Shogi mas­ter movie opens Novem­ber 19

Jamaica Gleaner - - ENTERTAINMENT -

TOKYO (AP): HE DE­VO­TION Kenichi Mat­suyama gave to por­tray­ing a shogi prodigy who lived a fear­lessly sin­gle-minded life is clear in the months he spent prac­tis­ing plac­ing the pawns in the Ja­panese board game, im­mers­ing him­self in the mas­ter’s self­less view on death, and gorg­ing to gain weight.

“He lived in a win-or-lose world, and for that, he had to give up so much, to be liv­ing on the edge, to­tally de­voted to that one call­ing. That fas­ci­nated me. I wanted to give it my all,” he told The As­so­ci­ated Press, ahead of the pre­miere of Satoshi: A Move for To­mor­row.

The film, por­tray­ing the angst-filled story of Satoshi Mu­rayama, who died of blad­der can­cer at 29 in 1998, opens in cin­e­mas around Ja­pan on Novem­ber 19. It closed the Tokyo In­ter­na­tional Film Fes­ti­val and is be­ing show­cased at the Taipei Golden Horse Film Fes­ti­val, which runs through Novem­ber 24. It was eight years in the mak­ing. And Mat­suyama wanted the role right away.

Mu­rayama had a se­ri­ous kid­ney ail­ment since he was five. He fell in love with shogi while hos­pi­talised. His pudgi­ness was a side ef­fect of his sick­ness and the med­i­ca­tion he had to take all his life. Shogi, be­sides his love for manga, was about all he knew in life. He never had a girl­friend, he con­fesses in one scene. His last words were about shogi moves.


His story is that univer­sal one of a leg­end in any field, those so pure they would ded­i­cate their en­tire lives, even risk­ing death, for the pur­suit of per­fec­tion.

“He con­fronted his life head-on and it wasn’t about liv­ing for any­one else,” said Mat­suyama, who has starred in Nor­we­gian Wood, the 2010 com­ing-ofage film based on the best-selling novel by Haruki Mu­rakami. “Mr Mu­rayama al­ways felt death close to him. That was his predica­ment.”

Sim­i­lar to the way box­ers have to keep win­ning to re­main cham­pi­ons, shogi play­ers have to keep win­ning. That’s why Mu­rayama kept de­lay­ing treat­ment and then goes back to the shogi board barely a month af­ter ma­jor surgery. He is in con­stant pain, but he doesn’t stop. He doesn’t want to cut his nails be­cause, he says, even nails are try­ing to live.

Mat­suyama gained 26 kilo­grammes (57 pounds) in about three months, speed­ing the trans­for­ma­tion since it ruled out other act­ing jobs. Gorg­ing on ice cream and rice cakes, he grad­u­ally felt he was mor­ph­ing into Mu­rayama, that all-out phys­i­cal role-build­ing that of­ten grabs at­ten­tion – Robert De Niro in Rag­ing Bull or Char­l­ize Theron in Mon­ster.

“Usu­ally, I’m told to lose weight for this job, and we have to re­strict our eat­ing and drink­ing. But for this, I got to let all that go,” Mat­suyama said, looking lean and nim­ble, back at his usual weight of 66 kilo­grammes (145 pounds). “I ate potato chips in bed with my daugh­ter.”

Be­com­ing Mu­rayama was about more than get­ting fat, al­though that brought him closer to the part. Even the way he walked, the way he car­ried him­self and the aches and twitches that fol­lowed, as well the way his mind worked, all changed, re­called Mat­suyama, whose mar­i­tal part­ner Koyuki played op­po­site Tom Cruise in The Last Sa­mu­rai.

Mat­suyama spent a year prac­tic­s­ing the way shogi masters place their pawns, flat hexagon­shaped tiles, with that de­ci­sive click against the board, their fin­gers placed just so.

The ten­sion of the shogi scenes – two peo­ple fac­ing off, sit­ting Ja­panese-style on the floor, in thick silence, ex­cept for the click-clicks

against the Film di­rec­tor Yoshi­taka Mori (left), Ja­panese ac­tors Kenichi Mat­suyama (cen­tre) and Masahiro Hi­gashide pose for pho­tog­ra­phers on the red carpet dur­ing the Tokyo In­ter­na­tional Film Fes­ti­val open­ing cer­e­mony in Tokyo.

board – is grip­ping, even to au­di­ences un­fa­mil­iar with the art. The in­tense ri­valry that’s also a re­spect­ful love story with Yoshi­haru Habu, still a shogi star to­day, drives the film, as dra­matic as that be­tween top-level ath­letes – Ted Wil­liams ver­sus Joe DiMag­gio, Martina Navratilova ver­sus Chris Evert, Bill Rus­sell ver­sus Wilt Cham­ber­lain. While Habu gained a rep­u­ta­tion as a cool thinker,

Mu­rayama daz­zled with his un­pre­dictable in­tu­itive moves.

The movie closes with an un­for­get­tably haunt­ing scene. Soft wind whirls on a street. A young shogi player, who had known and looked up to Mu­rayama, senses Mu­rayama’s pres­ence in the air, long af­ter the mas­ter’s death.

And then there he is, stand­ing as he al­ways did, big, smil­ing, gaz­ing at what’s ahead, an ev­ery­day street cor­ner that serves as a pro­found re­minder that such a legacy, such pas­sion for the game, is eter­nal.


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