I want to understand how exactly actors get movie or TV drama roles in Japan. We can only make a list of the best and worst casting choices without knowing anything that goes behind the casting. But then again, it's easy to make a list and hard to get those 'facts.' 

Casting choices - Bakuman + Aoi Honoo

Here's what we know:

  1. Production Committees make all the important choices, including the director and the cast;
  2. Talent agencies are part of these boards, and they have their roster of talents. Amuse got Haruma Miura, Takeru Satoh, Ryunosuke Kamiki; while Stardust manages Kento Yamazaki, Masataka Kubota, Yuya Yagira. Topcoat has Masaki Suda and Tori Matsuzaka. Of course, Johnny's got the idols including Junichi Okada, Nino, Kame, Toma Ikuta, Yuto Nakajima. Ken-On promotes Sota Fukushi.
  3. Cast and crew get low pay compared to their Hollywood counterparts; they can't even match what the Chinese or the Koreans are getting, according to many reports;
  4. The producers of a successful TV series, when adapted into a movie, will have 'priority seats' in the committee. Cast and crew can be same, or some casting choices have to be made to assure that there is a success in the box office;
  5. There is enough income to be had in the local market. 

Genki Kawamura, the producer of such acclaimed movies as Villain (Akunin), Confessions, and Detroit Metal City, said years ago that the Japanese film industry is in a state of "sakoku" (the period when Japan shuts out to the outside world).  More recently, it was Hirokazu Koreeda who said:

... But we do have a crisis in Japan.  However it is difficult to see from the outside because Japanese films can support themselves in the Japanese market, so it’s not an open-aired crisis. The problem is that Japanese films get enough revenue from inside, but don’t look outward.  The problem is that our films have difficulty exporting themselves and getting outside Japan. [ source ]

Blade of the Immortal, starring Takuya Kimura

Is it all that bad? I think not. The thing is, there is no more Kurosawa or Ozu and to say that the 'golden age of Japanese cinema' is long gone serves no purpose other than to cling to the past. Of course, today's audience of Japanese films needs to appreciate the work of the great filmmakers and at the same time look forward to today's movie offerings. 

Kawamura also said that Japanese filmmakers are no longer feeling any "inferiority complex about Hollywood anymore. " Though I just watched Shin Godzilla and to say that it's an inferior film to some of Hollywood's recent releases is an understatement. 

Ok, let's have some list.

Before I list our best and worst casting choices, let me mention some issues related to the cast of Japanese live-action movies of late.

There were a lot of discussions related to the actors chosen for the Ghost in the Shell movie, and just a few months ago, a writer at Fusion, Charles Pulliam-Moore, was happy to note that the actors for Fullmetal Alchemist will have 'no white people' and called it a 'beautiful thing.'

Does it matter if the powerful production committees in Japan cast the right actors in our favorite manga, anime or light novels? The question appears either valid or invalid to fans since no one could do anything about it anyway, but still - what have we got to lose? 


It is equally relevant to say that - some of us - can also make accurate 'predictions' as in the case of Kento Yamazaki and Ryunosuke Kamiki grabbing some noted roles of late. I say it's delightful since it only means 'we get it!' And the people in these committees do too! Though I question their choices most of the time. The fact remains that the members of these committees and not artists or filmmakers, but are businessman and they are tasked to make sure that the funds put into these films will earn them a reasonable ROI (return on investment).

Let me get back to that later.

Gukoroku (also known as Traces of Sin) is the reunion of Satoshi Tsumabuki and Hikari Mitsushima on the big screen. Both award-winning actors play siblings in the Tv series Wakamonotachi (together with Eita, a frequent co-star of both).  The movie is the first full-length film of Kei Ishikawa and tackles the issue of a brother-sister relationship in an atmosphere of mystery and crime. Based on the novel "Gukoroku" by Tokuro Nukui, the film also explores social elites in Japan.

Tsumabuki is the kind of actor who does his best when acting together with equally competent players. He did an acting showdown with Kenichi Matsuyama in My Back Page (he plays a journalist, while Matsuyama is an activist during late 1960s Tokyo), this time he's (once again) a reporter and the trailer already shows some intense moments between him and co-star Hikari Mitsushima.  The film premiered at the 73rd Venice International Film Festival, with Mitsushima showing her fashion flair!


Psycho Drama list of 100 favorite Japanese films through the years.