When an actor successfully transforms himself into a character - not only showing different physical attributes but also displaying a distinct personality, moviegoers are in awe. Of course, credit goes to the makeup and special effects artists who helped in the transformation. But still, the actor gets a round of applause for pulling it off. 

Shota Sometani - Movie role transformation

Most movie bloggers mention Christian Bale (The Machinist), Jared Leto and Matthew McConaughey (Dallas Buyers' Club) and Charlize Theron (Monster) among the most notable, but there are a great number of Asian actors who have made impressive transformation themselves. There was even a Chinese actress who pulled off her teeth to make a performance as realistic as possible.

Tadanobu Asano, one of Japan's best actors, play some high-profile roles that require equally difficult transformation - as Kakihara in the ultra-violent Ichi, the Killer, as Temudjin (Genghis Kahn) in Mongol and as Samurai Hyozo Tashiro in Gohatto, among others.  

Certainly, we have to mention that the golden age of Japanese cinema is represented by the great Toshiro Mifune:

Mifune had a kind of talent I had never encountered before in the Japanese film world. It was, above all, the speed with which he expressed himself that was astounding. The ordinary Japanese actor might need ten feet of film to get across an impression; Mifune needed only three. The speed of his movements was such that he said in a single action what took ordinary actors three separate movements to express. He put forth everything directly and boldly, and his sense of timing was the keenest I had ever seen in a Japanese actor. And yet with all his quickness, he also had surprisingly fine sensibilities. – Akira Kurosawa, Something Like an Autobiography.

What about the young Japanese actors of today? While they are no match to the greats, some are rising up to the challenge. 

In this Actors' Transformation series - we put the spotlight on today's young generation of Japanese talents: Shota Sometani and Yuya Yagira (Part 1), Takeru Satoh and Ryunosuke Kamiki (Part 2), Kento Yamazaki and Masaki Suda (Part 3), Sosuke Ikematsu, Kento Hayashi, Kento Nagayama, Shuhei Nomura, and Taiga (Part 4) physical and 'emotional' transformation and why their performances impress!


Shota Sometani's dramatic change as Harunobu Nikaidou (Ryunosuke Kamiki's rival) in March Comes In Like a Lion comes as both a pleasant surprise and added attraction for the upcoming live-action adaptation of Chica Umino's manga. How can anyone have expected that Sometani is the actor cast to play the character inspired by shogi legend Satoshi Murayama? Note that a movie dedicated to the legendary Murayama was recently released in Japan, starring Kenichi Matsuyama, with Sometani playing a supporting role.

Perhaps his biggest project outside Japan is in the Chinese production entitled KuKai. Directed by award-winning filmmaker Chen Kaige (Farewell My Concubine), Kukai tells the story of a Japanese Buddhist monk (Sometani) sent to China during the Tang dynasty to learn about Chinese culture and its civilization. He befriends a Chinese poet named Rakuten Haku (Huang Xuan) and was forced to play a sleuth as a result of alarming, mysterious murders in the city. How's that for an international acting debut!

Shota Sometani in Bakumna live action as Eiji Niizuma

Earlier, Shota plays Eiji Niizuma in the live-action Bakuman, starring Takeru Satoh and Ryunosuke Kamiki, who also did some impressive transformation themselves. Niizuma's character may be a supporting role, but it is challenging nonetheless. 

A 16-year-old secondary school understudy hailed as a virtuoso by numerous individuals. He wins the Tezuka Award for his manga Large bander, after which Mashiro and Takagi announce him their opponent. In spite of the fact that Mashiro and Takagi view him as an opponent, he is agreeable after reaching them and states he is a devotee of theirs. He moves to Tokyo to deal with the serialization of his manga Crow on the condition he finds himself able to scratch off one series in the Weekly Shōnen Jump in the wake of turning into the magazine's most well-known creator.  [ read more ]

What makes me stick it out with Sometani is his uncanny ability to dive into any character - major or supporting role matter little to the actor, he always gives his best. 

Fellow reviewer and friend, the 50-person says of Sometani's performance:

Niizuma Eiji was played by Sometani Shota and I must confess, I gave a shout of delight when I first read the casting news. Niizuma is eccentric and Sometani’s acting skills are definitely capable of carrying this character. I wasn’t disappointed. He gave Niizuma an antagonistic air in the first half of his appearance much like how the character appeared to be in manga, but also handled the other side of Niizuma magnificently: the hidden kindness, his deep passion for manga, his admiration for his fellow mangakas. The display of the different sides of Niizuma was done naturally and made me feel like I was watching a real person instead of cobbled-together traits. (It would be easy to make such a mistake for Niizuma Eiji since the character is not very realistic, unless you go and observe 5 year olds playing with cars.) He even nailed the look, though his version of Eiji was less childlike than the manga one and the weird arm gestures and clothes were explicitly downplayed, hence the only complaint I have regarding the character was the dilution of his eccentricities, which were, nonetheless, understandable changes if one took into account the necessity of being realistic. [ read more ]

That duality of realism and the adherence, loyalty to the original fictional character may be considered mine sweeps for actors of lesser stature. In Sometani, such duality is given a balance, thus what he did as Eiji earned him a Best Supporting Actor nomination at the Japan Academy Prize.


Notwithstanding his Best Actor win at Cannes for Koreeda's Nobody Knows at the age of 14, Yuya Yagira's transformation as the volatile and unkempt Goro Sawada in Sang il-Lee's Unforgiven is - perhaps - Yagira's most noticeable physical transformation on screen.

Yuya Yagira - Transformation in Unforgiven, as Goro Sawada

Yuya Yagira - Aoi Honoo, Hentai Kamen and Nobunaga Concerto casting 

I am not sure how to make of Erik Lundegaard review, but he said:

The most original thing about Lee Sang-il’s “Unforgiven,” which at times feels like a shot-for-shot remake of Clint Eastwood’s 1992 Oscar-winning western, is the character of Goro Sawada (Yuya Yagira), who is more dynamic and memorable than “The Schoefield Kid” (Jaimz Woolvett) in Eastwood’s version. Unfortunately, Goro Sawada is completely reminiscent of an even more famous character: Toshiro Mifune’s Kikuchiyo from “Seven Samurai.” He jumps, shouts, scratches his beard, and grunts similarly. [ source ]

After watching Yagira in Nobody Knows, and his follow-up film, Shining Boy and Little Randy, and Sugar and Spice, and The Bandage Club - a radically different Yagira in Unforgiven was quite unsettling.  As a brash young half-Ainu man, Yagira also lets go of the 'image' previously created for him. The Ainu describes as 

"an indigenous people of Japan (Hokkaido, and formerly northeastern Honshu) and Russia (Sakhalin, the Kuril Islands and formerly the Kamchatka Peninsula). "

I'll let the photo above speaks for itself.

 Yagira also did his first main role in a TV series via Aoi Honoo, as an art student who aims to become a mangaka. The comedy series features Japan's foremost masters in animation and manga, including Hideaki Anno and Hiroyuki Yamaga, among others. Not only boasting of the main role but Yagira surprises a lot of people by his sheer comedic genius.

What makes Sometani and Yagira standouts is their ability to do both intense and subtle performances with equally amazing results.

 

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