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Yuya Yagira: Why He is Probably Japan's Best Young Actor

Yuya Yagira is one of Japan’s most versatile young actors right now, with a range that allows him to play anything from drama, to action, and even comedy without looking out of place. Despite his young age, he has a lot of experience as he started out at an early age. He was first discovered in 2002, when he auditioned for a role in the heavy drama ‘Nobody Knows.’ He was cast for the part as the director took note of his expressive eyes and ability to communicate a wide range of emotions just with his facial expressions.

His performance in Nobody Knows got a lot of attention. The film itself is highly acclaimed but Yuya stood out and garnered praise on his own. The young actor became the youngest winner of the Best Actor in Leading Role award in the 57th Cannes International Film Festival, and also the first Japanese to win the award. He also won a gaggle of awards in his home country, including Best Newcomer Actor at the 26thYokohama Film Festival and 14th Tokyo Sports Film Award, 59th Mainichi Film Concours and the Sponichi Grand Prix, among others.

His Hiatus and Comeback

For a while, it seemed like Yuya Yagura’s career will be short-lived, because he went on hiatus in 2004 for unspecified reasons. While he did appear in films from time to time, he only returned to acting in drama in 2010.

While he’s technically made a comeback by 2010 due to having regular appearances on the small screen, one can argue that his true return to form came in 2013 when he appeared in 3 high profile films, including the Japanese version of Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven, Yurusarezaru Mono. The film has Yuya playing Goro Sawada, who is equivalent to The Schoefield Kid played by Jaimz Woolvett in Eastwood’s version. The difference is that Yagira once again proved his exceptional talent by turning in a performance that led to many critics proclaiming Sawada to be a better character than The Schoefield Kid and reminiscent of the iconic Kikuchiyo from Seven Samurai (played by the legendary Toshiro Mifune.)

What He Has that Other Actors Don't Have

Yuya Yagira has several qualities that make him stand out from his peers:

  • Naturally Attractive Looks – unlike many idols and male models his age, Yuya looks very, very attractive but he doesn’t look androgynous are overly made up. He’s just naturally handsome yet versatile enough that he can be dolled up to look like a pretty boy or made to look unkempt and masculine (such as in his role in Crows Zero.)
  • Expressive Eyes – chalk it up to genetics and just plain luck, but Yuya Yagira has been gifted with naturally expressive eyes. He can communicate a wide range of emotions without even saying a single word.
  • Multidisciplinary – many of his peers may work in both drama and films, but they only ever specialize in one. Yuya proves to be a force to be reckoned with in both, plus he also has extensive experience in theatre, making him one of the most well-rounded artists in the current industry.

#1 Nobody Knows


The story focuses on four half siblings who were abandoned by their mother and forced to survive on their own, relying only on their resourcefulness and love for each other in order to survive.

Click here to check out Japanese movies that will leave you broken.

This is the movie that got Yuya Yagira’s foot in the door, as he played the oldest kid Akira. The highlight is when their friend Saki offered to earn money for them: Akira rejected the offer and distanced himself from her. Had it been any other actor, the scene would have been sappy and overbearing, but Yuya made it work and managed to portray pride even in the face of desperation.

#2 Unforgiven


A remake of the same-titled Clint Eastwood film, with the main difference being the change in setting. Instead of a cowboys and the wild west, the remake is set during the early Meiji period and focuses on a former samurai approached by an old contact and offered a bounty on two men who harmed a prostitute.

In the film, Yuya plays Goro Sawada, a short-tempered half-ainu man who joins the protagonist in hunting down the two killers. Yuya completely discards his innocent and clean cut look for the role, instead going for an unkempt, twitchy ruffian who nonchalantly brags about having killed five men already.

#3 Again (Yurusenai Aitai)


About a girl, Hatsumi, who lost her father and had to move to a new town with her lawyer mother, and a local boy named that she met and befriended, Ryutaro. One day, Ryutaro sexually assaulted Hatsumiand her mother had him convicted for rape. Hatsumi is now conflicted because she does have feelings for Ryutaro but can’t forgive him for what he’s done.

