Following its well-received world premiere at Fantasia Film Festival, Yakuza Princess is now on 4K, Blu-ray, DVD, and Digital HD from Magnolia Pictures & Magnet Releasing, and we caught up with lead actress MASUMI to discuss training in martial arts, working with her husband (renowned martial artist Kenny Leu), and collaborating with Vicente Amorim for Yakuza Princess.
How did you first get involved with Yakuza Princess, and what about the character and the story made you interested in taking on this role?
I had just started going to an acting school that my husband (Kenny Leu) introduced me to. Three months into the school, I found out that Kenny’s manager (Andrew Ooi) was at a meeting with Yakuza Princess’ producer regarding another project, and happened to have spoken about the movie. Andrew happened to have my self-tape (was given by my agent Sara at BRS/Gage days prior) at the time, and showed myself tape to her. I met with Shelling, one of the producers, right away, following another meeting with a Japanese producer (Yutaka Tachibana) and turned in my audition tape for YP. Two week later I got the role!
When I first read the script, I felt like there were many similarities between me and Akemi. I was born in the US, but went to Japan around five years old. I always felt like I didn’t belong in either country, always feeling a little misunderstood. Both my parents worked, so I know that latchkey kid life that Akemi goes through as well. Including the experience with the Tohoku Earthquake, I had to overcome many obstacles and fear, over and over, just like Akemi does. So I knew I wanted to play her right away.
How did you prepare for the heavy martial arts, sword, and stunt work that Yakuza Princess required? What was your training regimen like?
For one month we trained in sword fighting, martial arts fights sequences, and kendo. It was my first time doing martial arts and sword, but I was lucky to have my husband, Kenny Leu, with me, who is a longtime martial artist, to help me out with it all. I worked with action coordinator Agnaldo Bueno and Ricardo Rizzo to patiently teach me all the moves, and went home to practice more with my husband and prepared for the acting scenes. I ended up doing about 90% of my own stunts, and I’m very proud of it!
Kenny and I also got to create a fight scene together, where it ends badly for him. We found time during our off days to choreograph this, so we were so happy to know it made the final cut!
Your husband, Kenny Leu, is an accomplished martial artist. Can you talk about working with him to prepare for this role?
I couldn’t have done it without Kenny, so I’m truly grateful he lent me his time to prepare me. We got married two days before we flew into Brazil, so our honeymoon became training and shooting a film in Brazil!
What are some of your favorite martial arts films? Did you have any specific movies you referenced for inspiration for the role in Yakuza Princess?
I watched 13 Assassins and also Vicente’s work Corações Sujos (Dirty Hearts with Tsuyoshi Ihara) and a few others as well. My favorite was Lady Snowblood. I loved the colors Meiko Kaji showed in her performance and her elegance in her movements!
What was your favorite part about filming in Sao Paulo, Brazil?
Being in Liberdade where all the Brazilian Japanese were! Also getting trained for kendo at the dojo there by Ebihara sensei was a special memory as well.
Do you have a favorite on-set memory you could share? What was your experience like working with your co-stars and Vicente Amorim?
I had an amazing time with everybody on set, and all of the actors as well! I was especially grateful for Jonathan, Ihara san, and Eijiro san, who were all so warm and caring towards me. They guided me with acting and how to wield the sword properly, and spoke with me about how their artist journey has been. Those in-between shooting conversations are some of my favorite memories I had with everybody.
Working with Vicente was a gift. He was so open to having conversations about the character and trying ideas I had for Akemi. He always strived to create a safe environment for me, mentally and physically, and I felt like he always had my back in this demanding shoot. Which meant a lot for me, since this was all a new experience! I can’t wait to work on another project with him, if he’ll have me of course!
Having completed Yakuza Princess, what is next for you? Do you have any upcoming movie roles and/or music that you can tell our readers about?
My new song “Cold Lips” is out now! Take a listen and hope you enjoy!