A couple of months ago I did a write up on TW-actors and TW-actresses, which was relatively easy to do since there just aren’t that many of them occupying the perch as certifiable leads. The same isn’t true elsewhere, which is why I’ve been hesitant to attempt it for other industries. Nevertheless, I suddenly got the urge to run down a list of the leading men of Japanese entertainment and giving my two cents on them.
This list is by no means complete, and skews heavily towards the good looking actors rather than the acclaimed thespians. If you feel like giving a shout out to a J-actor you love but I neglected to mention, feel free to add them in the comments section. What I love the most about Japanese leading men is that they are all so very different from each other, both in onscreen presence and acting styles. It’s really not very cookie cutter over there, and I appreciate that.
The Crown Prince of Japanese entertainment, with a twenty-year career spanning idol pop and serious acting. No one even comes close to his stature, name recognition, and all-around belovedness. SMAP is still going strong, releasing an album last year with sold out concert tours and variety shows that are still popular. KimuTaku is famous for doing one dorama a year, and it’s always highly anticipated. Last year’s ren’ai Tsuki no Koibito (Moon Lovers) may have been his biggest hiccup in a good long while, but he should be back on top with this year’s TBS 60th Anniversary dorama Nankyoku no Tairiku.
As for me, I adore KimuTaku, but he doesn’t own me like some other J-actors over the years have inexplicably gotten my number. My favorite KimuTaku dorama is hands down Pride, but I confess that I’m not a completist when it comes his works. I still have Sora Kara Furu Ichioku no Hoshi (A Million Stars Falling From the Sky) cued up and ready to go. And I am unashamed to admit that his career-making Long Vacation does nothing for me, other than add to my Takenouchi Yutaka love.
This guy has my number for some inexplicable reason. He was my biggest J-crush growing up, being a singer and actor that was just so darn appealing onscreen. I spent both Season 1 and Season 2 of the wonderfully touching Hitotsu Yane no Shita (Under One Roof) hoping he’d get the girl (the once young and darling Noriko Sakai), which he ended up doing at the very end. Yay for second leading shipping come true!
My favorite Masa dorama remains Meguri Ai with Takawa Tokiko, which was loosely based on the famous HK movie Comrades, A Love Story with Leon Lai and Maggie Cheung. In fact, I contend that Masa’s chemistry with Takako was way better than what she had with KimuTaku in Beautiful Life. Bijo ka Yajuu (Beauty and the Beast) with Matsushima Nanako was also another of his doramas I really liked. Masa is currently enjoying a humongous career revival after headlining 2010’s Taiga Ryomaden.
The original bad boy of J-actors, Yutaka was (is) my eternal lust object. Watching him in With Love could turn a girl into a woman just like that. I will always remember him as Hata-san (and perhaps dreaming I was his Teruteru-Bozu). I believe that had he not hit his stride as an actor at the same time as KimuTaku, he would be an even bigger star today. Imagine a talented basketball player hitting his prime at the same time as Michael Jordan, and that is what happened with Yutaka and KimuTaku. He reminds me of a combination of Takeshi Kaneshiro and Tony Leung, with plenty of simmering charisma to burn. Aside from With Love, I also adored his Beach Boys, THE classic bromance J-dorama with a great Summertime feel.
Toshiaki played the first modern Prince Charming of my J-dorama watching experience. His Imouto wo (also known as Tokyo Cinderella Story) was a classic 90s dorama that was the first Cinderella love story before that trope became a dime a dozen. I vividly recall swooning over him and falling asleep to the fervent prayers that I’d meet the perfect chaebol prince like him to sweep me off my feet.
Toshiaki is an actor’s actor, with his early fluffy doramas (like Imouto wo) happening because he’s so damn good looking the man has to fan service us all. But really he’s way more talented than playing a variety of the cookie-cutter romantic hero, even if I loved all the ones he’s played. He’s now one of the elder statesman of J-actors, one who can do any role in any project. Aside from Imouto wo, my favorite Toshiaki dorama is Oishii Kankei (based on the manga Sweet Relationship, which TW has also made into a live-action with Vic Zhou) with Nakayama Miho.
Good actor, great chemistry with Ueno Juri (where they did Nodame Cantabile and Last Friends), but I’m always perplexed by his hair. He’s got a great quirky vibe, but for whatever reason doesn’t tickle my fancy.
I loved him in Dragon Zakura (where he whipped my Yamapi into shape) and Kekkon Dekinai Otoko (The Man Who Can’t Get Married). He’s what I would call a man’s man, with a commanding screen presence. He’s always great, even if I don’t always like his projects.
