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The State Counsellor

Filipp Yankovsky
Producers: Studio Trite
Starring: Oleg Menshikov, Nikita Mikhalkov, Masami Agava-san, Emiliya Spivak, Konstantin Khabensky, Maria Mironova, Oksana Fandera, Oleg Tabakov, Alexander Strizhenov, Vladimir Mashkov, Fyodor Bondarchuk, Mikhail Efremov.
Category: Historical Drama

The State Counsellor is based upon Boris Akunin's novel of the same name, recounting more of the adventures of Erast Fandorin. The film is set at the end of the nineteenth century, and the plot brings together bankers, terrorists, siren beauties and corrupted officials; of course State Counsellor Erast Petrovich Fandorin and his Japanese servant are always on hand ready to uphold the cause of Russian truth and justice.

The Japanese connection is not a surprise to the fans of Boris Akunin, who in real life is called Grigory Chkhartishvili, and is a philologist and translator of Japanese.

The novel itself introduces a more mature Fandorin than the gung-ho adventurer in Turkish Gambit, and perhaps this is why Boris Akunin agreed to screen the novel only under several conditions. He insisted that the role of Fandorin should be given only to Oleg Menshikov, and that all the candidates for acting and directing had to be agreed with him as well.

The talk is that the film was meant to be directed by Nikita Mikhalkov, who passed over this responsibility to Menshikov, who then himself later refused, being too busy. The project was then given to Filipp Yankovsky, whom Mikhalkov was asked to supervise. In his turn, Mikhalkov set forth his own conditions: he wanted the role of the dastardly Prince Pozharsky to be more nuanced than the all-out bad guy in the novel.

It took a lot of time to find an actor for the role of the Japanese servant. Yankovsky insisted on ethnical authenticity, refusing to invite either Yakuts or Kazakhs. Finally, the Japanese journalist Masami Agava, who works for the Moscow office of Fuji, was invited to play the role of Masa. In addition to her acting, Agava also gave Menshikov lessons in Kendo, the art of Samurai swordsmanship.

The real talk on set was about Oksana Akinshina, who had been approved for the role of Fandorin's sweetheart Esfir, but who somehow forgot the date when shooting started and did not appear. Yankovsky, beside himself with anger, immediately gave over the role to Emiliya Spivak.

With Akunin's permission, Yankovsky changed the novel's ending. In the original book Fandorin refuses an offer of state service; in the film he agrees, which we think sounds a little too politically correct. When asked about the change of ending, Yankovsky replied: "Only the Bible can't be changed. This is only The State Counsellor."

© 2005 Jeremy Noble