Cannes Best Actor winner Yakusho describes 'dream job'

Japanese actor Yakusho Koji, winner of the Best Actor Award at this year's Cannes Film Festival, told media in Tokyo about his onscreen experience playing a toilet cleaner.

Yakusho and one of his co-stars of the film "Perfect Days," directed by Germany's Wim Wenders, spoke at the Japan National Press Club about two weeks after the award ceremony.

Actors Yakusho Koji and Tanaka Min spoke to media at the Japan National Press Club in Tokyo on June 13, 2023.

They also talked about Japan's film industry, which some observers have said is lagging behind the rest of the world.

Studying how to play a public toilet cleaner

"Perfect Days" is set is in central Tokyo's Shibuya. Its plot follows the daily life of a man named Hirayama who makes a living as a public toilet cleaner, played by Yakusho.

Yakusho Koji plays a public toilet cleaner in the film "Perfect Days."

Asked about his first impression when he was offered the role, Yakusho said he was attracted not only to the character but to the film's wider scope. He said, "I remember my image of the story expanded."

To play the role of the middle-aged toilet cleaner, Yakusho said he spent two days with actual cleaners to study what they did. He said he also visited every public toilet in Shibuya to learn about a project called The Tokyo Toilet, on which the film is based. Each of the 17 types of toilet has a different shape and requires a different cleaning method, so he needed to learn many techniques for his performance.

The movie has not been released in Japan, and Yakusho did not disclose any details related to that.

He described Hirayama as a man who notices those around him, and has compassion for a homeless man, played by Tanaka, who is invisible to other people.

Actor Tanaka Min plays a homeless man in the film "Perfect Days."

Yakusho described the movie as an "art film," but said it was an approachable kind.

"The movie has no blood, no killing, no bullying — it merely follows a man who cleans toilets. But it depicts moments in which nature, society, move in way that is as lifelike as possible," he said.

Yakusho also said the film leaves room for audience members to experience their own unique feelings.

Future of Japanese film industry

Yakusho explained that the process of making "Perfect Days" was completely different from the way Japanese films are made.

He said its production started without any distribution channels or film companies lined up. He had never experienced anything like that before, but he called working with director Wenders a "dream job."

Actor Yakusho Koji and director Wim Wenders at Cannes Film Festival on May 25, 2023.

Yakusho said he believes that if Japanese directors could shoot films as freely as they please, they could showcase their strengths.

In response to a question asking whether he could muster support for Japan's apparently struggling film industry, the actor said Japan needs to look beyond its borders and make films that appeal to a global audience.

"I believe the film industry itself will not be enriched or unique unless we can work not only within Japan but also seek world-class planning and development, as well as continuous cultivation of human resources," he said.

Yakusho said fundraising was essential to achieve this.

Regarding his own future as an actor, Yakusho said he wants to contribute to the film industry on behalf of the many people who have influenced him.