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.

To discuss the merits (or demerits) of 50 Japanese actors requires more than a singular post, hence Part 2 continues our discussion previously from Part 1 of Kinema Junpou 50 actors (under 30) worth watching out.

Yuki Furukawa at 28 almost did not make the cut, but the Litchi Hikari Club lead actor has been in the limelight from the time he took on the role of Naoki in Itazura na Kiss: Love in Tokyo. If you recall, he made headlines when he remarked on the way Japanese shows are casting idols just for the heck of it. Let's hear it from Furukawa directly:

 “Nobody in Japan cares if you’re successful overseas unless you’re already established here”

The article, written by The Hollywood Reporter's Gavin J. Blair, explained further:

When Kinema Junpou announced their 50 names of actors (under 30) to watch out for, the whole PD community was not surprised. I mean, most of the names have been featured on the site - one way or another. Just take a look at the top 30 hit list [ promising | hottest ] and you'll notice that most of them are included in the Kinema list.

I'd love to open up the discussion on both those who are already part of our list and those who may be considered "under the radar" since I think we have some exciting names in the Kinema Junpou list that need some research. Here's the rub: If you're an editor exposed to all the buzz inside the Japanese entertainment industry, you obviously have the advantage (and disadvantage) since - I really believe - we on the outside has a more 'objective" look. Then again, that's debatable of course!

Let's see.... so we have 50 names!