Junichi Kajioka is a Japanese actor – trained in China – and also a writer-director based in London. He acted in “Spectre”, “47 Ronin” and “Johnny English Strikes Again” in the UK and works also in China and India. He has established his own production company CULTURE BRIDGE PRODUCTIONS in the UK and has already produced “IMPHAL 1944” and “SUGIHARA SURVIVORS: Jewish and Japanese, Past and Future”. He has been actively involved in film festivals around the world and has been on juries at film festivals in India and Turkey.

On the occasion of his screenings at the Japan Film Fest in Hamburg and New York, we speak with him about his films, acting work, his future projects, and other topics.

2017 has been quite a successful year for your films. Tell us a bit about the progress of Imphal 1944 and Sugihara Survivors.

IMPHAL 1944 was nominated at film festivals in Japan, London and Nice this year. The next screening is to be at the Atami Mt. Fuji International Film Festival in June. Sugihara Survivors has been touring film festivals in many countries and has so far been selected for 16 film festivals, including the San Diego Jewish Film Festival and the New York Peace Film Festival. And the film has won four awards – in the UK, France and Taiwan. I’m very pleased that both films have been really well received at these festivals.

The documentary has screened all over the world. Can you tell us a bit about the reactions of the audience to it?

The audience do seemed intrigued about the story of Mr. Chiune Sugihara because its a relatively unknown story internationally. He is quite well known among Japanese people but not outside of Japan. I hope that many people will be interested in this story because refugee issues are still relevant to our present time and helping people in need is a universal human concern.

Your career as an actor also seems to be moving along nicely. Tell us about your experience in Johnny English Strikes Again, particularly about working with Emma Thompson.

Working with Rowan Atkinson, Emma Thompson, Olga Kurylenko and Ben Miller all on set together was an amazing experience.

And it was unforgettable to work with Emma Thompson on set because I have been admiring her works – both her acting and writing – for a long time. I love her early films including SENSE AND SENSIBILITY, REMAINS OF THE DAY and HOWARDS END and it was something extraordinary that I could find myself chatting to her on set between takes. She is very kind and intelligent and gave me some tips about writing too!

In The Hidden Man, you cooperated with Jiang Wen. Tell us a bit about the film and your experience shooting it.

I was so pleased to work with Mr. Jiang Wen again after having worked on his film DEVILS ON THE DOORSTEP (DOTDS) 20 years ago! That had been my first filming experience and he was the director who made me want to work in the film industry. It was a great reunion on set. There were quite a few old faces from the DOTDS team. I was still a drama school student in Beijing at that time and they were assistants in each department. Now they are the top of their own departments! I have started my career as a director now so Mr. Jiang Wen gave me the opportunity to work as a behind-the-scenes cinematographer as well as an actor this time. Such a priceless opportunity!

In the Scottish film “Dark Highlands”, you landed your first leading role. How did that come about and please give us some details about this film also.

Scottish filmmakers Mark Stirton and Michael Clark had seen some of my previous work. They contacted me and explained the concept of the horror film. The film would feature me as lead actor with the great Scottish actor Brian Cox also involved in the production. I was really grateful for the trust they placed in me and this gave me a lot of confidence to accept the role. I am very pleased with the results which I hope cinema audiences will be able to experience soon.

You will also act on the first Indian TV series. Tell us a bit more.

I was excited when I was contacted by a legendary Indian director to work with him. I can’t say much about the details at this point but I play a historical Japanese figure who promotes the movement for the Independence of India during WWII. I had visited India several times before but it was the first time for me to shoot in Mumbai. They were really tough shooting days but I cannot forget the beautiful food, plenty of laughs on set and a beautiful sunrise seen from the Film City in Mumbai. I would love to work more in India in the near future.

How is it possible for an actor to participate in an English, a Chinese, a Scottish and an Indian production almost in the same year?

Actually the Scottish film was shot almost 3 years ago. The Chinese and English films were shot last year. I went to India for shooting earlier in the year and they are likely in post-production now. I assume that all these films will be released in the next few months. It’s good to be busy promoting my films in the same year!

What other projects do you have planned for the future? 

I’m making my third film “SOSEKI AND I” (https://www.facebook.com/SosekiAndMe/) at the moment. This is a short documentary about a Japanese novelist Mr. Soseki Natsume. He was the first Japanese scholar to be sent to the U.K. (in 1900) by the Japanese government. He learnt a lot from Britain and brought lots of thoughts and ideas back to Japan. His works are translated into many languages and are loved by not only Japanese but many people around the world. He has a lot of wisdom and insights on the human condition which deserve wide recognition.  The story will be told through the eyes of Mr. Ikuo Tsunematsu, who ran the London Soseki Museum for more than 30 years. The film will be completed in 2019. At the same time, I’ve been writing the feature versions of the scripts for “IMPHAL 1944”, “SUGIHARA SURVIVORS” and “SOSEKI AND I”. I hope that my films help show audiences the strengths of the connections between different cultures and peoples. We have so much to learn from each other.

Junichi Kajioka’s documentary film “Sugihara Survivors: Jewish and Japanese, Past and Future” is to be screened on May 26 at the Japan Film Fest Hamburg (https://jffh.de/) and on June 6 at the New York Japan Cine Fest (https://asiasociety.org/new-york/new-york-japan-cinefest-2018). IMPHAL 1944 is also to be screened on June 4 as a part of an event for the New York Peace Film Festival (https://www.facebook.com/NYPeaceFilmFest). He is attending all the Q&A events.