At the beginning of 2018, our team listed actors that impressed us in 2017 and that we look forward to seeing more of in 2018. Now halfway into the year, we are releasing our list and the forecasts we made for comparison with reality.
As expected, most continued developing nicely along their current trajectory. There were also surprises, such as Kamiki Ryunosuke, who only did one short NHK drama and filled his time with many commercials. As to what was behind such an extreme change, only his agency knows. There was also a whole group of new generation talents that started grabbing media attention in the first half of 2018, such as Sano Hayato and Hirano Sho. Certain more experienced ones like Shison Jun and Takasugi Mahiro also began their rise. For the purpose of this article, however, we simply focused on those who dominated 2017.
The best has yet to come for Yoshizawa as he co-stars with Nikaido Fumi in River’s Edge. His fearless performance in the Tomodachi Game (series, films) provide both viewers and potential fans a glimpse into his capacity to act. He still shone in Gintama despite being underutilised. He is the up and coming actor that I am most excited about.
While he’d been vaguely on my radar for the past few years, it wasn’t till I saw him around the time promotions for Tomodachi Game’s pre-movie drama started rolling out that I really latched onto him. A few days of diving into his filmography later and I came out with a newly adopted brat. In the span of merely a few different guestings in dramas I’d seen so many different layers and sides of his acting that by the end of 2017 I couldn’t help but want to see more. We need more and, luckily enough, we will get more.
Promoted to Amuse’s current it-boy, Yoshizawa isn’t just one of the kids anymore. Not just a side and support character. No, the guy is ready to take over and if his many castings throughout the year didn’t convince you yet, 2018 will surely pull you in if you’d let it. He has variety, versatility, a dark – slightly evil at times – gaze filled with depth but just about as dead when necessary. He’s a package of – mostly sharp and cold – emotions I’d fit somewhere in-between Hongo Kanata and Kamiki Ryunosuke. The ever casual and calm is easily switched for chaos and drama, and when you remember he’s shy by nature you start wondering where that gravity is coming from.
As any other human being, however, Ryo still has his flaws. They show up from time to time – specifically when it comes to his ranting and venting – but it doesn’t really grab your attention all the time seeing as the rest of his skills often mask it up. Add that to the great variety in his roles and casting choices and Ryo is set to learn the skills from every side of character development. And, hopefully, that will one day result in a near perfect portrayal of whatever role he’ll grab a hold of in the future.
Yoshizawa had a superb performance in the Tomodachi Game franchise (drama, films) that blew me away with his ability to handle the darkness of his character credibly. He showed a pretty good range and an exceptional ability to morph on the spot from seeming harmlessness into a character that seethes with malevolence beneath the surface. This was followed with a high-profile role in the Gintama pre-film drama and film as the popular Okita Sougo that increased his exposure among international fans, followed by a secondary lead in Psychic Kusuo, two other dramas and one stage play.
Yoshizawa already has 5 movies lined up in 2018 (River’s Edge, Anoko no Toriko, Marmalade Boy, Evil and the Mask, Reon). In line with Amuse’s preference of having multiple aces, he is now being pushed into the spotlight as one half of the current ace duo along with Kamiki Ryunosuke and now takes the centre spot with him in Amuse’s annual Handsome Festival performances featuring their stable of young male actors.
Many come for Yoshizawa’s good looks, but I feel that his acting will be the one that makes them stay. Good looks only get you so far, but this is a man with both the wrapping and the content. His gaze is a dark and heavy one that can also switch to casual laziness, and this makes him a very intriguing actor to cast. I am glad that Amuse is diversifying his role selections across genres, between film and drama, and between main and side roles instead of doing the currently popular shoujo route of hyping up-and-coming actors. This is an actor with a lot of potential.
On a much less professional note, I wish that someone will remake the Psychic Detective Yakumo drama series with better actors and plot, and I personally feel that Yoshizawa will make a splendid Yakumo. Shida Mirai will fit as Haruka and Ito Hideaki will be an appropriate cast for Yakumo’s mysterious father.
Jed’s 3rd [tied with Suda Masaki]
Hyouka, Jojo, Psychic Kusuo and Rikuo. A lot has been said about Yamaken, but at the end of the day, who can boast of a young actor who has the magnetic appeal to win box office earnings (though not consistently) and at the same time delineate ordinary guy roles? His full potential has yet to be realized and I await for the next role to top Kakeru in Control Tower.
