Actress Kaho Minami on speaking without words


Kaho Minami has had a busy and varied career as an actress since her 1985 debut in Kohei Oguri’s “Kayako no Tameni” (“For Kayoko”). In addition to appearing in everything from commercial hits (Takashi Miike’s “Yokai Daisenso [The Great Yokai War],” 2005) to films with leading indie directors (Jun Ichikawa, Gakuryu “Sogo” Ishii and Kazuyoshi Kumakiri among them), she has a long list of stage and television credits. But to the tabloid press she is now known best as the wife of Ken Watanabe.

In Koki Yoshida’s “Kazoku X (Household X)” she plays a careworn middle-aged housewife, but in person at the Shinjuku office of talent agency Yoshimoto Kogyo she was poised, articulate and radiant.

When you read the script did you have any qualms about the role? There’s not much dialogue to go by.

Not, not at all. I knew a previous film by the director, Yoshida, called “Shorei X (Symptom X)” (2007). That was a wonderful film. It was a similar story about a mentally disturbed mother and her adult son with even less dialogue than “Kazoku X.” But (the director) really brought out the feelings of the characters. So when I read the script for “Kazoku X” I had an image right away of what it would be (like on the screen).

Japanese tend to find it difficult to express their feelings in words. So this script, in which the family members cannot verbally communicate with each other, struck me as very Japanese.

In interpreting the character, did you consult much with the director?

Yes. He’s a quiet type and only 29, but he clearly told me what he wanted. For example, I saw the character as having these turbulent emotions, but he told me to play her more quietly.

How did you prepare for the role?

I wanted the house to feel like a place I lived in, so before the shoot I spent time in the kitchen and cleaned up the living room. I wanted to bring across the feeling of the housewife being shut in, of always being alone in the house.

There are many great Japanese films about family breakdown. How does this one differ?

You’re right — there are many family dramas and they differ from each other depending on the era. But one constant is that the family makes time to eat together. Japanese family members may not say a lot to each other, but traditionally the act of eating a meal together creates a kind of bond. But we now live in an era in which we eat alone, separate from the other (family members). That contributes to the problem of family breakdown.

It’s hard to believe that the couple in the film married out of love.

But there was a time when they understood each other. There was also a time when family life was a refuge for them. But people who live together can change and start ignoring each other. That’s reflected in the atmosphere of the household.

On March 11 people wanted to reach out and help each other. When I feel someone is in trouble, I want to do something for him — I acknowledge his existence as another human being. But the (family members) in the film are not helping anyone. They don’t acknowledge anyone else’s existence and no one acknowledges theirs.

Even little words can change that, like when I iron a shirt for someone and he says “Thank you” or I prepare a meal and (the family members) say “Thank you.” The feeling I get from those words is not self-satisfaction so much as happiness at being acknowledged. When the family members in the film stop saying those words, their bonds start to dissolve.

The ending is ambiguous — you’re not sure how it will turn out for the family.

Right, it’s ambiguous, but it also holds out hope. Families are delicate things — they can break easily, so it’s important to keep making the effort to hold things together. If you stop, everything can fall apart quickly.

It’s also good to have films that give you a chance to reassess the basics. It’s very rare for a director as young as Yoshida to make a film that looks so deep into family life.