Yorikolab's special feature
An Interview with Jerry White (writer, author of THE FILMS OF KIYOSHI KUROSAWA)

 Yorikolab: Could you tell me how you became interested in Kiyoshi Kurosawa's films and Japanese Cinema?

Jerry White: My initial interest with Japanese Cinema began with the masters — Akira Kurosawa, Mizoguchi, and Ozu. 
From there I started watching a little bit of everything, and became particularly interested in horror films. 
I came across CURE and that was enough to make me search for everything else Kiyoshi Kurosawa had directed. 
This was when CURE first came out, and in America it was very difficult to track down copies of his work, so I had to wait many years before I could see everything. 
Even now, actually, I haven’t seen all of his movies! 

Hearing that story, how much international recognition CURE brought to Kiyoshi Kurosawa really brings home to me.

Do you think that CURE is a common entrance for his fans in the States?

 Jerry White: I would definitely say that CURE is his best known film here.  Even horror fans who don’t know who Kiyoshi Kurosawa is may be familiar with that film.
 I thought that maybe PULSE would become popular after the American remake,
but that version was so terrible! It probably made people not want to watch the original, which is really unfortunate.

Which Japanese horror films, for example, did you become particularly interested in when you were discovering Kurosawa?

Jerry White: One Japanese horror director I really enjoy is Toshiharu Ikeda.  I think EVIL DEAD TRAP is a great film. 
It’s very different than Kurosawa’s work, more of a traditional horror movie.  But it’s one of my favorites.

I haven't watched EVIL DEATH TRAP.  Masaki Tamura is the director of photography, isn't he? 

 Jerry White: That’s correct.  He also did an excellent job on EYES OF THE SPIDER and SERPENT’S PATH. 
Those are two other Kurosawa films that I wish could be easily available here in the states, because they’re two of my favorites. 
Actually, I would consider them classics.

(THE FILMS OF KIYOSHI KUROSAWA, Stone Bridge Press, 2007)

How did you get copies of Kurosawa's films which are hardly available in the States, and how long did it take to complete THE FILMS OF KIYOSHI KUROSAWA?

Jerry White: I ordered the original Japanese imports online. 
As you can imagine, this got very expensive, but it was worth it!  In a way, the book gave me the “excuse” I needed to track down all his films.

From initial idea to publication it took about two years.  I tried to make it as accessible as possible for readers — not necessarily just film students and professors. 
I still feel that a more academic, English language book needs to be written about his work, to further expose people in America to his films.
But this will have to be done by someone who speaks Japanese fluently.

You wrote that your friends helped you by translating Japanese dialogues into English lines by lines.  Did they write down each dialogue in English for you?

Jerry White: Yes — Hiroki Kobayashi tackled the SUIT YOURSELF OR SHOOT YOURSELF movies, essentially creating a transcript of the dialogue. 
My wife Yeeshing — who is Chinese but also speaks Japanese fluently — helped me with the other films, often sitting by my side and explaining the finer points of language and culture. 
The book definitely could not have been written without her.

What is the film in which you first saw Yoriko Douguchi?  What was your first impression of her?

Jerry White: That was CURE.  My first impression, outside of her being very beautiful, was that there was a very eerie quality to her acting—almost otherworldly. 
Obviously that fit that particular role perfectly. 
I didn’t know too much about Japanese actresses at that time, and given her performance in that film I assumed she was very well known and had won many awards.

Yoriko Douguchi in CURE is regarded as one of her most excellent acting performances by her fans, though she is in only one episode of the film.

Jerry White: There’s definitely something a little frightening about her character — aloof, I would say, like many of the characters in CURE. 
She plays it brilliantly.  I wonder if this is what Kiyoshi Kurosawa found so appealing about her.
The sort of unknowable but fascinating quality that is characteristic of her acting is very similar to what makes his films so unique. 
I wish I had thought of asking him that when I interviewed him.

In The Films of Kiyoshi Kurosawa, you wrote:

 He has important things to say about Japanese society, alienation, (omitting the rest, page 20)

 What do you think about Yoriko Douguchi in Kurosawa's films, when it comes to a sense of alienation or solitude?