He’s probably best known for his role as the prickly genius conductor in Nodame Cantabile, but I actually loved him in Love Shuffle more. He’s a great actor with the ability to disappear into any role yet always retain this aura of awareness. I don’t find him cute in the least, but he always elicits the right emotions from me when watching him act.
Swoon. Seriously? Who doesn’t swoon for Naohito? The man is perfect. Or shall I say Buchou is perfect. It’s hard to separate Naohito from his performance as Buchou (i.e. department head) in Hotaru no Hikari (Season 1 and 2, with a movie on the way next Spring) with Ayase Haruka. But he’s been acting for ages and has quite a prolific resume. He’s the type of handsome that once you get it, you’ll never stop seeing how gorgeous he is. His smile just lights up the screen. I love him to pieces.
Bad boy. Bad bad boy. Osamu gives off such bad boy vibes that should you meet him at a bar and he decides to turn on his megawatt charm, you’ll wonder thirty minutes later where your panties went. I adore him as an actor, but would never think about bringing him home to meet the parents. He is such a scene stealer onscreen, always making any role memorable and unique. Hotaru no Hikari 2 was a trainwreck that was made palatable only because he was the only sane character left in that story. I also adored him in Ataschinchi no Danshi with Horikita Maki. Crazy dorama, but they had the cutest chemistry. I’m just dying to watch him in the live-action movie adaptation of Paradise Kiss with Kitagawa Keiko, which is just a brilliant stroke of casting him as George.
Maybe the best “actor” of his generation (along with Yamada Takayuki), but his penchant for picking the oddest projects really turn me off watching more of his works. His recent Juui Doolittle, which reunited him with Inoue Mao, was an abomination. I’ll always love him in Crows Zero and as the original flavor Hanazawa Rui in Hana Yori Dango, though his turn in HanaKimi was strangely lacking. As a young actor, he probably has the most extensive body of work amongst his peers, and is a true chameleon. I’ve never found Shun attractive, but he always impresses me.
Jun is the weirdest idol-actor on the planet. I swear when I see pictures of him, he resembles a pygmy monkey. But the moment he starts acting, you forget everything and he has your entire attention. He made the character of Domyoji Tsukasa in HanaDan likeable and endearing despite being such a total violent tool. I last watched him in the rom-com Natsu no Koi wa Nijiiro ni Kagayaku with Takeuchi Yuko, which was really sweet and interesting, but for some reason I have yet to finish it. Must do that.
Yamapi! My Pi! Does anyone need me to discuss him? Does anyone who reads this blog still not know who Yamapi is? In that case, I must not being doing a good enough job of squealing about him. He is my ultimate J-bias, my love for him knows no bounds. If I heard he was in town, I would literally take a sabbatical and go stalk him. If anyone wants to know why I love him so, watch Nobuta wo Produce.
Pi’s acting projects are hit and miss with me. In addition to NwP, I loved Dragon Zakura and Buzzer Beat, but loathed Kurosagi and Code Blue. I’m indifferent to ProDai despite having two actors I also adore in it, which were Nagasawa Masami and Fujiki Naohito. I’ll be the first to admit he has very limited acting range, but his oddball personality and his enthusiasm slays me. He’s also a solo singer and a member of NEWS. But I love Pi for his acting projects more than anything else.
I call him the King of Pout. I know Shota doesn’t try, but he naturally pouts like he’s Zoolander on the runway. He’s a decent actor that I’ve liked more in his supporting roles, such as in HanaDan or Tsuki no Koibito. Looks-wise he reminds me of Lee Jun Ki‘s brand of combo masculine-feminine prettiness. I think Shota still needs a breakout role but he has plenty of potential.
He’s like the opposite of Mukai Osamu. He’s the guy you want to bring home to mommy and daddy, him with his dazzling smile and all-around sunny boy persona. I need to watch more Haruma projects, which I vow to do, starting with Bloody Monday which catapulted him to leading man status permanently. Another of his famous projects is the movie Koizara with Gakki, which is horrible, but they are so insanely cute together. No wonder J-ent went to town and they were rumored to have been a couple after the movie. I also checked out his recent Taisetsu na Koto wa Subete Kimi ga Oshiete Kureta (I Learn All the Important Things From You) with Toda Erika, and oh boy is that not my cup of tea. But Haruma is definitely the golden boy of the younger generation of leading men.
