Nagase Masatoshi (Miyazaki, 1966- )
Nagase Masatoshi is perhaps 'the' Japanese indie actor. Best known
abroad for his role in Jim Jarmusch's 1989 cult movie Mystery Train,
Nagase has appeared in many popular Japanese movies and dramas
but at home his face is maybe most associated with the humorous
TV commercials he has appeared in. The best of these was the series
for cup noodles in which Nagase was placed, a la Forest Gump or
Woody Allen's Zelig, in famous scenes from the 20th century, noodles
in hand. He has also released two albums and is an active artist
and photographer. He married former aidoru (idol)
Koizumi Kyoko in 1995 after the
two met on one of Nagase's photo shoots. Their marriage lasted until
early in 2004, not a bad run for such a high-profile couple.
Nagase dropped out of high school and moved to Tokyo to start
his acting career in the movie Shonben Rider in 1983.
His ambition was to be a film actor but he repeatedly
failed to pass auditions and worked almost entirely in television
during the '80s. His encounter with Jarmusch and the confidence
he gained through his work on Mystery Train led to more successful
international film work. The Asian Beat Project was an ambitious
series of six movies produced by Hayashi Kaizo made in six
different Asian countries in 1991-2, each starring
Nagase. The last in the series Autumn Moon, set in Hong Kong,
won the Grand Prize at the Locarno International
Film Festival in 1992. The 1996 Icelandic "journey of self-discovery"
movie Cold Fever was also a critical success.
Among his movies well received in
Japan were Yamada Yoji's Musuko (My Sons, 1991) and
Yukai (Abduction, 1997), in which Nagase was delighted to have a chance
to star alongside veteran actor Watari Tetsuya. He has
also starred in a series of movies, also produced by
Hayashi, in which he plays private eye Hama Maiku (Mike Hammer,
geddit? photo above). Nagase won the Japan Academy Award for best supporting actor three years running 1997-9.
In 2004, he teamed up with Yamada again in the director's second samurai pic "Kakushi Ken,
Oni no Tsume" (Hidden Sword, Demon's Claw), which opened the 17th Tokyo International Film
Festival. With almost 20 movies under his belt and a solid acting reputation,
Nagase will probably continue to be one of the faces of Japan in the international
movie scene for some time.