Tokyo Film Fest: Yuki Furukawa Set on Domestic Success After International Acclaim

Yuri Furukawa H 2015

The rising star of Japanese film and TV sees the dominance of manga and anime adaptations as both a boon and a bane for the domestic industry and its chances of overseas success.

The Japanese entertainment industry could probably do with a few more actors like Yuki Furukawa. Although in possession of the pretty-boy good looks that seem a prerequisite for success in the industry, the 27-year-old Furukawa is also bilingual, internationally-minded, a science graduate from a prestigious Tokyo university and has actually studied acting. 

Models, TV personalities and musicians, particularly members of 'idol' girl and boy bands, are regularly cast in Japanese TV dramas and films, even though their acting skills are not always of the highest level.

"Japanese audiences watch dramas because they want to see the people in it, and because they like the manga or anime they're often based on, not because of the quality of the story," said Furukawa, talking to The Hollywood Reporter after making a presentation in English on the opening day of the TIFFCOM content market at Tokyo International Film Festival. "It's fun for audiences to get to see musicians they like, even though many of them can't act." 

"It's different to dramas in the America, where people actually train to be an actor," added Furukawa, who studied method acting in the U.S., having been to high school in New York after his family moved to Canada when he was a child.   

Meanwhile, the domination of manga and anime as source material for Japanese movies and manga is both a boon and a bane, according to Furukawa. The vast amount of available stories with a distinctly Japanese cultural flavor, and a ready-made fan base, helps a large number of productions succeed, says Furukawa, but restricts opportunities for original scripts.

The popularity of manga in Asia can help Japanese dramas succeed in the regional market, though in the United States, the route has been attempts at Hollywood remakes rather than broadcasting the original productions.       

Furukawa became a star in China last year, with more than a million followers on Weibo (a local Twitter-like platform) after the broadcast of Mischievous Kiss (based on the manga Itazura na Kiss, which has spawned Japanese, Taiwanese and South Korean TV dramas) and starring in Mysterious Summer, a collaboration between Japan's Fuji TV and China's iQIYI video platform, a subsidiary of search giant Baidu.

Despite his success in China, working with a Korean director on My Sassy Girl and having performed on stage in London with the Royal Shakespeare Company, his current goal is to firmly establish himself at home.

"Nobody in Japan cares if you're successful overseas, unless you're already established here," added Furukawa, who said he has set his heart on winning a major acting award at home. 

He is currently appearing in Fuji TV's Monday night drama Five to Nine, in which he plays one of the love interests of Satomi Ishihara, and appears in Eisuke Naito's Litchi Hikari Club (Lychee Fight Club), which recently screened at Busan film festival and is slated for a 2016 domestic release. Both are based on manga.


Twitter: @GavinJBlair