The man behind the mask
By May Seah, TODAY | Posted: 20 February 2009 1320 hrs
TOKYO : Usually, when I'm in Tokyo, only three names matter a lot to me. Joel Robuchon, Sadaharu Aoki and Pierre Hermé.
This time, I added one more to the top of my list: Takeshi Kaneshiro.
He doesn't cook or whip up any sweets, but, gosh, he's gorgeous. The actor of Japanese and Taiwanese parentage stars in the Japanese movie, "K-20: The Fiend with 20 Faces", which is in cinemas now.
Also starring Takako Matsu and Toru Nakamura, the film is a screen version of the comic book, set in a fictional Japan where a 19th-century class system continues to thrive. "K-20" (short for "Fiend with 20 Faces" - in Japanese, of course) is a mysterious masked thief who steals from the rich and gives to the poor. Kaneshiro plays lead character Heikichi Endo, a circus acrobat who is mistakenly believed to be K-20. In the course of the action, the Fiend's identity is finally unmasked.
The press conference for "K-20" was held at the Tokyo International Forum's 5,000-seater auditorium, the largest and most up-to-date venue in the city.
"Will we get to interview Takeshi?" I asked the Japanese liaison, naturally curious to get up close and personal with (arguably) Asia's sexiest actor. I wanted to see what was really behind those perfect eyebrows and features of Anime god proportions.
"That would be difficult," she replied, after a pause. Which, of course, translated from Japanese-speak, meant: "Ha ha! I cannot believe you actually articulated such a ridiculously naive request."
The mask is a fitting metaphor for Kaneshiro. Although hugely popular and prolific, the man is as elusive, reclusive and difficult to pin down as K-20 himself. He is well-known for being fiercely private and guarded with the press. Rumours are rife about what Kaneshiro could be hiding, like how he was apparently photographed in Cannes holding hands with another dude.
Then again, maybe the guy's just really shy, despite his tremendous success.
Starting out in 1992 as a teenage pop star with a mediocre voice but mesmerising looks, the 35-year-old star of "Turn Left Turn Right" and "Red Cliff" has always been selective with the film and television roles offered to him, choosing parts that are not necessarily mainstream. In spite of that, his talent, versatility, fluency in Mandarin, Cantonese and Japanese - and, no doubt, his face - have propelled his rise to becoming one of Asia's most powerful movie stars with a bagful of endorsement deals (Prada, Emporio Armani, Biotherm Homme and Evian, to name but a few).
As it turned out, Kaneshiro was resolutely not giving any interviews at all that night in Tokyo, although he did appear in the middle of the stage, flanked by the rest of the cast, to share his thoughts about the film. He spoke demurely and bowed courteously to his colleagues and audience. But as the night wore on, it became clearer and clearer just how much power the immensely successful actor mysteriously wielded.
It's Good to be King
When we asked why the press conference was being held at this particular venue, our guide replied: "It was chosen by Mr Kaneshiro. He had a lot of requests." That was all she would say on the subject, but boy, did it sound cryptic.
Kaneshiro's diva image is supported by incidents such as the ones that happened right here in Singapore. On two separate occasions, Kaneshiro reportedly became incensed when camera equipment malfunctioned, and threw loud fits a la Christian Bale.
But TODAY's eyewitness accounts paint a different picture. "Balderdash!" disagreed Plus Editor Phin Wong, who had previously interviewed Kaneshiro face-to-face. "He's a puppy dog."
He added: "Takeshi was nothing but lovely. He shook my hand, smiled easily and maintained eye contact. He even made an effort to speak in English when I apologised for being shamefully monolingual, and only spoke in Mandarin when he couldn't quite find the words.
"Maybe just like everyone else, he's only nice to people who are nice to him. He's not Mother Teresa, you know?"
So, Kaneshiro isn't a diva, isn't a dead nun, and isn't all that interested in hogging the spotlight. Perhaps, he's more like the simple, naive character of Heikichi Endo he plays in "K-20"? I asked writer and director Shimako Sato.
"That's my image of Mr Kaneshiro. But I don't know if it's really him. No one knows," she replied cryptically.
The film-maker, who is in her 40s, revealed that the movie was made specifically with Kaneshiro in mind. "(The producer said) the stage would be a Japan where World War II had never happened, and the hero would be Takeshi Kaneshiro."
What's behind that angelic, immaculately groomed mask that is Kaneshiro's face? Suffice to say that I did not find out that night. In fact, the veil of mystery surrounding him had only grown more opaque. Who was he, really?
But as I emerged from the Tokyo Forum and was confronted with K-20's masked visage looming from a vast billboard, it was clear that Kaneshiro's inscrutability only made the man all the more alluring.
Gosh, he's pretty.
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