TOPArt & CultureMovies & TVTakayuki Yamada: The Chameleon Actor from The Naked Director Can Become Anyone

Takayuki Yamada: The Chameleon Actor from The Naked Director Can Become Anyone

When Japanese studios need a chameleon actor, they call Takayuki Yamada

By Cezary Jan Strusiewicz

The Naked Director made Takayuki Yamada a mainstay among Netflix audiences. However, fans of Japanese film and entertainment were already buzzing about films he was the protagonist in like Train Man and Crows Zero. In fact, he’s been popular in Japan since the Socrates in Love TV show. The Okinawa native has also ventured into producing too and is releasing music as the lead singer of the XXXXXX. He is just one of those performers that seems to be good at everything.

Two Diametrically Opposite Fictional Characters

Toru Muranishi is a pitiful and meek salesman of English encyclopedias to whom we’re introduced while he’s masturbating in a bar restroom. However, after losing his job and wife, he enters the world of porn and slowly transforms into a Phineas Taylor Barnum-esque showman destined to revolutionize the world of Japanese adult entertainment.

Though Muranishi is a real-life porn director, his character in The Naked Director Netflix show is a semi-fictionalized version. The narrative arc is only tangentially connected to the actual person. Basically, the story of the TV Muranishi is that of a stupidly optimistic pushover learning to come out of his shell despite the hardships that the real world throws at him.

Takayuki Yamada
Photo by Mio Hirota, courtesy of Netflix

Then you have Kaoru Ushijima, the anti-Muranishi.

The titular character from Ushijima the Loan Shark lends people money, demanding an outrageous interest. Unlike Muranishi, he rarely lets the viewer in on his innermost feelings. Though many suspect it’s because he simply doesn’t have any. Ushijima is a tough man forged by an even harder and tougher world, who only seems to care about money. Though small in stature, he is very intimidating and street-smart, like the perfect combination of Joe Pesci and Robert De Niro’s characters from Goodfellas. But over the course of his show and a couple of movies, he does show a few cracks in his armor. He reveals that underneath it all he is still human.

 

Similar but Different

The stories of Muranishi and Ushijima aren’t totally unrelated. They both touch on subjects like the underbelly of Japanese society and the power of money in today’s world. But the two characters couldn’t be more different, from their personalities to their looks. Which is why so many casual viewers are so shocked when they discover that both are played by the same actor. Yamada is like a chameleon. And that becomes more obvious when you take a look at the rest of his filmography.

Takayuki Yamada
Photo by Mio Hirota, courtesy of Netflix

Yamada Can Be Anyone, Anytime

In the surreal film Milocrorze: A Love Story, which is sort of like if Akira Kurosawa, Tim Burton and a bad LSD trip remade Nutty Professor II, Yamada plays three main characters. He alternates between the orange-haired romantic by the name of Ovreneli Vreneligare (told you this movie was strange), the disco suit-wearing, uncomfortably confident youth counselor Besson Kumagai and a one-eyed ronin named Tamon searching for his lost love. These are like characters from three unrelated movies. And it was Yamada’s task to play all of them convincingly one after another without losing his sense of reality.

Fortunately, from some of the interviews he’s given, it’s clear that Yamada isn’t some kind of insane method actor but rather a guy who just really likes performing and looks at each role as a fun challenge. And boy does that guy love a challenge.

 

One of his most interesting challenges was in 50 First Kisses, the Japanese remake of 50 First Dates. Some critics complained that Yamada’s performance was too similar to Adam Sandler’s from the original. But why is that even a problem? Granted, that means they didn’t see any new groundbreaking acting. They did, however, get a highly energetic piece of acting with impeccable comedic timing, solid slapstick and genuine emotion. It was a joy to watch Yamada become the Japanese Sandler so perfectly.

The Art of the Onscreen Transformation

Yamada’s talent goes beyond simply becoming many different characters. There’s also his ability to do it so gradually, you barely even notice. In The Naked Director, Muranishi’s transformation is so gradual and subtle, you could swear the character basically doesn’t change at all. This is despite seeing him as a pathetic loser in episode one and as the king of Japanese porn in episode eight.

It’s the same for his role as the titular character in Train Man as he sheds his antisocial geek persona to find love. All in the course of one movie.

 

We get to see all those characters grow in front of our eyes. And Yamada does it through so many subtle steps. It’s like watching a color spectrum with no discernable borders or points where one color turns into the next. Only by taking a step back and comparing the starting and end point of his roles do you truly grasp the journey of his characters.

These performances go beyond the realm of mere acting talent and start entering superpower territory. This is on full display in every movie that Yamada makes. So, let’s hope he keeps making them for years to come.

takayuki yamada
At the movie premiere of “13 Assassins”, at 67th Venice Film Festival September 9, 2010 in Venice, Italy. Left to right: Takayuki Yamada, Takahashi Miike, Koji Yakusho. 
Photo by Marcello Farina / Shutterstock.com

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