Jerry White: Again, I think it’s that mysterious quality she possesses that makes her fit so well into the world of his films. 
She seems to stand apart from the world, and for this reason her characters always seem a bit lonely.  Koji Yakusho has this quality as well, I think. 

In the chapter "The Excitement of the Do-Re-Mi-Fa Girl", you wrote :

  Akiko may be innocent, but she's also stubborn, intelligent, and ultimately rebellious. (page 39)

What part of Akiko do you think she may be "intelligent" and " ultimately rebellious"?

Also, I would like to ask you whether these 2 words are your impression of Akiko or Yoriko Douguchi.

Jerry White: First of all, I love that movie!  I think it’s very underrated. 
As the film progresses, we see that Akiko is not quite the innocent we assume she is at the beginning.
I don’t believe this is a matter of her character changing, as much as Akiko allowing her natural personality to come to the forefront. 
In the end, she really becomes the leader of the students, although she doesn’t fit into the mold of the university. 
Although she is not in her natural environment, she is subservient to no one. 
I’m not sure if this is an accurate depiction of Yoriko Douguchi, although given the intelligence she brings to her roles, I would assume that is true, at least.

 My impression of Akiko’s character — and this is really thanks to Yoriko Douguchi’s performance — is that even though she’s not a city girl and is completely out of her element at the university,
she never seems naïve to me.  In fact, she seems more intelligent and knowing than any of the other students. 
Her experiences don’t change her, as much as we just learn how she really is with the passing of time. 
It’s as though she’s holding back her true self from the viewer until the end of the movie. 
I think this “mysterious” quality is what makes her so seductive to the professor and other students. 


By the way, what percentage of U.S. Kurosawa fans do you assume they have a chance to watch DO-RE-MI-FA GIRL?

As you mentioned, this film can be subject to underestimation. For what would you recommend this film to those who do NOT want to watch it very badly,
because they think that it doesn't look like CURE, CHARISMA or PULSE?

Jerry White: I would say that a VERY small amount of people have seen DO-RE-MI-FA GIRL.
 In fact, I doubt most people have even heard of it!  I wonder how interesting the film would be to people who are not fans of Kurosawa’s work.
 I saw it later, while I was writing the book, so it’s difficult for me to think of it out of that context.  
Then again, it is an enjoyable film, a lot lighter than some of his later work.  
There are also some wonderful shots, and of course Yoriko Douguchi’s performance.  And a musical number — let’s not forget that!

I am glad that you wrote about each film of the SUIT YOURSELF OR SHOOT YOURSELF series in detail.  Definitely, It is an epoch-making work of you.

Jerry White: Thank you for your kind words — these films were the most difficult to write about, since there were no subtitles and I don’t speak Japanese
(luckily, I have some very patient friends who do).

 What did you find it difficult to appreciate the SUIT YOURSELF OR SHOOT YOURSELF films without English subtitles?
I thought otherwise because most plots of the films are almost repetition and pretty easy to follow without subtitles.

Jerry White: I agree that the plots were easy to follow, and I probably could have figured out what was happening even without subtitles.  
But according to my friend Hiroki (who translated) there was a lot of wordplay that didn’t translate very well into English,
and was hard for him to explain to someone who didn’t speak Japanese.  
I probably missed out on a lot of the humor of the series for this reason — I think humor is the most difficult thing to translate, no matter what the language,
because a lot of it is so subtle.

In NOUVEAU RICHES particularly, Kosaku's dialogues are full of blah-blah. 
For all his dull speeches, he and his character are captured vivid by the camera's swift and smooth movements. 
If I were you, I would crave to know what the dialogues may sound in a domestic context.
Is this interpretation close to your frustration?

Jerry White: Yes — that’s it exactly!  I feel very envious of anyone who speaks Japanese and is able to appreciate the movies completely! 

I think THE HERO is the most astonishing one of the series, and I suppose you rank it the highest (of the series), too.

What about Yoriko Douguchi? In which one of SUIT YOURSELF OR SHOOT YOURSELF, do you think Yoriko Douguchi is most unforgettable?

