Five years is not long considering how some actors spent a quarter of their lifetimes learning the craft. In celebration of our 5th year anniversary, I am tasked to come up with a list of actors who I consider the best representative of Japanese movies and drama - yesterday and today. Unlike the 100 Contemporary Japanese movie list, there is a ranking here, and an acknowledgment of each actor's contribution to cinema - as inspiration, as role models, as provocateurs, as spokesmen for worthy causes or simply for the ability to make people laugh, happy, angry, and cry. 

Toshiro Mifune

While some who are new to the Japanese movie/drama scenes are aghast, surprise, shock, annoy and amuse on the seemingly "overacting" nature of certain Japanese performers, it says a lot also about the other side - the subtle and understated acting of some of its best.

In this 100 list, we have both and #deadfisheyes too!

Through the years I have been asked to make recommendations on a "verified, authentic list" of Japanese films that one may want to see, as a way of introduction. Many times, I failed to come up with such a list because I don't think I have seen enough. I'm celebrating five years of blogging Japanese movies this coming March 2017 and I thought it would be nice to restart my ambitious 100 contemporary Japanese movie list.

100 Contemporary Japanese Movies 

'Contemporary' as many knows refers to movies produced and released recently - perhaps only as "old" as 1996. That means titles such as Tokyo Story, Seven Samurai, Rashomon, The Family Game, and even Harakiri and Cruel Story of Youth will not be included. 

Cats appear - more often in Japanese movies - as constant, loveable companions or a symbol of luck and good harmony or both. While dogs [we'll talk about them in Part 2] are considered more popular (a poll shows dogs are preferred by 49.8% versus 27.9% for the feline creatures), the Japanese is reputed to be one of the most passionate cat lovers in the world.

Cats in Japanese Movies

Tashirojima Island in Ishinomaki City located east of Sendai City is known as the ‘Cat Island’. Cats come to welcome the boats at the port. Many cats wait patiently around the fishing port for fishermen to return. Neko-jinja or the cat shrine is located in the central area of the island and it enshrines a “cat god” in hope of a good catch and safety of the fishermen. Cats have been worshiped as gods for several hundred years when people began forecasting the outcome of fishing based on cats’ behavior. Tashirojima Island was damaged by the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami in 2011, but many of the cats survived, evacuating to the area around Neko-jinja. [ read more ]

Aside from the cat island described above, it is in Japan where "Hello Kitty" originated (by Sanrio Co. Ltd.), Kroochi, the stray cat, and the now popular cat cafes and of course, the Maneki-neko (welcoming cat and lucky charm). 

A precursor to our upcoming Top 30 Hottest Japanese actors list, the 2016 newsmakers reflect the current state of 'acting' in Japan and the names of those who are given opportunities to follow in the footsteps of the greats - Mifune, Takakura, Yakusho, Watanabe. While senior actors like Tadanobu Asano, Joe Odagiri, Satoshi Tsumabuki, Eita, Mirai Moriyama, Shun Oguri continue to pay major roles, our contenders have captured a sizeable portion of the casting pie among themselves.

Are they the best actors Japan could offer? Apparently, the answer is yes! 

Before that, let's see who are the frontrunners for acting awards this year:

Tomokazu Miura (Katsuragi Case);

Joe Odagiri (Over the Fence);

A few more names will soon appear as the Japan Academy Prize nominees are announced later. Kinema Junpo's list is still being considered, with readers participating in the annual survey.

While the likes of Sayuri Yoshinaga, Kirin Kiki, and Rie Miyazawa vie for more acting awards and Takako Matsu, Sakura Ando, Hikari Mitsushima, Chizuru Ikewaki, Mao Inoue, and Yu Aoi following their leads, the younger batch of Japanese actresses are as promising. 

Nana Komatsu - 2016 Best Actress (under 25)

2016 is a particularly strong year for young Japanese stars like Mayu Matsuoka, Mugi Kadowaki, Hana Sugisaki, Nana Komatsu, Fumi Nikaido and Mitsuki Takahata. 


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