THE SWORD AND THE SONGSTRESS: A Word With ‘Yakuza Princess’ Star, MASUMI
Upon finally seeing Vicente Amorim’s latest, Yakuza Princess, I was blown away by how adept actor Jonathan Rhys Meyers was in his role. It certainly wasn’t without its flaws, but it still delivers the kind of thriller aimed especially at the swordplay and graphic novel crowd.
It’s also interesting that a film like this is how actress and recording artist, MASUMI, would choose to make her entry. I managed to share an interview Q&A via email just as the film made its run this past month during the hybridized 25th Fantasia International Film Festival, and you’re welcome to check out MASUMI’s story in the chat below, along with our review of Yakuza Princess by clicking here ahead of the film’s release this Friday from Magnet Releasing.
MASUMI, it’s an honor and a privilege to communicate with you. How has 2021 been for you so far?
Aw, thank you and same to you! 2021 has been a whirlwind. I’m surprised how quickly it flew by. It’s also been a year where I really sat deep in the seat of my life, and saw how blessed I am. With friends, family, agents/managers, and team of people I get to work with and receive support from. It’s been a humbling, happy time.
You’d been building your music career in the last ten years while sharing a few screen credits in that same period. What inspired you to get into acting?
Acting was never something I thought of getting into. When I tried to dip my toes in it, it didn’t last, because I felt like it was taking away time from music. A few years back, I had received an offer by a prestigious manager in Japan, to become a J-pop star. I chose to walk away, because I wanted to explore the Artist I wanted to grow into. But that brought the low tides in. I was confused if I made the right choice. That confusion got in the way of my music. And I needed to step away from it, because singing became too painful. I walked away from what felt like my ten years had accumulated to. My then boyfriend, now husband, Kenny, suggested to express my creativity in a different field. Just to keep being creative. So I thought, I’ll give it six months and see how I feel. So that’s why I enrolled in an Acting School. Three moths into the school, I received the opportunity for Yakuza Princess.
And now you’re about to hit theatrical screens in the U.S. and Canada with your debut role in this film. Talk me through the moments leading up to when your path suddenly collided with director Vicente Amorim and this project?
I know! It’s exciting! Like I said earlier, I was taking a break from music and I started taking the Intro to Acting course at The Imagined Life. Three months into taking their evening class, I get a call from Kenny asking me to come home ASAP. Apparently, my husband’s manager (Andrew Ooi) happened to hear about Yakuza Princess looking for a leading actress, and wanted me to meet with the producer. Turns out, my Agent (Sara Shedeen) had shared one of my self tapes with Kenny’s manager, right at the time he was having a meeting with the Producer of Yakuza Princess. I met with Tuba, the producer, and I loved the project. I submitted my audition tape and two weeks later I was packing for Brazil. Thanks to my amazing Agents and Manager and their instincts!!
I read a post on social media by your co-star and husband, actor Kenny Leu, that stated you had a few months to train for this part. I also understand he served as additional fight choreographer as well. What was it like preparing for this role?
Yes, I had a month to practice the fight choreography and the sword movements prior to shooting. The fight choreographer, Rizzo, was a kind and patient man who I spent a lot of ‘off days’ practicing with! Always with my second coach, Kenny on my side too! [laughs] We trained at the Rehearsal studio, at one of the Kendo dojos in Sao Paulo, then trained more back at our Apartment gym. Initially, the fight sequences were much longer for every scene. We had to cut down for time restraints. Being a first timer, I had a LOT of catch up to do. I cried a lot for getting so frustrated with the amount of memorizing the movements and preparing for scenes. But the loving support the team gave me really made it all worth it, and the fight choreo I got to create with Kenny was one of my most precious memories. I’m grateful that they kept our fight in the final cut of the film!
Tell us about working with your co-star, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, who plays the mysterious amnesiac with a connection to your character’s past.
Jonathan was a warmhearted, ball of light, team player. I can’t say enough good things about him. He was always looking out for me during the shoot. If I was struggling with a scene, he’d make it easier for me to react during the scene. He’s got an amazing actor instinct, and I learned a lot form working with him. I’m so lucky that he was the first co-star I got to work with.
What was the most difficult fight scene or action sequence to shoot?
The scene I beat the crap out of Shiro at the dojo, was a very, very tough scene for me. I’m generally sensitive to violent scenes and I have a hard time watching it without feeling uncomfortable. So finding that much deep anger and rage, and then expressing it through repeated violence was especially hard in that scene. But I didn’t want Jonathan to keep getting hit, so I gave it my all so we can get the scene quickly.
Did you have any particular favorite film influences for this role, action or otherwise before filming?
I watched 13 Assassins, and also Vicente’s work “Corações Sujos (Dirty Hearts/with Tsuyoshi Ihara)”, and a few others as well. But my favorite was “Lady Snowblood”. I loved the colors Meiko Kaji showed in her performance and her elegance in her fighting movements!
For all your fans and followers on social media, what’s your biggest takeaway from this production?
I believe.. It is our birthright to choose our own path! To face your fear and to choose your path, will only empower you. That is one thing I have always valued for myself, as well as Akemi. And I hope you find that message in this movie!
Can you share a little with us on your plans going forward? Anything you wanna plug?
My next project, movie wise is still up in the air! So we shall see what I’ll be in next. Music wise, I am releasing a few new songs soon! Launching with the release of Yakuza Princess in US. Hope you guys catch my music as well!
Thank you so much for your insight MASUMI, and I’m looking forward to seeing how audiences respond to your latest screen adventure. Are there any words you’d like to share with our readers as we exit this interview?
Thank you for taking the time to read this to all who’s reading! And thank you Film Combat Syndicate, for having me on your blog 😀 Much love!
Native New Yorker. Lover of all things pizza, chocolate, pets, and good friends. Karaoke hero. Left of center. Survivor. Fond supporter of cult, obscure and independent cinema - especially fond of Asian movies and global action cinema. Author of the bi-weekly Hit List. Founder and editor of Film Combat Syndicate. Still, very much, only human.
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