Jim Jarmusch's 1989 movie "Mystery Train," financed by a Japanese consortium and executive-produced by two Japanese men, put Jarmusch on the world map and turned the then-22-year-old Masatoshi Nagase, a high-school dropout, into a Japanese star.
Fast forward to 2012, and Nagase is in Taiwan as part of the cast of a flick about a 1931 Taiwan baseball;; team that made history at a high-school tournament in Japan.
The movie is titled "Kano," and it's being produced by Wei Te-sheng, who wrote the script based on a real historical event that rocked both Taiwan and Japan in the '30s and appears poised to rock the two nations again in 2014, when it's released.
It tells the story of a high-school baseball team comprising three ethnic groups — Japanese, Han Chinese and Aboriginal boys — and one tough Japanese coach, played by Nagase.
Its title is the nickname of the old Chiayi Agricultural and Forestry Vocational High School, which no longer exists. The nickname comes from the first two English letters of the two Japanese words “Ka-gi No-rin,” with Kagi being the Japanese word for Chiayi and no-rin being the Japanese term for agriculture and forestry.
Filming is going on now in five cities in Taiwan, with an all-Taiwanese cast except for the man playing the role of Japanese high-school coach Hyotaro Kondo — Masatoshi Nagase who is on set every day with his translator and agent by his side.
"Mystery Train" was an homage to Elvis Presley, and while in Taiwan the other day after filming finished for the day, Nagase was seen walking to his car dressed in what appeared to be Early Elvis-like blue jeans, cuffs rolled up at the bottom a bit and all.
When this blogger asked the set crew if he might have a chance to speak briefly with Nagase, he was told that in order to speak with the Japanese star, a prior arrangement would have to be made with the Japanese management in Tokyo. That being impossible that day, we just waved silently when he walked by and mouthed "konnichiwa" to him.
Shooting his first film in Taiwan is a new experience for Nagase, but set crew told TheWrap that the Japanese actor was getting accustomed very quickly to Taiwan life and culture. He was said to have told a crew member at the motel where they were staying that he feels that he is becoming Taiwanese more and more every day.
As an example, he explained how he now has learned to cross the street in Taiwan without looking at the traffic lights and just going on instinct — the usual Taiwanese way of crossing. In Japan, of course, everyone obeys the traffic signals and never crosses without permission.
Casting Nagase in the Taiwanese movie appears to be a stroke of casting genius, since Jim Jarmusch is a big name in America and Europe and Nagase's star turn will be sure to bring in a lot of Western viewers to “Kano” — not to mention his many fans in Japan over the past 20 years where he has appeared on TV shows, movies and an assortment of popular TV commercials.