Not all actors are created equal. Some are more popular than others. Some get more box office hits than others. There are also those who can be considered "under the radar" but are as talented as those who are in the spotlight all the time. Fans - particularly Japanese fans - have a different set of criteria and idols are not necessarily actors - or are they?

In Part 4, we'll feature a few Japanese talents who have been what can be considered as top Japanese exports - famous abroad, yet their acting is the subject of debates among movie critics and fans. Listing also, a few who have been "under the radar". Also, a few notes on idols and why rom-com roles are not the gauge to measure an actor's degree of success. 

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Tatsuya Fujiwara is a particular case in point. With an impressive acting resume that includes significant roles in theater, Fujiwara is both popular in Japan and elsewhere in the world. He was a standout in Battle Royale and earlier movies such as the Death Note series, and Kaiji (1 and 2) put him on the international map. His more recent movies such as I'm Flash!, Shield of Straw, and the Rouroni Kenshin sequels help him sustain a high-profile career.

However, there are some notes on his acting as it seems he can't distinguish playing in theater and acting in movies. 

Movie characters reflect the general population to a certain degree, and we will talk about that now. Some Japanese men are considered too shy to get involved with the opposite sex, and there are reflections of their "predicaments" in the movies - we have the geeks, the nerds, the vagabonds, and the virgins. It's the same everywhere, but Japanese movies made it more obvious (and yet amusing) at the same time! (Cases in point: Mirai Moriyama's Moteki or Shota Sometani's Yuriko's Aroma & Minna! ESPer Dayo!)

Aside from that, we have the faces of the future - now. In predicting who will follow in the footsteps of such great Japanese actors Tadanobu Asano, Beat Takeshi, Ken Watanabe - we have the names here. While this is still a subjective list, we shall show you why. By the way - this is Part 3 of the series (just click Part 1 and Part 2)

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When I wrote the piece The Transformation of Yuya Yagira, I was happy to receive an email from a fellow movie fan who said, it's seldom she finds articles about the actor that depart from the usual gossip - how Yagira appears to be "fat", and other nonsense.

he Best of Japan continues. In Part 1, we talked about four leading Japanese actors, now we set our sights toward some more excellent players and see if they can match talents from Europe and Hollywood (i.e., do we have a Japanese Romain Duris or a Ryan Gosling for that matter?)

Compared with the Koreans who are keen, highly competitive and favor international exposure, the Japanese don't have the same kind of drive. While Korean and perhaps Chinese and Thai dramas are exported throughout Asia (and elsewhere like the United States and Latin America), we seldom see J-doramas being part of any primetime TV. The fact is, licensing a Japanese drama would cost a network - in say, the Philippines - 3 times the price of its Korean counterpart. But does it mean, Japanese actors are less talented since they are not familiar to movie audiences abroad? Is that question even valid?

Let me leave the discussion at that. In Part 2, more J-actors up ahead!

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The Crows Zero franchise is considered one of Japan's most successful, and credit goes to the filmmaker, Takashi Miike. There was a recent sequel, with a new director (Toshiaki Toyoda who made Blue Spring and 9 Souls, among others) and of course, new actors - Masahiro Higashide, Yuya Yagira, and Kento Nagayama. 

In the original Crows movies, we have two of Japan's most versatile players on the opposite side of the fence - as the violence and rivalry heat up at Suzuran High, we have Takayuki Yamada, the current gang leader, and Shun Oguri, who hungers for the throne.

How do you define an actor's success? Is it the number of acting awards he won? Is it his influence in the box office and his ability to command numbers? Is it a combination of both?

Are there other factors involved like versatility (getting all sorts of roles) and being directed by the best filmmakers in the industry? How about international exposure? What if he's only good at doing dramas and with no experience doing movies at all?

In this series of articles, we'll put the spotlight on some of Japan's high-profile actors for the past few years or so...

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Let's take a lot at a typical movie fan conversation:

Moviefan 1: I mean, of course, he just gotta play different roles - comedy, rom-com, historical drama, thrillers, maybe grab a lead in that Taiga drama from NHK to be a well-rounded actor...!

Moviefan 2: hmmm.... he can be versatile as you say, that's what you mean by having all kinds of roles right?

Moviefan 1: yeah...

Moviefan 2: But... if he's gonna get all those roles and all of his movies will not earn lots in the box office, what can you say about that???

Moviefan 1: Yeah, but the fact that he got lots of roles mean his films are doing alright....

Moviefan 2: You got a point there, but still if his movies will not earn - in the long run, maybe they will get someone else. So how about acting awards?

Moviefan 1: I think that would matter a lot even for him. I mean, it's always a good thing to be treated nicely by one's peers right? And getting awards can do that!

I guess we can argue about this for a long, long time... but then again, let's see who we are talking about. So, we have Eita and Ryuhei Matsuda first on the list. Are they good actors? Let's see...

FINAL UPDATE: As predicted, the two most acclaimed pictures we have listed below grabbed the most number of awards in the 37th Japan Academy Prize held 7th of March 2014.

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Ryuhei Matsuda + Aoi Miyazaki in The Great Passage, directed by Yuya Ishii,  Asmik Ace Entertainment, Shochiku 2013, All Rights Reserved. 

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Here are the nominees and the winners of the major categories:

Picture of the Year:

The Devil's Path
A Boy Called H
Like Father, Like Son
Tōkyō Kazoku
The Great Passage - winner
Ask This of Rikyu

Animation of the Year:

The Tale of Princess Kaguya
The Wind Rises - winner
Space Pirate Captain Harlock
Puella Magi Madoka Magica the Movie: Rebellion
Lupin the 3rd vs. Detective Conan: The Movie