about making people laugh. I think I love comedy from the bottom of my heart because I’ve been watching it since I was in elementary school. We were the generation that watched The Manzai in real-time and we were crazy for Two Beat. We’re a generation that’s been watching Takeshi’s success story since we were kids. He’s my hero. 

When I first got to speak with him, it was on a program that was an education-themed variety show. When I heard that the main host was Takeshi, I took the job because I wanted to meet him or at least catch a glimpse of him. I was impressed: Wow, Takeshi is here! I remember it even now.