Actress Naoko Mori portrays real-life mountain climber Yasuko Namba in the just-released Universal picture “Everest,” based on the 1996 disaster in which two expeditions on Mt. Everest were caught in a storm and eight members died.
Directed by Baltasar Kormákur, the film stars Jason Clarke, Josh Brolin, John Hawkes, Robin Wright, Michael Kelly, Sam Worthington, Keira Knightley, Emily Watson, and Jake Gyllenhaal.
“Yasuko was a businesswoman from Tokyo,” Mori said. “She started climbing when she was in university … She was a very experienced climber. She’d done at the time six of the Seven Summits. Summiting Everest would make it the seventh summit. And she in fact was the second Japanese woman [after Junko Tabei] to have done all seven summits.
“And also at the time she was the oldest woman to have ever summited Everest, which is quite a feat. She was 47 at the time. From what I gather, she was a very small woman, only weighed like 90 pounds, but extremely focused and determined, and very, very strong mentally as well.”
Before Everest, Namba had summited Kilimanjaro (Africa), Aconcagua (South America), Denali (North America), Elbrus (Europe), Vinson Massif (Antarctica) and Carstensz Pyramid (Oceania).
“She was very diligent with the training,” Mori said. “She would go and climb the mountains we have near Tokyo before work. I just admire her and it would have been lovely to have met her.”
Mori recalled that when the production was shooting on location in Nepal, “we were waiting for the camera to be set up and all of a sudden I heard this voice behind me saying, ‘Ah! Namba!’ … I turned around and there was a Japanese man and woman standing there and the woman was staring at my backpack, clearly shocked. So I went over and spoke to her and it turned out that she actually knew Yasuko, which was kind of overwhelming.
“It was a coincidence, but to me it seemed more than a coincidence. It just seemed kind of miraculous, like fate.”
Born in Nagoya, Mori spent her formative years in the U.S. and England. As Kim in the musical “Miss Saigon,” she became the first Japanese national to play a lead role in London’s West End. She was a regular on the hospital drama “Casualty,” appeared in the TV shows “Thief Takers,” “Judge John Deed,” “Spooks,” “Mile High” and “Powers,” and had film roles in “Spiceworld: The Movie,” “Topsy-Turvy,” and “Hackers.” She had a major role in the BBC docu-drama “Hiroshima.”
In 2005, Mori played Dr. Toshiko Sato in an episode of the popular sci-fi series “Doctor Who” opposite Christopher Eccleston as the Doctor. She went on to play the character in the first two seasons of the “Doctor Who” spinoff “Torchwood.” After Dr. Sato was killed off, Mori played Christmas Eve in the London production of the musical “Avenue Q,” then played Yoko Ono in the BBC Four docu-drama “Lennon Naked” opposite Eccleston as John Lennon.
For more information on “Everest,” visit www.everestmovie.com.