The Transformation of Yuya Yagira

It’s a delight to know that award-winning Japanese actor Yagira Yuya – 柳楽優弥 has a twitter account! Suffice to say, we @PsychoDrama are inspired to launch a special feature on the actor celebrating his most amazing films! Born 26 March 1990, Yagira has done more than 30 full length-films and TV series. During the 90th Kinema Junpo Film Awards, Yagira won Best Actor for Mariko Tetsuya’s Destruction Babies.

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Yuya Yagira photo courtesy of the actor from his Twitter account

In what can be considered Yuya Yagira’s most challenging role to date (after Nobody Knows and Gassoh), his depiction of Taira is devoid of any human emotions. Except for a few grunts and sighs as he recovers from one bloody fight on his way to the next, he remains cool and collected despite the beatings. Unlike other actors who get overwhelmed by the confusion and chaos in filming violent, demanding scenes, Yagira looks inspired, almost serene and otherworldly. [read our movie review here]

Let’s take a closer look at how he got started as an actor…

After winning the Best Actor for Nobody Knows at the 57th Cannes Film Festival at the age of 15, Yuya Yagira initially struggled with fame and the glare of the spotlight, plus the nasty attitude of the press who constantly hunted him down for gossip and news. After finishing All to the Sea (Subete wa umi ni naru) back in 2010, he took a sort of hiatus and came back to making movies three years later.

Since he’s used to be under the direction of an award-winning filmmaker (Koreeda), it took another critically acclaimed director to cast him – Sang-il Lee for the remake of Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven (Yurusarezaru Mono). In an interview by Cinema Cafe, Yagira was reported to have expressed some doubts if he can do the role some justice. He was to play Goro – a sort of a vagabond who became Ken Watanabe’s ally.


Photo from the movie Unforgiven 許されざる者, Copyright (c) Warner Bros. All Rights Reserved.

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If you’ve seen the movie, you can see the complete transformation of Yagira – from the cool, passionate kid who was forced to take care of his siblings in Nobody Knows to the naughty yet kind-hearted Goro Sawada in the Japanese remake of the award-winning western film.

There’s also Yuya Yagira, who famously beat the likes of Tony Leung Chiu-wai (2046), Choi Min-sik (Oldboy) and Tom Hanks (The Ladykillers) to become, at the age of 14, the youngest winner of the best actor prize at Cannes in 2004 with Nobody Knows. 

That’s a quote from South Cina Morning Post on Yuya Yagira and how he was mentored by Koreeda [ read more here ]

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Yuya Yagira photo courtesy of the actor from his Twitter account

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The differences between them and their performances kind of dictated how we needed to edit the film. We needed to structure the film around their performances. Yuya Yagira would get better after several takes, while Ayu Kitaura was very consistent from take to take and the two youngest were best on the first take. That meant that for example in a scene between Yuya and the two youngest kids, we would let all three of them act, but we would fix the camera on the two kids on the first take and keep Yuya outside the frame. Then on the later takes for the same scene we would frame Yuya and keep the two kids off screen. So even if the film feels like a documentary, it contains quite a lot of cuts because we had to devise the editing around the children. We also made regular use of fixed camera positions.

Koreeda describing the young actors of Nobody Knows during their shoot.

This is my favorite Yuya Yagira bio, as it appeared in IMDb:

He decided to be an actor. By himself. On his own. Just him. His very first audition was Nobody Knows (2004). He quickly got the part. Shooting of Nobody Knows (2004) had some little breaks, so he acted other roles in the interval on a mini TV series, “Denchi ga kireru made” and “Kunimitu no sei.” He won the Best Actor of Cannes Film Festival. He is the youngest and the first Japanese winner. He won the Award but he didn’t/doesn’t/won’t put on airs. – – –  

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Yuya Yagira photo courtesy of the actor from his Twitter account

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Another movie – Again (Yurusenai Aitai) – confirms the transformation as Yagira portrays a young, volatile teen who was involved in a rape. Remarks Mark Schilling in his review:

