Readers familiar with cult American films might remember Jim Jarmusch’s 1989 movie Mystery Train, which not only put the director on the world map but also turned the then-22-year-old Japanese actor Masatoshi Nagase — a high school drop-out from the countryside — into a star.
Fast forward to 2013 and Nagase is in Taiwan as part of the cast of Kano, a baseball drama about a 1931 Chiayi high school team. The film, backed by Wei Te-sheng (魏德聖), is directed by Seediq Bale (賽德克‧巴萊) alumnus Umin Boya.
Filming has been going on in five cities around Taiwan since November, from Chiayi to Keelung, and is set to wrap at the end of March.
An all-Taiwanese cast comprised of mostly unknown faces, as well as four well-known Japanese actors playing pivotal roles, is bringing the Wei-scripted story to life.
Among the four Japanese actors, Nagase, now 46, has been cast as a strict Japanese high school baseball coach. During a recent press conference in Chiayi, Nagase said he was enjoying his time in Taiwan, even posting photos of various Taiwan scenic locations on his Facebook page.
big budget flick
Nagase told reporters at the conference in Chiayi that he was impressed by the Hollywood-style set that has been built in Chiayi, confessing: “A movie set of that size is rare even in Japan today.”
When asked by the Taipei Times if Jarmusch was aware of his starring role in Kano, Nagase said in English: “I’m not sure if he knows yet, but I hope he will find out later. I love Jim Jarmusch.”
According to the producers, over NT$50 million has been spent to build a 1931-era set, and there are plans to retain some of the Kano main street set as a tourist attraction before and after the movie opens next year.
a taste of old chiayi
There’s a huge wooden replica of an old Japanese-style Chiayi train station from the 1930s, complete with a bright red Japan Post Office collection box made of cardboard, several fake telephone poles with fake telephone wires strung up in the air, and emergency sand containers used to put out fires in the Japanese colonial period days before fire trucks and fire hydrants were put into service here.
The three other actors from Japan cast in the film are Takao Ozawa, Maki Sakai and Togo Ikawa.
Putting Nagase in Kano appears to be a stroke of casting genius since Jarmusch is a big name in America and Europe and it is hoped that Nagase’s star turn will bring in Western viewers to the baseball drama — not to mention his many fans in Japan where he has appeared on TV shows, movies and in an assortment of popular and often humorous TV commercials over the past 20 years.