Last December, renowned American actor Dustin Hoffman made a guest appearance at the Tenkomori Art Exhibition hosted by the Tokyo Art Foundation and cosponsored by Misuzu Corp. Before the event, Hoffman discussed his life in the arts.
By the 1990s, Dustin Hoffman was a household name following his acclaimed performances in a string of hit films, including “The Graduate” (1967), “Midnight Cowboy” (1969), “Kramer vs. Kramer” (1979) and “Tootsie” (1982). In addition to two Academy Awards for Best Actor, he has earned numerous honors as a performer, including four British Academy of Film and Television Arts, six Golden Globes and two Emmys. No one can doubt his contribution to the art of cinema.
As many Hollywood movies are made with overseas audiences in mind, premier screenings featuring the leading actors and executives are major events around the world. Although Hoffman receives countless invitations, he rarely attends events outside his home country.
Naturally, there’s a reason. When he first decided to become an actor, he vowed to dedicate all of his time to his art and his family, and at the age of 82, he continues to live by this philosophy.
“I want to be with my family when I’m filming. If I am shooting in Japan, I’d want them to stay here for a few months with me, but unfortunately that kind of opportunity is hard to come by,” he says.
As an actor who follows strict routines to improve his performances, Hoffman values time with his family above all else. Why, then, did he decide to squeeze a few days into his extremely busy schedule for his third visit to Japan at the end of the year?
“Japan is one of my favorite countries,” Hoffman explains. “I’m very impressed by Japanese courtesy and the culture of respect for others. When I was studying drama in my 20s, there were two actors I admired: One was Marlon Brando, and the other was Toshiro Mifune [the star of several films directed by legendary Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa]. I’ve seen a lot of Kurosawa films and I’m always impressed by his way of directing.
“My reason for coming to Japan this time is to meet someone who’s been called ‘a modern-day Renaissance man,’ a businessman who sings Italian opera and is renowned as an artist,” he says.
The person Hoffman wanted to meet is Haruhisa Handa, President of Misuzu Corp., which runs Handa Watch World. The actor says he strongly empathizes with Handa’s dedication to social contribution.
The True Meaning of Charity
“In recent years, terrorist attacks have become more common all over the world. Natural disasters caused by climate change have increased, killing many. We hear about all of this on the news, but once things calm down, we forget. Some of the survivors of these tragedies have been seriously injured and need help. Haruhisa Handa understands that it takes time to come to terms with these events. He has set up hospitals in conflict zones to care for those in distress and supports the injured through sports-related activities. It’s amazing,” Hoffman says.
Handa is the Chairperson of the International Sports Promotion Society (ISPS), which supports a variety of sporting activities worldwide. One of the most famous ISPS events is the PGA “Pro-Amateur” golf tournament, which gives blind and disabled golfers the opportunity to play with top golfers.
Hoffman has supported similar charity work and describes establishing a camp for children with cancer as one of his greatest achievements.
“A long time ago, my wife’s cousin got leukemia at the age of six,” Hoffman says. “Although she was forbidden from playing outside, she longed to go to camp, but there was no camp for kids with leukemia at that time. That memory stayed with me, so I founded a campsite for children with cancer. There was a hospital nearby, and helicopters were on hand to take the children there in case of an emergency.
“Visitors were allowed, but I didn’t have the courage to go at first because I didn’t know if the children were enjoying it. I was worried that they might be sad. But when I went, it was completely different to what I’d imagined. By feeling close to death, the children probably understood the importance of living in the moment. The children were communing with nature and learning how to live. The place was full of vitality. Being with other kids in the same situation created a sense of camaraderie and they encouraged each other. It’s something I’ll never forget,” Hoffman recalls. “I realized that I was stupid to doubt the strength of those kids. They’re much smarter and stronger than me.”
Inhabiting a Character
Hoffman is a method actor who believes that actors must fully inhabit the experiences and emotions of a character to play the part effectively. For his role as Raymond Babbitt in the 1988 film “Rain Man,” Hoffman spent two years getting to know people with autism. He used insights gained through observations and interviews with one individual in particular—a man with savant syndrome—to develop Raymond’s character.
“An actor has to condense a life of 10, 20 or 50 years into the span of two hours. It’s never easy. Sometimes it takes more than a year to learn a part, and every film is a big challenge. Once I am given the role, I research every angle about the character to understand how his personality developed from birth. I have to understand the character’s thoughts and motivations for his behaviors,” he says.
In all endeavors, Hoffman never fails to get to the heart of the matter. He concludes the interview with a few words of wisdom: “No one is perfect. Everybody has their strengths and weaknesses. But accepting yourself is no easy task. At least in my case, even though I want to be a great person, I’m still struggling to become my ideal self. It’s the effort that counts, and I’ll keep trying for the rest of my life.”