Let's see. There was a time when Hikari Mitsushima and Sakura Ando were just starting to make a name for themselves in the Japanese movie industry (watch Sion Sono's Love Exposure to get an idea.). Then there was Chizuru Ikewaki wowing audiences in Josee, The Tiger and The Fish and of course who can forget Mao Inoue in Hana Yori Dango, one of the ultimate J-drama ever! Other big names include Takako Matsu who made waves on the international scene via the school-thriller Confessions and Erika Toda capturing a different set of audience as a top female detective/agent in SPEC. Previously there was Ryoko Hirosue in the Luc Besson-produced Wasabi and the Academy Award-winning Japanese film Departures. 

But more than anyone, it will always be Sayuri Yoshinaga who will best exemplify the Japanese actress ideal.

Yoshinaga Sayuri was born in March 1945, five months before World War II came to an end. She is a movie star whose career can be said to have followed the footsteps of postwar Japan. Although she will soon reach the age of 68, she still projects a youthful image and has an active career as an actress, performing the lead role in a film every two years or so.

Thus far Yoshinaga has acted in more than 100 movies and has fans of all ages. She has won four Japan Academy Prizes for the best actress in a leading role, more than any other actress, and in 2010 she was designated a Person of Cultural Merit, one of Japan’s highest cultural honors. Both in name and in reality, she is one of the foremost stars in the postwar world of film.

[ read more: Last of the Silver Screen’s National Heroines ]

Finally, this list will not be complete if we fail to mention Fumi Nikaido, who at the age of 20, has been nominated for Best Actress already. (She won a major acting award in Venice at the age of 16)

There were many others, but in today's popular drama and J-movie scenes, we have a completely different set of names competing for high-profile roles. In Part 1 of this 5-part series, we're putting the spotlight on three who have the greatest potentials.

There was an article posted at Taste of Cinema listing 20 'famous' Hollywood actresses as the ultimate examples of bad acting. The said list includes:

Megan Fox (which I agree wholeheartedly);

Paris Hilton (yes!);

Sienna Miller (no, she's amazing!);

and Keira Knightley (WTF, no! no! no! She's great!).

While calling someone a bad actress (or actor for that matter) is subjective, I think you know without having to explain who is and who's not. For me, it boils down to a lot of things:

Dialogue delivery: If you've watch Fumi Nikaido (as Keiko) in Himizu, one of the most amusing scenes is when she got tossed in the river, and she began a tirade informing Shota Sometani (Yuichi) of his many sins and that she 'treasured' them as pebbles in her pocket. She talks at a very fast pace, yet you can feel the pain of her rejection. 

A most potent scene was evident in My Man.

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.