Spotlight: An Interview with Yoshiko Sengen, LAFA Best Actress Winner ("The Real Exorcist"

Yoshiko Sengen, formerly known as Fumika Shimizu, is a Japanese actress and singer born on December 2, 1994 in Tokyo. Yoshiko started her career in entertainment as an exclusive model for the magazine, “Love Berry.” She came into the spotlight when she played the heroine of Kamen Rider Fourze. Since then, she has been active in films, TV dramas, and plays. In 2015, she played the role of the main character’s classmate in Mare, NHK’s popular TV drama series. She also made her debut as a singer with the song, Nemurenu Yoru wo Koete [“Beyond the Sleepless Nights”], which she performed at the Tokyo Dome event. She also played the main role in the movie, The Last White Witch (2018, Nikkatsu) and sang the feature song, Yume no Jikan [“Dream Time”]. In 2020, Yoshiko won the Best Female Actor award at the 17th Monaco International Film Festival for her performance in The Real Exorcist. She also sings the feature song, Himitsu no Henshin (“Secret Transformation”) in The Real Exorcist.

Recently, Sengen won LAFA Best Actress, for her lead role as Sayuri in The Real Exorcist. We invited her to join us for an interview. Here's her story.

Yoshiko, congratulations on winning Best Actress for your stellar performance as the lead of the film, The Real Exorcist. How did you prepare for your role as Sayuri, for which you won Best Actress?

Thank you very much! I am very honored to receive the Best Actress award for the film, “The Real Exorcist.”

The role I played, the main character Sayuri, is an exorcist. So, to prepare for this role, I contemplated on the spiritual world, studied to gain knowledge about spiritual truths and practiced mental concentration and meditation, which is an important part of becoming an exorcist.

Sayuri doesn’t get easily distracted and maintains an unshakable mind, so I also tried to maintain a stable state of mind, whenever I felt a bit down or my mind got swayed, I would review my day and reflect back on my thoughts and feelings. And if I found sad feelings or negative thoughts, I would try to bounce back from these feelings and turn them into positive ones. It was a mentally tough role, so I trained my mind this way. I also built up my body by running and training my muscles every day. It was more like training myself for a battle than preparing for a film.

I prayed a lot before shooting, too! I practiced self-reflection every night before I went to bed, remembering the faces of everyone I met on that day, and prayed for their health and protection from negative energies and influences. So, to become more like Sayuri, it was really important for me to practice self-reflection and have gratitude in my everyday life.

Would you say you have something in common with her, in real life?

In real life, it might be difficult to become a “Super Exorcist” like Sayuri, but I really want to help and serve God. So that’s what I have in common with her. Also, Sayuri is a bit clumsy. In the movie, she spills water and comes in late sometimes. I may be similar to her in that aspect.

Your performance was exceptional! What was the most challenge aspect of playing the role of Sayuri?

When Sayuri is a waitress at the café, she looks like an ordinary, cheerful and kind girl. But when she fights against evil spirits and the devil as an exorcist, she switches to a completely different, stern mode. What was challenging for me, actually, was to play the ordinary Sayuri who works as a café waitress while she senses spiritual phenomena around her, rather than the stern exorcist that she becomes in the spiritual battles. So, it was more difficult for me to switch into the waitress mode than the battle mode. Of course, the exorcist scenes were challenging spiritually. But I was able to prepare myself for the battle scenes when I knew they were coming. I actually got more nervous acting as the ordinary waitress in the cafe scenes.

Apart from Best Actress, The Real Exorcist also won Best Narrative Feature, Best Original Story, and Best Music Video. The plot of the film is quite fascinating, inspirational, and thought-provoking. Did the work on this movie influence your spirituality in any way?