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Yuya plays Ryutaro effectively, which is impressive because the character is complex. On the one hand, he’s the technical male lead and possesses qualities suited for the part, yet he’s done a single act that could negate all of that in the minds of most people. How he portrays the two aspects without any jarring disconnect is a testament to his talent.

#4 Crows Explode


Crows Explode continues the story of Suzuran All-Boys High School, but this time protagonist Genji Takiya has already graduated, which means the coveted top spot is now open to all comers, but they have to get all the infighting out of their system fast, because there’s also trouble brewing with their rival school Kurosaki Industrial High.

In Crows Explode, Yuya eschews his dramatic chops and goes all out in action scenes as Toru Goura, dubbed “King,” as he’s a 3rd year student who is currently the closest to reaching the top spot.

#5 Kafka on the Shore


Based on the 2002 novel by renowned Japanese author Haruki Murakami, the stage play Kafka on the Shore tells the story of 15 year old Kafka as he runs away from home in order to escape a curse and find his mother and sister, interspersed with the story of Nakata who is an old man working as a finder of lost cats.

Yuya plays the lead role in the play, turning in an impressive performance despite the play format’s different demands compared to TV and movie roles. For instance, Yuya’s expressive eyes are worthless in a stage play, because viewers are too far away too see. Instead, he has to rely on his line delivery, stage presence, and timing.

#6 Temple of the Golden Pavilion


A stage play based on the same-titled novel by Japanese author Yukio Mishima, it is a loose retelling of the burning of the Golden Pavilion of Kinkaku-Ji in Kyoto by a young Buddhist in 1950.

Yuya plays the aforementioned Buddhist, Mizoguchi, who also serves as the narrator. For the role, Yuya had to become ugly and to adopt a stutter in his speech.

#7 Aoi Honoo


Based on the manga series of the same name, Aoi Honoo is a coming of age story that is loosely based on the author’s own life when he was still a student at the Osaka University of Arts.

Yuya plays the lead Moyuru Honō. The role allowed him to showcase his comedy chops, pulling in a performance reminiscent of Stephen Chow, as he mixes wacky facial expressions, intentional overacting, and slapstick. This is made all the more impressive by the fact that Yuya’s main genre is drama, not comedy.

#8 Nobunaga Concerto


Nobunaga Concerto is a TV drama adaptation of the same-titled manga series, which focuses on a high school boy who time travels to Japan’s Sengoku era, where he must pretend to be the warlord Nobunaga Oda while the real one works under him as Akechi Mitsuhide.

In Nobunaga Concerto, Yuya Yagira plays Oda’s brother Noboyuki. He only appeared for a short while as his plot to kill his brother has been found out and he’s left with no choice but to commit seppuke, but Yuya shined in the performance, using his expressive eyes to portray a brother who says nice things but hides jealousy, frustration, and pain. Despite being shorter than the leads Shun Oguri and Osamu Miukai, Yuya owned scenes when he’s with them. An impressive feat because Oguri and Miukai are exceptional actors in their own right.

#9 The Bandage Club


The Bandage Club is about a group of forlorn teenagers who learn how to cope with their sadness by bandaging the places where they’ve been hurt. They form a club around the concept and through the internet, meet other like-minded people.

Yuya plays one of the original members, Dino, and he once again shows his talent by playing the likeable youngster, who they find out is actually deeply troubled and prone to self destruction.

#10 Shining Boy and Little Randy


Shining Boy and Little Randy focuses on the introverted boy Tetsumu Ogawa, who learns that he has the uncanny ability to communicate with elephants. With this knowledge, he resolves to move to Chiang Mai in Thailand in order to become the first Japanese elephant trainer in the region.

Yuya plays Tetsumu, and while he has excellent scenes with the elephants, the highlight of the film is when he meets Emi and falls in love with her – this is notable because Emi is seven years his senior, so Yuya had to portray young, innocent affection without coming off as creepy.

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