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KUDOH, YOUKI : Heaven's Burning

Beautiful Japanese actress Youki Kudoh may have loved the Australian landscape working on the controversial Aussie flick Heavenís Burning, but as for working with her co-star Russell Crowe, thatís another story, as she candidly revealed to PAUL FISCHER.

Youki Kudoh is one of Japanís foremost film stars, having begun her budding career at 12, following what she describes "as haying gone through a difficult childhood with my father." Now aged 26, the alluring actress is a hot property and has been working consistently ever since. It was American independent director Jim Jarmusch who afforded the actress the opportunity to first work beyond Japan. She was just 17. "He was extraordinary director", Kudoh explains in her halting English. "He gave us all an incredible amount of freedom. But it was also a strange experience for me, because at the time, I couldnít speak a word of English, so I needed an interpreter. Itís a pity, because I would have liked the opportunity to have forged a close friendship with Jarmusch, though we still keep in touch."

"Iím trying to come to terms with an American accent,"

These days, Kudoh divides her time between Los Angeles and Tokyo, where she enjoys duel careers. "I hate Los Angeles, because itís so frightening. Every day on the news you see reports of murders and people being randomly shot on the freeways." But sheís there to further her career, and has just landed a key role in Australian director Scott Hicksí (Shine) first Hollywood project "which I canít really talk about, except to say Iím trying to come to terms with an American accent, which Iím having trouble with, especially having spent so much time in Australia."

When the film makers of Heavenís Burning were ready to cast their female lead, they looked no further than Kudoh. In the film, written by noted playwright Louis Nowra, Kudoh plays Midori, a young woman dissatisfied with her life and recent marriage to a businessman sheís not in love. In Sydney for her honeymoon, she fakes her own kidnapping. Inadvertently, Midori is caught up in a bank robbery which goes wrong. When the gangís driver (Russell Crowe) saves her life, the two head cross country, pursued by the robbers, cops and Midoriís jilted husband.

"We ended up with a more truthful twist."

Kudoh says she had a fair amount of input into this script when it first came to her in Japan. "The director, Craig Lahiff, came to see me in my Tokyo hotel. I didnít have to audition for the role, but when I read the script, I knew changes had to be made. Both Lahiff and Nowra are Australian, so they had a limited knowledge of Japanese culture, and at times, even confused Japanese and Chinese culture, in terms of how your life is laid out for you, from birth. So we sorted those things out so that we ended up with a more truthful twist." Kudoh describes Heavenís Burning as "a kind of cross-cultural Romeo and Juliet", and afforded her the chance to play "someone with fewer than choices than I. I could never marry someone I was not in love with.

"He can be very difficult and certainly arrogant." on co-star, Russell Crowe

Kudoh loved working in Australia, as far as the countryís physical beauty is concerned. "The landscape is extraordinary, so vivid, so different from Japan, and the people are so nice." While she has great respect for Russell Crowe the actor, working with him was fraught with difficulty. "He can be very difficult and certainly arrogant. When heís in a good mood, heís your next best friend, but on a bad day, heís not easy to be around." Which would make doing love scenes with the Australian somewhat difficult. "It was my idea to make them more passionate, because Midori starts out so weak and subservient. Russell and I had an OK professional relationship in that sense, but heís a hard guy to get to know and to become close to, especially since our on-screen relationship has to strengthen throughout the film. We spent very little time together off-set."

"I think itís an interesting film which raises some important issues."

One of the more controversial aspects of Heavenís Burning is a speech Ray Barrettís character makes which is anti-Japanese. The speech was initially cut from the film because it tested badly, but has since been reinserted for the filmís Australian release. Kudoh finds the whole thing mystifying. "The Australian reaction to this scene has been strange. Rayís character represents an old Australian generation, post-World War 2, a generation that found it hard to relate to the Japanese. Itís an important part of the film and his character." The actress accepts that the film will divide audiences "but I think itís an interesting film which raises some important issues. Besides, Iím in it," she adds with a faint smile.


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"He was an extraordinary director," on Jim Jarmusch

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Read Andrew L. Urban's FEATURE

"I hate Los Angeles, because itís so frightening."

"I didnít have to audition for the role,"

"When heís in a good mood, heís your next best friend, but on a bad day, heís not easy to be around." " on co-star Russell Crowe

"The Australian reaction to this (anti-Japanese) scene has been strange. "

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