Saturday, December 12, 2009
If we had a “Most Underrated Japanese Actor” category here at JapaneseCultureGoNow!, 48-year-old Kiichi Nakai would easily qualify—although the guy has been nominated for and in fact won a swag of Japanese Academy Awards, including best actor.
He also happens to be the son of the late Keiji Sada, one of Japan’s more venerated stars of the silver screen before his untimely demise in 1964, at just 37 years of age.
As an actor himself, son Nakai blossomed as the sensational focal-point of Fukuro no Shiro (Owl’s Castle, 1999), possibly Japan’s most underrated must-see silly ninja movie. While he was nominated for that role, Nakai had previously won the Japan Academy Best Supporting Actor award in 1994 for the drama Shijushichinin no Shikaku (47 Ronin), directed by the late, great Kon Ichikawa, who died just last year.
Two years ago, Nakai sparkled in his supporting role in the high-profile Takuya Kimura (SMAP) vehicle, Hero, for director Masayuki Suzuki.
Incidentally that movie's playing on the telly here in Tokyo tonight - which is the reason I (somehow) remembered to write here about Nakai-san, by extension.
The actor earlier worked with Suzuki on the hilarious 'Samurai Cellular' episode of Tales of the Unusual (2000) in which Nakai played Oishi Kuranosuke, the leader of those 47 Ronin mentioned above - and touted a mobile phone instead of a katana blade.
Ditching such comic antics and going instead for a meatier role, Nakai conveyed a knowing sense of the dramatic in Mibu Gishi Den (When the Last Sword is Drawn, 2003) for which he won the Japan Academy Best Actor trophy, and narrated the tale in director Zhang Yimou’s Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles (2005).
He was also the standout in last year’s patchy comedy-drama Jirochô Sangokushi (Samurai Gangsters) and shone even in the lackluster, rather disappointing live-action version of Osamu Tezuka’s Dororo (2007) - playing the mean dad who sells 48 of our hero Hyakkimaru’s body-parts (to demons no less).
These days Nakaii is often seen on the telly hawking Visa card brands and drinks, but I live in hope that he'll return to fine acting fettle shortly.