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Actor refuses to allow pandemic to stop him chasing his dream

By ZHAO YIMENG | CHINA DAILY | Updated: 2022-05-30 09:43

Yasufumi Minowa is seen in a scene from a martial arts movie made in Shanghai in 2010. [Photo/CHINA DAILY]

Japanese actor Yasufumi Minowa, 39, has been stranded at home in Beijing because the movie and TV industry has been seriously affected by the recent wave of COVID-19 cases.

"It seems like this year's situation is more severe than in previous years. A lot of shoots have been suspended or delayed," he said.

Though some Japanese actors returned home because of the epidemic, Minowa was one of several who stayed in China. Last year, he played a heroic astronaut in an internet sci-fi drama.

He has played various characters, including Japanese bosses and doctors, but when he came to China, he dreamed of becoming a martial arts actor like Jackie Chan.

It all started when he watched the movie Drunken Master II, starring Chan, and was stunned by the martial arts moves and the Chinese star's natural performance.

However, he spent years playing villainous Japanese soldiers in movies and TV series set during the War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression (1931-45), and working with many Chinese actors.

After graduating from high school, he decided to move to China and become an actor. He worked laboring jobs in Tokyo to make a living and save money for his martial arts training.

Having grasped the basics of martial arts after training for a year, he started his journey to China. Hong Kong was his first stop: living in a youth hostel with 20 other people to save money, he could not adapt to his poor situation and "thought of returning to Japan a week later".

Despite all the difficulties, including the language barrier, his acting dream encouraged him to carry on.

Landing roles in martial arts-based movies and TV shows was not as easy as he had imagined, and even local actors struggled.

"I was given the cold shoulder many times when I visited film companies," Minowa said.

However, six months after he had sent an email introducing himself, a director contacted him with an offer to perform a limited role in Xiamen, Fujian province.

"I was really excited because it was the first time I had worked with Chinese people to perform martial arts. I learned that many martial artists started out in such trivial roles," he said.

In 2008, Minowa decided to head north to Beijing, seeking opportunities to become a character actor rather than simply performing a few moves.

That winter, he got the chance to play a Japanese soldier in a TV series filmed in Northeast China. "I hadn't played a soldier before, and I had no idea about the history of the war there. As far as I recall, our textbooks had no detailed information about it," he said.

When he returned to Beijing, he studied history books and pondered how to act as a villain. Following that experience, he was overwhelmed with opportunities to play Japanese soldiers.

"I was not willing to play bad guys at first, but I was told that I could only handle that kind of character," he said.

The daily remuneration reached 3,000 yuan ($450), much higher than his salary in Japan, so he carried on, looking to survive and save money for his ultimate dream.

In 2012, he acted in a comedy movie The Chef, the Actor, the Scoundrel, working with internationally renowned director Guan Hu and three well-known Chinese actors. While he was only on screen for three minutes, "I believed I had made progress in the performance and learned how a professional movie crew works," he said.

Following that experience, Minowa directed a number of short martial arts films in Japan. He continued to train and improve his acting skills, and studied in Hollywood to learn from actors in the United States.

In 2018, he returned to China and began looking for opportunities to help him escape being typecast as a villain.

"I hope that someday I can choose my play and character, and my acting will be recognized by more people," he said.

"I have figured out that it is not necessary to be just a martial arts actor. I enjoy acting, and I am happy to play a range of characters."

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