Snapshot | Miyavi: Miyavi, on His ‘Unbroken’ Experience http://t.co/q6aKLq6rp2
— New York Times Arts (@nytimesarts) December 20, 2014
Staying Aloft in a Solo Flight
Miyavi, on His ‘Unbroken’ Experience
Miyavi is a Japanese rock star nicknamed “The Samurai Guitarist” for his unorthodox string-slapping style. “It’s like a katana, a Japanese sword, using the guitar like that,” he said.
He wields a different weapon, a bamboo cudgel, as a sadistic Japanese officer in “Unbroken,” a World War II survival drama directed by Angelina Jolie that opens on Dec. 25. “Unbroken” is based on Laura Hillenbrand’s best-selling 2010 biography of the same name about Louis Zamperini, an Olympic athlete who, while serving as an American airman during the war, spent 47 days adrift on a raft in the Pacific and then two years in Japanese prison camps. Though Miyavi’s only previous acting experience was playing himself in “Oresama,” a Japanese film from 2004, he landed a plum role as “the Bird,” a ruthless guard who targeted Mr. Zamperini for brutal punishment. “Angie and I talked about this character a lot,” said Miyavi, 33. “We came to believe that the Bird was scared, struggling, sensitive and vulnerable. He wanted to be like Louie because Louie had everything that the Bird wanted to achieve and couldn’t.”
Born Takamasa Ishihara in Osaka, Miyavi is in the process of moving to Los Angeles with his wife, the Japanese-American singer-turned-designer Melody Ishikawa, and two young daughters. In New York to promote “Unbroken,” the musician, soft-spoken and sincere, talked to Leah Rozen, with occasional aid from a translator. These are excerpts from the conversation.
Q. You’ve said you were initially hesitant about taking the role. What made you decide to do it?
A. Angie’s words. I met with her in Tokyo, and she said she wanted to make something meaningful that could be a bridge between America and Japan and countries having similar conflict. It’s not about the war, it’s all about the message: forgiveness. I didn’t want to represent any dark side of the country where I was born and raised. But I saw the footage of Louie running [as a torch bearer in 1998] with the local children in the Nagano Olympics when he was in his 80s. He came back to the country where he struggled and was traumatized, to share the moment and give forgiveness to the local people. And everyone in that footage was smiling.
You stayed away from the other actors when you were on the set. Why?
To me, having no experience as an actor, there was no switch going on and off. So I was the Bird the whole time, even in the hotel room. I was carrying that bamboo stick when I was in a restaurant and walking around the city. Because the Bird was isolated, I was isolated from everything and everyone except Angie.
“Unbroken” has not yet been published in Japan, and there’s denial there by some about World War II war crimes. Do you think the film will cause controversy there?
Actually, yes. But I think we’re moving on. There are several issues our country is still having, but we haven’t had any war in the past 70 years. That’s what we should be proud of.
Do you want to do more acting?
I would love to, because I learned many things from this experience. It’s all about passion, emotion and the message. It’s also beyond language barriers, like music.
Here’s my just-moved-to-L.A. question: What kind of car did you get?
[Laughs] No car. I’m just borrowing the car from my wife’s mother. I’m still going back and forth between Tokyo and L.A., so we haven’t spent more than a month in L.A. But when we do, my first mission is going to the D.M.V.