Continuing our SFAF series, we tracked down Shogen who plays the respectable young Gouken in Street Fighter: Assassin’s Fist. In this, his first full-length English interview, we learn that Shogen, a down to earth surprise package with heaps of acting talent, has made about ten movies and has worked with on screen luminaries such as Sonny Chiba and Ken Wantanabe. He talks to us about his inspirations, training and experience fulfilling the role of young Gouken as well as his acting career so far in Japan and how he’s breaking into the US with some promising roles.
Please welcome Shogen!
Hi Shogen, great to speak with you!
Hi Raj! I’m so happy to do this interview with you guys at KFK, I don’t think we have many such websites in Japan, so, great to have your support!
That’s interesting to know and you’re very welcome, so, let’s begin by asking what is your date of birth, and from where do you originate?
I was born on the 20th of June 1978, in Okinawa, Japan.
What is your height and weight?
I am 182cm, tall and normally weigh 70kg, (for SFAF I was 82kg)
Can you tell us about your background in terms of martial arts?
I did karate when I was a kid for about 2 years and judo for 4 years in my teens. I’m not really a martial artist per se, but I’ve done several action movies which involved quite a bit of training before the shoot. I’m more into basketball.
Can you tell us more about your acting background?
I’ve been acting overall for about 10 years and been doing action movies for about 7 years. The majority of these have been in Japan but I’ve also been doing American indie films in the last couple of years. I’ve done about 10 movies so far.
Can you tell us a bit about your previous movies?
My debut was “Bloody Snake Under The Sun” which deals with life in the post war period in Okinawa. I play the lead in that who is a Sanshin (Okinawan traditional 3-stringed instrument) player. It was nominated at the Tokyo Film Festival.
My first action movie saw me play a leading bandit in a short remake of Kurosawas’s “Seven Samurai”. I did sword fighting and horse riding intensively as I had a big battle against Japanese legend Sonny Chiba.
I also did a TV drama which starred Ken Watanabe. After my scene, Ken gave me some really encouraging advice for example about my physical movements and punches which were too fast and too real for TV: he suggested making them a bit, slower and visible. I really appreciated that coming from him!
I’ve also just finished my first love story on an American independent movie called “Stay” with a British bred, half-Japanese, girl Anna Tanaka. We have an encounter and soon enough, we fall in love. It may be simple but it’s also quite intense. More than 90% of the dialogue was in English, so it was a good challenge for me.
Can you tell us which martial arts actors have influenced you?
Now onto “Street Fighter: Assassin’s Fist”, how did you get involved?
It was pretty straightforward, director Joey Ansah had already decided upon most of the cast apart from Young Gouken and Sayaka.
Hyunri (who plays Sayaka) and I went to the casting and we were selected, it was pretty straightforward. I’d seen Hyunri in a workshop before and we had done a play together 2 years back.
Had you been a “Street Fighter” fan before anyway?
I tried to watch the first one but I stopped watching in the middle of it! I used to play the video games sometimes with my friends when I was young. I am a more an outdoor kid, I think most Okinawans, (being island people) are, so I’d be playing a lot in nature around the beach, forests and lakes et cetera.
In the series, you play the young Gouken, briefly tell us about your role?
Young Gouken is an honest, humble person. He always tries to follow and respect Master Goutetsu’s teachings. Deep inside however, he has this darkness just like everyone else and he restrains it for the sake of being a good big brother for Gouki since they had been through tough times after the war.
When Gouki and Gouken had a battle, Gouken’s dark side was about to manifest but Sayaka held him back. He manifested the Hadouken energy but Sayaka stepped in to prevent it from being released. In addition, young Gouken already knew she had feelings for Gouki, it’s an interesting, tension-filled dynamic. When I initially read the script, I was expecting full on action and I was surprised to find more character development in the story, so I really liked the script!
How did you have to prepare for the role of Young Gouken?
A first priority was to really gain some weight as I didn’t want to disappoint fans of Street Fighter! So as well as training at a karate dojo specifically, I ate five times a day including things like beef, chicken and pork – basically three times the amount of what I normally ate. Combined with the training, I ended up gaining 12 kilos.
What kind of physical training did you do?
I did running first, but I actually lost weight fast so I stopped that. My trainer put a workout plan together for me and I did quite a lot of weight training, working on my chest, shoulders and legs 5 days per week dividing the parts and hitting them on regular days. Whilst in Japan, I also consulted Joey to advise me which muscles to develop. He advised that my forearms needed more attention so he not only sent me relevant YouTube videos, he would even show me via Skype how to do them! In addition was the mandatory Ansatsuken kata training in Bulgaria where I synchronized with co star Gaku (who plays Gouki).
Who’s the more physical between you and Gaku?
I think Gaku has more power in his punching and so on, but like he said in his interview with you, his kicks needed work. I think I have more natural kicking ability. (Joey suggested that I find someone who can teach me kicking in Japan as I’ve got the potential for it.) Gaku and I were very good competition for each other (both being Japanese and of a similar age) so, characters aside, even when we were training together we were pushing each other. I really appreciated that.
What if any, injuries did you sustain?
I received an elbow from Goutetsu (Togo Igawa) when I kicked him, that hurt. You see, 6 months ago -exactly the day after I got the role- I thought I should start training and was playing basketball when I badly twisted and actually broken my ankle. I needed to spend a couple of months to recover. Sshh don’t tell Joey! 😉
What was the most interesting thing, maybe a funny or unpredictable or cool thing that happened on the set of SFAF?