I realize that aside from Kento all the guys on this list are ones that have only gotten their respective pushes in the past year or so but I will never let go of this one till everyone sees his worth. Yamazaki Kento has skill and potential. He has lots of it. Sadly enough, he’s stuck in a combination of it not always showing clearly in the roles he’s been getting, and viewers just downright ignoring any kind of detail because they can only see the big lines of it. He’s cast in a few shoujos? Must all be the same type of characters, I guess.
Kento’s forte lies within his capability of showing off his natural emotions. They feel honest, real… something a lot of his peers haven’t quite grasped for themselves yet. Roles like Orange’s Kakeru, or Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso’s Kousei are what he shines in. Of course, he isn’t without flaw, but he shows hints of brilliance and the patient brat-watcher I am will gladly wait till he shows me more of it.
I feel Kento needs drama. Heavy drama. And once he’s gotten that one role where he can go all out and doesn’t have to give in or stay within bounds – he feels too focused on limitations and often visibly holds back to stay within them after all – he will truly get to show what he’s made of. And that’s the point where I’ll be sitting back in my comfy chair, rightfully going “I told you so”.
2017 was yet another project-rich year for Yamazaki. He led One Week Friends, followed by leading roles in Psychic Kusuo and Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure: Diamond is Unbreakable. All were high-profile roles, especially Jojo due to the existence of an international fanbase. He then proceeded to star in Rikuo. Although Psycho Drama does not fully trust ratings, it still garnered a figure that was significant enough to deserve mention – the drama is currently one of the highest-rated ones of the season. Though not in as many projects as the actors listed above, each one he had was a major adaptation. It was a pity that many of the local Japanese Jojo fanbase decided to boycott without even giving the film a fair try, though those who ultimately did admitted that the film was not too bad aside from some pacing issues. I never understood why people do not desire to check something to form their own opinions and choose to jump on bandwagons right away, because that is unfair to the actors and the production team.
He will be in Hyouka: Forbidden Secrets with Hirose Alice and Hongo Kanata, and A Forest of Wool and Steel with the Kamishiraishi sisters.
This year was a breath of fresh air as Yamazaki continues to journey away from his previous deluge of shoujo projects. I still contend that Stardust did him a disfavour by oversaturating the audience with way too many shoujo projects at once, which caused it to rebound on him.
For obvious reasons, he redefines himself as Kiriyama Rei in the 2-part Sangatsu No Lion films with a sublime performance. The TV drama Keiji Yugami doubles as a breather for the heaviness of said film. In as much as some others try to diversify their ‘image’, Kamiki tops them all with both fun and serious roles. His taiga drama casting further increases his stature as Japan’s most prominent young actor.
Kamiki came off a strong wave created by Kimi no Na wa’s very long and very successful run and moved on to star in Otomo Keishi’s two installments of Sangatsu no Lion. The films highlighted and suited his subtle acting style very much, and he truly lived out Kiriyama Rei, earning him a nomination in the Best Actor category for the 42nd Hochi Film Award. He then proceeded to act in Jojo Bizarre’s Adventure: Diamond is Unbreakable as Hirose Koichi, and despite initial scepticism regarding his appearance, there was minimal negative criticism against his performance in the film; in fact, many reviews have stated him as the highlight. Although Miike Takashi has been rather hit-or-miss lately, Kamiki continued to deliver in their third collaboration, and his subtle shifts of expression were once again on full display. Kamiki then proceeded to star in Amuse’s own Tales of Chigasaki: My Little Hometown, though this was less of an exposure thing and more of an internal tribute to one of Amuse’s greatest products: Southern All Stars. He did a guesting in daily drama Yasuragi no Sato, and this was followed by a voice-acting role in Mary and the Witch’s Flower. He neatly wrapped up 2017 with Keiji Yugami in Asano Tadanobu’s first drama lead attempt by solidly holding his own against the film veteran.
As of 29th November 2017, it was announced that he would be joining the cast of the 2019 NHK taiga Idaten. (Update: He will also be in Fortuna no Hitomi as the main lead with Arimura Kasumi.)
Solid as usual and a perennial ace of Amuse’s stable, Kamiki has been steadily appearing in many projects this year but he has a tendency to lie low in-between, giving off a false impression that he does not have as much exposure. Unlike the others who are still actively doing many projects to maximise exposure, Kamiki is different as he is a veteran and has entered the stability phase of his career despite his relatively young age. The Sangatsu films and Jojo greatly showcase his subtle acting and trademark shifts in expressions.
