Just keep smiling

Just keep smiling

Young actress Kokone Hamada talks about challenges, and learning to grin and bear it


Oshin cover_L
Photo: Edmond So/SCMP
Sometimes we don't expect child actors to have enough life experience to portray more complex characters. So directors make the set simulate the script to help child actors ease into their roles.

That turned out to be a nightmare for cheerful eight-year-old Japanese actress Kokone Hamada, who plays Oshin in the movie of the same name.

The film is a re-adaptation of the original TV series that aired in 1983 for a year. It shows the tough life of a young girl named Oshin Tanimura.

"We went up a mountain for the shoot," says the kimono-clad actress in a recent interview with Young Post. "I had to get used to the freezing environment, learn to walk on thick snow, and do washing in freezing-cold weather."

"The cold is beyond imagination and I felt like dying," adds Kokone, crossing her arms and pretending to shiver with a smile.

When the original 297-episode series Oshin came out, the global reaction was amazing. The show criticised the then-patriarchal Meiji culture in Japan, in which women were told to blindly obey men. Because of this and the need to help support the family, women would often be sent to work as servants in others' homes.

Oshin, who lives in remote, snow-coved woods with her poor family, starts working at a very young age. The movie shows how Oshin remains positive even though she goes through many hardships and adventures.

To create the character of Oshin, director Shin Togashi put Kokone to the ultimate test throughout the shoot.

"The director and production crew were very strict. My arms and legs got cut because of the dry weather," says the child actress. "The director was very serious, and he just screamed when things went wrong. I didn't dare move."

Throughout the movie, Kokone had to look miserable, and one of Oshin's problems was being separated from her family. The director helped Kokone with that emotion, too.

"I was taken from my mum two days before the shoot started, and I wasn't allowed to communicate with her in any way," recalls Kokone.

Although saddened by the separation, Kokone says she eventually found a mother-like figure in actress Ueto Aya, who plays Oshin's mum in the movie.

Still, the separation became so tough for her that, at one point, she tried to make a run for it. "But it wasn't successful," Kokone jokes.

The director also told Kokone she was not allowed to befriend Manami Igashira, another actress around the same age, because they were supposed to be enemies on screen.

"I was so angry at the time," she says.

The young actress reveals the stress made her cry secretly in the toilet, but she understood the director only wanted to help her get into the character, and the challenges made her tougher.

And it wasn't all bad. Kokone remembers having fun with the other cast and crew. "Although we weren't allowed snacks, we secretly set up a snack corner. So during break time me, Ueto Aya and other crew members had a shelter to nibble away in," she says.

So are we going to see Kokone on the big screen again?

"I love filming. But if it is that difficult, I wouldn't want to go through it again," the pint-sized actress confesses.

"I'd love to do it if it's less stressful though," she says with the same big smile Oshin is known for.

You might also like:

- It's been 20 years since the popular drama Oshin hit Japanese TV screens. Director Shin Togashi hopes to reignite love for the story in his movie remake

- Actor Masaharu Fukuyama explains how looking for clues while in character as Professor Manabu Yukawa in Galileo helps him become more clued up about world issues

- Singaporean director Anthony Chen could not have enjoyed a more successful year. At the age of 29, his feature film debut, Ilo Ilo, has won a host of international awards



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