Mellow return for once outspoken actress

Erika Sawajiri says playing a mother in Japanese drama My Son gave her insight into motherhood.
Erika Sawajiri says playing a mother in Japanese drama My Son gave her insight into motherhood.PHOTO: GEM AND NIPPON TV

Japanese actress Erika Sawajiri, 31, shot to regional fame playing a tenacious teenager struck with a debilitating disease in J-drama classic One Litre Of Tears (2006).

More than a decade later, she is back with another tear-jerker drama, My Son, in which she portrays a mother who reunites with her son years after he was kidnapped.

On what drew her to the complex role, she says: "My character is someone who refuses to give up no matter what happens. I really found her energy and will to live inspiring."

The strong will of the characters she plays mirrors the actress' perseverance in making a comeback despite the ups and downs in her life.

Barely a year after One Litre Of Tears established her as a television sweetheart, Sawajiri was knocked off her pedestal by her own undoing.

She appeared sullen at a movie press conference in 2007, reportedly giving brief and terse answers to the media. The press blasted her and she fell out of favour with the public.

Still, she has her supporters.

Her frankness was seen as refreshing when she criticised the Japanese management agencies for being restrictive.

In an interview with CNN in 2010, she revealed that she had been pressured to apologise for the 2007 incident.

At the regional media session in Tokyo last month to promote My Son, the outspoken actress of the past was nowhere to be seen. Instead, dressed in a long khaki skirt and a white top, she looked the part of a demure mother.

"I've never been a mother, so it's quite a challenge. I was worried if I could come across as a convincing mother," says Sawajiri, who was previously married to film-maker Takashiro Tsuyoshi, 52. They have no children.

She adds: "There was also no reference of how a family deals with the ordeal of an abducted child. It's not written in any parenting book, so I had to somehow grope around and find my own way."

My Son's producer, Yuko Hazeyama, says: "Erika has had this glamorous image. But I was impressed with her performance when we cast her as a mother in a TV drama special. I realised she would be perfect for My Son. She is evolving to become a serious actress."

Age seems to have mellowed Sawajiri, who is of mixed Algerian- French and Japanese descent.

She says the drama gave her insight into motherhood. "It made me think about what it really means to become a mother.

"I've realised it is more than simply giving birth. There are many experiences and events along the way. Being a mother is much more complex than I imagined."

Gwendolyn Ng

•My Son airs on Gem (Singtel TV Channel 519) on Saturdays at 7.30pm.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 03, 2017, with the headline 'Mellow return for once outspoken actress'. Print Edition | Subscribe