Following in the footsteps of veteran male actors such as Ken Watanabe, Hiroyuki Sanada and Yutaka Takeuchi, a cadre of young Japanese thespians continue to make their presence known on both the big and small screens. These future leading men have won popularity with young female fans for their “boyfriend” looks, as well as with other men and women for their strong acting skills and down-to-earth personalities. This month, we introduce Taishi Nakagawa and Kengo Kora — two of Japan’s fastest rising stars and faces you should keep a close eye on!
Taishi Nakagawa (中川大志)
From drama series to movies to regular TV appearances, Taishi Nakagawa spins many plates at the same time. As of June 2018 he will be just 20-years-old, but already he is finding himself as busy as many more experienced actors.
Born in 1998 in Tokyo, Nakagawa made his acting debut in 2009. He was scouted by an entertainment agency while shopping with his mother in the fashion district of Harajuku — a lucky encounter that would determine his career choice at the age of 10. His first appearance was in a television documentary titled — ironically enough — When I Was A Child, which depicted the early lives of famous Japanese actors. His cute looks and natural acting skills quickly won the attention of producers and in 2010, he made his film debut in Hanjiro, a samurai drama directed by Sho Igarashi.
Nakagawa focused predominantly on TV for the next four years, including a secondary but breakthrough role in Kaseifu no Mita (Mita, the Maid) in which he played a child struggling with the death of his mother. In 2015, he landed his first leading roles — one in the TV series Prison School and the other in the horror movie Ao oni ver. 2.0. That same year he landed another lead role in the high school romance drama Tsugaku Series Tsuugaku Tochu (On The Way To School). Since then, he has earned leading roles in other TV series and movies, including his biggest hit to date, ReLife, in 2017. In this film he worked alongside another rising Japanese star, Yuna Taira, playing an unmotivated businessman who gets the once in a lifetime chance to go back to high school and start anew. In February 2018, he was invited to participate as a special guest at the Japan Film Festival in Thailand where he promoted the movie in a special screening and public forum.
Nakagawa’s most recent movie, Sakamichi no Apollon (Kids on The Slope), an adaptation of a popular Japanese manga, was released in March 2018. In his next lead role in a film is Rainbow Days — another live-action film based on a popular teenage romance anime and manga — and is set for release this summer.
In his private time, he loves playing soccer, a skill that was reflected on in his popular commercial series for Shiseido deodorant Sea Breeze, in which he appears with popular actress Suzu Hirose. In March 2017, he graduated from high school and decided not to enroll in university to fully dedicate himself to acting.
Kengo Kora (高良 健吾)
He’s got the looks, he’s got the skills, and he’s got all the (cool) features associated with a typical Kyushu Danji — somewhat mysterious, somewhat detached, yet bold and strongly determined to go their own way: meet Kengo Kora, the 30-year-old actor who’s long won people’s hearts in Japan.
Born in 1987 in Kumamoto Prefecture, Kora has already spent half of his life acting. With over 40 films, 20 television series and a variety of commercials on his resume, he is currently one of the most sought-after young Japanese actors. He’s known for playing deep, mysterious and complicated characters, a type of personality that somewhat fits his own. Raised by a father who worked in the travel industry, as a child Kora would often have to relocate, finding it difficult to form long-lasting relationships and spending much of his time on his own. It’s this background, however, that seems to have shaped the actor that he is today. Some of his best-known roles include the heavily pierced, tattooed and complicated teenager Ama in Snakes and Earrings (2008) and Kizuki, a secondary but very important character in the movie adaptation Haruki Murakami’s novel Norwegian Wood (2010).
Kora was discovered by a local Kumamoto city magazine he was scouted for while still in high school. The sub editor-in-chief knew that Kora wanted to act and, trusting his instinct, he connected him with an agency in Tokyo that signed him to a contract shortly after he graduated from high school. In 2005, Kora made his first on-screen appearance in the high school TV series Gokusen, followed by a movie role in The Summer of Stickleback a year later.
Since his debut, Kora has mostly acted for the big screen, with roles in some of Japan’s biggest hits including the The Chef Of South Polar (2009), Solanin (2010), Into the White Night (2011), A Tale of Samurai Cooking: A True Love Story (2013), The Mourner (2015) and Tsuki to Kaminari (Moon and Thunder, 2017). His first leading role was in Fireworks From The Heart (2010), a fact-based story based on the story of a family coping with illness and misfortune. His turn in the drama The Story of Yonosuke (2013), in which he plays a university student who changes the lives of the people he encounters with his positivity and good character, was a game changer for his career — showcasing his ability to portray multiple characters. In 2017, Kora attended the Japanese Film Festival in Jakarta as a special guest to promote the movie, which won multiple Blue Ribbon, Mainichi Film and Japan Film Professional awards after its release. Kora’s latest movie Shoplifters will be released in June 2018.
Currently, the actor has won ten awards, including Best Actor gongs for his role in The Story of Yonosuke, The Mourner and Being Good his.
When he isn’t working, he loves skydiving and baseball. He had also always dreamed of traveling to Iceland, a dream that came true when the popular TV program Another Sky had him as a guest in 2015. Following the Kumamoto earthquake in 2016, Kora worked as a volunteer in his hometown, Kumamoto City, and other affected areas.
What other Japanese actors would you like to know more of? Let us know, don’t be shy!
Text by Alexandra Homma