Interview with Toshi Shioya
Toshi Shioya is a producer, movie director, actor, and funder of Actors Clinic, an acting school in Japan. During his college life in Japan, he mastered a Meisner technique, which is one of the main theories of method-acting and this leaded him to Hollywood. Through our interview, he introduced us the latest show, HIKOBAE, which connects 3/11 with 9/11 and is held in New York in April.
– You have experiences as an actor and a director. How those two roles are different?
These two are totally different. These 15 years, I’m focusing more on being a film director than being an actor. However, I actually work as a filmmaker only 40 to 50 days a year, for the rest of the days I teach acting in my school, Actors Clinic, which we have branches in Tokyo, Osaka, and Oita, and I taught more than 10,000 students in 19 years. 2 years ago, we started cooperating with Stella Adler Studio of Acting, which has produced many Academy-award winners like Robert De Niro, Kevin Costner, and so on. We decided to work together not only in our programs but also in making new plays and movies.
– Please let us know about why you started producing the play, HIKOBAE.
When we were working on collaboration with Stella Adler Studio of Acting, 3.11: The Great East Japan Earthquake happened, and I was talking with Tom Oppenheim from Stella about its similarity between 3/11 and 9/11. On 9/11, there were many firefighters who went into the World Trade Center and never came back. Likewise, on 3/11, 253 firefighters died on duty but rescued thousands and hundreds of people. In Soma, Fukushima, where I started making a documentary film about 2 weeks after 3/11, about 10 firefighters died who saved the lives of about 5000 people. By natural disasters or by terrorism, people like firefighters and medical stuff go save people risking their own lives instead. This is true in Japan, in the U.S., anywhere. We must hand down their great jobs to the next generations.
– Why did you choose HIKOBAE as a title?
oI found this word in his essay of a great critic, Takashi Tachibana, which he wrote about The Great East Japan Earthquake soon after it happened. “Hikobae” means a new leaf bud sprouting up from huge dead trees which are blown down by natural disasters. It indicates a revival itself. I liked its sound of the word. Just like Mottainai became an English word, I wish HIKOBAE comes to have a meaning of reformation in Japanese.
– What are changes and meanings of the 2nd year of HIKOBAE?
For 3/11 or 9/11, the scariest thing to happen is that people eventually forget about these incidents and they would be faded away. This is the reason why I brought HIKOBAE again to New York in this 2nd year. We performed at the UN last year, but this year we will be on stages at theatres in New York and Los Angeles, and also go across Japan with a 3 times bigger scale. This year, Lee Ielpi, who is a president of the September 11 Families Association and lost his son, Jonathan, a dead firefighter in 9/11, allowed us to use a photo of his son’s firefighter jacket which is now displayed at Tribute WTC , on our HIKOBAE posters. In these stories about individuals in these 2 incidents, one story especially caught my attention. The story about Daiki Inayama, who is graduating his high school in Soma and lost his father, Masahiro Inayama, who was a firefighter in Soma and died on his duty on 3/11. Soma city provided him supporting found for his further education since he is a 3/11 orphan. However, at the ceremony held by Soma city, he clearly said that he would not go to university but stay in Soma to be a firefighter like his father. Later on, his firm decision even became more rigid, so he changed his mind and now saying that he decided to go to university so that he can take greater responsibility of all the fire departments in Soma. I always make sure that I cover these stories of individuals in my documentary movies and plays. A change in the 2nd year’s HIKOBAE is made in the ending, where the main character, American doctor, checking current radiation effects on children in their bodies and mental health.
In my documentary film, I covered a shocking story I heard from an autopsy in Minamisoma telling that 1out of 5 dead people in Minamisoma was the one who killed himself. These were people who were in their 40’s to 50’s and used to work as primary industries before their job opportunities were taken away by radiation. They got financial supports from Government, but they lost their mental health by not being able to work and ended up killing themselves. We as media have to let the world know not only about delight stories like Daiki’s, but also about such a harsh reality like this. In this way, I would like to make it my life-long work to avoid these stories being forgotten and to hand them down to the next generations. In terms of that, I’m aiming at making a movie version of HIKOBAE next year.
– As a director, how do you feel about working on this project, HIKOBAE?
I think universality among these 2 incidents, 3/11 and 9/11, is a significant message. That’s why I’m always wondering how I can pass on this message. Movies live forever even though people who made are all destined to eventually pass away. I believe that this play, HIKOBAE, will be one of great works like Shakespeare’s, which are always performed by the next generations again and again, and also I feel that I have a mission to do so. My aim is to make such great works as many as possible in my career. To reach this goal, I cannot do that by myself so supporters and followers gain their importance. Actually all the companies which saw our stage last year helped us out with financial supports this year, even in this bad economy. Not to make those supporters disappointed, it is important for us as a producers team that how well we can do in the 2nd year of HIKOBAE.
– Please let us know why you decided to come perform HIKOBAE in the U.S.
To me, New York is a place of a symbol of high-leveled “freedom of speech,” because I experienced it when I first came to New York in 1978, saw Broadway shows and jumped in to lessons at actor’s school here. In the U.S., creators challenge the difficulties of expression with their strong mind powers. This has always been my guideline. I cannot say that Japan reaches this level. In a movie market or in media, Japanese works seems little non-risk-taking compared to American ones with high-minded and firm willingness when we think about how serious they are toward their expressions. It seems like Japanese works fail to catch the current of the times. The reason why I came back to New York with the-2nd-year HIKOBAE is because I want to challenge the world’s highest level and get criticism from them.
– What is the source of your highly motivated mind?
I think it is mainly influenced by my dearest teachers. The director of my theater club in university, the first producer of my stage, and so on. I still believe that those teachers were the one who supported my important times and will guide me for a life. Most significantly, it is because of my father who was a carpenter. Carpenters need draw plans to build a house, for me is a script: good works need good scripts. And directors also need to have a good will, otherwise people don’t follow him. Directors are like the one on top of a portable shrine screaming “run forward!” to people carrying it on their shoulders. He needs more than 100 people to carry him up. Without a good will, good script, and good skills, who’s going to follow him?
– Please give a message to those who try to be actors in the future.
It is important to see the best ones. Those are going to be your guideline and set your aim. The surprises which caught me in 1978’s New York are going to be pulling me up for all my life. To experience the best things, New York is an ideal environment for creators even though it’s very harsh. Always keep your vision high.
from Oita prefecture, Japan. He is a producer, movie director, actor, and funder of Actors Clinic, an acting school in Japan. While he studied in Keio University, he mastered a method-acting. Outside Japan, he was active as an actor in Australia, the UK, Germany, and Hollywood. These days, he’s been engaged in a film director and attracted the many by his criticizing work stile on social problems. At the same time, he dedicates himself to educating the youth in order to let them be worldwide actors by bringing together his own acting school with a well-known American actor’s school, Stella Adler Studio of Acting.