PsychoDrama TalkBack by Jed and Jayi: Mackenyu, Yamapi & the generations of Japanese actors!

Welcome to our first Talkback! In here we talk about up and coming Japanese talents – from the ones ‘on the verge’ to those already making waves in the J-Ent scene! In Part 1, we’re putting the spotlight on Mackenyu. Is he the next big Japanese star?

Jayi: I have heard about Mackenyu for quite a while. Seeing his performance in Chihayafuru, I have a strong feeling he will be huge someday.

Jed: I can’t agree with you more. I have seen him in both Chihayafuru movies, and while some may say Shuhei Nomura is excellent in Part 1, I think Mackenyu made a tremendous impact in Part 2. It’s the kind of performance that gets noticed soon enough.

Jayi: I am moved when he cries or sulks – I also notice how the usual tendency of many of his actor peers to overact is something he (thankfully) didn’t have. He has an acting style, and he manages to transform, I have since tried to see snippets of his acting in his other projects…the boy CAN act.

Jed: There was a clip about his previous movies in the US – one, in particular, is about a young Japanese boy who got angry when people started insulting his ancestry. I think Mackenyu’s exposure in doing Western style acting serve him best as he enters the J-ent scene. As you said, many of his peers who did not have that kind of exposure tend to overact, maybe because they are just too conscious of being in front of a camera – the usual open mouth, the incredulous gaze and sometimes the conscious effort NOT to look at the camera. These are mistakes Mackenyu have avoided so far. Still, it’s a long way to go, but I am biased already, he has what it takes to make it big


Jayi: He has a quiet confidence that is really distinct, but this may pose a problem when he gets a chance to play quirky characters. Come to think of it; I don’t think he has played any character like that so far. By quirky, I am thinking Haruma Miura in Samurai High School, Matsujun in HanaDan, Suda Masaki in Princess Jellyfish or Sometani Shota in All Esper Dayo. Mackenyu always seems to look oh so dignified even when he plays a yankee.

Jed: That serious undertone or appeal may be a disadvantage. I don’t know if it’s a conscious effort, but like his dad, Sonny Chiba who made such an impact in martial arts movies, that refined look maybe something inspired by the parent. 

What sort of role you think would be a challenge for him, or let me put it in another way, what character would make him level up his acting and in a way make him a household name just like the guys you’ve mentioned?

Jayi: Probably something like Akira in Nobuta wo Produce? That role and Ashita no Joe are probably the only roles Yamapi did legit well – to his defense, he did them well. People my say how much he sucks at acting but anyone who watched Nobuta wo Produce would agree he was a scene stealer in that drama. He pretty much owned it – a huge chunk of the iconic stuff I recall about Nobuta wo Produce has something to do with Akira.

Back to Mackenyu, I feel his acting talent is innate; there are some legit skills there. I think he can pull it off with the right director at the helm.

Jed: For me, Yamapi is a #deadfisheyes for sure, but had some good performances in the beginning. I think the director and the script can also be reasons why Yamapi failed to impress of late. I still maintain his good acting in Tomorrow’s Joe; he was good there, a fantastic acting match with Yusuke Iseya. In Nobuta, he was – as you said – a scene stealer.

Jayi: Yamapi is one of those regretful talents for me. There was potential there (as showcased in Nobuta, Ashita no Joe and Ikebukuro West Gate Park) but the potential was left unleashed and not honed. Shame. He just seems worse in every new acting project I see him in recently. The #deadfisheyes level just gets higher and higher.

Unlike Yamapi, Mackenyu’s eyes, though. It’s so fiery. It’s a quiet intensity I rarely see in his peers.

Jed: Perhaps the fiery and energy lie with the need to become known as a dramatic actor? And that he wanted to prove himself to be not just the son of Sonny Chiba but someone capable of bringing something new to the scene? I agree with you on the quiet intensity – he is hungry for something, and observing some of the actors who appeared during the same time, he has that particular quality – he is a standout.

