• Octogenarian Japanese actor in Cannes on first trip abroad

    by Anne Chaon

    CANNES, France, May 21, 2012 (AFP) – When Tadashi Okuno got a part in Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami’s new film, the 82-year-old had never set foot outside of Japan. Now he is about to walk up the red carpet at Cannes.

    “As soon as shooting began, Abbas said to me: ‘We’ll go to Cannes together, you’ll see’. And I said no, I don’t want to, I don’t like travelling abroad,” he told AFP ahead of the premiere at the French Riviera festival.

    Okuno plays a retired university teacher in Tokyo in “Like Someone in Love”, one of 22 films vying for the Palme d’Or top prize to be handed out on Sunday.

    He pays for the company of an exquisite and sleepy student and to save her embarrassment, ends up having to pretend he is her grandfather when the angry boyfriend turns up.

    Okuno is discovering the grind and the joys of Cannes, doing back-to-back interviews with journalists in a hotel and getting ready to face the barrage of cameras for the climb up the red carpet at the beachfront festival palace.

    When his agent suggested he audition for Kiarostami’s movie, he had never heard of the Iranian before. He nevertheless went along, hoping to get a small role in the film, like the many minor parts he has played on television.

    But when the director saw him, he immediately knew he was the man he was looking for and gave him the lead.

    “When I told my friends I had got the part, they were all very impressed. They told me he was a master film-maker. And I discovered that during the shooting,” he said.

    Kiarostami likes to work with non-professional actors, but in “Certified Copy”, the first film he made outside of Iran and which took the best actress award here in 2010, he used French star Juliette Binoche.

    “He was looking for a 60-something university teacher. When we met and he decided to take me, he had to change the script. Twenty years older was a bit too much, he couldn’t be in love with a young student. It wouldn’t have been plausible.”

    Okuno comes from the theatre world. After World War II, he joined Japan’s Bengakuza troupe, which concentrated on modern work.

    Japanese directors often poached actors from the company for supporting roles in their movies and sometimes even used the entire group when they needed dependable extras.

    “This is the first time I have ever left Japan,” said Okuno. “It’s how I imagined it would be, its heritage has been well preserved.”

    He admitted that he was “moved” at the idea of the red carpet gala.

    “I’ve watched the red carpet ceremony on television. And now it’s for real, I am pretty impressed. And very happy.”

    Okuno said Kiarostami wanted to work with him again. “But I told him I wasn’t enthusiastic. I don’t want to travel.

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