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star struck

Woman of substance
From BEWITCHED to THE DA VINCI CODE, actress Ryoko Yonekura leads a busy life
By Chris Betros and Chie Masuda

Nathan Shanahan

Ryoko Yonekura often gets fan letters from young
women who wish they could be strong like the characters she is famous for playing in TV dramas. “You have to be strong to work in the entertainment industry,” says the 29-year-old actress, “because there are always going to be paparazzi and people talking behind your back.” Besides her dramas and variety shows, Yonekura makes TV commercials (currently for Nissin Asian noodles) and numerous promotional appearances. She also spent a year from July 2003 as goodwill ambassador between Japan and South Korea.

Today, she is cheerful and confident for her first interview with English media. Born in Kanagawa, Yonekura studied ballet from the age of four and seemed destined for a dance career. However, in 1992 she won membership in the Bishojo Club, a troupe of starlets with celebrity potential. “I had to give up ballet because I had to go all over Japan for a campaign for Kirin beer.” In recent years, she has concentrated on TV rather than movies. “I have to be a little pickier about taking roles in movies rather than soap operas because movies are either hit or miss,” she says. Last year, she scored two successes with the Japanese version of the popular ’60s-’70s US comedy series Bewitched and Kurokawa no Tetcho (in which she played a Ginza hostess club owner). “For Bewitched, I watched the whole American series. I tried not to imitate Elizabeth Montgomery because we are different in race, culture and character, and there is no way I can be like her.”

One of Yonekura’s latest interests is The Da Vinci Code, which she hosted a special about for Fuji TV. She has a big picture of the Last Supper hanging in her bedroom, and as a true Da Vinci Code fan, she has been looking more closely at it to see if there is a woman hidden in the scene. Although she is not religious, Yonekura said: “I recently went to a church in New York, and was impressed that lots of people were so devoted in their prayers. Christ is dead now, so how do people know he is God?”

Beyond showbiz, Yonekura has become interested in Japan-Korea relations. “When I was a goodwill ambassador, I met the South Korean president. Although I cannot do anything about politics, maybe I can do something to make the relationship better at a grassroots level. When I talk to Korean people, I feel we are communicating, so I wonder why we can’t do the same thing at the governmental level.”

In the future, Yonekura hopes to do musicals and resume her dancing. “I feel alive when I dance,” she says. Typically, Yonekura begins her day quite early. If she is shooting a drama, she has to be at the studio as early as 5am some mornings. When she’s not filming, she goes to the gym, enjoys the theater, and plays with her puppy. She also likes cooking and loves sweets. “I love anko. But I’ve been trying not to eat any chocolate, and it’s been more than a month. If I get to heaven, the first thing I’m going to ask God is: ‘Do you serve good food here?’”

 

Q&A

Crocmasters
Up from Down Under and Ready to Bite

Crocmasters Dingo and Taipan are in Japan hoping to break into the pro wrestling circuit.

Where are you from?
Darwin, Australia, but we’ve spent a lot of time going walkabout in the bush, wandering around and wrestling crocodiles. So I think you could say we are from everywhere and nowhere.

When did you start wrestling?
We’ve been fighting and wrestling all our lives. When you grow up in the harsh Australian swamps you pretty much have to fight just to get food, so it’s something that is like second nature to us. A Japanese wrestler saw us in Darwin and said we would be great in Japan as pro wrestlers. We thought “Hell, why not, mate?” So here we are.

Have you been in Japan before?
This is our first time here, so we want to show that we can wrestle with the best of them in Japan. We don’t have a set date for when we’re leaving; we’ll be here as long as it takes to be seen by a major wrestling company or whoever wants to give us a chance.

Do you like it?
We love it, especially the raw fish. That’s what we live on back home. We would catch a live barramundi with our bare hands and just eat it. Yum, mate. We’re big on spirituality and aboriginal culture back home in Australia, and we’re also part of the Zulu Nation. We know Japan has a lot of history, so we would like to see the temples.

How do you prepare for a fight?
Just like when we wrestle crocs, we meditate before going into battle to become one with our spirit animals and the heavens.

Tell us about your names.
Dingo and Taipan were given to us at birth. They represent our spiritual animals. Everyone has a spiritual birth animal; you just have to seek it out.

What philosophy do you live by?

We eat hard, we drink hard, we train hard and we wrestle hard. Just try stopping us!

Tell us something surprising that people don’t know about you.
Dingo’s thighs are stronger than Bob Sapp’s. Hahaha, it’s true. Hooowwwl, it’s Croc and Rock time, mateys! www.crocmasters.com NU

Would you like to comment on this article? Send a letter to the editor at letters@metropolis.co.jp.

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