The ‘Momentum’ of Yamada Ryosuke: Idol, Actor, Entertainer – What is he? [Part 1/3]

Yamada Ryosuke

It would be easy to dismiss Yamada Ryosuke as a celebrity disguising himself as a dramatic actor if he has nothing to show after 10 years. That seems to be not the case. Born May 9, 1993, he began his ascent as a Japanese idol in 2007 as a member of Hey! Say! JUMP, and established his footing into the J-dorama scene by playing one of the 5 aspiring teen detectives in Tantei Gakuen Q on the same year.

YamadaRyosuke TV dramas
Yamada Ryosuke TV superhero roles/’normal’ role:  Tantei Hidarime Eye, The Files of Young Kindaichi (series) and Risou no Musuko.

The detective drama produced by NTV cast Yamada opposite child actors Kamiki Ryunosuke and Shida Mirai after seeing him on a rehearsal for a live performance arranged by his agency.

The producer, Hazeyama Hiroko, described Yamada as someone who possesses a ‘special talent’. She even went further, claiming the actor to have a ‘unique aura’ and is matured for his age. As the general manager of NTV’s drama productions, her words carry a certain weight within and outside the industry. Hazeyama is a graduate of Tokyo Women’s University with a degree in Social Studies and joined Nippon Television (NTV) in 1983.

From being in-charge of variety programs, she moved to the drama production department in 1994. In 2009, she becomes a chief producer of the Drama bureau, then as Senior Producer. She is currently the Deputy Director of the Production Bureau and General Manager of Drama Production. She has a long history of collaborating with Yamada and is directly involved with casting him in Tantei Hidarime Eye, The Files of Young Kindaichi (series) and Risou no Musuko, among others.

The interview that follows indicates that there is a strong bond between the NTV producer and Yamada. She went on to ‘hint’ that she’s the actor’s ‘Mother’ when it comes to the entertainment community. Well, I guess we all know how stage mothers can ruin her child’s acting career if she meddles too much. In this case, Hazeyama’s ‘meddling’ has only positive effects.

Yamada’s acting career path is assured, at least, to the extent of getting the exposure to take on superhero characters. In contrast, Kamiki Ryunosuke (his co-star in Tantei Gakuen Q) was also exposed to a similar path but being a pure actor had many and diverse opportunities.

While Nakajima-kun, Chinen-kun, and Arioka-kun were pretty sociable, Yamada-kun was pretty quiet. At that time, I wondered if he was actually like that or if he was just acting quietly because he was in front of [adults].  Nevertheless, since he was just a 15-16-year-old boy, I would not go and tell him how to behave as an actor; and because he was very shy, he also didn’t speak to me much.  One thing I noticed was that no matter what we asked him to do, he would work very hard to do his best for the job without any complaint, and I think there was nothing more necessary than this level of professionalism.  Oh, and he cried uncontrollably when we finished production. (laughs) Because he imposed such a high standard on himself, and he exudes a grandiose/splendid aura, one would think that this person is going have a spectacular future and would want to follow his progress.  After that, he was cast as the lead actor on Hidarime Tantei Eye.  The Saturday 9 pm slot was started by Kinki Kids, and slowly expanded to become a “young superhero” drama slot.  There aren’t a lot of teenagers who are able to take up the lead role in such a slot, but I suppose Yamada-kun is one such person.  He could memorize his lines very well and he brought the attitude of someone far older than his age (adult-like) when considering the comments from the directors.  These qualities are the foundations of someone who is capable of acting in the lead role of such a drama. []

Fast forward to 2017, Yamada Ryosuke has made 5 feature films, all of which are box office successes, a Rookie from the Japan Academy Prize (for Assassination Classroom) and more than a dozen TV shows and specials. All of these achievements while dancing, singing and performing on stage as a Johnny and Associates contract talent.


Assassination Classroom
Assassination Classroom Live action. (C) Warner Bros. Japan. All Rights Reserved.

Hayezama further comments:

I see that he is now active in the movie business, filming Assassination Classroom and Fullmetal Alchemist. Naturally, those are the same type of Saturday 9 pm young hero role.  As someone who is well suited to these types of characters, it was great that he was able to gain recognition in the film industry [with these roles].  Being able to lead movies within 10 years and being able to receive awards is a good testament to his hard work in the past 10 years, as well as an indication that he is better known to the broader audience.  Is this something a parent would say? (laughs) I am very glad that he is so active in the industry, and I had constantly told him that it was great.  I am looking forward to his adulthood, to the type of roles he creates in his future film career.  Will he still play these superhero-type characters, or will he play something else?  It is rare for actors to be able to handle both the superhero and the normal characters, so if he can do it, that will be awesome. []

One thing that can be said about NTV’s general manager is that she confirms what we have been theorizing all these years. It takes a mentor for an actor to gain traction (and leverage) in such careers as acting or any other profession for that matter. While we are not privy to the inner workings of most of these Japanese talent agencies, we recognize a certain pattern:

