In her latest film, Man from Reno, the multilingual and multitalented actress Ayako Fujitani plays a writer who suddenly leaves Japan for San Francisco in the midst of a publicity tour. Perhaps she was drawing upon her own teenaged years.
Ayako began her career as a model at the age of 12, when she won the Asian Beauty Contest. She had her screen debut the year after, in the cult classic Gamera series of the 1990s.
A few years later, she was on course to become a popular gravure idol when the young model and actress had a moment of existential contemplation. “Was fame so important?” she wondered. “Was this really the life for me?” And like her character in Man from Reno, she decided to leave it behind and move to California, with the intention of learning English and completing high school in Los Angeles.
Within two days, however, Ayako grew bored of American high school and opted for home schooling instead. It was during that time that she discovered her talent as a writer as well. “Since I was home schooled, I spent a lot of time watching movies,” she says. “I was very inspired and very lonely, and I had an urge to do something about that feeling.”
Today she is a prolific writer; she has authored numerous short stories, essays, film reviews, and novellas. Her novella Touhimu was adapted into the movie Shiki-Jitsu by the venerable Studio Ghibli, which she starred in. She recently completed filming of a screenplay she wrote, Doors, and she collaborated as a screenwriter with the acclaimed Korean filmmaker Chan-Wook Park on a short film, A Rose Reborn.
Although she writes exclusively in Japanese, Ayako hopes that one day her writing will be widely translated. Like her, her writing shows an impressive range. “I can’t really place them into one category,” she says. “Some are love stories, although dark; some are funny, but also dark; and some are fantasy, although realistic.”
Ayako credits her international experiences as the source of her range as an artist, both as a writer and actress. “Especially living in a new place; it’s very difficult and you have to fight inside and out,” she says. “That teaches me to look at the world in as many perspectives as possible. It’s a never-ending theme.”
Ayako resumed her acting and modeling career in Japan after home schooling, and she has appeared in several movies, including Michel Gondry’s Tokyo! Now in her 30’s, Ayako recently returned to Los Angeles, a move she hopes will lead her to more international projects. “If I stayed in Japan, I would only be meeting Japanese filmmakers. Of course they are great people, but if I get out into the world, I will meet more and more interesting and talented filmmakers from all over the world,” Ayako explains. With Man from Reno, she is off to a great start.