This is our interview with Togo Igawa, the second of our exclusive Street Fighter: Assassin’s Fist series of interviews, where we catch up with the actor who played the powerful Master Goutetsu. Even though he’s not a martial artist per se, he is an adaptable and versatile, mentally sharp and aware talent and with over four decades of acting to his credit, brings a wealth of experience and authority to his diverse roles.
He’s featured in The Last Samurai, Memoirs of a Geisha, an endearing one called The Hedgehog and even done voice work on 47 Ronin, and Thomas and Friends! Let’s hear from him what it was like being involved in SFAF and see if we can pick up some more clues about this, probably the most awaited video game adaptation ever!
Hi Togo, pleasure to greet you! Let’s start off how we usually do, what’s your date of birth and where do you hail from?
Hi Raj, nice to hear from you! I was born on the 26th Sept 1946, So I’m 67 now. I was born in Tokyo, Japan
What’s your height and weight?
I’m 5’6” tall and weigh 65kg.
Can you tell us a bit about your acting background, how did you get into films?
I started in acting when I was 22 years old in Japan. I was a founding member of the Black Tent Theatre company. We had a huge tent -accommodating up to 600 people at a time- which was used as a mobile theatre. There were about 30 people in the team consisting mostly of actors and I worked with them for about 13 years. We would go on tour in the spring and autumn months, and during the summer and winter (when people wouldn’t turn up because it was either too hot or cold) we were always practicing and rehearsing.
When I came to England over 30 years ago with my wife who is English, I worked for a translation company for some time. Later a friend of mine suggested I should continue acting, as there weren’t many Japanese actors in the UK at the time. I found an agent that accepted my acting experience from Japan, and in 1986, I decided to get more serious about acting.
You’ve starred in a few movies portraying martial arts, do you have a fighting background?
When I was young I did a bit of kendo from about 8 to 10 years old. Most people are surprised to hear that I haven’t really trained extensively in martial arts. I say I’m a black belt in flower arrangement and origami! (laughs) I’ve done a lot of fight scenes in my acting career, working with choreographers. I do like the philosophy of Aikido, fighting against swords without swords. It’s about receiving your opponent’s attack, being more defensive than offensive. I haven’t started training it yet though!
Which experiences with martial artists that you’ve worked with come to mind?
Actually, while I was working on Isaac Florentine’s “Ninja”, (where I played Sensei Takeda) I got to know Sensei Fumio Demura really well, we chatted quite a bit. On that movie he was already in his mid 70’s, and I have to say he’s a really extraordinary martial artist and a wonderful person, I liked his style and demonstrations. You may remember, he doubled for Mr Miyagi in “The Karate Kid”. Also met Scott Adkins of course, and he’s a great martial artist and action actor with tremendous kicks. Actually it was through Scott that I got introduced to Joey since they’re good friends – that’s how I got involved in Street Fighter: Assassin’s Fist.
Briefly, tell us about some of your previous movies, what was it like working on The Last Samurai (we heard the dagger you used in the movie was on sale on for £900 right now!), 47 Ronin, and the amusingly titled The Hedgehog.
Yes, I played General Hasagawa in “The Last Samurai”, I liked that movie. I recall, due to some scheduling issues, I ended up trekking in New Zealand for 3 weeks and that was brilliant. I didn’t know that item was actually on sale! (laughs) I also worked with Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman on Stanley Kubrick’s last film “Eyes Wide Shut” (1999).
I was the voice for the Tengu Lord in “47 Ronin”: Keanu is a nice guy, and I think he’s quite good with swords. In terms of the movie, I felt they changed the story and social structure so it ended up like a Japanese version of Robin Hood!
In “The Hedgehog”, I play Kakuro Ozu, a gentle Japanese man, it’s a life affirming, emotional and very nice film, probably not for martial arts fans! I learned to speak French , it’s based on the bestseller, The Elegance of The Hedgehog. L’Élégance du hérisson, which is a novel by the French novelist and professor of philosophy, Muriel Barbery
Nice! Moving onto Street Fighter: Assassin’s Fist, had you been a “Street Fighter” fan prior to your involvement with “Assassin’s Fist”?
