Website last updated: 29-10-2018

Exclusive interview with Toshiro Suga (Chang in Moonraker)

By: Anders Frejdh
Published:
2018-06-25
Toshiro Suga Chang Moonraker interview
Our friends at Club James Bond France met up with Japanese Aikido maestro Toshiro Suga for an exclusive interview that was originally featured in issue 51 of their excellent Bond magazine, Le Bond.

FSWL are happy to exclusively feature the original interview translated to English thanks to our French allies.

Toshiro Suga, from Aikido to James Bond, to Aikido


Toshiro Suga, who played Chang in Moonraker (1979), teaches Aikido through seminars around Europe. During a visit to Saint-Pierre-du-Mont in the Landes for the Daïkyokan Dojo, we met him to talk about his passion and his past with James Bond...

What lead you to Aikido?
TOSHIRO: I started Aikido at the age of 17, on 14th February 1968 to be precise. This year I'm going to celebrate 50 years of practice as I never imagined I would practice for so long. In Japan, some people do it for 10 years, but it's already quite rare. The circumstances that led me to France allowed me to continue practicing, thus allowing me to celebrate 50 years of Aikido.

I started practicing at the age of 10 as I then had a back problem due to cold that almost paralyzed me and prevented me from being able to bend my body. This lasted for about 7 years. My father told me at that time, "I looked up information about Aikido and you could practice with the founder of it." But I did not want to do sports at that time because it always hurt, as soon as they touched my back I jumped. I was afraid of not being able to practice, having to fall and so I was not very happy to start Aikido. For 7 years I had been excluded from sports and it had prevented me from having a normal adolescence, where our body normally evolves with the sport. And so practice allowed me to solve these problems and got me into Aikido.

Toshiro Suga Akido
Toshiro Suga in his dojo, 2018. Photo by Jessy Conjat. All rights reserved.

What do you like in this practice?
TOSHIRO: As I tell my students, our master, Morihei Ueshiba, opened a school of martial arts and he created the technique of Aikido. But when you see the other martial arts that he practiced, I saw that there was a little bit of illogical movement, but, he was able to put this logic in place, and that's where I was surprised. The ancestor of Aikido goes back to the 9th century, and that's 11 centuries, and in 25 years, he created this logic, it fascinated me and that's what made me love Aikido, and I am very honoured to follow the journey that Master Ueshiba had launched.

How much assiduousness is necessary; does it take a lot of training to keep the level?
TOSHIRO: At the very beginning of the first year, since I was a student I used to do an hour of class a day but adding the warm up and the stretching took about 2 hours. Then as I progressed I went on to 3h, then almost 4 hours a day. At the time I was able to go up to 8 hours of class in the day, I was in very good physical shape and I had managed to be very powerful.


Are there any other sports that you also practice?
TOSHIRO: No, I've never done any other sports since I started Aikido, when I was a kid I was pretty good at Baseball, Ping-pong and sumo as well as other sports, except gymnastics. Aikido is very similar to gymnastics, but I still do not know why I was not good in that so it was quite weird to have made that choice a few years later.

So you had at the end of the 70s a parenthesis in the cinema, including a participation in Moonraker. What led you to work on this film?
TOSHIRO: When I was about ten years old, in Japan we had NHK, which was a chain of state, equivalent to TF1 here, and it aired on television and the radio. There were ads for auditions to be recruited in some schools in Japan to do radio. I auditioned and so I was able to do radio from the age of 10. Then with the years I did a some television and cinema, but always with very small roles. Then 6 months after starting Aikido, I was offered a role in a big Japanese film, Tora Tora Tora, and you had to leave for 6 months in the southern Japan for the shoot. In the movie business, what happened after productions revolved around games, and it was not very healthy, so I wanted to leave this world, and it would have made me stop aikido, and I did not want to quit. So, I turned down the role, but in Japan, to decline this type of film is death, it does not exist! But I did not regret it. Then a few years later I moved to France. And the filming of a James Bond was going to be shot mainly in France, as decided by Michael Wilson who was Albert Broccoli’s son-in-law. Michael Wilson practiced Aikido in England with my master Ueshiba, so I had lunch with them in a Chinese restaurant. A few days later Michael had just taken the decision to shoot the film in France, and he asked if there was anyone practicing in Paris. And my master replied that there were Toshiro. So, Michael came to my dojo, to tell me that he was going to send me a car to go to the studio the next day.