  • The Koreeda-Yagira Yuya collaboration for Nobody Knows pushes for the Cannes Best Actor envelop to drop at Yagira’s hands, making him one of the youngest acting recipient in international film festivals. Yagira’s return – after a problematic hiatus  – to the industry is also thru a powerful collaboration with another filmmaker (i.e. mentor) in Sang Il-Lee for The Unforgiven;
  • Sono Sion’s distinctive work with Sometani Shota for Himizu, Tokyo Tribe and the TV series All ESPer Dayo! follows the same ‘synergy’. Sometani follows up on Yagira by winning a prestigious acting award, this time in Venice;
  • Satoh Takeru and his handler up the ante by arranging for differing collaboration. After Ohtomo Keishi and the Kenshin trilogy, Satoh went on to do movies with Nagai Akira, Kurosawa Kiyoshi, and One Hitoshi. Delivering on what the NTV manager described as hero type-ordinary person duality;
  • Kamiki Ryunosuke follows closely with Satoh, yet he appears to be even ahead. His years of experience as a child actor who successfully transitioned himself as an adult performer can be a major topic of studies in acting schools. 
Yamada’s career path seems to follow a more complicated route in that he has to multitask – he is not purely an actor after all.
Hazeyama did not mention The Miracles at Namiya General Store, where Yamada plays an ordinary-person type. While there is a supernatural element to the LA adaptation of the well-beloved book, the Japanese audience fell for it, and Japan Times’ Shogi Kaori concludes:

There’s a lot of misty-eyed nostalgia in “Namiya,” especially for the way things were in 1980 when the country wasn’t yet spoiled by wealth and things were more relaxed. Even in Tokyo, there were hardly any convenience stores and housewives routinely shopped at neighborhood establishments like Namiya General. The Japanese have a soft spot for such cozy mom-and-pop stores, sentō (public baths) and family-run shokudō (diners) — all of which have been replaced by 24-hour convenience stores and Saizeriya franchises. As for letter-writing, we all know what happened to that little ritual. []


Yamada Ryosuke’s drive into dramatic roles continues with The Miracles of the Namiya General Store (Namiya Zakkaten no Kiseki), where he plays one of the three youth who gives advice to a young girl from another time. [full report here]

Miracles of the Namiya General Store was written during the rapid economic growth of Japan in the late 1970s until the stagnation economic life of the 1990s. Through time and space, the general store’s residents provide a free consultation to people’s various serious troubles. The strange thing about this novel is that the three youths live in the present time, and they communicate with the people who live in the past time. The story starts with the three thieves, who are on the run, and discover an old abandoned general store as a hideout. [ read more ]

Is everything perfect for Yamada after 10 years? Not exactly. There is still a huge gap between what Yagira, Kamiki, et al have accomplished that Yamada has yet to begin, but he and his agency are apparently devising a unique career path for the actor. After all, Yamada at 24 is at the prime of his career and his work ethic has delivered many of his goals to this point.


Fullmetal Alchemist – Warner Bros. Japan, All Rights Reserved.

Fullmetal Alchemist has yet to be released, but early critical reviews have been blunt. There is, as to be expected, a different response from fans who have seen it already. Let’s see the critical divide:

The Live-Action ‘Fullmetal Alchemist’ Feels like an Early 2000s Comic Book Movie [Joshua Meyer @SlashFilm]:

One of those kids, however, grows up to be the adult Ed, played by Ryosuke Yamada, a teen idol and J-pop boy band member whose dyed yellow hair (or is it a bad wig?) feels like a stunt Justin Bieber would pull if he were cast as some heretical new Spider-Man. In the manga, Ed is described as a 15-year-old runt; here is played by a 24-year-old of medium height. In principle, of course, there is nothing wrong with letting a character be played by an actor who is older or taller than they should be (Hugh Jackman is certainly no runt, yet he took the character of Wolverine and made it his own). Yamada, however, seems out of his depth. In the end, despite emoting with many tearful outbursts, he just seems woefully miscast. []

FMA Live-action movie full summary/review

Far from being dry and humorless, it actually had some fantastic comedic moments that were very true to the manga. Some old running gags (Ed’s height, people mistaking Al for the Fullmetal Alchemist) were included, but never overdone, with less jokes repeated in the entire two hours or so of the movie than there were in the 30 minutes of the first episode of Brotherhood. The jokes felt very well integrated with the rest of the movie, too, although most of them were at the beginning with few jokes towards the middle and climax of the movie. My favorite joke was probably when Ed transmuted something ridiculous and ugly, as usual, and Al actually put his hands on his head in dismay at Ed’s aesthetic taste. Everyone in the room laughed at that. The acting was fantastic! Everyone was great, honestly, I was going to give my favorite but that would just be all the major characters. That being said, it’s definitely clear how much effort Yamada put into trying to make his Ed true to the manga. []

In Part 2, let’s dive deeper into Yamada’s acting style, and some more interview quotes. Plus, who are the Japanese actors to watch out for according to the latest Nikkei Actors’ Index.


Special thanks to YamaEdo for all the links and resourceful references. The text of the English translated interview of NTV producer and general manager for Drama productions Hazeyama Hiroko was sourced from celiaSee.

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