‘Shy’ boy shines in award-winning film debutWhen Quentin Tarantino announced Yuya Yagira as the winner of the best actor’s award at the Cannes International Film Festival last year, the 14-year-old was sleeping at his Tokyo home. As the youngest winner of the prize in the history of Cannes, he achieved worldwide status for his debut film, “Daremo Shiranai” (Nobody Knows).
The actor had attended the festival earlier, but had to return to Japan for midterm exams. When Yagira was told the news on the telephone, he said, “My brain is going blank. I’m so happy.”
Cast at first sight by director Hirokazu Kore-Eda, the then 12-year-old Yagira starred as Akira, a teenager who has to take care of his half sisters and brothers when their mother disappears one day. Based on a true story in 1988 Tokyo, “Nobody Knows” was the director’s long-awaited project.
There’s no doubt that the biggest result of the film, which opens Friday in Seoul, is the discovery of Yagira, who was dubbed “Cinderella Boy” by the Korean and Japanese press, although Yagira himself dislikes the nickname.
For the opening of the film, Yagira paid a short visit to Seoul last week, where he looked like an average teenager rather than a rising star in the world of cinema. Before he could enjoy the taste of bulgogi (marinated, grilled beef) and kimchi, which was one of the main reasons for his visit, he did his homework prior to showing up at a preview Monday.
Skinny, shy and reserved, Yagira, dressed in a plain white blazer and jeans, remained flattered when his Korean fans showered him with flowers and gifts.
Asked why he chose to visit Seoul, he said, “I just came because I wanted to come,” after briefly introducing himself in halting Korean. At a press conference the following morning he added to this comment, saying, “Korea is a key issue in Japan, which made me want to come.”
Throughout the press conference, this “Cinderella Boy,” who turned 15 last Saturday, reminded the local press that he’s still only a teenager, who used to dream of becoming a soccer player, although he added that he has given up on this prospect after the Cannes award.
Nervously stroking his hair, he noted that his favorite actor is Jackie Chan. Yagira’s demeanor throughout the press conference remained true to his reputation of being a shy boy. When asked if he would act as Akira did if he found himself in the same situation, Yagira curtly said first, “I wonder if I could?” then corrected himself, saying, “Wait a minute, please... I can definitely do it.”
Asked where he put his trophy from Cannes, Yagira inclined his head, making a face as if not understanding the point of the question, and replied, “Well ... well, I put it somewhere.” After persistent questioning he indicated it was in his agent’s office.
His shy nature, however, does not mean that he is a bad actor. On screen as Akira, Yagira overwhelmingly outshines in the film with his telling and expressive eyes, which strongly impressed jury head Tarantino at last year’s Cannes festival.
Kore-Eda did not give Yagira the script in advance, telling him to “just act natural.”
“I was anxious at first about acting without a script, yet as time went by I learned a lot and enjoyed the filming,” Yagira said.
The Cannes trophy could prove to be more of a burden than glory for the actor, yet he looks promising, as when he answered that the meaning of the trophy for him was to be “given chances in other films.”
He has just finished making his second film and ended the press conference by saying, “What I want to pursue earnestly is acting.”
by Chun Su-jin