Takeshi Kaneshiro became a superstar playing oddball characters. Is this typecasting?
When Johnny To signed on to direct the wistfully romantic Turn Left Turn Right, the Hong Kong filmmaker knew exactly whom he wanted to play the male lead. In the illustrated novel by Jimmy Liao, from which the new movie is adapted, the protagonist is so estranged from society that he's depicted floating above the city, like a melancholy blimp. When you want someone who practically oozes that kind of ethereal alienation, whom are you going to call?
Answer: Takeshi Kaneshiro, the half-Taiwanese, half-Japanese movie star who, thanks to his protean good looks and versatile acting skills, has become the Asian film industry's Johnny Deppâa quirky, unpredictable leading man capable of seducing audiences no matter how dark or oddball the role. Kaneshiro is "mysterious," says To. "He doesn't belong to Hong Kong, Taiwan or anywhere." Indeed, in his eclectic 10-year career, Kaneshiroâwho speaks five languages and has made films in four countriesâhas trained his chameleon-like talents on a remarkable array of characters. In Hong Kong director Wong Kar-wai's Fallen Angels, he played a mute who rode the carcass of a pig like a cowboy. He made love to an HIV-infected teen in the blockbuster Japanese TV miniseries God Please Give Me More Time. In Returner, he played an orphaned assassin-for-hire, and he was a bowling-addicted stockbroker in another Japanese TV series, Golden Bowl. "I don't let myself follow in anyone else's footsteps," says Kaneshiro, 29. "Let other people do what has been done before. All I want is to do something special."
In life and on film, Kaneshiro has proven impossible to typecast. The son of a Japanese businessman and a Taiwanese homemaker, he grew up in Taipei straddling two cultures. "When I went to Japanese school, everybody told me I was Taiwanese," says Kaneshiro. "But when I hung out in the neighborhood, people told me I was Japanese." School-yard taunts about his parentage were a part of his education, but Kaneshiro soon learned that being an outsider offers certain advantages. Pulled over for speeding in Taipei while still a teenager, he produced his Japanese-school ID card instead of a driver's license (he was too young to drive) and babbled at the cop in Japanese. Taking him for a befuddled foreigner, "the cop just got frustrated and waved me off," Kaneshiro says.
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