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Articles - Directing

Shin Koyamada is possessed of a rare naiveté,
and the kind of blind enthusiasm which makes a fool of some and
a success of
others. Lucky for Koyamada, fate has funneled him into the latter
category.
Raised in a small town in Japan, Koyamada was nursed on American
and Hong Kong action movies, a steady diet of heavy artillery,
clever punch lines and well-placed karate kicks.

“My father and I watched action movies all the time,” remembers
Koyamada, “and one day I said to him, ‘I’m going
to be an action star when I grow up.’”

Koyamada’s father wasn’t exactly thrilled with his son’s
aspirations.

“He said, ‘No, you’re going to go to school
and get married and have children,” says Koyamada. “I
said, ‘I’m
sorry, but that’s just not me.’”

Keeping true to his promise and defying his
family’s expectations,
Koyamada left home at 18 and headed straight for Hollywood.

“I had to decide between Hollywood and Hong Kong,” Koyamada
remembers, “and I decided that English would be easier to
learn than Chinese. So I came here.”

When Koyamada arrived he had one bag of clothes
and little idea of what he had gotten himself into. “I got off the plane and I
took the subway to Sunset and Vine,” he recalls, “I didn’t
know where I was and I didn’t speak any English. It wasn’t
very easy for me.”

Koyamada found his way to a seedy hotel on Santa Monica Boulevard,
a spot more infamous for muggings and prostitution than for the
discovery of fresh screen talent. The surroundings, however, did
little to
damper his enthusiasm. He enrolled in English classes and began
a strict regimen of language instruction and martial arts training.

“It was very lonely at first,” admits Koyamada. “I
practiced for five hours a day and took my classes at night. But
eventually
my English and my martial arts got much better.”

Good enough, in fact, for Koyamada to brave
an open call for Edward Zwick’s upcoming epic, The
Last Samurai
. Against all odds, and amidst a mob of thousands of hopefuls,
Koyamada won the part.

“I still don’t know how it happened,” he says. “But
I knew that I could do it. And I think they saw that, as well.”

For the role of Nobutada, Shin suddenly found himself
on the set of one of the biggest films of the year, practicing
his karate
chops with none other than the film’s star and producer,
Tom Cruise.

“Tom was great,” says Koyamada. “He
taught me a lot about acting and about how to work on a film
set.”
Only three short years after his arrival, it seems Koyamada has
made his boyhood fantasy into adult reality. He is finally an action
star.

My parents are coming to the premiere and they
feel much different about things now,” he laughs, “And I tell
them, ‘This
is only the beginning. Just watch me and see where I go!’” MM

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