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Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2002

The busiest bad guy around

Show Aikawa is the hardest-working man in Japanese movies, but one that Japanese cinemagoers have rarely, if ever, seen. Unless, that is, they happen to be fans of straight-to-video films. They would know Aikawa as the gangster glaring down from the boxes of dozens of action films with titles like "Shuraba ga Yuku (The Carnage Comes)" and "Katte ni Shiyagare!! (Do What You Want!!)."

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Show Aikawa

Meanwhile, young foreign film fans are becoming aware of Aikawa as the coolest of Japanese movie tough guys, who works with the coolest of the Japanese New Wave directors, such as Takashi Miike and Kiyoshi Kurosawa. And he keeps churning out films at a mad rate -- more than 120 since his first, Seiji Izumi's "Kono Mune no Tokimeki O (The Throbbing of This Breast)" in 1988, and mostly in starring roles.

In person, he looks fresh, fit, rested, vibrant -- a walking advertisement for workaholism. His clothes are fashionable casual, his manner open and friendly, but he is also radiating something more than warmth. Call it a desire to not just experience but to also engulf the world. A man in a hurry, in other words -- and still only 41.

You tried directing a few years ago with "Bad Guy Beach." Then recently you produced "Rush," though Takehisa Zeze directed. Are you interested in doing more directing?

Maybe once every five years. It takes an incredible amount of energy, so I have to recharge my batteries before I can do it again. If you haven't directed a number of films already, you get crushed by all the demands made on the set. The job is completely different from acting -- you have to tell people what to do, you have to be in control. With acting, you just have to be there and play your role -- you just have to do what the director tells you. As a director, you have to take change -- you're a kind of manager.

When you prepare for a role, do you have to nail down everything about the character -- his background and so on -- before shooting?

I have to know at least three or four things about the character or I can't prepare for the role. For example, I have to know his blood type, his birth date, how many brothers and sisters he has, what his home life was like growing up. Once I know those things, I can understand what kind of person he is. If his blood type is O, he'll smoke such-and-such a cigarette -- I have to figure it all out.

The character you play in "Togenkyo no Hitobito" -- the "mayor" -- is rather mysterious. How did you get a handle on him?

Yes, he's mysterious. I didn't try so hard to pin him down. I thought I would make him a little vague. He had cigarettes, but he didn't take them out of his case. Even so, I put different kinds of cigarettes in the case. [Laughs]

That devotion to detail extended to the set. The homeless camp looked as though people were really living there.

Crew members were staying there. . . . We even ate the stew they made.

You grew up in Kyushu -- I heard that you had some contact with the yakuza there.

Well, I was in a small town. The yakuza there would recruit the more alert guys like me and use us as gofers. When I was about to graduate from high school, I was invited to join a gang -- but I got scared and ran. [Laughs]

Were you attracted to yakuza movies?

I loved yakuza movies! I wouldn't become a gangster myself, but I thought they were so cool. Men seem to get excited by that kind of thing, don't they? Cut or be cut; kill or be killed. It's like little kids with a superhero -- I had this "Wow" reaction. Of course, [the yakuza] were anti-heroes, but it felt good [to see them in action]. They lived by the giri-ninjo code.

When you were coming up, you starred with a lot of older actors. Were there any that you wanted to model yourself on?

Not really, there was no one person that I wanted to be like. From the viewpoint of the older actors, I was something strange. Their reaction was, "Aikawa, what are you doing here?" [Laughs] I hadn't done any acting, but suddenly, there I was. I was a singer -- I didn't have much interest in acting, but when I was asked to try, I thought I would give it a shot. And then all of a sudden, there I was.

Now almost 10 years have passed -- I need to rethink what I'm doing. With age, you somehow achieve a better balance in your life, but I've recently started to feel that I should go back to the starting line. More than theorize about acting, I'm looking to find something about a character that interests me, that I can identify with.

Say you have a killer. I want to know why he killed people. If I feel that I might do the same thing he did, that's great. If I can't identify that way, well . . .

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