Through this film, I became able to feel and believe more strongly that God is always watching over us. And because of this, I was able to feel deeper gratitude toward God. That’s probably how this film influenced me the most spiritually. At the same time, I was strongly hit by the harsh reality that evil spirits and devils use my negative emotions to get to me and exert negative influences. I gained a new perspective in life where, figuratively speaking, I live on a transparent glass floor, and evil spirits and devils are watching from below and waiting for a slightest chance to attack me as I go through my day-to-day life. Whenever I get frustrated, feel down or distressed, or find myself lost thinking in circles, I am now aware of the danger that evil beings are creeping in from down below. I try to be careful at all times and control mind in my everyday life.

If you find yourself being occupied by negative thoughts or feelings, I hope that this film will remind you that there may be negative influences trying to control you from behind.

We heard that the movie was released on May 15, 2020 in Japan and it topped the weekend box office for 5 consecutive weeks. Congratulations! What are some of the comments you have received so far?

Thank you very much. This is a very spiritual film, so I was a bit nervous about how people may take it. But the comment we received the most in Japan was “it’s so cool!” I think many people felt this way because the film portrays the hero standing up to fight against evil. “Cool” is a very simple response, but I was very happy that it was the impression that many people got from the film.

I also had an opportunity to participate in a film festival outside of Japan, and we received positive feedback there, too. Some of their comments were “I’ve learned a lot from the film all the way from the beginning to the end” and “This film reminds us of our spirituality which is in much need in the world today.” I was really happy to hear that many people outside of Japan liked the film, and some of them not only complimented but also encouraged us to have confidence in our film because it is really good.

If you could give advice to younger Yoshiko Sengen, what would you tell her? Do you have any tips for young actors who wish to follow your footsteps?

If I could give advice to younger self, I would tell her, “Your future self is doing the best she can, so don’t worry about anything and keep believing in the future and do your best!”

The actress that I admire taught me that there is really no end to improving your acting performance and polishing the expressions and that there won’t be a moment when you are completely satisfied with your acting. So, a word of advice I would like to give to young actors is: “You are in a never-ending quest, so you might as well pursue it with all your might and make the extra effort.” I am still in training, too!

Where do you see yourself in 10 years? Do you plan to continue working in Japan, or are you considering a move to the US?

I am 25 years old now, and I think a lot about the future these days. It’s hard to say exactly where I will be in 10 years, but I really love Japan, so I wish I could convey the beauty and power of Japan. I had a chance to visit Monaco earlier this year, and I was very inspired by the people I met there. I realized that there are so many people I haven’t met and many countries I haven’t visited in the world. That experience opened up my world to new possibilities. So I might actually be working outside of Japan. If, 10 years from now, they are still making sequels to my favorite movie, the Star Wars, I would love to be in one of them (laughs)!

What do you think the main takeaway of the movie is?

In the movie, Sayuri talks about the importance of having gratitude and faith in God. This is the message I hope everybody will take away from the movie.

The scenes to look forward to are the exorcist scenes. You may have a certain image of “exorcist,” but in this movie, you will see the Japanese version of exorcist. Sayuri shows up as a Japanese Shinto exorcist. I would like you to watch how this Japanese exorcist expels evil spirits and fights against the devil in the climax scene.

This film is actually a superhero movie. So, I think you’ll enjoy this film if you love movies with a theme of justice and good versus evil.

"The Real Exorcist" is scheduled to be released in this summer overseas. Could you please give us a message to the people who are looking forward to watching the film?

This film received awards in 7 different countries. People from different countries who speak different languages and with different religious backgrounds all said they were touched by the messages of the film and felt God’s love and light from this film.

This movie tells us that God gave each of us the power to change ourselves so that we can live positively and protect ourselves from negative influences. It also shows how we can distance ourselves from such existence as evil spirits and devils. Please enjoy this film!

Where can our readers follow you?

You can follow me from the following links!

Instagram @yoshiko_sengen

Twitter: @sengen777

Blog: lineblog.me/sengenyoshiko/

You can also follow the movie social media links (HS Productions):

Instagram @_hsproductions

Twitter @HSproductionsWW

Facebook @hshsproductions

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