Over the years I've heard many complaints about the bad acting in Japanese films, from the hammy emoting of over-indulged veterans to the amateurish turns of "idols" cast more for their agency connections than any perceptible talent. I've added to this chorus of negativity, but I've also noticed that often the best things in otherwise forgettable movies are the supporting actors who bring a spark of originality, individuality and professionalism to even blink-and-you-miss-them roles.

One such actor is Kanji Furutachi, who shot to nationwide popularity as a wacky eikaiwa (English conversation school) student in a 2007 TV commercial for the Nova language-school chain. He has since worked with such leading indie directors as Koji Fukada, Shuichi Okita, Kenji Yamauchi and Eiji Uchida, while building a thriving career in TV and on stage.

Last year, Furutachi's explosive performance in Fukada's "Harmonium" ("Fuchi ni Tatsu") as a metal shop owner whose marriage and life are destroyed by a former partner in crime won praise, as did the film, which premiered in the Cannes Film Festival's Un Certain Regard section and appeared on many Top 10 lists for the year, including mine.