The first modern (read: contemporary) Japanese movie I've seen was Koizora: Sky of Love. It was a time when I wanted to try something different, away from most Hollywood films - since it's getting to be quite annoying already.

As with most newcomers to the J-movie scene, Haruma Miura and Yui Aragaki loom larger than life. It's not surprising that I was hooked. But like any discerning fan, I also began to develop my taste in J-movies and soon I'm venturing into Japanese drama and even the infamous asadoras. Koizora appears to be a 'masterpiece' in the beginning but when you think about it - leukemia, abortion, gang rape, altogether is overkill.

Looking back, I also thought Yamapi's Tomorrow's Joe was an exciting sports drama movie, and like Miura, I'm amazed at this particular Johnny's popularity. Soon enough I'm doing a marathon that includes Buzzer Beat; Nobuta wo produce, and The Black Swindler. Nishikido Ryo's A Boy and His Samurai was equally engrossing. For the uninitiated, the unfamiliar world of Japanese movies and dramas is filled with excitement and infinite chances for discovery.

Then I saw Norwegian Wood and immediately noticed someone I knew - Rinko Kikuchi from BABEL where she was nominated for the Oscars.

Further research revealed that actors in Japan may come from different camps (read: agencies) and some are not totally actors - in the sense that actors in Hollywood or Europe tend to be exclusive in their quest to gain a respectable acting career. 

While there are decent Johnny's talents who can do movie/drama roles justice, there are a lot of inconsistent, even terrible performances coming from them as well. This is where one separates the men from the boys, the great actors from the wannabes, the #deadfisheyes from the critically acclaimed talents... Thus, if you've been with me in my journey towards discovering Japanese movies and dramas, you'll notice the massive shift.

Taishi Nakagawa was once asked about playing romantic characters, and if such roles are close to the real Taishi, and he replied:

I'm always interested in playing a character in a love story. It finally came true, but I find it hard showing "sweetness" while acting. The movies "Tsuugaku Tochu" require not only being a sweet guy, but I also need to show different emotions in my scenes. I need to act with sincerity, and hopefully, I did. 

At the age of 18, Nakagawa has done a sex-comedy drama (Prison School) while at the same time, fell in love with a tiny girl in My Little Lover (the drama which stars Ninomiya Kazunari, playing the same role eleven years early).

2015 was a banner year for the young actor as he also gets to promote a horror/thriller (Blue Demon v2) too! With more than a dozen TV drama roles to his credit and another six in full-length films, Nakagawa is being groomed to take over roles played previously by Satoshi Tsumabuki, Haruma Miura, and even Sota Fukishi and Kento Yamazaki. But don't get me wrong. Nakagawa has the acting chops to overtake Fukushi in the talent department and can do drama as much as Kento Yamazaki. 

One of the primary goals of our site is to feature and celebrate young Japanese actors. Personal preferences aside – we all have our things – we believe that these are the most promising talents that will represent the future of Japanese cinema. On many occasions, some of our readers will disagree with us on who stand out with potentials and who do not. Of course, good acting or not will remain personal and subjective. However, we want to take this chance to review some of the current thinking about acting. The purpose is not to make you all agree with us, but to offer our justifications based on current aesthetic values.

First, let’s try to answer “what is great acting?” Rinko Kikuchi has some say in it:

What is a great actor? What is a real actor? What are the criteria for a great actor? Nobody knows. Nobody can decide those criteria.

Well, not very helpful. Or according to William Esper, an ‘authentic protégé’ of Sanford Meisner which was one of the most influential pioneers of current American acting

Good acting – real acting – is impossible to spot. Great talents make the art look simple. When master actors act, their craft becomes invisible. Their art becomes artless. Real acting can never be pegged because it cannot be differentiated from real life.

To be honest, I don’t completely buy what he said so we can’t look there either. Successful acting must reflect society’s current beliefs and aesthetic values. What is considered as great acting today might not be the same as that a hundred years ago. To have a better perspective, let’s revisit some historical context.

Much of the theater in the 19th century was concerned with imitations of French plays and theatrically unreal depiction of life and character. Actors followed a director’s dictate, declaimed in artificial voices, didn’t communicate with each other and employed ham acting, cliché, easy-to-learn tricks, and indicated feelings.

I'm pretty sure that some of you who have followed the acting careers of some well-known Hollywood actors will agree with me. It takes more than just good looks and a powerful agent to keep a career going. In the case of Japanese actors, it may also apply but for a more limited degree. When idols (read: talents, dancers, singers, stage performers) are taking over roles that are best suited for real actors, then I have a problem with that. I don't want to bore you with statistics, but when was the last time Japanese players have won acting awards on the international stage? We keep on hearing superlatives such as "greatness" "excellent" "best player in the world" of which I'm also guilty of saying.  

But to be the best, a player's performance must be at par with his international contemporaries. Take, for instance, Sometani and Nikaido in Himizu or Haru Kuroki in The Little House or Yagira in Nobody Knows.

To mention a few names for you: 

Paul Dano: American (There Will be Blood), 

Jesse Eisenberg: American (The Social Network), 

Joseph Gordon-Levitt: American (Mysterious Skin, Snowden), 

Jamie Bell: English (Billy Elliot),

James Mcavoy: Scottish (Starter for 10, Atonement),

Pierre Niney: French (Yves Saint Laurent), 

Louis Garrel: French (Love Songs), 

Daniel Bruhl: German (Goodbye Lenin!) 

Romain Duris: French (The Beat that my Heart Skipped)

Tahar Rahim: French (A Prophet)

Jeremie Renier: Belgian (L'Enfant, Lorna's Silence)

What I like about the 50 young Japanese actors list from Kinema Junpou is the variety of the talents. Many have taken significant roles in movies and drama series. Some have won acting awards - both local and abroad and some also made box office records. Some started as male models and were given supporting, bit parts only to become the lead after a few tries. 

As expected, there will be idols, a majority of whom came from Johnny's and finally there are some newcomers. It's a bit of an issue to consider someone as a newcomer. For instance, is Hiroya Shimizu and Nijiro Murakami and Takumi Kitamura newcomers? Maybe, but Kitamura is also part of a J-pop band, so that makes him more than just a "pure" actor in a sense. Murakami and Shimizu, therefore, are the newcomers in the strict meaning of the term. That's not a big issue - I think they deserve to be on the list, in as much as, Yuto Nakajima or Kento Nakajima or Ryosuke Yamada - who all belong to Johnny's.