Tears flow easily for new Oshin

Tears flow easily for new Oshin
First-time child actress Kokone Hamada.

As soon as Japanese child actress Kokone Hamada appears on the webcam for her video interview with Life!, everyone in the room automatically starts cooing.

The sweet-faced nine-year-old is fielding media questions over Skype about her movie Oshin, in which she plays the title role of a poor girl who perseveres and triumphs against the odds.

Oshin, which openned in cinemas on thursday, is the movie remake of the iconic 1983 Japanese TV drama of the same name which was a global hit that aired in 59 countries, including Singapore. Here, it was so popular that it was dubbed in Mandarin, English and Malay.

It is said to be inspired by the story of the late Katsu Wada, the woman who founded Japanese departmental chain Yaohan, which is now defunct.

Dressed for the Skype interview in a dark blue kimono with her hair in a bun, the rosy-cheeked Kokone is, really, pretty darn cute. In fact, she is a lot cuter than actress Ayako Kobayashi, now 41, who played the same role in the original TV series and has a role as Mino, one of Oshin's employers, in the movie.

Speaking in Japanese with a shy smile, she introduces herself ever so politely: "Hello, I'm Kokone and I'm so happy to talk to you today."

Sitting next to her is the director of the movie Shin Togashi, 53, who chuckles when he sees everyone's reaction to the girl.

He says he picked the first-time actress out of more than 2,500 audition hopefuls for the role because she "looks like a very good girl at first glance".

He adds in Japanese via a translator: "She just has the look of a really lovable girl. Also, since the story is set 110 years ago, I needed someone whose face is not too modern, and also with a countryside feel.

"The original Oshin as played by Ms Kobayashi was beloved by audiences, so I knew I had to find a girl who looks like she could have the same impact in the role. In fact, the casting decision for the role was one of the biggest challenges in making the movie. But don't you think I made the right choice?"

It is only natural that he would feel some pressure in casting the lead part.

The highly rated original TV drama was watched and loved by viewers all over Japan, drawing up to 62.7 per cent of the country's viewers at its peak.

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