Ken Watanabe and Dileep Rao co-star in Inception
One of the biggest summer blockbuster hits, “Inception” (Warner Bros. Pictures – PG-13) has been a fan favorite in theaters nationwide including an IMAX 3D Experience version. The film stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Ellen Page, but also includes legendary Japanese star Ken Watanabe, and Dileep Rao, who made his western film debut last year in “Avatar.”
The science-fiction, action-drama boasts more international cast, including Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Marion Cotillard, Tom Hardy, Tom Berenger, Cillian Murphy and Michael Caine. Together they travel the globe for real to bring it into the intimate and infinite world of dreams.
Dom Cobb (DiCaprio) is a skilled thief, the best in the dangerous art of extraction: stealing valuable secrets from deep within the subconscious during the dream state when the mind is at its most vulnerable. This ability brought him into the world of corporate espionage and losing the life he knew by becoming an international fugitive.
Now Cobb is being offered a chance at redemption. One last job could give him his life back but only if he can accomplish the impossible – inception. Instead of the perfect heist, Cobb and his team of specialists have to pull off the reverse; their task is not to steal an idea but to plant one. If they succeed, it could be the perfect crime.
But no amount of careful planning or expertise can prepare the team for the dangerous enemy that seems to predict their every move. An enemy that only Cobb could have seen coming.
“Inception” hinges on the premise that it is possible to share dreams, according to director, writer, producer Christopher Nolan. These dreams are designed to look and feel completely real while you’re in them, and in that subconscious state, a person’s deepest and most valuable secrets are there for the taking.
“At the heart of the movie is the notion that an idea is indeed the most resilient and powerful parasite,” he added. AA trace of it will always be there in your mind…somewhere. The thought that someone could master the ability to invade your dream space, in a very physical sense, and steal an idea – no matter how private – is compelling.”
Watanabe portrays the role of Saito, a rich and powerful business magnate, who offers Cobb a very special job with a promise of payment more valuable than money. If Cobb can give Saito what he wants – the multibillion-dollar empire that rival Robert Fischer is about to inherit from his dying father – then Saito will get Cobb home.
The condition is that Saito wants to accompany Cobb’s team on the job to be sure he gets what he’s paying for in return.
“We refer to him as ‘the tourist’ because he has no expertise, but uses his financial influence to join the group,” said Emma Thomas, producer.
Watanabe observes, “At first, it’s only a business relationship, but as the story continues, Saito and Cobb develop an understanding and a respect. They need each other.”
Director Chris Nolan says that he created the role of Saito with Watanabe in mind after working with him on the film, “Batman Begins.”
“This time I made sure he had a bigger part. Ken is an extremely charismatic performer, a true movie star,” said Nolan. “He is a consummate actor who knows how to get the most out of every scene. It’s just a pleasure to watch him work.”
Watanabe said it was a wonderful opportunity to work with a favorite director, and was very pleased with the script and part as well.
“So my heart and my head told me I definitely had to do this movie,” said Watanabe.
One of the keys to carrying out Cobb’s operation is the use of a drug compound that enables multiple people to share different dream states.
Dileep Rao appears as a chemist named Yusuf whom the actor describes as “an avant-garde pharmacologist, who is a resource for people, like Cobb, who want to do this work unsupervised, unregistered and unapproved of by anyone.
Yusuf obviously has a monetary interest in helping Cobb, but he is also motivated by a burning curiosity. He has been experimenting with this stuff for so long and now he wants to see what it’s like.”
“The role of the chemist was particularly tough because you don’t want him to seem like some kind of drug dealer. He’s absolutely not,” says co-producer Jordan Goldberg. “He’s someone who is committed to the art of dream sharing and making it work in ways it hasn’t before. We needed Yusuf to be funny and interesting and obviously smart, and Dileep is all of those things.”
The earliest filming was done in Tokyo, where Saito makes his unusual business proposition to Cobb and Arthur, setting the story in motion. Opening on a skyscraper heliport, the scene transitions to aerial shots from Saito’s helicopter.
“Chris has wanted to film in Tokyo for a long time so we appreciated the opportunity,” said Emma Thomas. “We love the city; it’s such a sprawling, vibrant place and Chris really wanted to capture that on film.”
Filming continued in London, Paris, Tangiers, Calgary, and Los Angeles, where sets were constructed on a Warner Bros. soundstage to make the interior rooms of Saito’s Japanese-style castle inspired by a Nijo Castle built around 1603.
Another design element that was influenced by Japanese culture is the tuxedo Jeffrey Kurland created for Saito.
“With the tuxedo, Jeffrey wanted to evoke the feeling of a Japanese kimono, so he combined Eastern and Western fashion in a very interesting way,” said Watanabe. “All of the suits he made for me had a very beautiful silhouette.”
The Japanese castle sets also included a dramatic two-level great room with a beamed ceiling, large picture windows, and solid wood staircases going up to the overlooking landings.
Watanabe also appeared in other western films, “The Last Samurai”, “Memoirs of a Geisha,” and as the courageous Japanese General Tadamichi Kuribayashi in Clint Eastwood’s World War II drama “Letters from Iwo Jima.”
In addition, Watanabe starred and produced the 2006 Japanese film “Memories of Tomorrow,” and the 2009 feature “Shizumano Taiyô” (The Unbroken). He is set to co-star in the upcoming Mikael Hafstrom drama “Shanghai,” with John Cusack and Gong Li.
Dileep Rao was most recently seen in James Cameron’s record-breaking blockbuster “Avatar,” the top-grossing film of all time. Earlier in 2009, Rao made his feature film debut with a lead role in Sam Raimi’s horror hit “Drag Me to Hell.”
He may be more famous, however as a “Jeopardy” champion, scoring one of the game show’s largest single-day winnings.
Rao was born in Los Angeles, but his parents’ jobs – his mother is a physicist, his father an engineer – took the family to more than 20 countries by the time he was eight years old and lived in Saudi Arabia for a time as a child.
His lifelong fascination with the natural sciences led him originall
y to become a pre-med student at the University of California at San Diego, with the serious intention of becoming a surgeon. While in college, however, he enrolled in an acting class, which sparked his interest in the theatre.
That led to his participation in the La Jolla Playhouse Summer Conservatory, where he was trained by Tony Award-winning director Anna Shapiro. He gained his Equity card doing a variety of theatre roles and ultimately decided that his continuing education would be in the arts instead of medical school.