I want to understand how exactly actors get movie or TV drama roles in Japan. We can only make a list of the best and worst casting choices without knowing anything that goes behind the casting. But then again, it’s easy to make a list and hard to get those ‘facts.’
Here’s what we know:
- Production Committees make all the important choices, including the director and the cast;
- Talent agencies are part of these boards, and they have their roster of talents. Amuse got Haruma Miura, Takeru Satoh, Ryunosuke Kamiki; while Stardust manages Kento Yamazaki, Masataka Kubota, Yuya Yagira. Topcoat has Masaki Suda and Tori Matsuzaka. Of course, Johnny’s got the idols including Junichi Okada, Nino, Kame, Toma Ikuta, Yuto Nakajima. Ken-On promotes Sota Fukushi.
- Cast and crew get low pay compared to their Hollywood counterparts; they can’t even match what the Chinese or the Koreans are getting, according to many reports;
- The producers of a successful TV series, when adapted into a movie, will have ‘priority seats’ in the committee. Cast and crew can be same, or some casting choices have to be made to assure that there is a success in the box office;
- There is enough income to be had in the local market.
In our interview with Don Brown, he said:
I think the real problems in commercial cinema are Japanese showbiz as a whole, specifically the idol industry and the whole culture of amateurish performance, overbearing management, and myopic fandom that surrounds it. There’s also the adherence to an overly theatrical and simplistic style of drama that many viewers are accustomed to and demand, which is standard in television drama, and now in film too because the line between them has become so blurred. [ read more ]
Brown’s emphasis on the three are worthy of discussions:
- Amateurish performance;
- Overbearing management;
- Myopic fandom;
Yoko Narahashi, a successful casting director in Hollywood, has a piece of advice to Japanese actors:
I wish young Japanese people to be more adventurous and open minded, and go overseas. Instead of locking themselves in the convenience of Japan, I wish that they meet a variety of people abroad. They should experience unexpected thoughts and values in order to enrich their lives. I think it would be too good to ignore for their lives just because feeling troublesome to go overseas. [ source ]
She surmised that “Japanese artists have gained splendid reputations for their morality, attentiveness, respect for the discipline and commitment and such.” But she also feels “young Japanese people are still conservative.”
With that said, we go back to the state of “sakoku” (the period when Japan shuts out to the outside world).
The Elite Actors Squad – on Spotlight
It’s hard to put some ‘light’ into overbearing management, but what comes across is that whoever is popular (or in demand) gets the lion share of casting privileges. For instance, let’s take the case of Masaki Suda and Kento Yamazaki. I find both of them to be highly competent and competitive actors. But I don’t think they have much to say about their projects, unlike Shota Sometani who – it appears to be – have some freedom to do indie films or even produce his own.
Talent management is born out of need. They make things work for the actors, but not all agencies are created equal. And so are the players they manage.
Over the years, when you cast Ryunosuke Kamiki to play one of the main supporting characters, he – almost always – overshadowed the lead. Kamiki’s gift of acting is that he is a natural. In ‘As the God’s Will,’ Kamiki overrun the court and make Sota Fukushi his latest victim.
In Japan, if you have something negative to say, it’s best not to voice it out loud. Just like Japanese film critics who will react negatively to a movie, but would not bother to explain why. The same may apply to these talent agencies – to some extent, of course.
Would you say that an actor’s ability suck when he brings money to the table? Fukushi is a #deadfisheyes and will remain so if his agency does not try to face up to the reality. Just as Narahashi says, they need to go outside of Japan to face uncertainty and deal with it.
The Curious Case of Yuki Furukawa
Variety has interviewed Koji Hyakutake, the chief operating officer of Gaga Corporation and one of the topics has to do with Itazura na Kiss. He said the movie version could be advantageous from a “business standpoint.” He added that “The story is popular not only in Japan but also across Asia, including in South Korea, Taiwan, and Thailand. It started as a manga; then it became a TV drama and an animation, but it has never been a movie.”
