Our first casting buzz for 2016 is all about reunions and first encounters. Take the case of Tori Matsuzaka, Fumi Nikaido and Masaki Suda.

In 2012, Matsuzaka, Nikaido and Suda played childhood friends in The Boy Inside (Osama to Boku) with Suda's character Morio getting confined in the hospital due to an accident and in coma. I did not particularly buy the story since the chances of someone in "vegetative state" recovering and getting back on his feet is almost nil, but watching the actors together is simply worth my while. Nikaido was doing a bit of over-acting thanks to director Tetsu Maeda, but Suda was just phenomenal that Matsuzaka was obviously trying very hard to match his performance. While both Matsuzaka and Suda appeared in recent movies, being together in "Era of Us" looks interesting. They are joined by another amazing actor, Taiga (who incidentally played Nikaido's lover in Au revoir l' ete.) The said show features topics that the actors are supposed to 'discuss' about.

UPDATE: 'Era of Us' from FujiTv is not a new show as corrected.

Being recognized (finally!) as one of Japan's best dramatic actors, Masataka Kubota headlines 2015 with an acting win for the TV series Death Note and a double whammy in the movies and drama fronts as well. - 64 Rokuyon and Hero Mania: Life (movies) and Criminologist Himura and Mystery Writer Arisugawa and Mars (drama shows). 

Recently, he created a splash by teaming up with Masato Yano and did a quasi-BL part in April Fools (starring Tori Matsuzaka, Erika Toda in the lead). Among his new projects, it's Mars that caught my attention, and his venture into something fresh and challenging is not a surprise, but what a casting scoop!

Kira Aso (Marie Iitoyo) and Rei Kashino (Taisuke Fujigaya) meet when Rei asks Kira for directions to a local hospital one day in the park, but instead of telling him the directions she draws him a map and hands it to him without saying a word. On the back of the directions is a picture Kira drew of a mother and child. On the first day of school, they are both surprised to find that they are in the same class. Later, Rei walks in on their teacher sexually harassing Kira. Rei promises to protect Kira in exchange for a painted version of the sketch that was on the back of the map. He also offers to "lend Kira his body," and she asks him to model for her. Thus began a relationship that is opposed by the world in general. They draw on their love for each other to heal the wounds the world has left on them; Rei, the scars from his twin's suicide over something Rei told him, and Kira, her hatred of men due to her stepfather taking advantage of her.

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And Kubota's character:

Masao Kirishima (桐島 牧生 Kirishima Masao?) is an effeminate sociopath who was often bullied by his only friend, Yuji Aoki. Rei had saved Masao from being beaten to death at one point in time, but he barely remembers this event as the action was impulsive because Rei was still in shock over Sei's death. Soon after this incident, Masao kills Aoki. Masao admits to having a crush on Rei, but he also claims to have a crush on Kira.

In our interview with director Eisuke Naito, he explained: 

When I saw “Litchi Hikari Club” on the stage, most females in the audience were really enjoying boy’s love (BL) scenes. So I am sure that they want to see BL scenes on the big screen too. So, I tried to shoot a film that they will be happy with. “Boy’s love” is popular and a completely established genre here in Japan and there are lots of manga about the theme. On the other hand, Japanese audience can react quite negatively to violence. Usually, we don’t enjoy violent scenes like American audience. Some people take violence too seriously and that might be considered as being conservative. I added a few scenes to say “You can laugh!” to mix up with the violence. 

There were, at least, 8 new photos from the movie that showcase some of the highlights of Litchi Hikari Club [ read film review here ] - the mechanical robot, the first captive girl, and the relationships between the members of the club, in particular Zera, Tamiya and Jaibo.

A few J-dorama watchers and friends have recommended that I review Tenno no Ryoriban (The Emperor's Cook - 天皇の料理番), the TBS drama that won Best Actor for Takeru Satoh at the recent TV drama awards, and lucky for me, I did! I followed his career since 2010, watched him in Beck and then the first of the 3 Rurouni Kenshin movies in 2012. While he did spectacular action sequences in the samurai/action movies, he was clobbered by Masataka Kubota in The Liar and His Lover, who only played a supporting role, but had fire in his eyes all throughout the movie. A lackluster performance from an inept and boring movie, Real, followed.

By this time, I'm only interested in seeing Rurouni Kenshin since I think of him only as an action star. But The Emperor's Cook changed all that. I think he has started to develop his own acting style - not really an established or signature style (like Yuya Yagira's expressive eyes or Sometani's angst and emotional voice-over or even Ryunosuke Kamiki's fast-paced monologues), since there is still room for improvement, but he has shown a lot of growth as an actor.

Updates: After a qualified "leak" or slip or whatever (Casting scoop was in the 26th issue of Shueisha's Weekly Shonen Jump), Japanese entertainment sites officially revealed the cast - Masataka Kubota, Kento Yamazaki, Mio Yuki - confirming earlier reports.

Insiders mentioned that the drama series - to be aired by NTV every Sunday starting July - differs from previous movie adaptations where the main characters battle it out as young professionals. In the new drama, both Light Yagami and L are college students. (Not really sure if both have scenes inside the school or if one of them is as "eccentric" as previously depicted) I think the biggest drawback of the movie was portraying Yagami immediately as being corruptible hence it was not entirely convincing how an idealistic young guy who is passionate about the law and ethics could easily succumb to the temptation of the death note and start killing criminals.

The powerful production committee - unknown business executives - who are clueless about movies, drama and anything that has to do with the artistic process in live action adaptation does it again! This time in the Death Note drama series scheduled for airing this coming July 2015. While the casting of Masataka Kubota as Light Yagami is perfect regarding quality and credibility, Kento Yamazaki as L is a pleasant surprise and something to speculate. Mio Yuki as the relatively unknown Near (for those who are not familiar with the manga) is the most shocking of all.

In our previous article discussing the launch of the drama series, fellow J-dorama watchers speculated on the cast, and Kento Yamazaki was mentioned as - perhaps - a viable candidate to play one of the characters. Yamazaki, who is getting quality roles of late is a capable and intense dramatic actor as anyone from his generation (except Masaki Suda, of course, which is entirely on a different level). Previously played by Kenichi Matsuyama, the character of L is the most colorful and intriguing among the Death Note players. Playing L is not easy especially for #deadfisheyes actors, but Yamazaki had demonstrated his dramatic abilities way before anyone took an interest in him (Control Tower is an excellent example of how good he is). I don't know how good Yamazaki is on playing such a unique character because when Kenichi played L, he was both charismatic, geeky-nerdy and the movie series' class act.

Casting Kento Yamazaki is probably the biggest draw for the drama series, and I'm one of the most excited for it.