Where to start with this kid? I don’t even know anymore. There’s something about him that just keeps your attention glued to the screen and, to be fair, even when I know it’s him I sometimes have to do a double take as if to confirm it really is.
While at first the young actor might seem nothing but a pretty, model-like face, the second he starts acting you’ll notice Mackenyu gets really into it. He’ll always making sure to differentiate all the roles he’s acting as which adds to his obvious drive to grow and learn more. The latter of which was clearly shown when he changed his name upon agency transfer, adopting the name of his biggest and most important role to date.
While he hasn’t had any specific characters – so far – I’d really put his name to and his alone, I kind of feel it won’t take too long for us to be shown such a heavyweight role. The new gen will be going hard in 2018 and Mackenyu will without a doubt be part of it.
Mackenyu burst onto the scene in 2015 but only in 2016 did he begin to truly make a case as an up-and-coming actor to be noticed. He continued his rise this year with a change of both name and agency to join Suda in Topcoat, along with secondary lead roles in films such as Peach Girl, Let’s Go Jets and Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure: Diamond is Unbreakable. Mackenyu was also in Boku-tachi ga Yarimashita opposite Kubota Masataka.
He will be in Chihayafuru 3, Over Drive and Funohan (Impossibility Defense), and drama-wise, in Todome no Kiss with a star-studded cast of Yamazaki Kento, Kadowaki Mugi and Araki Yuko.
A very promising actor with clear eyes that are alive and full of stories, he has tried his hand in both shoujo and shounen adaptations, but most roles that deviate from his Arata Wataya in Chihayafuru are still of a similar setup. Currently, those roles are mostly bad boys, reckless, and tend to be a bit of a gangster. His acting manages to differentiate and make each role stand out as a separate existence, but I hope that he will have the chance to tackle other types of roles to bring himself to even greater heights.
Locals went gaga over him. While he started as a Kamen Rider hero and was known to play such fantastic characters, his authentic performance as a local boy who was abandoned as a child in Overprotective Kahoko drew notice. His elevation as an actor was further heightened with the Rikuo casting where he played an ambitious long-distance runner.
Jed’s 3rd [tied with Yamazaki Kento]
Wilderness: Part 1 was enough to convince me that his tendency to overdo things may have passed. I guess it’s a matter of growing up, and having to deal with so many projects at the same time can somehow ruin an actor’s capacity to do his utmost best. That’s the case with Suda but Hibana (film) is another opportunity to shine in a comedy. Tonari no Kaibutsu-kun appears to be the biggest challenge as he enters Yamaken’s territory, yet we wonder if he can “feel” and “become” the role as he tends to have a less “human” touch to his characters, being prone to either run too cold or too exaggeratedly hot-blooded.
I remember the days where Takumi was nothing but the lead vocalist of EBiDAN’s DISH// to me. I mean, I definitely knew he was acting, or had at least done so before, but there hadn’t ever been a reason for me to go and check him out.
It eventually took me years to actually be able to bother looking up some of his acting chops. Perhaps part of the reason I eventually did was him being shown a lot near Murakami Nijiro, someone he ended up being pretty close friends with in the end, but it’s a fact that it got him on my acting radar. And then I noticed… the somewhat slight dark stare which had already been present when he was merely a child had only grown, and his eyes seemed even more full of stories and experiences now he’d gotten a bit older. More well-rounded and a container for a type of growing emotions I’ll always be a fan of.
2017 showed to be a great year for the young band leader slash vocalist slash actor, and his skill got praised all around, manifesting itself in various nominations for his role in Kimi no Suizo wo Tabetai (Let Me Eat Your Pancreas). As of halfway 2018, he’s bagged three out of seven nominations, one of which being Newcomer of the Year at the 41st Japan Academy Prize.
With a popular pop band having his back, and friends all over his age bracket, Takumi is ready to dominate and take as spot as one of the leading figures in the new gen. And I am more than ready to see what he has in store for us next.
