In a moment of curiosity – I mean, I do know a lot of faces – I started picking my brain, writing down the names of any up-and-coming actors I could remember, and continued adding every single young one I passed through the next few months. You can imagine, the list ended up pretty huge.
So to set at least some boundaries, I’ll be keeping it to those born in-between ‘96-’00 for our next article series, with those younger still having to find their way into the industry while the older ones generally already have their name out to some degree. The series of names popping up here and there feels never-ending, and the list grows longer and longer every single day. How many are you familiar with?
The lead three need no introduction, I’m sure. Arata Mackenyu (Topcoat) and Kitamura Takumi (Stardust), mainly, are easily the ones in the lead this new generation and from what I’ve seen in the past few years I’m sure they’ll remain such for quite a while. Takasugi Mahiro’s (Spice Power) inclusion might seem odd but there’s no reason for him not to be taken as an upcoming bigshot either. He’s been around for quite a while and whether it’s from Kamen Rider Gaim or any of his more recent projects, his name is certainly known by now. If you’d be doubting, the three took care of the leads for the male side of 12nin no Shinitai Kodomotachi together!
Shimizu Hiroya (’99 – Office Saku)
Despite having been around for the past seven years, it seems a lot of people still think of him as a rookie actor, but once you’ve seen a few of Hiroya’s projects, and notice his range, you’ll realize it’s been more than just a few years. For a while though, he was the youngest. The youngest in the sense he wouldn’t be found around many regular child star roles, but instead would be trying his hand at a whole bunch of different vibes. Think The World of Kanako or Solomon’s Perjury, and then the switch towards Chihayafuru and last year’s 3D Kanojo. The now 20-year-old has gone from one side to the other and still has many more years to develop his skill.
A fun fact might be that he never actually intended to become an actor, but after having been forced into a school play he couldn’t do anything but admit he loved it. Hiroya was subsequently recruited by the agency that also manages the acting career of his older brother, Shimizu Naoya, but eventually ended up at the Matsuda family managed Office Saku near the end of 2017.
Latest projects include the special drama Sagideka (starring Kimura Fumino and Takasugi Mahiro), and the most recent Sadako movie alongside Ikeda Elaiza.
Murakami Nijiro (’97 – Decade)
Born as the only child to actor Murakami Jun and singer UA, the entertainment business is likely nothing more than the most normal career choice for the now 22-year-old Murakami Nijiro. Though maybe his admiration for Sometani Shota when he was still a teen might have had a hand in it as well.
Much like Hiroya, Nijiro has been one sticking to the sides of the movie business, seemingly preferring a bigger variety with more indie and alternative projects in contrast to most of his agemates. His first ever role in movie Still the Water – which debuted at the Cannes Film Festival in 2014 – immediately set the tone, while his inclusion in the Tenshi no Naifu drama – starring alongside Shimizu Hiroya and Kitamura Takumi – only added to it.
Despite only having been around for the past five years, Nijiro has already won quite a few awards. His participation in Destruction Babies in 2016 even gave him a Best New Actor win at three different major festivals. A year later, he dabbled in voice-acting as Shishigami Hiro in the anime adaptation of Inuyashiki. He was joined by fellow actor Hongo Kanata as the character’s close friend. A live action adaptation of the story also exists, and while Hongo reprised his role, Sato Takeru took over Shishigami. Which, to be honest, was likely for the best.
Nakagawa Taishi (’98 – Stardust)
Barely 21 and already a 10 year long career behind him? That’s Nakagawa Taishi we’re talking about, one of Stardust’s few non-EBiDAN young actor pushes of the moment. Did you know he basically graduated from children roles early since his growth spurt made him look older than he was? ReLife even went a step further and cast him as the 27-year-old lead while he’d been barely 18 himself during filming. Though, well, he also had to appear 10 years younger for the biggest part of the storyline so it all worked out in the end.
It wasn’t till 2015 Taishi started grabbing his first proper leading roles, with the same year also being the true start of his film resume with a recurring role in two installments of the Tsuugaku Series. And while to many he will likely always be part of Suikyu Yankees drama baka trio – Including Chiba Yudai, Yoshizawa Ryo, and himself – it’s the more recent Hana Nochi Hare which is likely seen as his biggest effort to date. The sequel series to well-loved Hana Yori Dango had watchers in its grip for a while, as all everyone seemed to want to know was whether Sugisaki Hana’s character was going to end up with Nakagawa Taishi’s Tenma, or Hirano Sho’s Haruto.
