Officer 808’s interview with Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa
I interviewed the great Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa not long after his tweetup in Honolulu a couple of weeks ago. We switched in and out of pidgin from time to time, but you’ve been watching so much Five-0 you probably don’t need Kamekona to translate.
I got to the lounge at the designated time, and looked for Cary Tagawa. He was hard to miss, being the tallest guy there, with his Yomiuri Giants baseball cap. What made him even taller were the Japanese wooden sandals that he wore (geta). He was ordering a drink at the bar.
“Hey Cary, how’s it going?” I asked.
“Good, let me grab this drink and we’ll go in the back,” he said.
He got his order and we made our way back to the back of the lounge. He found a nice leather couch, sat down, and motioned for me to join him. The music back there was deafening. I knew I wasn’t going to be able to hear a single word he said.
Without pausing, I said, “Cary, I know these couches are comfortable, but do you mind if we sit outside? I can’t hear a single thing.”
He looked at me for a second and stood up. “Brah,” he said in an easy pidgin, “You just like my producers telling me where for go.”
A swallowed a gulp as huge as an apple.
“That takes guts!” he said.
“Wow, I think that’s a compliment,” was the only thing I could think of saying.
“Yeah it is,” he said laughing. “I can tell you’re a leader.”
We walked outside, found some seats, and the conversation started.
So what’s with the geta, I noticed them when I walked in. You’re pretty much in tune with your Japanese heritage?
I’ve been wearing it since college, people in college used to laugh at me behind my back. What people don’t understand about it is that it’s good for your health. Every part of this shoe is designed to stimulate your whole body with the least amount of effort…it creates posture, circulation. The pressure at the heels is made to pump blood back up into your leg. I want to bring this back. I want to make custom, high makamaka (fancy) kine. And make street tabis (a type of Japanese shoe). I’ll be the designer!
You’ve been in Hawaii for a week, doing the media circuit, teaching at actor’s workshops, what else are you doing?
First I want to get the social networking spread…it’s called the Tagawa Ohana, the social network within my website. Acting and my career up to this point is purely informational on the site, but I’m gonna teach acting in a new style, a local style, where the person is the most important thing, not the Hollywood hype…totally back to the basics.
You’re big on social networking…It was just only a week ago when your Hawaii Five-0 episode came on that you first started on twitter. How’s that been working out?
Brah, I never looked back.
I know! Seemed like you were never off for a week. You probably noticed it’s the one way to get instantaneous feedback from your fans. Are you on Facebook too?
I have sixty pages of posts. It’s not like [in a nerdy voice] “I went to have a muffin today.” It’s all about “get deep”, and “keep ‘em off balance.”
So no Mafia Wars or Farmville?
Brah! That stuff is so junk!
I need you in my Mafia! And I need you to weed my farm!
Brah, if I was in your mob, I going take you out [laughing]!
So I guess milking my cows are out of the question. So what else do you want to do with social networking? I’ve read that you really want to do something with children.
I want to make Hawaii the center, the example and a leader. I have a major vision: Hawaiian “Sesame Street.” We make Hawaiian a major language on the planet. There’s no practical reason to learn it, but for functional, artistic and cultural reasons.
What I want to do is make effective, quality programming for kids that will affect a whole generation, in such a way that’s so positive. I’m out for nothing short than massive change. I want to develop something that goes on way past me. The energy that I have, that’s important, but also important is what it does when I’m not here, and that will live on.
Then what do you want to be remembered for, what kind of change do you want to enact?
I believe that we can creatively solve any problem. And at this moment, we’re not making creativity important enough. As much as I link breathing and posture to health, we need to be relaxed in our bodies in order to create creativity, rather than having creativity out of tension and adversity. Instead of teaching people how to act, I tell them…. “Let me help you with your breathing and you will create the most oxygenation for your body so that your body is at peace with itself. “ From there, creativity comes. And the system that I developed, it would do that.
Everything that you want to teach, it’s in development right now?
It’s been developed for 30 years.
Is it packaged as a system or book?
No, I’m going to do it on my social network. We’re going to do online teaching. It’s going to be the first social network for online learning, rather than messaging people, like Facebook. The greatest source of potential for social networking and digital media is education, and I’ll be the first.
Is this technique related to Chuu Shin, the martial art that you developed?
Sad to say [Chuu shin] came from frustration and pain when my dad died. It was a major epiphany…I wanted to be part of changing things. To me every disease that we have, all the symptoms that we have, is B.S. The body is designed to take care of itself. If you don’t allow the body to take care of itself then you’re going to get sick. Chuu shin allows the body the best opportunity to fight off anything. Over 90% of the diseases in the body are acidic based. The number one cause of acidity in the body is carbon dioxide trapped in the lungs…but once you clear it with breathing, health and energy goes through the roof.
So the key to it is breathing?
There’s a way to breath, but also the way to guarantee success is posture. The average person loses five inches of lung capacity from height and gravity, closing down circulation and capacity. I figured someone needs to figure out how to fight gravity. I thought, “What if someone can develop a system to keep that capacity open?” Why not me? I have the desire, the passion, I could do it. I learned from martial arts, the horse stance [ma], the most open stance will make the air flow. It’s about creating a posture that will optimize your body and respiratory system. It becomes meditative…what it does is put you in tune subconsciously with what is happening inside, from there, it increases the awareness of what’s out there.
Then your martial art is purely for self betterment, it’s not like kung fu, or karate?
The fact is that by using the system, you can become a better martial artist. If fighting is your thing you’ll become a better fighter.
