Movie stars get asked to do all sorts of things when they visit Japan, but few experience what Denzel Washington did while he was here recently. “I’m still jet-lagged and not sure where I was or what I did today,” said the 54-year-old star at the end of a busy day.
Hours after arriving from LA, Washington showed up Kokuritsukyogijo station on the Oedo subway line where he was named honorary train dispatcher for a day. Then, accompanied by honorary station chief -- cosmetic surgeon-turned-actress Ayako Nishikawa, 38 -- he visited the station’s control center, took the mike and announced in his best Japanese “Densha hassha shimasu” (the train is leaving) at precisely 1:23 p.m. After that, he inspected an exhibition of old trains at Shinagawa, followed by an appearance in Yurakucho for the premiere of his new movie "The Taking of Pelham 123."
In the absence of co-star John Travolta (who withdrew from public life following the death of his 16-year-old son in January), it has been left up to Washington to travel the world to promote the film, which is a remake of the 1974 thriller about a New York subway hijacking. “My movies have always been well received by Japanese fans and it’s great to be back,” said Washington, making his 4th visit to Japan (he was last here in 2000 to promote "The Bone Collector"). “I think you’ll enjoy this one, too. It’s intense and a fun ride.”
In "Pelham," directed in hyperkinetic style by Briton Tony Scott ("Enemy of the State"), Washington stars as a New York City train dispatcher who becomes the lead negotiator with a subway hijacker (Travolta). The hijackers demand a $10 million ransom in one hour and threaten to kill a passenger for each minute the ransom is late. “I like the idea of an ordinary guy caught up in extraordinary circumstances,” said Washington, a two-time Oscar winner (for "Training Day" and "Glory"), explaining why the character appealed to him.
Washington, who grew up in Mount Vernon just outside New York City but now lives in LA, said he hadn’t traveled on New York’s subway for more than 20 years. To prepare for his role as a dispatcher, he went to work for a little while at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA). “My cap goes off to train dispatchers and the demanding job they have,” he said.
Cast and crew worked closely with the MTA on safety issues, Washington said. “The shoot was about four months, mainly at night from 9 p.m. until 6 a.m. We were between stations a lot and what I remember most of all were the big rats … and the third electrified rail. I don’t know if you have that here in Tokyo but if you touch the rail, that’s it, so we had to be very careful.”
For the role, Washington said he gained 25 pounds on a diet of “milkshakes, McDonald’s, Kentucky Fried Chicken and Haagen-Dazs. It was just eat, eat, eat,” he said gleefully. “I’m not really that big, but I do like to eat, especially Japanese food. Nobu (Matsuhisa) has been a friend of mine for 20 years and I love his tempura. Putting on weight was a lot easier than losing it. I box a lot, so that has helped me get back in shape. However, on this trip, I have been eating everything in sight.”
Although Washington has a busy schedule ahead of him with "The Book of Eli," "Inside Man 2" and "Unstoppable," he said he hopes to return to Japan more often. “Every time I have been here, I have been touched by the kindness and graciousness of the Japanese people. I wish I could take it back with me. We could use a little more of your humility in the States.”
"The Taking of Pelham 123" opens in Japan on Sept 4.© Japan Today