It was an open secret among Japanese film distribution companies that Robin Williams, who died at his California home on Monday in an apparent suicide, was a “yobitai sutaa” (“a want-to-invite star”).
Unlike other Hollywood celebrities, Williams was famed for two things: He never complained, and he was always appreciative. Add to this a deep and sincere love for Nintendo (Williams even named his daughter after Princess Zelda from Nintendo’s “The Legend of Zelda”) and what the distributors had was a Hollywood guest from heaven.
“Honestly, he was the nicest guy, ever,” says Atsushi Hirayama, who looked after Williams when he came to Tokyo on a promotion tour for “Bicentennial Man” in 2000.
At the time, Hirayama was working for a major film distribution and advertising company. He recalls that of all the A-list stars he encountered between the mid-1990s and 2004, when he left the industry, “Robin-san was the most gracious person you could ever hope to meet. He was totally different from everyone else.
“He never put on airs or made impossible demands or anything like that. In the mornings when I picked him up at his hotel, he was always spruced up, ready to go and concerned about how I was feeling that day. A real gentleman,” he said.
One legendary Robin Williams episode goes like this: On one of his promotion tours, he was driven around Tokyo for a week by the same chauffeur. At the end of his stay, he presented the man with a pair of Louis Vuitton leather driving gloves because he loved the fact that “all the drivers in Tokyo wear white gloves. I can’t imagine anyone in the U.S. doing such a thing. You people live in an amazing country!”
The chauffeur was so moved by Williams’ gesture that he wept.
Williams also went out of his way to delve into Japanese culture, particularly anime.
In an interview he gave The Detroit News in 1996, Williams talked about how taken he was with Japanese animation, specifically “Akira” and “Ghost in the Shell.”
He had already seen “Princess Mononoke” in Japan, and described it as a picture “almost Greek in sophistication,” though it would be another three years before it opened in the U.S.
“Japanese culture can be very dark,” Williams said in a Tokyo press conference in 2000. “It’s the contrast between the darkness and the brightness and humor and precision that I see so much of, that’s what makes it thrilling for me to be here.”