Jerry White: Definitely THE HERO is her most astonishing role, although to be honest I always found her character very interesting and kept hoping she would have a larger role in all of them. 
I absolutely love the final shot of her face in THE HERO, though.  It’s an unforgettable moment, and I’m not sure it would have worked as well with any other actress.
Since the ending is rather ambiguous, I think her presence — rather mysterious as always — just adds to it.

Speaking of Yoriko Douguchi in SUIT YOURSELF OR SHOOT YOURSELF, I'm curious how slightly Yumiko's character changes as the series progress.

In the earliest one and the second one, she appears to be very confident and daring. She stands so cool in the two films.

However, when we see the last one, she looks kind of withered away and less lively, then our favorite ending with Yoriko Douguchi's melancholic face closes everything.
It is as if it were faded and released into black in a perfect way, with her own ambiguousness.

Thinking of it this way, I am certain that it has to be her who sits there at the table to finish the series.

  Jerry White: That’s an excellent interpretation!  
You’re right — when you think of it like that, she really reflects what happens throughout the series, as it grows from a light, comic caper into the more serious film at the end.
 I think this mirrors the changes in Kurosawa’s directorial ability and style, as well.

In LICENSE TO LIVE, Yoriko Douguchi looks different from herself in other Kurosawa's films.

She enters on an motorized skateboard and smashes into cardboard boxes, smiles softly strumming the ukulele on the riverbank,
and seems to really enjoy singing in the nightclub sequence.

What do you think of this "sunny" side of Yoriko Douguchi which can be considered as unusual to many fans of Kurosawa's films?

Jerry White: To be honest, I didn’t realize it was even her until the second viewing! 
I guess I had a preset notion of what “type” of actress she was, so this was a really cool change of pace from her other films. 
It really demonstrates her range, and makes you appreciate all her other performances even more. 


Among Kurosawa's films featuring Yoriko Douguchi, what is the most popular one internationally, except for CURE?  Is it probably CHARISMA?

Jerry White: Yes, I would agree that it’s CHARISMA, although that movie does tend to baffle audiences
(I loved it from the first viewing, but I had to really study the film before I “got” it — and I’m still not 100% sure I do).  
Of course, both CURE and CHARISMA were released on DVD by major companies — you could purchase them at any good DVD store.  
So the fact that these are the most popular is a little misleading — audiences here simply do not have a chance to see LICENSE TO LIVE or DO-RE-MI-FA GIRL.

In CHARISMA, Yoriko Douguchi brilliantly plays a highly ambiguous role of Chizuru.

I like her in this film so much that I gaze in awe at her whenever I watch it.

I'm afraid to ask you this simply, but what is Yoriko Douguchi to the entire body of the film CHARISMA?

Jerry White: I completely agree with you -- this is my favorite Yoriko Douguchi role. 
I absolutely love her in that film, and she looks breathtaking, too.  In fact, that may be my favorite Kiyoshi Kurosawa character ever! 

As to her purpose in the overall movie — that’s a tough one. 
CHARISMA allows so many different interpretations, but I think the forest in that film works as a microcosm of the world as a whole,
with each of the characters representing various elements. 
The botanist (who wants to kill Charisma and maintain the status quo) represents order, whereas her sister, played by Yoriko Douguchi, represents chaos. 
She also provides temptation for the detective, making his decision of which side to choose that much more difficult.


If you depict Yoriko Douguchi to those who have not known her yet (for example, American people who seldom watch foreign films), what do you think you would say?

Jerry White: There is something about Yoriko Douguchi that is infinitely watchable. 
In fact, when she’s on the screen your eyes are drawn to her (this is even true in the SUIT YOURSELF OR SHOOT YOURSELF films, despite the fact that she has a minor role). 
I’m not sure why this is, exactly.  There’s something very mysterious about her.

It has been 25 years since Yoriko Douguchi started her career with "The Excitement of the Do-re-Mi-Fa Girl".  In November, there is a 2 week long "film festival" for Yoriko Douguchi.
Do yiou have a message to her?

Jerry White: Congratulations!  I’m so happy that your work is being given the respect and appreciation that it deserves. 
Even here in America, you have many fans!  I wish you the best of luck and both health and happiness!


(October, 2009 via e-mail)

Yorikolab would like to express special thanks to Mr. Jerry White and Stone Bridge Press.


(Its Japanese version is here)