His English is impeccable, his French is impressive, and his Hebrew will blow you away, but Togo Igawa was born in Shinjuku, Tokyo and grew up speaking Japanese.

As an international star, Igawa has acted in Hollywood studio films like “Memoirs of a Geisha”, “The Last Samurai”, “Eyes Wide Shut”, “Revolver” and “Sunshine”. However, he has a preference for indies that allow him to display a wide range of talent.

In 2009’s “A Matter of Size”, Igawa plays a sushi restaurant owner who’s coerced into training overweight Israeli wannabe sumo wrestlers. Speaking Hebrew throughout, his performance as the stoic Kitano is riveting. Also originally released in 2009, “The Hedgehog” features Igawa as an elegant gentleman named Ozu (like the famous filmmaker) living in an upscale Parisian apartment building. When Ozu pursues the homely but brilliant janitor, in fluent French of course, she blossoms.

Working with directors like Stanley Kubrick, Mike Leigh and Edward Zwick, Igawa has acted alongside major names like Tom Cruise, Colin Firth and Keanu Reeves. But, he remains humble and committed to high quality cinema.

“No matter what the size or importance of the role, I feel all of them are always bigger than me,” he says. “My choice of work is not based on roles, but the story.”

Indeed, the talented thespian has, at times, turned down acting offers because of bad writing.
“The stories were dreadful,” he confesses, “but unfortunately I sometimes have to work for awful films for … rice and miso soup.”

For “The Hedgehog”, Igawa was pleased to work with director Mona Achache whom he calls “brave” for casting him despite his not really speaking French. But in the end, his acting prevailed, evidenced by the director’s decision not to dub Igawa’s dialogue with a French actor.

Known also for anime voiceovers, Igawa enjoys the freedom afforded him by not being seen.
“Voice is a very strong element of acting,” he states, “and I don’t feel any limitation (when using) it.”
One of Igawa’s more popular characters is Hiro in “Hero of the Rails”, the 2009 spin-off from the “Thomas the Tank Engine” TV series. And, in Britain where radio dramas are very popular, he appreciates the collaborative nature of its audiences.

“Listeners can use their imagination about stories and characters more freely and deeply as they cannot see any visual representation,” he surmises.

Igawa has also performed in theater having made his British debut at the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1986 and ten years later, forming the Ichiza Theatre Company. Among his accomplishments is directing “The Face of Jizo” for Arcola Theatre and winning the Olivier Award for “Pacific Overtures” at the Donmar Warehouse.

Today, living in the English countryside, Igawa often appears in British films and on television, but remains relatively unknown in Japan; ironically, where his career began after his parents took him to watch a traveling troupe.

Spotting an animal onstage, 4 year-old Igawa blurted, “Look at that dirty bear!”

The auditorium was immediately filled with loud laughter, he says, because the bear played by an actor in a dirty costume was supposed to be a tiger.

“I don’t remember the story or the play, but I remember the sensation of making the audience erupt with laughter,” he divulges.

By 17, Igawa knew he wanted to act.

“I’ve always been grateful to the actor who was performing the tiger that day,” he says.
In Japan, Igawa attended two drama schools and toured with the Black Tent Theatre throughout the 1970’s and 1980’s. However, more work opportunities existed elsewhere, and his last performance there was at the New National Theatre in Tokyo in 1998.

“People in Japan don’t know who I am as I…hardly did any film or television before I left,” he reveals.
Speculating that he may be “lucky” for having avoided Japan’s “rat race”, Igawa says, “I do not set any focus on where I want to work, but I’d like to encourage the trend of globalization rather than Americanization.”

A true world citizen, Togo Igawa is a star in any language.

For more information, visit: www.togoigawa.com. “The Hedgehog” opens in Seattle on Friday, September 9, at the Harvard Exit. Call (206) 781-5755 for more information.

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