Hongo was in Love Concierge as a quirky love hotel manager that was equal parts oddly fascinating and strangely hilarious, and was cast as the main character in Monster Club. He also returned as the titular character in Akagi season 2, which I firmly believe was a wise choice although I am usually not a fan of sequels. In this case, the production team had enough skill to make an entire season of drama centred on a mahjong game appetising enough to the general audience and Hongo’s performance was very enjoyable. Love Concierge season 2 was soon announced, and even though these two dramas were more niche in terms of audience, the fact that both got a season 2 was a good sign and speaks for the continued rise of dramas that air beyond the usual mainstream big broadcasters and genres. Hongo was then revealed to be in Fullmetal Alchemist as Envy and did voice-acting for Inuyashiki (anime).
He will be in Hyouka: Forbidden Secrets with Yamazaki Kento and Hirose Alice, and Inuyashiki with Sato Takeru.
One can always count on Hongo to run a wide range from adorably weird to alluringly sharp like a cold knife. The contrast between the humour in Love Concierge and the suspense in Akagi showcased the best of the two extremes of Hongo Kanata. Though it was disappointing that he was not cast in Tokyo Ghoul as Kaneki Ken, it was perhaps for the better as we got to see more of him on the screen in multiple projects, and I am sure no one will refuse the presence of Akagi the gambler, with his trademark silvery hair and black gloves.
Mahiro has been there for a while, floating around the entertainment world and doing his thing here and there. I got to know him first when a friend who was watching Garo at the time pushed him in my face and I can honestly say I’ve been keeping an eye on him ever since. There’s something about him that makes you curious. He has a calm demeanor yet at the same time clearly knows and understands his surroundings. It’s like he’s always aware of everything. As far as I’ve seen, it shows in his roles, where he always seems to know what to do and how to react.
I definitely haven’t watched enough of him yet, but I do feel he could shoot up to be one of my favorites with a few right castings showing some bigger character development. But his control seems so spot on to me that I can’t help but let my curiosity get the better of me and anticipate whatever he’ll be doing next. After a nicely filled 2017 I’m only expecting more for 2018. Convince me, kid. You nearly have it done anyway.
The upcoming Netflix drama ERASED and new film Colors of the Wind from South Korean filmmaker Kwak Jae-Young are both high profile projects. His scene-stealing stint in the drama Juyo Sankounin Tantei reminds me a little of his career-defining role as Naoki in Itazura na Kiss. He will get another shot at scene stealing in Donten ni Warau and will most likely have fun and face a bit of a challenge in Tonari no Kaibutsu-kun.
Kaye’s Honorable mention
There’s two of these for me, I’d say. On one end there is Furukawa Yuki, and on the other, Yamada Yuki. (I could add Ogoe Yuki to complete the series of Yukis even more but he’s stuck in stage plays for now.)
For Furukawa I’m hoping they’ll stop stuffing him into flat roles and against/among casts where the depth and skill is as interesting as a cardboard cutout. He deserves more attention, roles that are more than just a front. It feels like he holds a lot within him, but his castings lack the space to let it out. At the same time there’s Yamada who I got to know as the crazy Murayama in HIGH & LOW. To me he’s kind of stuck in the same fate as his fellow Yuki where all of his recent roles just feel like they didn’t need him specifically, but just added him because he was free anyway. Whether this is on his agency putting the focus on Seto Koji and Shison Jun at the moment, I have no idea, but I hope he’ll get something worth his time soon enough. Tomodachi Game was at least a good start.
Jia’s Honourable mention
Okada absolutely blew me away with his performance in Gintama and Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure: Diamond is Unbreakable despite not being one of the major leads. He has improved so much since his early days and like Ikuta Toma, he has benefitted from the marks that the years have imprinted onto his acting. Okada is now more matured and able to handle complex expressions and emotions with greater ease. I did not put him on the list simply because I did not follow him as closely and did not wish to rank him without fully understanding his entire year’s work.
Who were your top five actors of 2017 and why? Comment and share with us below!
- Yoshizawa Ryo
- Kamiki Ryunosuke
- Hongo Kanata
- Arata Mackenyu
- Yamazaki Kento
Honorable Mention: Okada Masaki
- Kamiki Ryunosuke
- Takeuchi Ryoma
- Yamazaki Kento & Suda Masaki
- Yoshizawa Ryo
- Furukawa Yuki
- Yoshizawa Ryo
- Arata Mackenyu
- Kitamura Takumi
- Takasugi Mahiro
- Yamazaki Kento
Honorable Mention: Furukawa Yuki & Yamada Yuki