We had a day off and since Togo san had the best room in the hotel with a balcony, we would go to ‘The Togo Bar’, gather and chat there, I loved that, it was cool!
What did you like most about making SFAF?
The fact that it was a gathering from all over the world: cast from London, LA and Japan, shooting in Bulgaria with an Italian director of photography was really great. We had a few of weeks’ training together in Bulgaria, it was like a camp. We lived in the same hotel and after shooting, we’d go to the restaurant for dinner and discuss the progress of the movie. It was a nice family feeling, now we’re like brothers always emailing each other. I had a great time every day and when I left back for Japan, I missed them a lot. At our reunion for the LA premiere I was about to cry so yeah, it was pretty emotional.
What are your thoughts for the series moving forward?
This is just the beginning, hopefully all going well, there will be characters to introduce and develop!
What are some of your favourite movies martial arts wise and other genre of movies?
For martial arts movies I’d say:
Other titles would include:
- Paris, Texas
- Les Aventuriers
- Before Sunrise, Sunset and Midnight [trilogy]
- Slumdog Millionaire
As for Western movie actors I admire include Johnny Depp, Christian Bale, and Sean Penn is someone I really look up to with “Dead Man Walking” being one of my all time favourite films.
Which actors would you most like to work with in the future?
Sean Pean, Johnny Depp, Christian Bale, Scott Adkins, Tony Leung and Donnie Yen.
Do you train much, how do you keep healthy?
Basically, I play basketball. I lost weight a lot of weight for the movie “Stay”, but I’ll likely be doing some action films this summer, so I’m starting to work out right now, preparing myself by total body weight training!
What’s the most daring stunt you’ve ever done?
In SFAF, there was an explosion scene where Goutetsu died with me running away, it was pretty close to me…it didn’t make the final edit though! (laughs)
What was your most serious injury, how did you work around it?
It would have to be my ankle injury I mentioned earlier -I used acupuncture to aid my recovery. It was a very old method of acupuncture where they used 300 thick needles performed by a famous 70 year old of Chinese master. It was so painful but I hope it worked! It took three months to heal. I couldn’t walk properly for a while, and then when I could, I started going to the gym. It’s all good now!
What kind of diet do you follow, which foods help you remain at your energetic best?
In training for SFAF, I would take amino acids, protein powder, nuts and beef jerky readily available in packets, so I would eat that.
Normally though, I think you have to eat seasonal stuff. My mum used to study macrobiotics, she cooked everyday. She taught me the types of food that cool the system down when it’s hot and so on. I don’t eat junk food at all, I eat fish, love sushi and prefer healthy Japanese food. I also like eating tropical fruits such as pineapple, mangoes and passion fruits.
Do you take supplements, what do you recommend?
I take a multivitamin, and since I’ve started working out again, I drink protein shakes.
What’s one unusual thing that people don’t know about you?
I have huge sneeze attacks and sneeze 10 times at once! Been doing that since I was a kid and it doesn’t run in the family either.
If you could be a superhero, who would you be and what superpower would you most like to possess?
I’d be the Japanese one called Kinnikuman (Muscleman) he’s really geeky, fights with aliens, saves Japan and flies by the power of his farts!
What do you like doing to relax, any hobbies?
I often go travelling and backpacking all over the world, writing and taking pictures. At the end of last year I went to Nepal on my assignment as a photographer for the Japanese travel and culture magazine called “The Terminal”. I’ve travelled to India, Cambodia, Laos, Egypt, Myanmar, Morocco and Bolivia.
Favourite music? Bjork, Radiohead and Okinawan traditional music. Since I had the role playing the Sanshin, I’ve since studied a lot more Okinawan music and language. Since Okinawan language is very different from Japanese. It doesn’t have a written form, it’s verbal -sadly the younger generation doesn’t know it, (whereas our generation understand what my grandparents say for example) so it’s getting lost. It’s horrible because they’re going to lose the depth of culture which is transmitted through the language. So, I want to keep my Sanshin practice going and be part of the movement to keep the language alive; I’m writing stories and I’d like to do another movie to emphasize this.
What in life do you really:
Spending time with family, travelling to new places and I love creating stuff.
I hate lying and being lied to.
What would you say is your proudest accomplishment so far?
Acting was my dream since I was a kid, I’m very happy living my dreams right now. It’s a good accomplishment for me.
What are you really keen to accomplish in the next 5 years?
Being part of “SFAF” has been a big step for me, being my biggest action film. I’d also like to work more internationally in the future and the stories I’m writing now may hopefully turn into movies and with me directing them. I would also like to travel more.
What advice would you give to a beginner who is considering taking-up acting?
Travelling is one of the biggest inspirations for me, my acting coach Susan said to me: “Travelling makes you become less prejudiced and it helps you to have better understanding of your characters.”
What special message would you like to share with Kung-fu Kingdom readers and your fans around the world?
We went through a lot of tough times to make SFAF happen, at times I thought it was impossible it was but we worked hard and finally made it. I learned from this experience that if you never give up, your dreams can become true. I hope the fans will enjoy the film! Thank you so much for supporting us.
Which warrior-wisdom quote gets you inspired and fired up?
“孤高” The spirit of staying aloof with nobleness.
If people would like to find out more about you where’s the best place to go?
They can find me on Facebook and IMDB
Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Shogen/200856046603764
Thank you Shogen for sharing your experiences and we wish you continued success with SFAF and your interesting upcoming movies!
Thank you so much for your support Raj!