I went there, and at that time I did not like to wait, and after an hour and a half I went to see the one who did the casting, Margot Capelier, I did not know that it was someone so important and powerful, and I told her that I did not want to wait and that I did not want to try. She told me "yes you will, you will do that and that". So I did a demonstration with weapons and a week later she called me to tell me I got the part.

I did not know that I had such an important role, I thought the role was going to attack, then die, and that was it. I was given the script, but I left for 3 months to Canada at my wife's house without the script. And when they called me to start filming I arrived the next day on the set, and I did not know what to do. They had to explain me everything that I had to do, that was when I understood the importance of my role.

Are there any anecdotes or filming memories that still mark you today?
TOSHIRO: What I found very impressive and very impressive is that there was a lot of respect. In Japan, everything is very hierarchical, and the stars are very haughty, and I was afraid to see the same thing for this film. But when I met Roger Moore for the first time, I understood that he was not at all like that, he was a real gentleman, very kind with a lot of respect, everyone said it. I had been able to bring my wife to Boulogne in a restaurant where we were all, and when Roger met him he greeted him very warmly and it had marked me so much kindness and respect. It would have been a lot harder for me to work with a haughty actor. Roger's commitment to UNICEF illustrated the fact that he was a truly exceptional being. I was also very surprised by Richard Kiel, who was 2m 19cm, while that woman [Blanche Ravalec] was 1m 53cm, it was quite fun and this difference in size has really marked me.

Roger Moore and Toshiro Suga in Moonraker
Roger Moore and Toshiro Suga in Moonraker. © 1979 Danjaq S.A. & United Artists Corporation. All rights reserved.

Another anecdote, at the beginning when I started the movie I was placed 4th in the credits, after Roger Moore, Lois Chiles and Michael Lonsdale. Then as I went 6th and 9th, because agents of other actors had asked for a better place. Even Emily Bolton was past because she had more scenes of dialogue than me, when she appears less time, and as I had no agent I could not defend myself against that, but in the end, it was not very important because being in a James Bond was important to the public.

Michael Lonsdale and Toshiro Suga in Moonraker
Michael Lonsdale and Toshiro Suga in Moonraker. © 1979 Danjaq S.A. & United Artists Corporation. All rights reserved.

What is the scene that left the biggest impression on you?
TOSHIRO: I mostly remember my first scene, in which I spin Roger Moore in a centrifuge. When I arrived on the set for the first time, since it was my first day, I was amazed by this set. I did not think they made sets like that. I thought that what was most impressive was not Roger but the man who built the set, Ken Adam. He was a real genius; I never imagined that we could make something like that.

Did you participate in the promotion of the film?
TOSHIRO: Very little, because I did not have an agent and it was impossible to participate in the promotion without an agent. I was in London for the premiere, but I had to pay for transportation and accommodation to attend, even the taxi to go to the theatre. The James Bond girls of the movie did not have this problem because they all had an agent and so they managed to travel around the world. But I have no regrets about that because I think that is not what represents the cinema the most, because everything is in the image only.

Did you stay in touch after the movie with people who worked on the film?
TOSHIRO: Not at all, that is to say I quickly left this realm, because it was very difficult to break through, and in order to get there Michael Wilson had told me that you either had go to the United States or to go back to Japan, because in France there were no roles for Asian people, and I did not want to. I did not regret it at all because I still experienced something at the top with James Bond, and I did not feel like having big roles, I could not act like some actors do, so I favoured short appearances in which I only have to fight, but no leading role.

Even today, like 2 weeks ago in Germany, I have people who come to see me during my seminars to have me sign autographs, and I have had a bad experience with an American who had made me sign photos and put them for sale on the internet. I did not really appreciate that, and so today I do not like to do autographs much because too many people get them only to sell. I wanted to do it to please people, but the abuses led to where I no longer do it.

Interview by Jessy Conjat with special thanks to the Daïkyokan Dojo and the TVPI channel.

Jessy Conjat Toshiro Suga Le Bond

For more information on Toshiro Suga's film career, visit his IMDB page.

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