He’ll forever be Nighto in my mind, having played a robot in Zettai Kareshi and actually pulling it off despite the dorama being a mess. My favorite Moko project is the live-action movie adaptation of the manga Rough, where he starred with Nagasawa Masami. He surprisingly had great chemistry with her, which I was not expecting at all since Masami is really hit-or-miss with her leading men. I found his recent Rebound with Abu Saki cute but not terribly compelling for me to continue.
Have you guys seen his performance in Bakuyakyo? Simply unforgettable and gutwrenching. I’ve been meaning to watch him in Taiyo no Uta (The Song of the Sun) with Sajiwara Erika since I’m a sucker for doomed romances. Like Oguri Shun, he always tends to pick really off-beat and quirky projects for the most part, so I’ve seen less of his works than I ought to. Though when he went mano-a-mano with Shun in Crows Zero, Takayuki completely stole the movie. His performance as Serizawa was pitch-perfect. Looks-wise he’s not terribly memorable, but his acting is just phenomenal that you’ll remember his characters before you remember him.
Kame falls into the MatsuJun category of idol-actors who, by looking at their picture, you can’t imagine anyone would like them, but when you see them in action they just nail it. I liked Kame in Nobuta wo Produce, even if my Pi totally stole his thunder there, but it wasn’t until the perfect romance dorama Tatta Hitotsu no Koi (Only One Love) with Ayase Haruka that I completely accepted him as a certifiable leading man. He acts and can look smolderingly hot to boot. Kudos to Kame for winning me over. I also am strangely mesmerized by the idol side of Kame, his being a part of KAT-TUN.
I’ve never liked a Ryo dorama until Zenkai Girl, but I’ve always liked Ryo. His smile is one-in-a-million, plus he can angst like no other. I think he needs to pick projects that better suit his sunny personality because acting-wise he’s just okay with respect to his range. But no matter what he does going forward, I’ll always have Zenkai Girl to rewatch anytime I need a Ryo fix.
I like Toma, who was brilliant in HanaKimi, but he’s not an actor I have a need to follow. I think he’s one of the most talented idol-actors out there, but he always get overshadowed by some of the other more flamboyant and high flying Johnny’s in his generation.
A solid young actor recently elevated to leading man who has really earned his stripes. Everything time I see Yusuke onscreen, I can see how hard he’s working to deliver the best performance he can give. He just has that determination and dedication to his craft. The few episodes I saw of Tumbling, he was simply the heart and soul of that dorama. Of course I love him as Tamaki in Ouran High School Host Club, and am looking for him to completely break out as part of the cast of KimuTaku’s 2011 dorama down in Antarctica.
He is a cutie pie. Right now in his yet-young career, that’s at most what I can use to describe him. He was adorable in Otomen, but as an actor he’s still quite green. I didn’t watch him in the Aishiteru SP where he played Mukai Osamu’s younger brother, because that whole dorama is a tearfest that I confess to not wanting to touch. But Masaki has a bright career ahead of him and I’m happy to see where it leads as he matures.
Er….MINE? Yes, all mine. I first saw Shunsuke in Crows Zero where he showed that he can do alot with a limited screen time. I’m still watching Tumbling for him, which really is a Yusuke vehicle. But it wasn’t until Ouran High School Club that this boy flipped a switch in me and made me open my eyes to the extent of his potential. He’s leading man material in terms of talent, charisma, and sheer magnetism on screen. I’ve already picked out the perfect dorama for him when he finishes with 2012’s Taiga, with a leading lady he simply must reunite onscreen with. Hee.
He’s one of the most versatile actors around, easily acting his age or ten years younger as a high school student and making it believable. He can do light or super dark roles with ease, and is genuinely a delightful actor to watch onscreen. I prefer Hiroki in happy roles, and gobbled up the delightful confection known as Yankee-kun to Megane-chan with relish. He’s a very striking actor, with very distinctive features that can either look handsome or freakish depending on his role. I find his real life personality quite quirky and his acting projects fit his profile to the T.
So there you have it. A quick look at the main J-actors I watch and some I keep an eye on from time-to-time. J-doramas are hit-or-miss with me for the last decade or so, and I’m quite selective with what I watch nowadays. I personally prefer the stuff from the 90s overall, though concede most of those doramas are pretty unwatchable these days since it just looks outdated. I’ll usually check out a J-dorama if it stars one of the actors I really love with a story that sounds interesting to me, hoping that I’ll hit upon one that ends up being good.
What’s great about J-actors are they are so very different from one another, from looks to performance quality, which isn’t always the case among K-actors or TW-actors, most of whom fall into the good looking hunk or pretty boy mold. I also find that J-actors really tend to challenge themselves more with very different projects rather than sticking with a genre.