Akira Koieyama is a famed Japanese martial artist and actor who has played in films like “The Last Samurai”, “47 Ronin”, “Rush” and in the web series “Street Fighter: Assassin’s Fist”.
We talk to him about his career, life, martial arts, philosophy, and many other topics.
How did you first enter the martial arts? What kind of training did you receive?
I started karate practice when I was a kid, particularly Shurite Ryu karate. When I started, the students went to the dojo twice a week. We practiced Makiwara, Kata, Kumite, we trained from basic to sparring. I got hurt and injured, sometimes, but I liked training. I remember doing a lot of practice before the tournament. I started tae kwon do practice last year. I also love Japanese sword training (iaido).
How did you end up working in movies?
I went to Toho’s contemporary acting studio for 3 years in Japan, then I started my career, initially in theatre. After that, step by step, into television and movies.
You have been part of blockbusters like “The Last Samurai”, “Rush” and “47 Ronin”. Can you describe your experiences?
These are all special experiences for me. What I remember most, though, are the big fight scenes in “The Last Samurai”, which were shot in New Zealand. More than 500 Japanese people stayed in Taranaki during filming. The final battle scene was powerful: horses were running, everyone screaming and attacking. It was like a blow of two big waves. It was a very strong experience and I am honored to have been part of that team.
Byung Hun-lee was quite vocal recently about racism issues in Hollywood. Have you experienced similar behaviors?
Fortunately, I have not experienced any racial discrimination. I do not really know about Hollywood, but I hope that more Asian actors will have more opportunities.
You have played an iconic role as Gouken in the web-series “Street Fighter: Assassin’s Fist.” Can you tell us a bit about the experience?
Goken is special for me. At first it was hard to build and gain muscle. I had physical fitness training for 6 months before filming started. “Street Fighter: Assassin’s Fist” first screened on Youtube. I think the web is a good medium for a series because people around the world can watch it any time they want.
You have also worked as a stuntman (The Last Samurai). Can you describe to us what being one in a film entails?
Stuntmen take the place of the actual actors during the dangerous scenes, but there are cases where the actors do them on their own.
Which one of the current stars of martial arts films do you think is the better athlete?
I really don’t watch many martial arts movies, except the really good ones, like “Black Belt”. Naka Tatsuya is an actual karate master and naturally he is a good athlete. I am practicing martial arts for my health and spirit. It is not intended to compare with people.
Why do you think that there are not many martial arts films coming from Japan, especially when compared to the amount of Hong Kong ones?
I am not sure why, especially since the number of films of other genre has increased.
Which are your favorite martial arts films?
“The Way of the Dragon”, “Karate kid”, and so on.
You are participating in “Redcon-1”, that will screen in 2017. Can you tell us a bit about your role and the film?
It is a military action zombie apocalypse film. Chee Keong Cheung is the director. My role is Lieutenant Simon Lau. It is about eight special soldiers assigned a suicide mission to rescue a scientist. Please look forward to it! (Editor’s note: it includes action, zombies and apocalypse, of course we look forward for it).
What are your plans for the future?
I would like to live life in cherish everyday. I think we are all students in life as we try to find out better way… We don’t know what the future holds, but I believe in the future with passion. I hope my works and life style makes people happy:)
Thank you very much!