At the same time, Yagira does his best work since he won the best-actor prize at Cannes as the 14-year-old lead in Hirokazu Koreeda’s 2004 film “Dare mo Shiranai (Nobody Knows).” The coiled, watchful intensity of the child, we see, is still present in the man. [ read more ]

We concur with our own movie review:

With less screen time, Yagira has enough scenes to turn an equally impressive run as the wild and insecure Ryutaro. I have come to the conclusion that his excellent debut in Koreeda’s Nobody Knows is due to how he expresses himself without words. Yagira is an effective actor when he deals with less dialogue, allowing his eyes and body language to express his feelings for him. This is also evident in his more recent film, Mariko Tetsuya’s Distraction Babies and even in the historical drama, Gassoh. [read our movie review here]

Photo from movie Yurusenai Aitai ゆるせない、逢いたい

Japanese tyro helmer Junichi Kanai explores the gray areas of date rape with empathy and insight in “Again,” centered around an adolescent victim whose complex reactions encompass more than pain, anger and desire for justice or revenge. Tightly directed and played by an emotionally attuned cast, the film not only provides a credible class-based framework for its characters’ motives, but also achieves a full coming-of-age portrait, capturing the confusion of first love as well as a fraught mother-daughter dynamic. The pic has a good shot at festivals, though its TV-style production values and conventional, expositional style will limit its release potential to home formats.

Maggie Lee’s review of Again which appeared in Variety.

Photo from TV series Aoi Honoo from TV Tokyo, from July 18 – September 27, 2014.  h- –

And again more movies – as a gang leader in Crows Explode and the upcoming Ushijima the Loan Shark Part 2 (Yamikin Ushijima- kun Part 2) as a serial killer. Can there be a more drastic, major transformation than that?

Aoi Honoo, his first TV lead role is an acting milestone for Yagira:

Set in the early 1980’s, Moyuru (Yuya Yagira) is a student at an art school in Osaka. He is full of passion and desire in his pursuit to become a manga writer. He also doesn’t lack confidence in his abilities. Morinaga Tonko (Yamamoto Mizuki) is Honoo’s senior at school and the manager of the badminton team which Honoo belongs to. Right before summer vacation, Moyuru makes a decision. He decides to take his manga manuscripts to a publishing company in Tokyo.

Photo from movie Destruction Babies ディストラクション・ベイビーズ Copyright (c) Shochiku Co., Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

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Mitsuhama, a small port in the west of Ehime prefecture. Abandoned by their parents, the two brothers Taira (Yuya YAGIRA) and Shouta Ashiwara (Nijiro MURAKAMI) live in a shipyard by the sea. Taira often fights with students from a city nearby, but he disappears from Mitsuhama after being beaten up. In the city of Matsuyama, Taira hangs out in the streets looking for tough guys to fight against. Even if he is roughed up, he never stops fighting…

Présenté dans la catégorie Cineasti del Presente, Destruction Babies est un supplice, long, dérangeant, qui nous placerait à la limite de la folie. Ce film japonais nous présente Shouta Ashiwara, jeune orphelin et son frère Taira. Ce dernier est un amateur de violence gratuite. Après avoir subit le passage à tabac d’un gang local, il décide de se lancer dans une expédition citadine pour frapper des passants innocents.

I do think Yuya Yagira can be a powerful, intense actor with a lot of potential, not unlike Yamada Takayuki. It’s easy to forget he’s only 26, as it feels he’s been around a lot longer. Overcoming personal problems during his early career following“Nobody Knows” can’t have been easy either, so he’s an unusually young showbiz survivor. He also has a solid physical presence now, which not a lot of young male actors have these days, as thin effeminate guys are favored for some reason (see “idols”…). He was a livewire highlight of Lee Sang-il’s “Unforgiven,” and added much-needed mystery and sex-appeal to Yukisada Isao’s “Pink and Gray.” He’s also one of the best things about “Distraction Babies,” making an incessantly violent and somewhat unrealistic character believable. I wasn’t a fan of the movie itself, or rather what it was trying to say, but the fully committed performances of Yagira, Suda, and the rest of the cast make it worth watching.

