English Translation of Yahoo Japan News

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Yahoo Japan News

(Translation from original Japanese article)

By Nobuhiro Hosoki Saturday 12/26/2020 19:10

Japanese actress Sayuri Oyamada on her collaboration with Lady Gaga and starting a food business in New York during lockdown.

Above: Sayuri Oyamada (PHOTO: YUKI M Ledbetter)

The Covid-19 pandemic continues to rob thousands of artists and entertainers of their livelihood. Japanese actress Sayuri Oyamada is one such artist. She lives in New York City where the number of people infected with the Corona virus continues to rise at an alarming rate. Trying to survive, Sayuri has discovered an unexpected path forward.

A Japanese Actress Comes to America

“I grew up in the countryside in Japan,” says Sayuri. “The world of TV and movies seemed a long way away,” she recalls. But when she was a junior college student in Japan, she was scouted by a Japanese agency for models and actors. It changed her life.

“I didn’t want to go back to the country life. Working for that agency meant getting a job that allowed me to leave home. Initially, I had only been allowed to go to a junior college on the condition that I would go back home after graduating.
My father’s company sold educational materials for kindergarten and elementary schools. He had connections in schools. I had already earned my certifications as a licensed kindergarten teacher and elementary school teacher at that point. So I had been told to return home to work in a school there. I got out of that by working for that agency.”

At first, the agency booked Sayuri to appear in TV commercials. But when Sayuri met a talent manager and president of another small agency, Sayuri’s focus shifted to more serious acting roles.

“That manager, who was mainly working with male actors at the time, really loved movies. We started working together as a team to develop and cultivate my acting career. The agency doesn’t exist anymore but thanks to that encounter, I was able to learn how to become a more serious actress.”

Sayuri was cast in “Bright Future”, a film by Japanese director Kiyoshi Kurosawa, then she starred in “Seventh Anniversary” by Isao Yukisada. Soon after, she was co-starring in movies with major Japanese stars including Aoi Miyazaki, Hidetoshi Nishijima, Ken Ogata, Beat Takeshi, always challenging herself to act in different genres of movies. But when Sayuri turned 30, her career hit a wall.

“To be honest, I had often been cast as an actress with a certain vibe or a waif-like presence that seemed to be appreciated and valued,” Sayuri explains. “But after the age of 30, actresses in Japan find it harder to work. I thought, I can’t just rely on a vibe, I want to sharpen my skills as an actress.”

Just then, her destiny changed again when she appeared in a film and a TV series outside of Japan. “The first project was a film we shot in the Dominican Republic called ‘Miracle Banana’ and the other was a TV drama series called ‘Proof of Memories’ (29 episodes) for the Chinese TV network CCTV. As the lead in that TV series, I worked in China for three months!” Sayuri recalls with excitement.

The experience abroad was transformational. She applied and interviewed for a program called Nurturing Upcoming Artists with Potentially Global Appeal by the Japanese government’s Agency for Cultural Affairs. She remembers sharing her dreams of going to New York with the interviewer. “I expressed my love for the independent film movement of the 1980s and my belief that in New York, I could experience and learn not just movies but also the culture behind them.”

Having nailed the interview, Sayuri got her chance to come to America in her 30s. But there were hurdles waiting for her in the Big Apple.

Getting stronger and working with Lady Gaga

Sayuri enrolled in film school in New York City. “I could barely speak English so just getting into the school was a major

challenge. Wow, how ignorant have I been?! I pushed myself and worked as hard as I could to learn. It was hard but during that period, I really grew.”

Having worked with several top directors in Japan, it was not easy for Sayuri to start all over again in another country as an actress. But her thinking about this evolved over time.

“Acting is the same everywhere. Of course, learning English was essential if I wanted to succeed in the film industry in America. I’m always going to be learning English, probably forever. But I’ll never be a native speaker and I’m OK with that now. In a way, it’s better for me to have a somewhat relaxed attitude to that. It helps me learn and speak English naturally. Then I realized that acting is really not just about words.”

