It was really tough to make the Japanese public perceive me as a serious actor or director. As an actor, one of the first films I worked on was Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence by Nagisa Oshima, back in the early ’80s. When it was released in Japan, I sneaked into the theater to see how the audience would react. I thought the film was great and my acting was not bad at all. I anticipated that the audience would be impressed by my performance, which was completely different from my comedy persona on TV shows. However, at the moment I appeared on the screen, every single person in the theater burst out laughing. I was devastated and humiliated by the experience, because the character I played in the film was not the kind of person to be laughed at. I swore then and there that I would stick to the serious and dark characters in any films or TV dramas thereafter, and I did. And it took years of playing dark characters, serial killers, and cult gurus for Beat Takeshi to be perceived as a serious actor.
I wear a lot of hats: director, comic, and actor. They’re very different roles. I spend a lot of energy looking for acceptance in these different roles. A comic or TV star who suddenly switches to a film role playing a gangster is laughable. I had a lot of trouble making people believe that the comic Beat Takeshi could play a bad guy. In people’s minds, I’m a comic, so it took a lot of time before I was recognized as a director. I had to be patient until the public accepted me. As a result, my early films didn’t get a lot of attention. As a serious film actor, things didn’t take off, either. Only my comic talents were recognized.
Actually, it was not until around Fireworks, which was my seventh film, that I was recognized as a serious film director in Japan. For years, my films had been treated as nothing more than a comedian superstar’s hobby. Generally speaking, the Japanese tend to respect artists, entertainers, or craftsmen who are masters of one art more than a jack-of-all-trades. On top of that, they can watch my shows every night on TV for free! No one cared to pay money to watch my films on the screen. So they were preoccupied with the idea that films made by a comedian cannot be good. But the moment I won the Golden Lion for Fireworks at the Venice Film Festival, everything changed. The comedian who occasionally made films as a part-time job had turned into a “world-famous cinema maestro" almost overnight. It only proves how the Japanese are obsessively sensitive to the reaction of foreign countries.