That’s Don Brown, who do a lot of English subtitles for Japanese films, and we did an interview with him (which will be launched pretty soon) and that’s what he said about Yagira.

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Yuya Yagira during Nobody Knows Seoul Press Conference at Shilla Hotel in Seoul, South, South Korea.


Recommended Yagira viewing: Top 5

1. Nobody Knows (2004) as Akira Fukushima, directed by Hirokazu Koreeda

2. Distraction Babies as Taira, where he won Best Actor at the 90th Kinema Junpo Film Awards

3. Aoi Honoo (2014) as Moyuru Honô, TV Tokyo [ this TV series is particularly notable because it’s where Yagira showcase his comedic talent ]

4. Gassoh (2015) as Kiwamu Akitsu

5. Unforgiven (2013) as Goro Sawada

Here’s Yagira’s official Profile from his agency, Stardust:

Yuya Yagira, from Tokyo, is recognized as one of the finest actors who received global attention after he debuted in the movie “Nobody Knows” (2004). Right after he was discovered in 2002, he took an audition for this movie. The director said “He has very attracted and powerful eyes and Yagira shined with his strong eyes, expression, and presence in the movie.” His sensational debut gave much impact to the world with Yagira’s sensitive performance.

Although this film is his debut work, he won numerous prizes such as 57th Cannes International Film Festival Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role, in which he was the youngest prize winner in Cannes ever and the first Japanese winner, 26th Yokohama Film Festival Award for Best Newcomer Actor, 14th Tokyo Sports Film Award for Newcomer Actor, 59th Mainichi Film Concours; Sponichi Grand Prix for Newcomer Actor, 78th Kinema Jumpo Film Award Best 10 for Newcomer Actor and 19th Takasaki Film Festival Award for Best Newcomer Actor. In 2006, he appeared in the movie “Sugar & Spice ~Fumi Zekka~,” and he impressed his strong presence and talented performance.

The director, Isamu Nakae, praised him to the skies with his talent. The movie “Forgiven (Yurusarezaru mono)” (2013), directed by Sang-il Lee, was entered in the 70th Venezia International Film Festival Special Invited Work, 38th Toronto International Film Festival Special Presentation Work, and 18th Busan International Film Festival Gala Presentation Work. Moreover, the movie “Yurusenai, Aitai” (2013), directed by Junichi Kanai, was entered in the 18th Busan International Film Festival. Since he started acting, he has learned his acting skills and built his careers as an actor, and he always keeps in his mind to challenge what he will be able to try to expand his acting range. 

Said profile must have been written years ago and needs a lot of updating. You can download it here.

The final word: You may have noticed the many quotations I put up in this profile. It is precisely because of these quotations that validate our own personal raves about Yagira – the actor. While there may be personal issues about Yagira, we ignored these gossips since we think it has no place in this profile.

As a final affirmation, Yagira has been chosen by The Playlist as one of the Top 20 Best Child Performances of the Century. He is joined on the list by such amazing actors including Saoirse Ronan, Jamie Bell, and Abigail Breslin.

A different kind of captivity but in its way just as complete as that experienced in “Room,” Hirokazu Kore-eda‘s story of four siblings secreted and abandoned in a tiny apartment is definitely another film only to be watched if your mascara is waterproof. And as the eldest child, Yuya Yagira, who won the Cannes Best Actor award from this performance, is the one who will break your heart—negotiating real-life puberty too (the film was shot over 18 months so 12-year-old Yagira’s voice is actually breaking), his character is the one who most fills the vacuum of their thoughtless mother’s absence. Shot in static frames that both contribute to the claustrophobia of the interiors and present the trials, tribulations and boredoms of this makeshift family unit at an unsentimalized remove, “Nobody Knows” is perhaps Kore-eda’s most powerfully affecting, even enraging film, though it should be noted that his facility with child actors is so great that Keiti Ninomiya in “Like Father Like Son” or Koki Maeda in the gorgeous “I Wish” would be worthy additions to this list too.

You can read the complete article here.

That’s about it- as far as Yagira’s greatness!


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