Speaking of ItaKiss, the drama series virtually made Yuki Furukawa a star. While he may not be ultra popular in Japan, he commands a big following all over China and the rest of South East Asia. There are three Itazura na Kiss movies (2016-2017), but instead of Furukawa, Kanta Sato was cast to play Furukawa’s part – Naoki Irie, the smart but cold protagonist of the series. So they take away an actor who already have some good exposure in doing movies and bring in someone – a member “of stage troupe “Gekidan EXILE.” Just how dumb is that? I understand that Furukawa is getting “old” but who is that new guy?
The Idols at Johnny’s
Among the idols at Johnny’s and Associates, it’s Yuto Nakajima who stands out. There is still a long way to go for Nakajima to achieve ‘critical’ acting success, but he is just right up to the alley.
What Toma Ikuta has gained – from the debacle of The Fallen Angel to the dramatic transformation in The Brain Man is a testament to what an actor can do given the right motivation and guidance.
Looking back, the Johnny’s have always been at the forefront of Japanese entertainment and in the movie scene – they have Takuya Kimura, Junichi Okada, Ikuta, Kamenashi Kazuya, and Ninomiya Kazunari.
Nino, in particular, is the perfect casting choice for The Blue Light – Ao no Honō (青の炎). The 2003 thriller features Nino as a young boy who plans the death of his stepfather. The impact of that film remains high until now, celebrating Kazunari’s impressive acting. [ Movie is set to be released after 12 years ] While he is known for his role in Clint Eastwood’s Letter from Iwo Jima, there are also plenty of works to impress the fans.
After winning Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor trophies simultaneously for The Eternal Zero and The Samurai Chronicle back in 2015, Junichi Okada is – once again – touted to have another claim for an acting prize. This time, he is playing an ‘oil man’ in A Man Called Pirate. A previous Hollywood film entitled ‘There Will Be Blood’ starring Daniel Day-Lewis comes to mind. These types of roles suit Okada perfectly, though I have reservations for his characterization of that Library Wars’ Atsushi Dojo.
In Part One of this series, we feature some of the best casting choices, including Joe Odagiri for Mushishi and Takeru Satoh for Rurouni Kenshin. In Part Two, we discussed ‘whitewashing’ as a controversial issue haunting casting choices for Asian actors.
The Rundown: Best and Worst Casting List
I saw one of the intros to the new Death Note movie. It stars Suda, Ikematsu, and Masahiro Higashide. I saw little of them because it’s a rehash of the old DN movies featuring Tatsuya Fujiwara and Kenichi Matsuyama. But the casting for this popular supernatural series has become – somewhat of a – casting standard in Japan. Fujiwara and Matsuyama are two of the best actors of their generation, even though Fujiwara has been guilty of overacting many times – still, he has some box office success to his credit.
Selecting Sometani and Fumi Nikaido (for Sion Sono’s Himizu) is, for me, one of the best casting choices ever made. The same for Yuya Yagira in Hirokazu Koreeda’s Nobody Knows. Both movies earn for Japan recognition for its local talents.
The trio of Sakura Ando, Hikari Mitsushima, and Takahiro Nishijima for Love Exposure, an earlier Sion Sono movie is also noteworthy for its smart casting choices. Satoshi Tsumabuki and Chizuru Ikewaki (with Juri Ueno playing a supporting role) put Josee, The Tiger, and The Fish as one of the best contemporary Japanese movies.
Aside from Nikaido, Haru Kuroki, and the ever reliable Yu Aoi, the best and most promising young actresses today are Mugi Kadowaki, Mayu Matsuoka, Mitsuki Takahata, Tao Tsuchiya, Yuina Kuroshima, Fumika Shimizu and Hana Sugisaki.
Suzu Hirose and Kasumi Arimura are not bad actresses, but they need to try developing their acting styles. I think Matsuoka (Chihayafuru) and Nikaido (Nanimono) can play their roles better.
For me, there is no worst casting than having Ayame Gouriki play the lead in The Black Butler. It’s just a horrible choice. Mizuki Yamamoto did her job better as the housemaid, and yes, she looks better than the bland actress. Her male counterpart is Sota Fukushi, but there is still time for improvements in his case. Hopefully, it will come sooner than later.
How about you? Are there any particular casting choices you don’t agree? Why is that?