The young actor is currently starring as a violinist in drama G Senjou no Anata to Watashi, an adaptation of the manga of the same name.
Sano Hayato (’98, M!LK – Stardust)
Another one from Stardust camp is Sano Hayato. Same age as Taishi but, unlike him, part of EBiDAN. He was scouted at the 25th Junon Super Boy Contest, and eventually put in M!LK, a 5 member (at the time) pop group. Both the group as well as Hayato’s acting career launched in 2015, and he’s been grabbing roles left and right since.
The 21-year-old is currently starring in the newest Satomi Hakkenden stage play. Nishijima Takahiro (Nissy, AAA) played the lead character in the ’12 version of the play, while Hayato’s agencymate Yamazaki Kento took the main role in the ’14 and ’17 runs.
Most people will likely remember him as Tsukuba in the latest Chihayafuru adaptation, or maybe from the Todome no Kiss drama which was led by Yamazaki Kento. Either way, his name will likely stick at some point because with eight movies in the past two years alone, I’m sure he’ll continue to make his mark.
Ito Kentaro (’97 – aoao)
For me, Ito Kentaro – originally known as just Kentaro – is the odd one out. The only one of this first batch of young actors who I didn’t see coming. He was just suddenly there.
Despite not having known about him till a few years ago now, his acting career already spans about six in total. A Bump of Chicken music video in 2013 slowly sent him off into the drama and movie world. The latter of which he did with a role in the popular Ore Monogatari!! live action.
In 2015, Kentaro got to be part of the Terrace House panel – both Boys and Girls in the City and Aloha State – where he got a lot of attention for his commentary as well as bringing a good balance to the panel’s generally older members. He eventually stepped out of the project, focusing on his growing acting career instead, and went on to star in series such as Netflix’s Good Morning Call.
His more prominent roles came in 2017, including a lead role as bright red-haired Sata Masaki in Demekin (alongside Yamada Yuki), and Kuroshima Yuina led time-slip series Ashi Girl. The drama, based on a manga of the same name, got quite a bit of attention, resulting in an SP episode airing more than a year after the drama had already ended its run. Another first time came in the form of Drive Head, an anime movie released in 2018. It was the actor’s voice acting debut.
Kentaro is set to star alongside Kudo Haruka in a Noboru Kotera-san movie adaptation next year. He will also join the cast of asadora Scarlet.
Yokohama Ryusei (’96 – Stardust)
Big winner of the past year is without a doubt Stardust’s Yokohama Ryusei. While I still mostly remember him from his first ever proper drama role in Riaru Onigokko: The Origin – alongside agencymate Hongo Kanata – it’s undeniable his 2019 roles are what shot him into the spotlight. I mean, who hasn’t seen him pass by either as pink-haired fluff Yuri Kyohei (Hajimete Koi wo Shita Hi ni Yomu Hanashi) or somewhat-of-a-loner and skilled fighter Nikaido Shinobu (Anata no Ban Desu) in the past year?
The 23-year-old is nowhere near a rookie when it comes to fighting, as for years his focus lay on Karate and Kyokushi. He’s known to have won 1st place in his category at the 7th International Youth Karate Championships in 2011. He even insisted on doing – part of – his own fighting scenes while filming for Sentai Ressha Sentai ToQger, despite fellow cast members dubbing over their suit/stunt actors’ scenes. Episode 33 of the series was focused on Karate after a request by Ryusei himself.
After his inclusion in the Kiseki – Ano Hi no Sobito movie cast – based off of the GReeeN song of the same name – it seems the groups’ producer Jin took a liking to him, promptly producing Ryusei’s music debut, Kyou mo ii Tenki. He further went to star in another GReeeeN song movie adaptation, Ai Uta, earlier this year.
The aftermath of the pink hair dye has left Ryusei with a pile of roles, awards, opportunities, and over a million more Instagram followers than he had last year around the same time. He’s currently starring in the 4-punkan no Marigold LA drama, with leading roles in movie Kimi no Me ga Toikakete Iru and drama Shiro demo Kuro demonai Sekai de, Panda wa Warau. planned for release in 2020.
I’ll leave you with a nice feature of his in the latest amazarashi MV. Enjoy~
Up next: With not just Sano Reo and Sato Kanta but also Morinaga Yuki, Kaneko Daichi, and Nakao Masaki, it feels like the next group of up-and-coming actors might as well be called The 96ers but there’s plenty others to put some spotlight on. Be sure to keep a lookout for the next batch (and the one after that, and the one after that…) and maybe pick up some new rookies of your own along the way~