Kento Yamazaki's appearance as a supporting player in 2010 TV sci-fi drama Clone Baby (Kuron Beibi) is a far cry from the Kento of today. As Jotaro, Yamazaki dons curly hair with a hair band, is a computer geek, and looks nerdy (and not so cool). The show stars Ken-On's Tomohiro Ichikawa, Tori Matsuzaka, and Yukari Taki (a rather plain actress with a forgettable performance). Also in the cast are Honoka Miki, Yu Inaba, and Dori Sakurada (who will eventually co-star with Yamazaki in Orange, and is reported to be a close friend).

Hyoka - Casting of Kento Yamazaki, Alice Hirose

Fast forward, Ichikawa is now relegated to playing supporting bit parts (especially when fellow Ken-On talent Sota Fukushi is cast as the main actor). Matsuzaka continues to grab high-profile roles but is not the rom-com prince wannabe anymore. 

Tori and Kento reunite in Love for Beginners, with Yamazaki donning the same curly hair and the same boring supporting character. Which begs the question: Can Yamazaki level up his casting and get those elusive leading roles? Well, a sudden change in appearance seems to do the trick. With a new hairstyle, a "darker" complexion and more intense eyes, Yamazaki makes a double take with Ai Hashimoto in Control Tower and Another.

I want to say the rest is history but, Yamazaki is just warming up. 

2017 and beyond appear to be promising years for Kento Yamazaki, Shota Sometani, Takeru Satoh, Taishi Nakagawa, Ryosuke Yamada, Masataka Kubota, and Ryunosuke Kamiki. The same applies to Tao Tsuchiya, Fumika Shimizu, and Hana Sugisaki. 

Why is that? Well, the biggest casting buzz in 2016 represents projects with them -  either as the main role or playing major characters of movies set for 2017, 2018 releases. For me, a major buzz in Japanese TV dramas are not as prestigious as being part of, say, the latest Sion Sono Nobuhiro Yamashita, or Hirokazu Koreeda movies, but these TV dramas may serve as 'launching pads' for new actors. However, being the new lead in an asadora or major roles in NHK's taiga drama are essential for a young actor's resume. 

I was waiting for Oricon to announce the 'breakthrough' boys after being surprised by the girls' list. [ See our reaction on the girls' list here ]

Masaki Suda - Death Note: Light Up the New World

How could I still be surprised you might ask? Quite simple. Seeing 'established' names on the list - can make me or even others who are quite familiar with the real J-entertainment scene - react adversely. 

Once again Oricon confused me with the use of the term "breakthrough" as if they don't even know what it means. For 2016, they declare that Mitsuki Takahata tops the ranking as 'breakthrough' actress. So what exactly does 'breakthrough' means?

a sudden, dramatic, and important discovery or development; an instance of achieving success in a particular sphere or activity.

Mitsuki Takahata Oricon Ranking

How can you include Fumi Nikaido as a breakthrough actress when she already made more than 25 movies and about a dozen dramas since 2009? The fact that she has won a major acting award in a prestigious film festival counts more than getting a local acting trophy from one of Japan's redundant award-giving bodies! Ridiculous!

Rie Miyazawa wins her third Best Actress trophy at the 41st Hochi Film Awards for Yu wo wakasu hodo no atsui ai (translated into English as "Her Love Boils Bathwater" which will, most probably, be retitled to something either silly or inappropriate later, I hope not!). 

Rie Miyazawa and Hana Sugisaki in Yu o Wakasu Hodo no Atsui Ai

Hana Sugisaki beats Mayu Matsuoka, Haru Kuroki, and Fumi Nikaido, among others, to grab the Best Supporting Actress.

Sang Il-Lee (Anger - Ikari) wins Best Director.