A big step for Erika Sawajiri

By Edmund Silvestre

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One of Japan’s controversial actresses appears demure as she talks about her challenging role in My Son as a mom who loses her son to an abductor.

TOKYO — Known as one of Japan’s most controversial and fierce actresses, Erika Sawajiri gained notoriety in the past for her alleged wild days and outspokenness, having challenged the Japanese entertainment industry particularly at how entertainers are treated by their agencies.

But during a recent press conference for her new riveting drama series My Son, which premiered April 15 throughout Asia (SkyCable’s Channel 116 for Philippines), a totally different Erika faced members of the Asian media, The STAR included. Looking like a fragile porcelain doll in a casual cream outfit, Erika was too demure as if channeling her latest lead role as a young mother who is left in unimaginable agony after her three-year-old son is abducted.

Not yet a mom in real life, Erika reveals her character Yui Kashiwazaki has no similarities whatsoever with her own personal life. Nonetheless, the role is big challenge for her on a whole new level as Yui’s tragedy is completely relatable to all moms across the globe, regardless of color or ethnicity.

“This drama is a big step for me as an actress,” the 31-year-old star pointed out. “But since I am not yet a mother, I simply tackle the role as the script unfolds. My character as a mother who lost her son was portrayed in a bad light. Can you just imagine the kind of suffering she has to endure?”

In My Son, the son of Erika’s character is kidnapped while they are on their way home from nursery after she lets go of his hand for a brief moment. Wracked with guilt and self-blame, the character’s life is turned upside down and her marriage eventually dissolves under the strain. Nine years later, the boy reappears and her life is shaken up all over again.

“But a mother doesn’t just give up when confronted with challenges in life,” continued Erika, who is the daughter of a Japanese father and a French mother. “She just works hard to overcome them, most especially for her child. My character in My Son reminds me of my mother who is very strong, powerful and spontaneous. She’s been a big influence in my life.”

Erika, who is best known in the 2005 hugely popular TV drama 1 Litre of Tears, was a personal choice for her role in My Son by producer Yuko Hazeyama, who is all praise of Erika’s sensitive portrayal of a tormented mother.

“Up until now, Erika has had this splashy, glamorous image,” said Hazeyama. “But when we cast her last year as a mother for another TV drama special, she took on the role very seriously... I was impressed with the result of her performance and I realized she’d be perfect for this role as well in My Son. She is truly evolving to a serious actress.”

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Producer Yuko Hazeyama hopes the drama series would help audiences think about what it means to become a parent

Erika, who is also a singer and model, has appeared in numerous TV dramas and films since her acting debut in 2001. She has won awards, including Best Actress in a Lead Role, and a number of Best Newcomer Awards.

Hazeyama shared that My Son is inspired by a 2014 award-winning Chinese film called Dearest based on a true story of kidnapping in China.

“That movie made me cry,” Hazeyama revealed. “I noticed that the victim, the mother, was portrayed as an antagonist. I felt that the mother, who had her child taken away from her, is really the victim and there should be a different take on how the victim or antagonist is being portrayed.”

Hazeyama said she hopes My Son would help audiences think about what it means to become a parent.

“I want to reignite that consideration of becoming a parent,” she explained. “Looking at Japan right now, children are going through a lot of personal turmoil and I think it might have a lot to do with the fact that they don’t have a good relationship with their parents. I strongly believe that a child’s good relationship with his or her mother is crucial for a child’s development as a person.”

My Son airs every Saturday night at 7 on Channel 116 of SkyCable and is presented by GEM Media Networks Asia, a joint venture between Sony Pictures Television Networks Asia and Nippon TV.

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