The Battle for the next Top Japanese Dramatic Actress: Tao Tsuchiya, Mayu Matsuoka, Suzu Hirose [ Part 1 of 6 Parts ]

Let’s see. There was a time when Hikari Mitsushima and Sakura Ando were just starting to make a name for themselves in the Japanese movie industry (watch Sion Sono’s Love Exposure to get an idea.). Then there was Chizuru Ikewaki wowing audiences in Josee, The Tiger and The Fish and of course who can forget Mao Inoue in Hana Yori Dango, one of the ultimate J-drama ever! Other big names include Takako Matsu who made waves on the international scene via the school-thriller Confessions and Erika Toda capturing a different set of audience as a top female detective/agent in SPEC. Previously there was Ryoko Hirosue in the Luc Besson-produced Wasabi and the Academy Award-winning Japanese film Departures. 

But more than anyone, it will always be Sayuri Yoshinaga who will best exemplify the Japanese actress ideal.

Yoshinaga Sayuri was born in March 1945, five months before World War II came to an end. She is a movie star whose career can be said to have followed the footsteps of postwar Japan. Although she will soon reach the age of 68, she still projects a youthful image and has an active career as an actress, performing the lead role in a film every two years or so.

Thus far Yoshinaga has acted in more than 100 movies and has fans of all ages. She has won four Japan Academy Prizes for the best actress in a leading role, more than any other actress, and in 2010 she was designated a Person of Cultural Merit, one of Japan’s highest cultural honors. Both in name and in reality, she is one of the foremost stars in the postwar world of film.

[ read more: Last of the Silver Screen’s National Heroines ]

Finally, this list will not be complete if we fail to mention Fumi Nikaido, who at the age of 20, has been nominated for Best Actress already. (She won a major acting award in Venice at the age of 16)

There were many others, but in today’s popular drama and J-movie scenes, we have a completely different set of names competing for high-profile roles. In Part 1 of this 5-part series, we’re putting the spotlight on three who have the greatest potentials.

For me, Tao Tsuchiya has this amazing ability to look different – with just a change of hairstyle. She looks seductive with longer hair and appears naive and innocent with shorter hair. She also has a promising acting range, and in her latest role in Orange, she can really prove if she has what it takes to become one of Japan’s leading dramatic actresses – perhaps not in the same league as Fumi Nikaido and the more senior actresses like Hikari Mitsushima or Chizuru Ikewaki, but she is definitely in a class of her own. Tsubasa Honda is not even a competition. 

In one of her latest movies, Aozora Yell, she was praised by Mark Schilling @Japan Times:

As Tsubasa, Tsuchiya does dewy-eyed, puppy-doggish innocence to perfection, though with 13 screen credits to date, starting with her debut in Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s 2008 “Tokyo Sonata,” she’s hardly a newcomer. She brings an edge to Tsubasa’s pain and a knowingness to her later, tested-by-fire self that speak of real acting, not typical idol-star emoting. [ source ]

Suzu Hirose, on the other hand, has been ‘luckier’ than her older sister Alice in that she was cast in the recent Cannes entry, Umimachi Diary. Together with Haruka Ayase, Kaho, and Masami Nagasawa, she had the international audience to witness her ascent to the top. Can she sustain this momentum? Apparently, a recent casting in the 2-part movie Chihayafuru with Shuhei Nomura is just the right follow-up movie. Her casting as Chihaya in Chihayafuru is debated by fans of the manga and anime version, and that it should have been Mayu Matsuoka who should play the part.

Mayu Matsuoka who has proven herself in dramatic roles is Hirose’s co-star in Chihayafuru (she plays the current Karuta Queen) and is also part of the cast of Strayer’s Chronicle and Samulife. Her appearance in Mondai no Aru Restaurant is more than enough to drum up interest with the more discerning drama audience who likes to watch darker, complex characters. She has this unique voice who can get your attention. A starring role in the short drama She still needs English sub for more people to appreciate her acting. 

In Part 2, we deal exclusively with Hana Sugisaki.


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