For an action movie to be truly successful it needs a strong male lead, with female figures, Sigourney Weaver (aka Ellen Ripley from Alien) aside, most often playing no more than a supporting role. That’s how the theory used to go anyway; these days it’s all very different.

by Matthew Hernon

The number of leading ladies in action flicks is constantly growing with stars like Gina Carono (Haywire), Kristen Stewart (Snow White and the Huntsman) and Jennifer Lawrence (Hunger Games) becoming increasingly prominent in Hollywood.

Looking to follow in their footsteps is Japanese actress, Nao Nagasawa. The 28-year-old played her first English speaking role in Hiro Masuda’s 2009 thriller Hotel Chelsea, for which she won the best actress award at the Myrtle Film Festival.

It is in action films and programmes, however, where she really thrives. She is best known for her role as Nanami Nono aka Hurricane Blue in the Super Sentai series, but has also won won critical acclaim for her performance in movies such as Geisha vs Ninjas and Hard Revenge Milly; Bloody Battle.

Her martial art skills and deadliness with a weapon make her seem like quite an intimidating figure on screen, away from it though she is extremely friendly and bubbly, with an infectious personality. She really enjoys what she does and is determined to make the most of her career.

“I’ve done modeling and released some singles in the past, but now I am entirely focused on acting,” she tells Weekender. “I just love movies. When I have time, I go and watch three or four in a day, studying the different camera angles and actors movements.

Working on ‘Hotel Chelsea’ (which was filmed in New York) really opened my eyes to how differently things are done abroad. The crew were so professional with excellent attention to detail. It was an amazing experience and my dream now is to go one step further and appear in a Hollywood movie.”

Before that happens she is hoping to build up her profile in Japan. Her latest movie, Travelers: Dimension Police, will premiere this weekend. Showing for a limited time of one week in selected cinemas, it is a sexy action flick directed by Koichi Sakamoto that sees Nagasawa’s character Ai return to the retroworld to confront her former partner turned rival Yui, played by Ayumi Kinoshita.

Set in Taiwan, it promises to be a high-octane adventure movie with some great fight scenes, as is usually the way with anything made by Sakamoto. The former stunt actor is building quite a reputation for himself as a director and he is someone Nagasawa feels very comfortable working with.

“I first met Koichi three years ago, says Nagasawa. “Since then we have worked on a number of films and programmes together and each time he has challenged me to produce something different. I think he really gets the best out of me and I am sure other actors would say the same.”

They are set to pair up again for another movie, set to be released later this year, which will be their tenth project together. Sakamoto clearly sees something special in the young actress and he believes she has what it takes to go much further in the industry.

“I definitely think she can make it (in America),” says Sakamoto. “She has a real drive to succeed. Sometimes you have female actors who say they want to do action scenes, but don’t really mean it. Nao, on the other hand, always puts a lot of passion in to anything I ask her to do.

For that reason whenever I have any projects I always request her. I first saw Nao as Nanami in the Super Sentai series and I was really impressed, but after working more closely with her I realised how talented she was. As well as being a great actress she also looks great, though I think it is the kind of look that is perhaps more popular for foreign audiences than Japanese ones.”

Sakamoto is in a good position to judge having spent much of his career overseas working on titles like Hellraiser: Inferno, Hansel & Gretel, Dracula 2000 and most famously the Power Rangers franchise. The former stunt-actor moved back to Japan a few years ago and one of his main goals now is to try and create more female action heroes here in Japan.

“You never really see Lara Croft (Angelina Jolie) type characters in Japanese movies,” he says. “They are much more common in America, Hong Kong and even Korea, but there are hardly any here. I think there is a void when it comes to action movies in this country, particularly those involving women.

We are known for horror, drama and animated films, but not a lot else. This gives me an opportunity as there aren’t many people here making movies like mine. My goal is to make what I call entertaining popcorn films, where the people watching don’t really have to think. At the same time I hope that movies like Travelers can help promote talented actresses like Nao (Nagasawa).”

Travelers is set to premiere on Saturday April 13 at Kadokawa Cinema, Shinjuku.

For more information you can visit the official website (Japanese) or watch the trailer below.

For a synopsis in English click here.