Actually, I’ve not played the video game much, however Joey’s passion to make the series really impressed me.
Did you watch any of the other Street Fighter movies?
I watched The Legend of Chun Li, I think Kristen Kreuk did well as an actress, but sadly the story didn’t impact me much, because of that I don’t remember the details so well. What I do remember though is that one of the main characters pronounced Ryu as “Rye-youu”, whereas the proper pronunciation is “R’yu”. By the way, talking about the spellings, Capcom spell for example the character name, “Gouken”, but English people would tend to pronounce that “Goo-ken” so I insisted on changing the spelling so as to pronounce it as “Go-ken”. Look at Capcom’s spelling of “Gouma”, for example, that would be pronounced as “Goo-ma” instead of “Go-ma”! (laughs) Maybe it’s a little confusing!
What would you like to say about your role of Goutetsu?
Well, you’ll see for yourself, really briefly, he’s described as a real warhorse, harsh, like a machine, in contrast to Gouken’s softer nature and kinder aspects. There’s a fun cross current story there too, which I’ll let you guys find out about! 😉
What kind of training did you need to do for the series?
Well, Joey is a very good choreographer, it was more like learning a dance. For me I’m always looking at the meaning behind movements and performances, so I enjoy observing and absorbing that. I think that’s why when people see my movements in movies they look authentic because I look at it as a dance and perform it that way. I used my upper body more for things like the hadouken kata in a couple of fights.
What was your favourite scene in the movie?
I liked it when the 5 year old Ryu was found and Gouken puts him on his back and talks to him while walking on the river. I got to thinking that the children were more natural, better actors than us adults! (laughs) When filming, there were occasions when some naughty boys wouldn’t stay put but we got the perfect expressions from the kids eventually! I also like the cave that Akuma trains himself in that was an extraordinary, natural cave that Joey had found in Bulgaria.
What are your thoughts on how SFAF turned out overall?
It was great considering it was made on a very low budget and that I was so hands-on involved, for example, I was one of the cast, a dialogue coach, advising on traditional Japanese costumes, engraving name plates in Japanese and also doing some acting coaching, we all multi-tasked! We all developed a big passion powered by Joey to realize this and make it the best we could, none of us did it for the money!
Which actors would you most like to work with in the future?
The actors working for Kneehigh Theatre.
How do you like to keep healthy?
Had you ever done any stunts?
I have not done any stunts so I have not had any serious injuries!
What kind of diet do you follow?
I eat what I want to eat, my body knows what I should eat, and I don’t take supplements either.
What do you like doing to relax, any hobbies?
Listening to jazz, watching films and going to the theatre.
Jazz, Latin and classical.
“Tokyo Story”, “Seven Samurai” and “The Third Man”.
What in life do you really:
a) Like? Kindness to others.
b) Dislike? Selfishness.
What would you say is your proudest accomplishment so far?
One of them has to include acting in various foreign languages such as English, French and Hebrew.
What message would you like to share with Kung –fu Kingdom readers and your fans around the world right now?
I really want to say to Kung fu Kingdom readers and to all of you who watch SFAF, that it’s not just action. Please grab your boyfriend, girlfriend, husband, wife, auntie or uncle, kids or any people around you and sit them down because just like me, even if you’re not a gaming or martial arts fan, you can still enjoy it immensely anyway as it’s a fully rounded story – you’ll love it, it’s got such a wide audience and appeal.
If people would like to find out more about you where’s the best place to go?
Sure, they can go to www.togoigawa.com
Thank you Togo for sharing some wonderful insights into your career and SFAF, we hope it gets the reception it deserves when it’s released this Friday!
Thanks for taking the time to interview me Raj, thank you, I’ll teach you more Japanese!