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The 100 Best Contemporary Japanese Movies - Psycho Drama is launching an ambitious  project to compile 100 of the best modern-day Japanese movies from the last 2 decades or so. Featuring the best young actors of their generation - from Joe Odagiri, Takako Matsu and Tadanobu Asano, to Satoshi Tsumabuki, Hikari Mitsushima, Mao Inoue, Ryuhei Matsuda, Shun Oguri and Masanabu Ando to the current crop of exciting young talents - Shota Sometani, Yuya Yagira, Kamiki Ryunosuke, Sosuke Ikematsu, Kento Yamazaki, Fumi Nikaido and Ai Hashimoto. [ click here ]

Not all Japanese actors are created equal - some are definitely better than others. While some get acting awards, others are ignored. As in many cases, those snubbed by award-giving bodies tend to be better than the winners. When Ryan Gosling (Half-Nelson) and Heath Ledger (Brokeback Mountain) lost the Best Actor award in the Oscars, many believed they were robbed, the same can be said of James Mcavoy for his performance in Atonement.

In the recent Japan Academy Prize, many lauded the win of Ryuhei Matsuda for The Great Passage, but moviefans (including the author) were shocked when Kengo Kora (The Story of Yonosuke) was not even nominated. Matsuda's recognition was long overdue and Kora has to wait for another opportunity - will The Mourner (Itamu Hito) be the one?

Acting awards (local and international) play a big factor in our rankings, but also longevity, consistent acting and versatility. Age limits the names to a certain degree, there is one particuular exception (ranked #2), who maybe taken out next ranking.

Anyway, after 2 years (of ranking Japanese actors), here's what we have....

Age: 26

Previous Ranking: #21 up by 6

Spotlight Movies: The Kirishima Thing, Crows Explode, Ao Haru Ride

Why he's on this list: There are actors who were catapulted into stardom for basically one particular role. Think: Shun Oguri and Shota Sometani. In the case of former model turned actor Masahiro Higashide, he did this via The Kirishima Thing. He also shared something in common with the two mentioned actors (aside from great acting!) - he plays the lead in the sequel to Crows Zero where Oguri was the leading man, and he teamed up with Sometani in xxxHolic, one of the best drama series at WoWow TV. A new movie - Ao Haru Ride - is slated for release this December with Tsubasa Honda as his leading lady.


Age: 20

Previous Ranking: #8, down by 6

Spotlight Movies: Into the Far Away Sky, Little DJ, The Kirishima Thing, SPEC: Heaven, Summer Wars (Voice), The Borrower Arriety (Voice)

Why he's on the list: Grabbing the top spot in the 20 Most Promising Young Actors list, Ryunosuke Kamiki stands tall among his contemporaries. He is nothing short of phenomenal - gritty, nerdy-geeky, menacing, strong-willed, idealistic - such wide range of acting no one can match, except perhaps Shota Sometani... He is up against Takeru Satoh in Rurouni Kenshin as one of the samurai's nemesis and as one of the leads in Takashi Miike's As the Gods Will.


Age: 25

Previous Ranking: First appearance in the hitlist.

Spotlight Movies: Thirteen Assassins, The Cowards who looked up to the Sky, The Liar and his Lover, Dakishimetal,

Why he's on the list: If I may borrow a fellow blogger's title to described Mr. Kubota's casting history, it would have to be second lead syndrome! He often plays the second lead, and while his character may not be the focus of the movie, his acting shines - stealing the thunder from his co-stars. It's not hard to describe how he fared in 2013 with 5 feature films to his credit, and another 2 soon to be released this year - with an interesting role in Ushijima the Loan Shark Part 2 where he will pit talents with Takayuki Yamada, Gou Ayano, Yuya Yagira and Masaki Suda.


Age: 25

Previous Ranking: #27, up by 15.

Spotlight Movies: The Cowards Who Looked To The Sky, Crows Explode, Soft Boy, I'm Flash!, Shield of Straw

Why he's on the list: While his older brother Eita is way up in the rankings, Kento Nagayama is slowly making his way up himself. His latest on spotlight role is in Yuki Tanada's "The Cowards Who Looked To The Sky", where he plays lover to a more senior and married woman. He got lots of positive critical reception for this role. He's definitely one of the younger actors to generate excitement in the Japanese movie scene. Definitely the biggest mover for this year's rankings, Nagayama has shown he can play lead roles and supporting characters with equal intensity and power. You may enjoy watching him in Shield of Straw as one of the police officers protecting child killer Tatsuya Fujiwara (with an equally engrossing performance in I'm Flash! also with Fujiwara and Ryuhei Matsuda).


