World War II finished 64 years ago but bad feelings still live on among some Japanese and Americans. "The Harimaya Bridge," directed and written by Aaron Woolfolk, executive produced by Danny Glover, and starring Ben Guillory, Saki Takaoka, Misa Shimizu and Glover, examines the prejudice between an African-American man and Japanese lingering since the war.
The story, set mostly in Kochi Prefecture, follows Daniel Holder (Guillory) who visits Japan to retrieve a collection of paintings produced by his late estranged son Mickey (the son has died in a traffic accident in Kochi). Holder, whose own father died at the hands of the Japanese during World War II, is in no mood to forget or forgive “the enemy,” nor is he moved by their politeness (it doesn't help when he is offered "natto" for his first meal in Japan). Things get complicated when Holder finds out his son was married to a local woman (Takaoka) who gave birth to a daughter after his death.
“It’s a powerful film with a message that is still important today,” says Takaoka, 36, herself a mother of two young boys. “Fortunately, I have never experienced that sort of discrimination. When I first read the script, as a mother, I could understand my character’s predicament. Yet, her love for her haafu child transcends the prejudice.”
Takaoka said she got on well with first-time director Woolfolk who spent a year in Kochi on the JET program, and who went on to direct short features about an African-American teacher in Kochi ("Eki" and "Kuroi Hitsuji") as part of his thesis for a master’s degree in film at New York’s Columbia University. “There was a gap between the type of Japanese woman that I play and Aaron’s idea of a Japanese woman, so we had a lot of discussion about it. I like a give-and-take relationship with directors. It was an interesting experience on set. On the production side, Aaron was the only foreigner, while Ben was the only foreign actor. There were Japanese crew who did not understand English at all. Despite the language barrier, we could all look at our work through multiple perspectives.”
Born in Kanagawa Prefecture, Takaoka started her career as an actress in earnest in the film "cf Girl" in 1989, and followed that up with many movies, TV dramas and theater productions. She won the 1995 Rookie of the Year Award at the Japan Academy Prizes for "Crest of Betrayal," directed by Kinji Fukasaku.
Learning English dialogue was a challenge for Takaoka on the set of "The Harimaya Bridge." “I had a script with English in one side and Japanese translation in the other side. But I decided to think my role in English because English dialogue did not come out when I thought about it in Japanese.” She also had to relearn Kochi dialect. “I have had to use that dialect before in a movie, so it wasn’t a big problem. Kansai dialect is harder to master.”
Last summer, after filming finished in Kochi, Glover and Takaoka gave a press conference at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan in Tokyo. “Danny Glover is a very delightful and kind man,” said Takaoka. “I only spent about 2-3 days with him. At that press conference, he spoke so passionately about this project. I didn‘t understand everything he was saying but I could see it was very close to his heart.”
Takaoka says he would like to make a movie in Hollywood one day, but admits she needs to get better at English. “My two sons go to an international school and sometimes I try to speak English with them at home. They are getting very good. They laugh at jokes in movies and I don’t get it.” "The Harimaya Bridge" opens on June 13.© Japan Today