There are plenty of articles dealing with the question – what makes a good actor? In Part 2 of our Yamada Ryosuke ‘Momentum’ article, we ask the question: How is he as an actor? (as differentiated to ‘what is he?’ in Part 1).
A good actor ‘internalizes’ the character and makes it his own. A script is as good as the actor who delivers his lines. He needs to make the audience believe that he’s that character and not the star the fans look up to. Critical judgment, therefore, is crucial to make a difference. It’s a fact that fans are beguiled and captivated by the actor’s aura and sphere of influence. After all, the ways of the star-making factory are to make someone appear to be greater than the rest of us. This ‘godlike’ creature can do no wrong, thus the critic is telling lies! Touche!
Good acting makes lasting impressions, while bad acting leaves the audience wanting for more – not sequels, mind you, but to demand more substance. How is Yamada as an actor then? We’ll get to that soon!
Here’s a recent survey on Japan’s ‘Best Actors’:
Topping the survey is Takakura Ken, followed by Yamada Takayuki, and Fujiwara Tatsuya. The final results were tabulated based on votes coming from age-level respondents (20s, up to 50s and 60s). No idea if there are certain criteria to follow, but Takakura Ken is universally loved and admired in Japan. The acclaimed actor also cultivated a strong but modest presence in Hollywood, with castings in high-profile movies, including Black Rain (with Michael Douglas). Mr. Takakura died on November 2014 but left behind an impressive list of movies covering more than 4 decades. [read more]
Why would such comparison even relate to Yamada? Well, he’s not part of that list yet and may take time before people are convinced, but he’s getting there. There is progress since many are already inclined to agree that he’s one of Japan’s future dramatic talents.
I am preparing but not preparing. I have participated in many adaptations, or acted as a patient… in these cases, I can study the original story or go on diet to get into the part. But what should I do for an office role? So I started with the hair color, which is the easy part. (laughs) I spoke with the director and he told me that Takada Yu is a bit different from the normal salaryman. He is the son of the CEO, so even though he himself is an ordinary worker bee, there should be some fantastical elements. Something a bit different from the others, but not very obvious. So, I went for the slightly more flashy suits to differentiate this character from the others. [source]
Yamada talks about preparing for his role in the drama series, ‘Cain and Abel’ (Fuji TV/2016).
In the predominantly Buddhist Japan, tackling biblical personalities seem odd, but Yamada volunteers an explanation – his drama deals with two brothers playing as rivals. The original biblical story ends in tragedy, but the drama offers plenty of conflict and confrontation yet deviates from the same final, tragic outcome. What makes the drama works for me is that it lays down business situations that can happen in real life and spiced it up with some drama for full impact.
What impressed me the most about Yamada’s preparation is the hair – a lot of things can change when an actor alter his hair color. From having blond hair, and looking like a naive, good-natured happy-go-lucky kid, Yamada transformed to jet black and became this shrewd, (even cold and cunning) young executive who would protect his company at all cost – even at the expense of his conservative older brother, who is obviously, not fit to lead their family-owned company. From a timid, unloved younger son to a tenacious, uncompromising negotiator, Yamada proves that despite his average stature (he’s 5’4″), he can be as tall as a giant in the world of business and finance.
I gauge an actor’s ‘acting depth’ by his ability to play ordinary human beings. It’s easy to play superheroes because it’s just make-believe and there is CGI to complement everything. To be a human who differs in belief, moods, and aspirations from the actual you take supreme effort and plenty of confidence.
While his co-star, the great Asano Tadanobu compliments Yamada for certain traits and preparation, as a viewer he failed to convince me otherwise. Says Yamada in an interview:
For me, during the crank-in, my very first scene was a massacre scene, I was really worried whether I could do it or not. But, because in each cut of [Semi’s] scenes, I knew that I’ve completed Semi’s [image] in my mind, unexpectedly it turned out to be okay. Since it was a long take with only one cut, I wonder if it actually helps a little. [read more]
In both Assassination Classroom films, I find Yamada to have given an average performance. While I find him as Semi in Grasshopper to be lacking a bit of substance. I thought his performance is a bit forced, in that I could not find him ‘menacing’ enough. The 50-person, our resident film reviewer share my sentiments:
Yamada’s acting was just the standard killer face like the one he did in Hell Teacher Nube and his character existed mostly to add a random spray of the blood of fight scenes. Nothing too stellar. I didn’t understand the ending either. The director and screenwriter were probably smoking weed or they drank too much Coca-Cola and ended up hallucinating wildly. [read more]
Multi-tasking as an entertainer and actor can be hazardous to one’s health, yet Yamada appears quite engage with work. What he said below seems to indicate a sort of plan or perhaps an aspiration:
With movies, if you don’t want to go watch that movie, then you will never see me act. TV dramas are different. You might turn on your TV one day and suddenly see Caiabe without looking for it. You might keep following the show because you find it interesting. This is very different from films. I feel that for me, for HSJ, if we can increase our exposure to the TV drama, then it is worth it. The first thing I wished for is for the TV show to succeed. Although, what is considered success in these days and ages, I am not very sure. [source]
Exposure brings recognition, if an actor is recognized, then he has more chances for projects since people demand to see him.
A graphical representation of three actors above will show different career path. Is Yamada the most successful among them? You be the judge.
Now, why would such actors as Suda Masaki or Kamiki Ryunosuke not part of the list? In my opinion, both Kamiki and Suda have somehow already realized their potential as actors – there are plenty more they have to do to reach a certain status, but at this point, Yamada, Yamazaki, and Fukushi share certain similarities in the way their careers are at.
In Part 1, we asked – What is he? Is he an actor, an idol, an entertainer? In this part, we ask – How is he, as an actor? In Part 3, we’ll ask – Who is he? Perhaps the most difficult to answer. We’ll see…
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.