Youngest Cannes best actor winner embraces ‘Gannibal’s’ doom and gloom
It’s a heavy role in a disquieting series that its lead actor took a long time to purge out of his system.
When we asked Japanese heartthrob Yuya Yagira in Singapore last month how long it took him to “shake off” the darkness surrounding his character in the disturbing psychothriller series “Gannibal,” Yuya told us that it took him two months to do so after the production wrapped.
“Because of how dark the role is, I was sometimes weighed down by a feeling of isolation during the shoot,” the 32-year-old actor explained to us. “But it was important for me to snap out of it soon after, because my next project was supposed to be ‘light and happy.’
“About three days after the shoot, I had to film a commercial. They asked me to look sunny, bright and energetic. But, I couldn’t even smile! Perhaps because I inhabited the role for five months. And it took me about two months to return to my old self. It was strange.”
Based on a hit manga series by Masaaki Ninomiya, “Gannibal,” which began streaming on Disney+ last Thursday, is set in Kuge, an isolated fictional village in Japan where newly transferred police officer Daigo Agawa (Yuya) arrives a broken man. While things start off promisingly for Daigo, he and his trauma-recovering family are soon thrust into an increasingly hostile environment as alarming events begin to play out, including the unexpected death of an elderly villager. It doesn’t take long before Daigo is thrown for a loop when he realizes that something is deeply wrong with the village and its residents. Is he really up against a clan of cannibals? More importantly, does he have what it takes to protect his wife Yuli (Riho Yoshioka) and second grader daughter from the creepy things that continually unfold in Kuge?
Director Shinzo Katayama explained what he thought sets “Gannibal” apart from other suspense thrillers.
“It’s unique because the story takes place in a remote village,” he said. “If you were in such a place and needed help, it would take a long time to get it—which makes the series distinctive.
“Also, it’s my first time dramatizing a comic-book series. The first time I read it, I thought about how I would visualize onscreen the images in the comics that are depicted in detail.
“So, I tried some special shooting techniques—long takes, same angle shoots with the time leaps, for example. That’s what makes this different from my previous movies, ‘Siblings of the Cape’ and ‘Missing.’”For Yuya, it was important not to ignore the popularity of the manga the series is based on. “Many of the actors and actresses I work with in Japan told me how much they enjoyed reading ‘Gannibal,’ so they were looking forward to this dramatization. But for me, it came as a surprise that Disney+ would choose a [dark] subject matter like this.
“I play a police officer who has been practicing judo for 12 years. Because of this, I could throw myself into the role with confidence. Those who have learned martial arts move differently from those who do boxing.
“In martial arts, you focus on the form, which makes the action scenes in ‘Gannibal’ realistic and graphic. And that helped me play my role well.”
But paying his role well isn’t new to the handsome actor. In fact, Yuya began his acting career in 2004 after he was cast at age 12 in his acclaimed first movie, Hirokazu Kore-eda’s “Nobody Knows,” and made history along the way.For his portrayal in the film based on the 1988 Sugamo child-abandonment case, Yuya became the youngest best actor winner in the history of the Cannes Film Festival.
‘Scary and interesting’
Discussing his character further, Yuya said, “Daigo came to Kuge with his family because he had problems he wanted to solve. In the village, however, he crosses paths with families who don’t try to solve their problems at all. He wants to uncover the truth about them as he attempts to overcome difficulties. This is what makes me empathize with him even more.
“As he gets involved deeper with the villagers, including the strange Goto clan, you might feel like Daigo is the one who’s insane—which I found really frightening to come to terms with.
“But as the story develops, you start to believe that every unusual thing in this drama could happen in reality. That’s scary and interesting at the same time.”
Since the series is streaming on Disney+, which carries the films of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Yuya was asked at the press con if he could see himself appearing in a Marvel Cinematic Universe production.“I do want to be in a Marvel movie. I have watched many of them, and I love them,” he admitted. “But I have a story to tell in relation to this… Three years ago, Mr. Kore-eda sent me an email about a conversation he had with one of the designers of Disney in LA.
“The guy told him that the design for the boy character in ‘Big Hero 6’ was actually inspired by my role in ‘Nobody Knows.’ So I was very pleased when I read that email.
“Disney has been very special to me. And it was my great pleasure to work on this project for Disney+ and finally meet Micky Mouse at this press con. I feel lucky.” INQ