Are you yourself trained as a fighter?
Yes, shotokan, a style of karate, Okinawan style.
It seems you want to spread a lot of knowledge and aloha around. I saw that you’ve been doing a few workshops with the actors. What kinds of gems of wisdom have you passed along to them?
First, the worse possible thing that you could do as an actor is to start to believe the [Hollywood] hype. Number two, go for the craft, and forget everything else. Number three, if you’re going to study with me you have to learn more about yourself. So if you learn about yourself, you’ll have a life as a person. If you study acting, it’ll never guarantee you’ll have a life. Everything about acting classes, they’ll teach you how to become an actor. You come study with me, I’ll teach you how to become a person. By the time you become yourself, you have something to act with.
So how do you teach someone to be themselves?
[Pauses, then smiles] I got skills.
[Laughing] I gotta pay for that information don’t I?
Nah! I do readings, astrological readings. That’s how I help people learn about themselves.
Sounds like you’re a spiritual guy…
I had to pay dues for that.
The spirit is not something you develop, you just have it. You can polish it, Japanese style, called migaku, which means you just keep working it, like a swordsman, just polishing the sword. Everybody has a spirit, but not everyone recognizes it. Then there are people who recognize it, and continuously polish it.
I decided when I turned 60 [last September], I was going to recreate myself… no restrictions except my spirit to be true to itself.
So where’s your spirit going now?
Absolutely here, Hawaii.
Switching to movies, what was your favorite role that you played?
Johnny Tsunami, a Disney Channel movie. It was good because it was the closest to my own personal nature, that’s why it’s my favorite.
But your reputation is you’re a bad guy…
[Mock sarcasm] No! Really [laughs]?
What was the meanest, nastiest character you played?
Shang Tsung, from Mortal Kombat. Because he’s taking souls for God’s sake…like a vampire politician [laughing]. That’s how I developed the character, from that approach.
How did you prepare for that role?
I played the game once with my son, and he beat me pretty bad! But as an actor, especially for those fantasy video games, you cannot create a character by making a fantasy, you have to find a place that makes him real to you, how you relate to him. So I saw that as a vampire. And politician.
Was there a specific politician you were thinking about? Let’s see in the in the mid nineties there was President Bill Clinton…
[Laughing] No, I wasn’t thinking about anyone in particular.
The other issue was, how do I act in front of a green screen? That was my first time in front of it. The trick about it is that you never known what kind of effect they’re going to do with it. You have to act so far over the top to make the special effects guys chase you. The worse thing you can do is play the middle and make them build it up, so I just pulled the plug and went all out. It scared me when I saw the movie.
You scared yourself?
Yeah! I didn’t know I looked that mean when I get mad….my kids seem to know it though.
So don’t piss Dad off otherwise Shang Tsung comes out. So Shang Tsung is a pretty bad ass guy.
Was. He died.
How bad ass is he? Who would win a fight, Shang Tsung or Mr. Miyagi (The Karate Kid). Mr. Miyagi is a spiritual guy, he may have an edge.
He’s a spiritual guy?!?
Yeah! …Wax on, wax off, catching flies with chopsticks…
Shang Tsung would beat him. Take out his soul. With chopsticks [laughs].
How did Hawaii Five-0 come about?
I was coming in to read for Chin Ho when he was a 50 year old guy. So the casting call called for an older guy, and I thought, “That’s it! I got ‘em.” Before I got on the plane, they told me to wait, something’s going on. Then they hired Daniel.
Anywhere idea where your Five-0 character Hiro is going, that you’re allowed to say?
I’m not allowed to say anything! But I would say…The way it’s written. .. McGarrett only came to Hawaii to look for his father’s killer, and now they exposed him. How you gonna do another story more important than that? That means you need to have a character that is strong enough to oppose him but without them killing each other off. I put up on twitter…”Hey McGarrett,, you and your family killed my brother, now I’m coming after you.”
Wait. That was in the show?
[Laughing] No I made it up!
I know you have a few other projects that you wrapped up like Tekken. Is this a resurgence for you?
You could say that if I were that big, that I go down then come back up…but this is kind of normal for my career. Every two years I’ve done a studio A film, and then I’ll be in between a lot of B action movies. So it’s nothing new for me. I’m like a cockroach [laughing].
What do you mean, you can’t be killed? I slap you wit my slippah, but you just still run away?
That’s it! For most of my roles, I died. Being a bad guy, you’re not gonna live. But the guy who always dies, never dies as an actor, he keeps coming back.
I heard you talk about being a bad guy to school kids in Kapolei…
The first question of the day was “Why do you suck souls?” These kids were second graders. I told them it was just a movie, I don’t really do that [laughing]!
The thing about doing a kids film is that when they see it for the first time, it’s pretty powerful. It’s a powerful movie. [Mortal Kombat] scared my daughter’s best friend that she would never say “Hi” to me. I would say “Hi, Nicole” but then she’d run away.
Cute but tragic. So did you have that reputation with your kids’ friends, don’t mess with Mr. Tagawa?
No. I had the reputation of Johnny Tsunami [smiles big].
So you’re a big teddy bear?
Don’t forget that Cary is hosting a live discussion on his website Tuesday February 3rd! There are two events, the first at 10 PM EST and the second one specifically for Hawaii fans at 7 PM HST.
Follow Cary on Facebook, on twitter @CHTagawa, and be sure to sign up for the live discussion on his site: http://caryhiroyukitagawa.com/tagawa-broadcast-live-opt-in.htm.