Age: 23

Previous Ranking: First appearance in the hitlist

Spotlight Movies: Dive!, The Last Samurai, Love's Vortex, The Story of Yonosuke, Our Family, Adult Drop

Why he's on this list: An initial output of 2 movies in 2013 paved the way for Ikematsu to be one of this year's most active young actors with seven high-profile roles including Yuya Ishii's follow-up to The Great Passage, Our Family, The Rising Sun over Vancouver and When I Sense the Sea. His choice of roles can only be described as fearless since he is not afraid to do nudity or play controversial characters. You may remember Ikematsu as the young kid in Tom Cruise's The Last Samurai, who turned out to be quite a handsome lad playing leading roles in contemporary Japanese cinema.


Age: 30

Previous Ranking: #5, down by 5

Spotlight Movies: Thirteen Assassins, Ikigami, MW, The Letters, Crying out Loud in the Center of the World, Crow Zero, Crow Zero 2, Ushijima the Loan Shark

Why he's on this list: He can kick your ass and throw you to a bottomless pit. If looks can kill, then he can massacre. Such is the power of Takayuki Yamada. But not everything is about power acting for the 30-year old actor. In Crying out Loud, a critic commented:

The acting was outstanding for a Japanese drama and the whole series was well-cast (the older Saku could've been a little more likable though). Special honors go to Takayuki Yamada for his portrayal of 17-year-old Saku. Yamada has to be one of the best dramatic actors in Japan. Overall, this is one of the best dramas to come out of Japan.

Age: 23

Previous Ranking: #12, up by 3

Spotlight Movies: Nobody Knows, The Bandage Club, All to the Sea, Ground Zero: The Sky of Nagasaki, Unforgiven, Crows Explode, Again

Why he's on this list: Undeniably one of the best young actors today, his career is now undergoing some major changes after struggling with some personal issues. Since he's used to be under the direction of an award-winning filmmaker (Koreeda), it took another critically acclaimed director to cast him - Sang-il Lee for the remake of Clint Eastwood's Unforgiven (Yurusarezaru Mono). In an interview by Cinema Cafe, Yagira was reported to have expressed some doubts if he can do the role some justice. He was supposed to play Goro - a sort of a vagabond who became Ken Watanabe's ally.

If you've seen the movie, you can see the complete transformation of Yagira - from the cool, passionate kid who was forced to take care of his siblings in Nobody Knows to the naughty yet kind-hearted Goro Sawada in the Japanese remake of the award-winning western film. [ read our profile of Yagira, a prequel to this rankings ]


Age: 32

Previous Ranking: First appearance in the hitlist.

Spotlight Movies: Helter Skelter, The End of Summer, The Light Shines Only There, The Snow White Murder Case, Shinjuku Swan

Why he's on the list: Yes, he is 32 years old, quite surprising since he can play the role of much younger men - he was a revelation in The End of Summer as Hikari Mitsushima's spurned lover - a performance worthy of the Rookie of the Year award at Japan Academy Prize. He has a versatility that is evident from his many roles and since 2011, he can boast of at least 12 notable movies to his credit.

Will he be further catapulted to fame via Sion Sono's Shinjuku Swan slated in 2015? You bet!
 

Age: 31

Previous Ranking: Top 9, up by 2

Spotlight Movies: Monsters Club, Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai, Dear Doctor, The Silver Season, Last Friend, Memories of Matsuko,  Tada's Do-It-All House (Mahoro Ekimae Tada Benriken)

Why he's on this list: When you're cast by the best Japanese directors, it only mean one thing - talent. Eita Nagayama is the kind of actor who can play supporting parts (and win awards) and play leading roles (and get critical acclaim). From the terrifying brilliance of Monsters Club where he played a recluse with a horrible plan to his tragic portrayal of Motome in Harakiri: Death of a Samurai to his charming performance as a young Physician in Dear Doctor, Eita's appeal goes beyond mere good looks.

Watch out for the sequel to Mahoro soon as Tada and Gyouten (Ryuhei Matsuda) get to reprise their roles as thirtysomething young men out to do mundane jobs with maximum audience impact!
 

Age: 29

Previous Ranking: #3, down by 3.

Spotlight Movies: Love Strikes!, The Drudgery Train, A Chorus of Angels, Crying Out in the Center of the World, Fish on Land

Why he's on this list: Moriyama has that unique acting magic that glows - he can do comedy with spontaneity and drama with power and vision. Just like Ryuhei Matsuda, he excels in both supporting and lead roles. He was awesome in Love Strikes and even better (if that could still be possible) in The Drudgery Train, and he was as effective in A Chorus of Angels, playing a supporting role.
 

Age: 26

Previous Ranking: #11, up by 6

Spotlight Movies: Into the White Night, A Crowd of Three, Bandage, Snakes and Earrings, Fish Story, The Egoist, The Story of Yonosuke, Bushi no Kondate

Why he's on this list: You can describe some actors as handsome or gorgeous, but they might need some nice clothes and fancy hairstyle to do the trick. Kengo Kora just needs to show up and you'll know what it means to say 'that guy is beautiful!'. If you look at his acting resume, you will no longer wonder why he's ranked very high - In Snakes and Earrings, he played the pathetic Ama who was head over heels with the doomed Rui (Yuriko Yoshitaka). In A Crowd of Three, he played supporting role to Shota Matsuda but held his own. But it was in Bandage that he showed his extraordinary mystique - with the long hair and the silence and the stare!

