'Departures' star Masahiro Motoki 'a bit lost' after Oscars victory

'Departures' star Masahiro Motoki 'a bit lost' after Oscars victory

Japan's A-list leading man is waiting for a shove before he works again

Masahiro MotokiHas Motoki had enough already? The family man tells us why he's not desperate for stardom.Since holding aloft an Oscar for “Departures” -- winner of Best Foreign Language Film in 2009 -- Tokyo-based A-list actor Masahiro Motoki has been, in his own words, "a bit lost."

The following year saw him take time out for the arrival of his third child and while intrigue has surrounded his next moves, Motoki has been quiet. His only screen time coming up will be this December in the third part of NHK's historical TV drama, "Saka no Ue no Kumo."

Speaking in an exclusive interview with CNNGo in trendy Aoyama on March 10, the man known as "Mokkun" revealed that in spite of having two wildly successful entertainment careers already under his belt, the big what-next question turns out to be as puzzling and curious for him as it does to his fans.

From boy band to male lead

I was thinking, 'Why are people going crazy over us when we have no talent?'

Stepping back a while, Motoki got his big break in the 1980s thanks to much-maligned boy band factory Johnny & Associates. Having auditioned age 14 in a bid to escape his mundane Saitama life, he hoped to become a boy-next-door-type actor, but ended up spending seven years topping the charts in pop trio Shibugaki-tai instead.

"When I made my debut nobody in my family knew about it apart from my mother," says the gently spoken Motoki.

"For a family who lived in a rural area, the entertainment industry seemed very dangerous. It was especially difficult to tell my grandfather, as he used to be a mentor in the community and was very strict.

There were nights I'd come home from lessons late, and he'd be sitting in the living room waiting for me, but the more often I was on TV, the more he showed understanding."

The singing career though, proved both perplexing and unfulfilling.

"I was thinking, 'Why are people going crazy over us when we have no talent'," says Motoki.

An admirer of experienced actors like Rentaro Mikuni, he decided at 22 to step away and rethink his career.

DeparturesThe 2009 Oscar-winner made Motoki one of Japan's few A-list movie stars.It was to be the first self-searching phase of his life, and he took the time to travel to America, Europe, and -- crucially for future film "Departures," or “Okuribito” in the original Japanese -- India.

"I came to the conclusion that my direction would be right in between the mainstream and the indie worlds.

I made a peculiar appearance at “Kouhaku Utagassen” (the annual New Year’s live TV musical spectacular in Japan) with milk-filled condoms hanging from my neck as an anti-AIDS statement. That's when I started to enter the world of movies."

Academy Award

In 1992, aged 26, Motoki starred in "Sumo Do, Sumo Don't," winning the Japanese Academy Award for Best Actor.

Not only was he the youngest-ever recipient, but also he mounted the stage to receive it from his idol Rentaro Mikuni.

Since then, Motoki has gone on to star in a string of carefully chosen, award-winning indie films, including Takashi Miike's "The Bird People in China,"  but even those couldn't have prepared him for the success of Yojiro Takita's "Departures," which picked up awards worldwide by the barrow-load.

Inspired by a cremation he witnessed in India, Motoki initiated the movie-making process for the film that brought him to the international audience.

"I feel bad to say this to CNNGo, but my ambition is not that high," says Motoki.

"People are aiming for Hollywood and there are many collaborative movies internationally now, but I’m pretty much satisfied in Japanese show business."

But this isn't to say Motoki isn't inspired by other cultures -- in fact, he hopes that his kids will help diversify his own family. "It may sound contradictory," he says, "but one vague dream I have for my children is that they will marry with non-Japanese people so that our family tree will be of mixed cultures."

The right offer

Fans of Motoki have been waiting three years to find out what his next step will be. With a contemplative expression and a pause, he reveals that he decided to give an interview to force himself to seriously consider the question.

"I had my third kid last year and every day is crazy, so to be honest, there’s no space to think about anything during these moments -- currently I'm in a bit of a slump," he says.

"I’ve got so many movie offer after 'Departures' but I guess I’m not in the mind-frame of starting something new spontaneously -- I don’t want to sound like I'm experiencing the stereotypical Japanese peace-bliss (heiwa boke), but I can’t find the trigger to change."

On receiving the Academy Award for “Departures”, Motoki says he never imagined such a thing would happen when making the movie.

“But, as I stood there receiving the award, I remembered what it felt like when I initially started acting. It made me realize how much influence a movie could have on an audience, that it could save a person’s life, so I should always face the creation process keeping that in mind."

In need of a shove

Rather than waiting to be inspired by a project though, he prefers to be forced back into his day job.

"I'm afraid to say this because it could be taken negatively, but instead of going and getting what I think is right for myself, I'd rather wait to be pushed and try and find something in the air as I’m falling. I’m hesitant to coordinate everything myself because, I feel as though that would only be self-satisfaction."

Despite his reluctance to return to work though, Motoki is adamant that his ambitions aren't fulfilled yet.

"I’m not gonna be like John Lennon who stopped everything completely for a period," he says.

"I read somewhere that writer Yakumo Koizumi (AKA Lafcadio Hearn) analyzed the features of the Japanese people and one of them was “a high ability to be satisfied with the minimum.

"Oftentimes, being successful can be seen as becoming bigger, but there are certain ways to ascertain success. It’s all up to how you value it. It could be such a subtle thing to others but it could shine like a diamond for you. I guess I’m searching for that state of mind right now."

Motoki on March 11: The disasters changed Japan and the Japanese way of life completely. I wasn't directly affected by the quake, tsunami or the nuclear accident, but this incident revealed to me my ignorance towards nuclear power plants even though I was born in a country that was the victim of an A-bomb.

I used the term "heiwa boke" in the interview, but now we know that even a normal day can be a miracle. We probably will have to live in a state of uneasiness for a while but it might set a new standard for our values. We must believe that there's always something we can learn from hardship.

-- Spring 2011, Masahiro Motoki.