Film

Actress Nanami weighs the pros and cons of going it alone

by Matthew Hernon

Special To The Japan Times

It has been estimated that around 1 in 10 actors are working at any given moment. For the other nine, that can make for a constant hustle — a Woody Allen character once described the film industry as being “worse than dog-eat-dog, it’s dog-doesn’t-return-other-dogs-phone-calls.”

Japan is no exception. Like in Hollywood, the right look and a lot of luck are often necessary for success. Signing with a top management agency is also seen as crucial. Up-and-coming actress Nanami Kameda is aware of this, yet she currently manages herself. She’d previously been with two agencies — one during her early teens, the other shortly after returning from a four-year stay in Los Angeles — but is now biding her time before selecting the next one.

“It doesn’t look good if you change agencies often so it’s vital that I don’t rush into anything and carefully consider my options,” she tells The Japan Times confidently in English. “It sounds wonderful signing for a company who may be able to get you a role in a movie or TV show, but the reality can often be different. It’s ruthless and many young people who sign up don’t realize this.”

The lure of the showbiz world is simply too tempting for some. They’ll join the first agency that shows any interest in them without doing any research, which can lead to problems further down the line. It’s a trap Nanami, who prefers to go by her first name, is determined not to fall into.

“I’m trying to get as much information as possible from other actors and directors,” she says. “You hear stories about certain companies that are quite scary and definitely ones to avoid, particularly when thinking long-term.

“It’s not like America or Europe. Agencies have complete control here. They’ll decide what auditions you are going to and saying ‘no’ usually isn’t an option. It is therefore essential that we’re on the same page. If I was only looking for 15 minutes of fame then I’d probably have already chosen one by now, but acting is something I want to do for the rest of my career. I can’t afford to get it wrong.”

The 26-year-old actress has gotten a considerable amount of work over the past couple of years while managing herself. She featured in a number of stage productions, musicals and had a key role in the kaijū monster flick “Outer Man.”

This year, Nanami starred in the Yoko Narahashi drama “Hold My Hand.” The director described Nanami as having a “natural radiance, with nothing put on,” a fantastic compliment considering it comes from the woman known in Japanese film circles as the “Gatekeeper to Hollywood” for her work as a casting director for such blockbusters as “The Last Samurai” and “The Wolverine.”

Due to the way the system is set up, however, all actors in Japan eventually need to pair up with a management agency. While it’s OK for an established star such as Kaori Momoi to manage herself here, for a young, relatively inexperienced performer such as Nanami it will likely be difficult to truly thrive in her career without some help.

“I’d love to be able to continue doing things by myself indefinitely,” she says. “I’ve spoken to people about it, but the answer’s always the same; it’s nigh on impossible for a new face to get to that next level on their own, especially in this country. At some point I’ll find a management team that shares the same values and vision as me. Until then, I’ll just keeping working hard trying to get as many auditions as possible.”