Interview with Hanae Kan: Japanese audience expects us to move them emotionally through a film rather than to let them think about the film by themselves

We speak with Hanae Kan about her latest films, her career, the Japanese audience, her double ethnicity, and many other topics.

Hanae Kan was born on November 7, 1990 in Mishima City, Shizuoka, Japan as Han Yong-hye, as her father is Korean. She made her debut when she was just 11 years old, in Seijun Suzuki's "Pistol Opera", and in 2004 she played in Hirokazu Koreeda's "Nobody Knows". Her career continued until today, with some her latest roles including "West North West,"Yamato (California)" and "Love And Other Cults" .

On the occasion of the latter screening at Fantasia International Film Festival, we speak with her about her latest films, her career, the Japanese audience, her double ethnicity, and many other topics.

This year has been quite good for you, with roles (apart from "Love and other Cults") in "Inumukoiri" and "Yamato (California)". Can you tell us a bit about these experiences? 



I’ve been working with  director Katashima of "Inumukoiri" for a long time. Actually, he was the producer of my debut film "Pistol Opera", by Seijun Suzuki director and it was my third time working with him.

"Yamato" (California) is a film about rap music. It was my first time working with director Miyazaki . Also the first time for me to do rap, so I was a little perplexed and hesitated to take the role at first. But he wanted me to try and interpret the freshness of my first experience, so I gladly accepted. Miyazaki  is a very free person. Even if there is a script, he says completely different things at the scene. It’s a good thing about him. I had the feeling of creating the film with everyone together, and we enjoyed it.

In general, how do you choose the films you act?

When I get an offer, I think what influence I can have to the audience, the meaning of the film and what I will be in it, and if I can truly live the role in the story. These are the only things I care about when I decide to take an offer or not.

Is it difficult for an actress to make a decent living in the Japanese movie industry at the moment?

Yes, I think it is difficult. In my case, I only work for films so I don’t know about others, but for me continuing making films to live is quite tough, so I may say that the reality is severe. It is necessary to play in a lot of movies every year


I found the Reika-Kenta relationship one of the most interesting in "Love and other Cults". Can you tell us a bit more about this, and your part in the film?

Thank you. I heard that the part of Ai and the part of Reika-Kenta was originally two different stories and the director made it one. Kenta is a mischievous boy at a lower position in a yakuza group. I played the role of Reika who is attracted to Kenta. In this love story, the most important thing is that she is attracted by the pureness of Kenta. In spite of their appearance, these characters have very pure minds. I wanted to interpret how a pure heart can get contaminated easier, like black paint spread quickly in clear water. I think in real life in Japan, or maybe it’s the same everywhere, pure people often take unstable positions, and are easily subjected to bad influences. 

How did Eiji Uchida guide you and how did you interpret your role? 

It was my first movie with director Uchida. He discussed a lot about the script before starting to film. He tested many times. He doesn’t film until we get really ready for it. I think it does not happen very often to film in only one shot.

Before we start filming, I talked with the director to know what is his way of approach, and how is the Reika he wants me to be. I also went to eat out with Kenta to be close with him. When we start filming, there are not so many things that we can do so I did what I could do before. I prepared the story before the episode in the film, like an epilogue.

The script revolves around bands of misfits, living on the borders of society. Do you think that characters like that exist in Japanese society, and what is your opinion of them?

 I do believe they exist. We filmed in Yamanashi prefecture, which is next to Shizuoka prefecture where I live. We can see mount Fuji from both sides and it’s very beautiful. However, many people in these regions feel isolated and lonely. Tokyo is a very populated city but it doesn’t mean that there is more connection between each other. Some try hard to change the situation but it doesn’t always work, and they go the wrong way. I wanted these people to watch this movie.

You have collaborated with Seijun Suzuki, Hirokazu Koreeda and Sang Il-lee. Can you tell us a bit about these experiences?


With Suzuki, it was my very first movie. I didn’t know anything when I went to the audition. I don’t even remember much about the audition. It was like, when I realized I was at the scene, I really didn’t know what I was doing at all, but now I appreciate a lot that I had that experience to work with him. I still remember what he told me. Just like Koreeda, he doesn’t like very much over making a performance. Suzuki told me one day, “ You have never done acting have you?” I said no. It was my debut film. He said, “little miss, in that case you wouldn’t be good at it even if you try. So you don’t need to do acting”. I thought “Oh I don’t need to do it! Yay!” Since then, it was just like playing around every day. 

Koreeda didn’t give me the script. There was a story but he told me what to do orally so I could stay natural.

With  director Lee, we did a lot of rehearsals, even though I didn’t have many scenes to play. He wanted us to put our soul into the roles. 

I was still very young when I worked with Suzuki and Koreeda  so it was more like trying to have nothing in my mind rather than acting.

In your twitter page, your signature writes "between Japan and South Korea". How do you feel about this double ethnicity and what role does it play in the way you act? 


Unlike in Europe, Canada or the US, the majority of people in Japan are Japanese. I hardly meet half-Japanese people. There are second-generation Korean people but it’s still a little different from my case. When I was concerned about my two nationalities, I wanted to be in the middle of it forever. I wanted to be fair to both countries, including their opinions and cultures. I still feel that way today. I want to take only the good parts of the both sides and mix it, and go ahead to the future. This is why I wrote "between Japan and South Korea" on my twitter.

I try not to forget it when I act. When I receive a story, I consider if I can adapt to its spirit and situations, and try to do what I can to be fair to both ethnicities.  I think this has an impact to the way I act. Rather than thinking how I act when I start a play, I attend a play after judging if I really can do it right. Well, it’s difficult to describe.

Would you be interested in acting in a Korean movie in the future? 

Yes of course! 
What do you think of the film industry in Japan today ?

The number of movie theatres is decreasing in Tokyo and other regions.  For many things, what the audience or the clients want is getting cheaper. What I realise when I’m outside of Japan is that Japanese audience expects us to move them emotionally through a film rather than to let them think about the film by themselves. I think the filmmakers in Japan, including actor,s adjust to what the audience wants when we make the stories.

Who is your favorite movie director ?

Xavier Dolan ! I like how he films people. His movie is very poignant. It makes me feel like I’m watching human nature rather than a film.  Straight, live and real.

Can you tell us a bit about your future projects? 

 I have a project to work with a director outside of Japan, it is not official yet so I can’t tell you more but I’d like to try more new things like this.

I also played in a film of female sumo which will be in theatre next year. I’d be glad if this film could make an occasion for people around the world to think about Japan through its culture.


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Asian Film Vault: Interview with Hanae Kan: Japanese audience expects us to move them emotionally through a film rather than to let them think about the film by themselves
Interview with Hanae Kan: Japanese audience expects us to move them emotionally through a film rather than to let them think about the film by themselves
We speak with Hanae Kan about her latest films, her career, the Japanese audience, her double ethnicity, and many other topics.
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Asian Film Vault
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