n Thursday, I wondered if asparagus would make your pee smell. I didn’t get a whole bunch of responses, maybe because it was too wierd of a question. Oh well. The pool of responses was too small to make any claims, but I did learn that it was just a guy thing as I had conjuctured. You live and learn. Thanks to those who shared their insights.

Anyway, I got this comment as well.

I’m just wondering if you can tell me, in your opinon, who the greatest Japanese actors are. (Past and present? TOP 5!)
Posted 3/22/2007 11:58 PM by onigiri

I watch my share of J movies but I’m not sure how qualified I am to answer who the “greatest” are. There are a lot of definitions for “great” but I will tell you who I think are the “best” actors, based on their ability to act. Now, acting is a craft. It is not about being a superstar. For example, Jack Nicholson and Robert DeNiro no longer act, in my opinion. They are themselves on screen. It seems to me that they manifest the same personality for every character they’ve played over the past twenty years, that being their own. But Daniel Day Lewis and Johnny Depp are actors, in my opinion. They bring something to the table, but it is their talents as actors, not some overpowering personality.

In Japan, Takakura Ken fits the “personality” actor. He is not as flamboyant as Nicholson, but his characters are always the same: the strong, silent type. There is virtually no change in any of this characters. Anyway, here are my top five.

  1. Ogata Ken–He is one of my all time favorite actors. He is completely natural and convincing, whether he plays a poor farmer in “Ballad of Narayama” or an elder trying to save his little island from distinction by adopting a girl from Tokyo in the TV series “Ruri’s Island”–which, by the way, is one of my favorite series to date. what makes hims stand out is his ability to do comedy, understated but definitely funny.
  2. Shimura Takashi–a versatile actor and one of Kurasawa’s favorites. He plays the intense Kanbei in the “Seven Samurai”, the inquisitive professor in “Gozilla” and the humble, at times bumbling Watanabe Kanji in “Ikiru–To Live.
  3. Baisho Mitsuko–There are very few female actors that stand out, in my book. Matsuzaka Keiko? Yoshinaga Sayuri? Attractive, yes, but not really great actors. Sakamoto Sumiko is pretty incredible, but her body of work is too limited–I don’t know why she has appeared in only three or four films after her great performance as Orin in “Ballad of Narayama.” However, Baisho Mitsuko–sister of Baisho Chieko who plays Torajiro’s younger sister in the “Otoka wa tsurai yo” series–would qualify as a competent actor. From roles in samurai epics such as “Kagemusha” to dramas such as “Unagi”, she has performed as well as any actor in Japan. She was also in :Ballad of Narayama” and “Ruri’s Island”.
  4. Nakadai Tatsuya–For my money, Nakadai is the best samurai film star (as opposed to TV which might be Sugi Ryotaro). He has played in modern roles, I’m sure, but I can only remember him as a samurai, from the over confident gun slinger in “Yojimbo” to the sarcastic ronin in “Kiru” (Kill) to the warlord Takeda Shingen in “Kagemusha” in 1980 AND Shingen’s father in the current NHK drama “Fu-rin-ka-zan”.
  5. Mifune Toshiro–Mifune is almost in the Nicholson category. His samurai’s seem to be a reflection of himself–intense, gruff, at times a bit crazy. Even in his role as a stubborn father in one of the last “Otoko wa tsurai yo” films, he looked like a samurai out of costume. But some of his earlier works are amazing. If you ever have the chance, watch “Drunken Angel” about a young tough trying to survive in the desolation of post-war Japan. It is an impressive performance and that alone gets him on my list.

So there you have it, for better or worse. There are a lot of other actors, of course: Yakusho Koji (Shall We Dance), Yamazaki Tsutomu (Tampopo), Tsugawa Masahiko (Taxing Woman), Ito Shiro (Suupaa no onna), Katsu Shintaro (Zato Ichi), Nakamura Kinnosuke (Yabure-gasa), and Nakai Kiichi (Love Letter). The list is long. Watanabe Ken is probably better known for his roles in American movies–“Last Samurai”, “Batman ” and “Letters from Iwo Jima”–so I don’t really count him in, although he was funny as Gun in “Tampopo”.

So who’s your favorite J actor, film or TV?