Thursday, November 02, 2006

Sawajiri Erika: don't hate her cos she's beautiful

Interesting headline on Yahoo Japan news today: "Sawajiri fails in attempt to be ugly". It's referring of course to Sawajiri Erika, the 20-year-old French-Japanese actress who has been grossly overexposed on both the big and small screens this year, and her turn in Shono Jiro's "The Letter" (Tegami) which opens nationwide this weekend.

I first wrote about this one back in April when the project was announced. The headline originates from an interview with director Shono where he talks about the challenge he faced matching the actress to the role. "If her character was as it is in the book, she'd be more dowdy and unattractive. But then she moves to the city and grows more sophisticated, becoming beautiful through her enduring love for the protagonist. But despite that, Sawajiri is pretty right from the beginning, no matter what you do. We tried a lot of things like reducing her makeup, making her wear glasses and tying her hair, but that only made her even cuter... it was an utter failure (laughs)."

"Even so, putting aside her appearance, her presence and performance that she constructed out of an awareness of the period was wonderful. Her ability to do so made me sense Sawajiri's power as an actress."

Shono's comments remind me of Garry Marshall's 1991 film "Frankie and Johnny", in which Michelle Pfeiffer was glaringly miscast as a homely waitress, a role originally played on stage by the not as aesthetically pleasing Kathy Bates. With fellow hot young properties Yamada Takayuki and Tamayama Tetsuji sharing top billing and its typically hanky-wetting subject matter, "Tegami" might have seemed like guaranteed box office coin a year or so ago, but this year has seen increasingly diminishing returns for such romantic and/or tear-jerking fare featuring young starlets. This is one of distributor Gaga's first stab at the genre (if you could call it that), but will the surplus of similar films and the ubiquity of its lead actors work against it? (source: Cinema Today)

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