It seems many who are new to Japanese movie and drama wanted to get an idea of actors who made names for themselves. If Part 1 is about the current 'IT' boys, let's go back in time to know the great actors of yesteryears. Of course, it is not easy to classify them according to generations - since many of our favorite artists may be of the same age but started early (or more recent) in doing movies (or dramas for that matter). 

Toshiro Mifune, who recently became part of the Hollywood walk of fame started his film career in 1947 with Snow Trail. For those who have been familiar with classic Japanese films, his great collaboration with iconic Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa produced some of the most famous movies from Japan to be recognized around the world. These films include Rashomon (1950) and Seven Samurai (1958). Mifune was born in 1920 and died in 1997, but still made a movie two years earlier entitled Deep River, Japan's official entry to the Oscar's Best Foreign Film.

Ken Takakura, generally regarded as Mifune's successor, was born in 1931  and made his first movie in 1965 entitled A Fugitive from the Past. Said movie is viewed by Kinema Junpo as one of the greatest Japanese films ever made. Takakura is also the holder of 4 Best Actor trophies from the Japanese Academy, the most for any actors. He gained international recognition after starring in the 1970 war film Too Late the Hero as the cunning Imperial Japanese Major Yamaguchi, the 1974 Sydney Pollack sleeper hit The Yakuza with Robert Mitchum and is probably best known in the West for his role in Ridley Scott's Black Rain (1989). 

The prestigious Kinema Junpo has made their Top 10 list, shown below:

1. Toshiro Mifune (1920-1997)
2. Yujiro Ishihara (1934-1987)
3. Masayuki Mori (1911-1973)
4. Ken Takakura (1931-2014)
5. Chishū Ryū (1904-1993)
6. Ichikawa Raizō VIII (1931-1969)
7. Tsumasaburō Bandō (1901-1953)
7. (tie) Shintaro Katsu (1931-1997)
9. (tie) Kiyoshi Atsumi (1928-1996)
9. (tie) Hisaya Morishige (1913-2009)
9. (tie) Yorozuya Kinnosuke (1932-1997) 

My introduction to Japanese cinema, and perhaps many of this blog's readers, started much more recent, so let me start with the ones some of us are more familiar with...

Hmm, yes you're probably not familiar with Sony Chiba, but his contribution to Japanese cinema cannot be discounted - the fact that his son Mackenyu is making waves right now is a testament to his legacy. Yakusho, Watanabe, and Sanada will be best remembered not only for some "iconic" performances in Japanese movies but also for certain international projects as well - most particularly for Ken Watanabe and Hiroyuki Sanada. Both of them were cast in very prestigious productions. 

Well, we're into more familiar territory don't you think so? Just look at the names above. From Tadanobu Asano to Yosuke Kobozuka, you will certainly recognize them - even if they play supporting roles to the younger generation of actors including Satoshi Tsumabuki, Shun Oguri, Eita and Ryuhei Matsuda. 

Joe Odagiri, Japan's Johnny Depp - as some may want to describe him so - is already such an iconic figure that you cannot discount his influence as an actor and fashion trendsetter. 

Some of Odagiri's most memorable performances include: (1) playing an anime artist cum radio commentator in Tokyo Tower, (2) a young gay man in Le Maison do Himiko, (3) an abusive, yet brave Japanese officer in My Way.  (4) Young, bankrupt student in Adrift in Tokyo

Odagiri will remain a fixture in Japanese movies and dramas - having been a director himself and involved in various international productions as well.

Surpassing Odagiri regarding prestige (most definitely) is Tadanobu Asano, who is also becoming quite popular among indie filmmakers - he recently finished a movie from a German-Filipino co-production. Of course, Asano replaced Watanabe in a new project by Martin Scorsese entitled Silence, which also stars Ryo Kase, Yusuke Kobozuka, Nana Komatsu and Japanese filmmaker Shinya Tsukamoto.

I cannot end this article without mentioning Koji Yakusho, who maybe left behind by Watanabe and Sanada in international movie collaborations, but his exemplary filmography will prove he is one of Japan's greatest actors. 

How about you? Are you familiar with the movies of the above actors? Let us know what you think!


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