Jayi: Yes! I agree. There’s hunger I sense. Probably to deliver? This guy looks determined. And I don’t think he is simply out to be a typical ikemen idol actor out to sell photo books, land tv ads and release CDs. If he plays his cards well and chooses good projects, he will blow up. Now I am curious, what ‘particular quality’ are you pertaining to?

Jed: That quality is something I can see after watching so many Japanese actors for quite some years already. You mentioned the eyes – fiery and intense. 

I followed the careers of so many of them including Ryuhei Matsuda, Satoshi Tsumabuki, Masanobu Ando, Shun Oguri and Takayuki Yamada. They are the standouts for me.

We both observed and agreed in one of our recent chats that there was a lull, a sort of void since after these guys, the new set of actors that created excitement are those from the Sometani-Yagira-Kamiki-Suda generation who are much younger than Oguri, et al 

With Mackenyu, who is junior to both of these actors, this “hunger” to do good – in both deliberate and subtle ways come across for me. He is, in fact, more determined than say, Kentaro Sakaguchi or perhaps Taishi Nakagawa, but then again, who knows? What I think he has is that innate ability to act, I think we both agree on that.

Jayi: I was glad I was not the only one who noticed that slight drought in talent in between. Sure, during that ‘lull,’ famous actors like Sato Takeru and Haruma Miura were launched – but in my honest opinion they were serviceable but certainly not in the same level as say, Sometani Shota or Suda Masaki in terms of acting prowess. Though undeniably they had a pretty high level of marketability and enough talent to deliver.

What makes Mackenyu interesting for me is that the potential is there. He has got some legit acting chops going on based on the projects shown so far. What I think needs to be highlighted is the fact that he’s a presence – you see a lot of ikemen actors, but he has a magnetism that draws the audience to him in every scene where he is present.

Also, his marketability is no joke. I can imagine him being bilingual will help in future endeavors. Pair that up with actual acting talent and being blessed with good looks, you’ve got yourself pretty much a complete package rarely seen and surely desired in the entertainment industry.

Jed: We touched briefly on the generation gap (Tsumabuki-Oguri then Sometani-Suda-Yagira-Kamiki, and the void in between – the Takeru Satoh and Haruma Miura generation. It appears to me that while both have shown promise with Satoh making it big in both critical acclaim (more recently) and box office domination (for 2-3 years now already), they can’t compensate for the ‘void’ of filling up the acting intensity of those “older” batch of actors. Sure, we also have Koji Seto and Shohei Miura as part of that generation.

Haruma, in particular, got a lot of “buzzes” even in the Chinese entertainment scene, though Satoh dominated the whole Asian scene for that matter. I mean Satoh represented the “Japanese actor ideal” in as much as Ken Watanabe did previously, but to a lesser extent. 

No one has yet to conquer Hollywood as Ken Watanabe did. Or to put it in a much bigger perspective – as Toshiro Mifune and Ken Takakura. 

Ninomiya Kazunari could have done that, but he settled to work in the local scene. 

I mentioned them because I think Mackenyu can be the new Japanese guy in Hollywood. That’s still debatable, of course, but he has one particular advantage as you mentioned already – he speaks both Japanese and English. I guess, he has started with a role in Pacific Rim.

What happens next is either:

(1) He gets typecasted as that “poor Japanese boy” who gets discriminated upon, or  

(2) He plays the villain who is always between the romantic leads, or 

(3) He sets a new trend – there are plenty of anime that American or Western audience seem to be crazy about (even though anime is still considered unpopular to US mainstream) and he can play one of those characters.

Speaking of anime, I also think that perhaps this is the year for Ryunosuke Kamiki to make it big as if he’s not “big” already. 

As we talked about previously in one of our chats, we agreed that he needs one particular role – one that has a particular punch to transform himself from being “that young actor in high school roles” to becoming that Japanese player with a lot of versatility. Do you think he got what it takes?


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