A Primer on Psycho Drama’s Top 30 Hottest Young Japanese Actresses

What makes a great actress? Or, let me rephrase that: What makes a great Japanese actress – preferably the younger generation? Looking back at some memorable performances, is Miki Nakatani’s acting in Memories of Matsuko a good measure of how Japanese actresses fare in the international scene? Or should we look up to Yasuko Matsuyuki in Hula Girls (who lost to Nakatani at the Japan Academy for the Best Actress trophy?) Perhaps the proper answer to that is Rie Miyazawa’s win for The Twilight Samurai?

Let’s mention some notable performances through the years as we do our countdown of the 30 hottest Japanese young actresses…

While critics are divided on their impressions of Memories of Matsuko, the praise for Nakatani’s acting is almost universal. What really is about this movie that seems controversial?

All in all a pretty wretched life, but what makes the self-proclaimed “fairy tale tragedy” “Memories of Matsuko” so good, even a little great, is that Matsuko refused to accept so, and accordingly, the film is both a musical and a brilliant whirl of stylized, candy-colored visuals, “The Life of Oharu” by way of a neon “Amelie.” [ read more ]

The mention of the French movie Amelie clicked for me. It’s hard to write a review of this movie, but it’s easy to praise Nakatani. Her performance reminds me of Marion Cotillard (La Vie en rose) or any other actresses who made a big impact in movies.

Nakatani’s performance is described by some as “tour de force” or intense and enigmatic. Yasuko Matsuyuki, on the other hand, was the perfect example of sublime and fiery. In Hula Girls, she played a down and out dancer who was forced to teach provincial girls how to hula dance. Equally impressive is the young Yu Aoi – dancing is already her trademark even during the early part of her career.

It’s quite disappointing that the superb Yu Aoi is forced to play second lead to the likes of Emi Takei. This is quite evident in Rurouni Kenshin, where Aoi still shines. There’s got to be some sort of common sense in the way actors are cast in Japan. Take for instance Ayame Gouriki – one of the worst actings I’ve seen in many years!

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The Twilight Samurai

Hula Girls

More Acting Mentions: How about perennial favorite Kirin Kiki in Tokyo Tower or Chronicle of my Mother? Should young actresses copy her style? Then there’s Sayuri Yoshinaga in Kabei: Our Mother… and the less seasoned but definitely acclaimed Takako Matsu. International audiences may be familiar with Matsu in Confessions, but her acting in Villon’s Wife and Dreams for Sale were much better.

Let’s not forget Kimiko Yo, who is probably one of the most nominated actresses in the Japanese acting awards circle.

If Kirin Kiki is one of the most senior in this article, then Mao Inoue is probably one of the youngest to get the Best Actress trophy at the Japan Academy.

Sayuri Yoshinaga - Chjorus of Angles, Kabei: Our Mother

Villon's Wife 

Someone said:

Actors are both born and made. There are actors who have raw talent but then don’t cultivate it. Then there are like people who can’t distinguish their left foot from their right, who turn out to be great dancers.

Perhaps we can use that as a standard of sorts…

In the international scene, one of the most recognized Japanese actresses is Rinko Kikuchi. Kikuchi made history by being nominated for an Oscar after 50 years. Kikuchi is also the fifth actress in Academy Award history to be nominated for an award for a role in which she does not speak a word.

Tokyo Tower, Chronicle of my Mother - Kirin Kiki




What is a great actor? What is a real actor? What are the criteria for a great actor? Nobody knows. Nobody can decide those criteria and I don’t want anybody deciding them for me. There is no predetermined hierarchy of great acting. It’s not that absolute or simple. Also, your essence will always show through. You can try to cover it up with acting, but something of yourself will always be noticeable. That essence of yourself is more important than trying to be a great actor. [Kikuchi in her interview with Midnight Eye ]

This serves as an introduction to our annual Top 30 hitlist of Japanese actresses!

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