Sayuri began to leverage what she calls her instinct as an actress and a performer and not focus solely on her language skills. That, she believes, led to her being cast in an advertising campaign for the cosmetic giant Shiseido alongside Lady Gaga which in turn led to roles in other movies.

Sayuri praises Lady Gaga’s ability to collaborate. “Gaga was always exchanging ideas with fashion industry powerhouses like Ellen Von Unwerth. Then she’d turn to me while we were shooting the commercial and kindly advise me, ‘I’m wearing these huge heels so I can’t move much. You can totally move around me, OK?’ Working with her, I could tell that she was a perfectionist and was passionate about every minute of her work. She was completely down to earth and very approachable, very strong and proud. I felt her strength every moment I was with her. What an amazing and charismatic woman. I became a fan instantaneously. That kind of powerful determination, I felt, is often lacking in some Japanese women like myself. Maybe it has to do with our culture and social environment. I just felt that I could learn a lot from of her ‘just be yourself’ mantra.”

Impressed by Lady Gaga’s integrity and confidence, Sayuri says that she learned how to grow stronger. That combined with the business savvy that she picked up from her husband prepared Sayuri to start a brand-new business during lockdown when getting work as an actress became difficult.

Starting a Japanese food business

Above: Creative rice ball business (PHOTO: OYAMADA ONIGIRI / Lloyd Kevin Hembrador)

The pandemic has dealt a blow to the film industry. While some big budget movies are shooting in Canada and the UK, many lower budget and independent films cannot shoot at all for safety reasons because they cannot secure locations or have a viable schedule. She struggled along with many in the industry. But unexpectedly, her lifelong love of food led to a new path when a friend suggested that Sayuri might be able to channel her creativity into a food business.

“When New York went into lockdown and every business was struggling to survive, this friend of mine was working every day at a grocery store in downtown Manhattan. Not even a day off. I gave that friend my homemade Japanese food and they loved it! ‘Why don’t you make your rice balls and sell them?’ they said.”

Without high expectations, Sayuri made her own distinctive onigiris and sold them at a Japanese grocery store. She had nothing to lose, she thought, so why not try it? Much to her surprise, her onigiris were a hit even amongst American customers. They sold out every day. “It was a small grocery store, but we were selling out 70 onigiri rice balls every day. I was encouraged to expand. Another client became interested in my foods so two months ago, I incorporated and hired staff to grow the business,” Sayuri recalls. Now she was officially stepping into the unknown world of the food industry.

For the past six months, Sayuri has worked on creating the ultimate onigiri rice balls as well as healthy rolls that are half- onigiri and half sushi starting at five in the morning every day. She only took two days off during that whole period and created eight different varieties which she is now in the process of taste-testing.

Above: Colorful and yummy Japanese rolls and snacks (PHOTO: OYAMADA ONIGIRI / Lloyd Kevin Hembrador)

The acting world or the food business?

“For me, simply being an actress and nothing else might be an outdated way of thinking. I should try different things, I think. That’s something I could have never done when I was in Japan. I felt that when a woman or an actress tried to do a new thing or try something different, there was always a pressure to criticize her. I know that acting and the food business are two completely different things. But I was able to face the challenge because I was in America. Here, I don’t think

people think that an actress can’t be involved in the food industry,” says Sayuri. The facts bear this out. In Hollywood, many successful actors have started or become involved in cosmetic and fashion businesses.

“Right now, I’m focusing on my Japanese food business but when we are out of this pandemic, I would also like to do some acting,” Sayuri notes. Her latest feature film, a horror movie titled “Bashira,” had been scheduled to open in theaters in November 2020. Due to the pandemic, its release has been postponed.

Sayuri seems unfazed: “It’s good to have options. And no matter what anyone says, once you decide something, you should just push forward.” She’s come far since her film school days in New York City barely speaking English. In 10 years, she has become a spirited survivor with relentless energy and passion. An unstoppable woman moving onwards and upwards, she is a true New Yorker in fact.

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