Cannes: 4 Japanese Acting Talents Ready to Go Global

11:00 PM 5/7/2018

by Gavin J. Blair

From Junko Abe to Nijiro Murakami, THR takes a look at four Japanese players who just might have what it takes to succeed on the world stage.

From left: Junko Abe, Go Jibiki, Mugi Kadowaki, Nijiro Murakami
From left: Junko Abe, Go Jibiki, Mugi Kadowaki, Nijiro Murakami
Andreas Rentz/Getty Images; Courtesy Photo; Rodrigo Reyes Marin/AFLO/Newscom; Stephane Cardinale/Corbis via Getty Images

There are only a handful of Japanese actors working today who have carved out international careers for themselves. Fluency with language remains an issue, along with limited training and overly powerful talent agencies more focused on filling their rosters with girl and boy band members than actors. But here are four Japanese players who just might have what it takes to succeed on the world stage.

A version of this story appears in The Hollywood Reporter's May 8 daily issue from the Cannes Film Festival. Click here to download.

  • Junko Abe

    A native of Osaka, Abe, 25, projects the combination of understated strength and humility that has characterized many of Japan’s great actresses. Making her film debut in The Chasing World 2 (2010), she scored her breakout role in Naomi Kawase’s 2014 Cannes entry Still the Water while still using her stage name Jun Yoshinaga. Later, she took a year off from her career to study drama and English at New York University. Upon her return to Japan, she switched to working under her real name and will be part of an ensemble cast, led by Koji Yakusho, in Kazuya Shiraishi’s yakuza film The Blood of Wolves.

  • Go Jibiki

    An actor who has chosen his roles carefully since he debuted in Shunji Iwai’s April Story (1998), Jibiki over the years has worked with many of Japan’s finest directors (he collaborated with the late auteur Koji Wakamatsu on five films). Having lived in Singapore and New York as a child, Jibiki, 42, is fluent in English, he’s a formally trained actor (not as common in Japan as might be expected), and he has trained in multiple martial arts. Though far from a newcomer, his language and action skills, combined with a strong screen presence, give Jibiki what it takes to succeed beyond the Far East. Unfortunately, his first international production, though shot in Japan, was Netflix’s subpar yakuza film The Outsider, probably his first major career misstep.

  • Mugi Kadowaki

    Standing out from the mainstream crowd of Japanese actresses, Kadowaki has the kind of skills that could take her global. Her impressive range has let her move apparently effortlessly from art house films to big studio productions to TV dramas and even to playing a boy on stage. The 25-year-old Tokyoite has already landed herself awards at home and abroad, including a somewhat belated Newcomer of the Year accolade from the All Nippon Producers Association in February.

  • Nijiro Murakami

    Like Abe, the 16-year-old Murakami made a big splash in his screen debut as one of the leads in Still the Water. His actor father, Jun, with whom he shares a talent agency, also appeared in the movie. Murakami junior chose to speak in English at the film’s news conference at the Cannes Film Festival, a rarity for any Japanese actor, let alone a teenager, suggesting he has ambitions beyond his home shores. Murakami got to show o his swordsman-ship — he’s a kendo black belt — in last year’s Mukoko, for which he scored a best supporting actor nomination at Japan’s academy awards.