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August 2004

Japanese Boy Wins Best Actor Prize at Cannes

Yagira Yuya
Yagira Yuya

Nobody Knows, a film starring Yagira Yuya, a third-year Japanese middle school student, went on general release in Japan in August. At the Cannes Film Festival in May this year, Yuya won the Best Actor Prize. It is the first time that the award has been won by a Japanese actor, and also the first time that it has been given to someone as young as 14.

The story of Nobody Knows is based on events that actually took place in Tokyo. The mother of four children, each with a different father, disappears. The eldest of the four, Akira (played by Yuya), has to look after his three brothers and sisters. Director Kore-eda Hirokazu auditioned over 300 boys for the part of Akira. He saw photographs of Yuya only two weeks before shooting was due to start and immediately decided on Yuya for the role as soon as he saw the striking expression of his eyes.

director and Yuya
Yuya with director Kore-eda Hirokazu

What has impressed people most about Nobody Knows is the natural acting of the children. Once the children to play the parts had been chosen, Kore-eda tried to get his child actors to behave as if they were really brothers and sisters by doing ordinary family activities with them, such as holding barbecue parties and going to festivals with traditional games and food together. Season by season, he made up albums of photos showing moments in the shooting of the film and in the children's everyday lives and gave them to his young actors. Yuya says that these albums are now among his most prized possessions.

Yuya goes to a public middle school in Tokyo. He used to dream of becoming either a soccer player or an actor. After being awarded the Cannes prize, however, he received so many offers of acting parts that he decided to make his living as an actor. Yuya is in the third year of middle school, so it looks like he will have to concentrate on studying for his high school entrance exams for a while. In fact, he left Cannes in mid-festival to come back to Japan for exams. Yuya has been studying at a cram school since he was an elementary-school student and plays in his school soccer club. When we asked him what it was like making the film, he gave the kind of answer that any middle school student might give: "The baseball scenes were the most fun. I'm always playing soccer, but I'd never even put on a baseball uniform."

cast members
Yuya with the other cast members

Yuya is never still and has restless eyes and an expression that is always changing. Remembering how he shook when standing on the red carpet in his tuxedo at Cannes, he says: "I hope I can become the kind of actor who can face any situation with confidence."

Nobody Knows will shortly be released in cinemas outside Tokyo, and is scheduled to be shown in over 30 foreign countries, starting with France in November 2004.

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