Known for her compelling eyes and serene presence, actress Miki Nakatani plays a stubborn dressmaker in the currently playing film "Tsukuroi Tatsu Hito." Nakatani recently spoke to The Yomiuri Shimbun about her thoughts on making things, clothes and acting.
"Tsukuroi Tatsu Hito" means a person who sews and cuts, and is based on the manga of the same title by Aoi Ikebe, who is known for her composed, genial style.
Nakatani plays Ichie Minami, who makes clothes at a small dressmaker shop she inherited from her grandmother. She reworks clothes originally tailored by her grandmother or resizes old clothes brought in by customers, keeping the business afloat with her small earnings.
A department store employee named Fujii, played by Takahiro Miura, becomes fascinated by Ichie's clothes and asks if she's interested in starting her own brand. Being the stubborn artisan she is, Ichie refuses the offer and continues working for her longtime clients.
Nakatani immediately decided to accept the role when it was offered.
"The director, Yukiko Mishima, has a great eye for beauty and a supreme sense of aesthetics. I wanted to inhabit a work directed by her," the actress said.
However, Nakatani was a newcomer to sewing - she had never even sewed a button on a shirt. So about a month before shooting began, she started practicing using a pedal sewing machine as well as drawing patterns, cutting cloth, transferring pattern markings onto fabric and other dressmaking skills.
Eventually, her instructor told her she had reached a professional level of skill.
"When you're concentrating on sewing, you enter a kind of 'sewing high' or meditative state. It's such a great feeling that I wanted to go on sewing forever," said Nakatani. As her enthusiasm grew, she bought herself a sewing machine.
She used the machine to sew a poncho for which she specially ordered navy blue wool fabric mixed with cashmere, thinking she would not do her best if she just used practice-type material. She sewed the parts she could do on her sewing machine at home in Tokyo and brought the half-finished poncho to the film shoot in Hyogo Prefecture, where she did the slip stitches and other hand-sewn sections in her spare time.
She then looked for antique buttons in Kobe and found gold buttons with an anchor that she used to complete the poncho.
Nakatani gave the poncho to Mishima as a surprise on Nakatani's final day of shooting.
"She was pleased, but her reaction was rather cool, probably because she still had other scenes to shoot," Nakatani said with a chuckle.
Comfort of clothes
Born in Tokyo in 1976, Nakatani made her acting debut in 1993. In 2007, she won the Japan Academy Prize for best actress for her performance in "Kiraware Matsuko no Issho" (Memories of Matsuko). She has appeared in many other films, including "Mibu Gishi-den" (When the Last Sword Is Drawn), "Hankyu Densha Katamichi 15-Fun no Kiseki" (Hankyu Densha) and "Rikyu ni Tazuneyo" (Ask This of Rikyu).
She has also appeared in theatre, winning the best actress award at the Yomiuri Theater Awards last year. She currently stars as writer Risa Tono in the drama "Ghostwriter" on the Fuji TV network.
Nakatani has spent several months of each year in Paris since her 20s to get in touch with cinema and other arts there.
For this interview, Nakatani was wearing a dress tailored by Ayako Okuda, whom she befriended in Paris when she was younger. Okuda now makes clothes under her own brand, Lisiere.
Nakatani helped her make the dress, such as sewing straight stitches. Okuda said she wanted to make the dress so it would be between the film's world and Nakatani herself. The finished dress, one and only and made-to-order, softly embraces Nakatani and brings out her beauty.
As an actress, Nakatani has worn many clothes and now she has played someone who makes clothes. What do clothes mean to her?
"I think everyone has some kind of inferiority complex in her appearance, however beautiful she may be, and clothes cover defects and turn them into a source of confidence. They're also like armor that makes you unafraid to meet other people and make it easy for you to open your heart, as well as friends that stay beside you," she said.
The way she carefully chose her words was reminiscent of how seriously Ichie tackles her work.
Ready for 40
This year is the final year of her 30s. Asked if there is anything she wants to do while she is still in her 30s, Nakatani replied: "To be honest, I don't have much attachment [to my 30s]. I want to get into my 40s quickly. Women in Paris don't try hard to look young and they look very dignified. I envied them for having a mature culture. I couldn't be like them however hard I tried. But finally, my ideal and my age are getting closer to each other. That's why I look forward to turning 40."
Indeed, she looks capable of making even age stand on her side and glowing with even more profound charm.
"Tsukuroi Tatsu Hito" is an ode to all the artisans and craftsmen who give their lives to making things. It also tells a story about a person who breaks out of her shell.
One of the scenes features a dress that Ichie makes to give shape to a thought she had suppressed.
"I don't appear in the scene, but that's my favourite because it symbolizes the fact that everyone has moved a step forward," Nakatani said.
She added with a glint in her wide eyes: "We're the ones who build walls around ourselves. I hope people will see this film and appreciate the joy and beauty of the moment when you break that wall."
"Tsukuroi Tatsu Hito" is currently showing at Shinjuku Piccadilly and other cinemas. For more information, please visit tsukuroi.gaga.co.jp.