Shuntaro Yanagi is part of Tokyo’s next generation of creatives combining a successful modelling career with an equally successful presence in Japanese independent cinema. His alluring looks and old-fashioned manner first captivated Italian photographer Carlotta Manaigo at a Tokyo karaoke bar, surprisingly as he sang to the Sex Pistols and enthusiastically shared his interest in western culture. The juxtaposition between his traditional Japanese mannerisms and his interest in the modern world has filtered into Manaigo’s poetic imagery. With a modernist take on the kimono these images reflect Yanagi’s place in the evolving Japanese creative industries: the amalgamation of old and new.
Yanagi moved to Tokyo three years ago from a rural Japanese town. Not long after relocating, the Great Tohoku earthquake tore through the town devastating the place Yanagi had grown up in. Preferring not to focus on the horrific loss, Yanagi diverts attention to the strength and resilience of the Japanese people, convincingly saying that it has helped him “like Japan even more”. Yanagi adopts a similar attitude when it comes to his work: constantly striving to learn and focus on the positive opportunities presented to him.
Dazed Digital: You moved to here three years ago, how has your impression of the city changed?
Shuntaro Yanagi: I lived in the countryside, at first I felt like a bit of a country boy. Then I realised that Tokyo is mostly a lot of country folk gathered in one place. Everyone in Tokyo is connected, perhaps more so than in other cities. The atmosphere here, is quite different from the way it looks.
DD: Tokyo seems mysterious and alluring. Is that still true for you?
Shuntaro Yanagi: Yes, it’s still mysterious. You can be in one place with people from completely different worlds, hanging out together. Tokyo is where people come together and I think that makes it quite a mysterious place.
DD: Let’s talk about going from modeling to acting.
Shuntaro Yanagi: Originally, I wanted to be a director but then I began thinking it might be interesting to actually be in the movies. I was really nervous the first time because I didn’t know anything. I’ve been in 10 films in the last 2 years, and I still get nervous. Without the nervousness, I don’t think I would be able to give as good a performance, so I never want to lose it completely. I want to hold onto the excitement of trying something new for as long as I can.
DD: Your film work so far has all been in independent films. Why?
Shuntaro Yanagi: I love working in independents. You really feel part of a team and you don’t have to be hassled by anything other than giving a good performance. I know that I will have to be in more major releases but I really want to balance doing both. I can learn from them. That’s why I want to do a lot of different things, to learn from them and improve my skills and craft.
DD: You keep referring to this learning as “study”. Could you tell me a little more about your study approach?
Shuntaro Yanagi: I like to learn through play as well as experiencing as much culture as possible. So I try my hand at playing music, painting pictures, singing—I learn from watching as well as doing.
DD: It seems that currently, mainstream showbiz in Japan is very, very limited. A few people appear in all the shows, films, and everything outside of that tight circle is deemed “alternative” or “indie”. How do you balance being involved in both fields?
Shuntaro Yanagi: It is important to me to do both. I kind of feel a sense of responsibility to represent the indies in mainstream media, because it doesn’t get much exposure. And I would like to see more of a middle level in the entertainment industry that doesn’t keep the indies and mainstream so far apart. I hope I can use my position to help do that.
Photography: Carlotta Manaigo
Styling: Diane Boulenger
Production: Yuko Watanabe
Hair & Make up: Yousuke Toyoda
Stylist’s assistant: Daisuke Hara
Model: Shuntaro Yanagi