One of his latest movies, The Story of Yonosuke, was ranked #1 by Third Window Films as 2012 best Japanese movie with special mention of Kora's amazing performance. That amazing performance has been the subject of some controversy as he was not nominated for Best Actor at the Japan Aacdemy Prize - a performance that is comparable to Ryan Gosling in Half Nelson, one of the best roles ever played by the popular Hollywood star.
 

Age: 22

Previous Ranking: #5, up by 1.

Spotlight Movies: Himizu, Lesson of the Evil, A Liar and a Broken Girl, Tadaima, Jaqueline, Wood Job!, Drive in Gamo, Parasyte (Part 1, Part 2)

Why he's on this list: At the age of 20, he has achieved more than some of the more established young actors on this list. With more than 25 movies to his credit, Shota Sometani is already a 'veteran' of sorts. Grabbing the Marcello Mastroianni Award for Best New Young Actor at the 68th Venice Film Festival is his biggest accolades so far.

There is definitely a rivalry (of sorts) between two of the youngest actors on the list (Kamiki and Someya), having met only once in the acting arena via a TV movie (Kokoro no Ito), with Kamiki taking the lead role, while Sometani provided support, but they nevertheless pit talents during all the scenes they were together ... Satoshi versus Kenichi (Part 2?)

Age: 30

Previous Ranking: #6 up by 3.

Spotlight Movies: Crow Zero, Crow Zero 2, Boys Over Flowers, Kisaragi, The Woodsman and the Rain, Lupin III, Space Brothers, A Boy Called H

Why he's on this list: Actor, idol, director, superstar - all of them describe Shun Oguri one way or the other. With his smashing good looks, no one can deny his effect on young fans as he play the usual sugary roles designed to titillate and seduce. But he is no ordinary actor willing to be typecast. After the sucess of Boys Over Flowers, he went on to challenge the convention and played diverse characters in movies such as "Sakuran", "Kisaragi," and the Crows Zero series from prolific director Takashi Miike. But acting is not the end-all for Oguri, just 2 years ago he went on to direct his first feature entitled Surely Someday.

Oguri gets into high gear via Lupin III as the famous and notorious robber with an all-star cast including Tadanobu Asano and Gou Ayano.

Age: 33

Previous Ranking: #1, down by 1..

Spotlight Movies: Villain, My Back Page, The Haunted Samurai, Tears For You, Dororo, Smuggler, Waterboys, No Boys No Cry, For Love's Sake, Tokyo Family, Fly With the Gold, Our Family, The Rising Sun Over Vancouver

Why he's on this list: It would seem unfair to compare actors, but in this case it's simply unavoidable. Satoshi Tsumabuki's considerable performance as Yuichi Shimizu in Villain (Akunin) is well deserved of the Best Actor he received from the Japanese Academy Awards - a performance that is at par with the likes of James McAvoy in Atonement or Ryan Gosling in Half Nelson. I find the idiocy in the fact that he's described as the "Exceedingly Handsome Guy" in The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, while actors of lower calibre talent (sic) get top billing.

He will soon "graduate" from this list as a result of his age, so let's celebrate Mr. Tsumabuki's ascent into another, more prestigious ranking soon!

Age: 30

Previous Ranking: #2, up by 1 replacing Tsumabuki at the top.

Spotlight Movies: Taboo, Suicide Song, Tada's Do it All House, Blue Spring, Big Bang Love Juvenile A, 9 Souls, I'm Flash, Phone Call to the Bar (1 and 2), The Great Passage

Why he's on this list: 38 movies in the span of 13 years. Ryuhei Matsuda is one of the most versatile actors in Japan today. From the time he played the young and naive Samurai Sozaburo Kano (Taboo) in 1999, to his portrayal of Jun Ariyoshi in Bang Bang Love Juvenile A seven years later to his upcoming portrayal of a body guard in I'm Flash, Ryuhei is already iconic in the collective minds of Japanese moviegoers. The Matsuda magic continues in The Great Passage and the sequel to Phone Call to the Bar. You may also enjoy this profile of Ryuhei from my Drama Tea!

Ranking Matsuda at the top is a long process that started with the actor's big win at the Japan Academy Prize. As the recipient of the Best Actor award, there is no doubt as to the prestige it brought to his acting career and deservedly so since he should have been recognized way back in Taboo and Big Bang Love Juvenile A. But not all are serious for Matsuda as many of his fans are more than aware of his signature laugh as Gyouten in the upcoming Mahoro Ekimae Kyousoukyoku!

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