Audiences at the opening of the Tokyo International Film Festival had a chance to glimpse Nakajima Kento stretching his acting range in “Fragments of the Last Will” (aka “From Siberia With Love”), Takahisa Zeze’s melodrama about coming home from the front after WWII.
Nakajima, a J-Pop star with a major fan following, is committing himself to making acting a greater part of his career going forward. With youthful looks and good English-language skills he stands a strong chance of attracting international attention next.
His apprenticeship in entertainment was, typical of the Japanese industry, long and arduous. It involved a stint at Johnny’s Jr music act B.I. Shadow and four years of multi-disciplinary training within the all-powerful Johnny & Associates talent agency, before being unleashed as part the of the idol group Sexy Zone.
The agency training obstacle course is designed to weed out the weak while also developing a range of music, dance, language and acting skills. “Many days we had to get up at 5am,” says Nakajima. He also wryly looks back at the misdirected encouragement. “I still remember Mr. Johnny used to praise my parents for sending me to piano school. He was praising them. Not me,” said Nakajima.
“We trained in many skills. But something I learned from my training was to respond to the rhythm of things,” said Nakajima. That meant finding the rhythm of the performance, but also going with the increasing flow into acting.
“I hope that in my performances people can see the dedication to my craft. I really love to perform as an actor, to give life to a role. And I love to produce very different kinds of characters,” Nakajima said.
Within Japan, Nakajima has accumulated increasingly prominent roles in TV movies (“Castle of Sand”), theatrical movies (“Teen Bride” and “Nisekoi: False Love”) and drama series (NTV’s “Detective Novice,” Fuji TV’s “She Was Pretty”). Recently he was the star of doomed love original movie “My Dearest, Like a Cherry Blossom,” produced by Toho Studios for Netflix.
Nakajima spent the middle of this year in Europe, working on his debut international series role in “Game of Thrones” executive producer Frank Doelger’s surveillance drama “Concordia.” The premise is a society controlled in the interest of fairness by artificial intelligence, but after 20 years the secret behind its creation threatens to destroy the system. Playing opposite Christiane Paul, Steven Sowah and Ruth Bradley (“Ted Lasso”), Nakajima portrays AJ, the youthful whizz kid who keeps the technology running.
“AJ is the Asian tech guy. He’s a very smart and cool person, who becomes more arrogant over time, but is still someone worthy of respect,” said Nakajima. “We had a very international crew British, American, French, German and Italians who were all very inclusive. After a few initial difficulties that came from not working in my native language, I became much more comfortable and discovered some of the many things that [moviemaking the world over] has in common.”
After “Concordia,” which counts ZDF, MBC, France Televisions and Hulu Japan as partners, Nakajima says he is looking for other international roles. His tastes are decidedly mainstream, citing “Top Gun: Maverick” and “50 Shades of Grey” as recent favorites. And he sees himself one day moving into a creative executive role. “I’ve often been involved in a production capacity for Sexy Zone and am interested in creating a 360-degree experience for fans,” Nakajima said. But performance – music and acting – will remain his priorities in the near to medium term.
Given the constant efforts to cultivate fandom, especially through his “Kenty Time” blog, it would be a surprise if he were to give that up in a hurry. Fans in Japan are nothing if not dedicated. “I create a hashtag and in just a little while, they’ve made it a trend. They’re amazing. They’re never failed me,” Nakajima said.
The next trick will be to replicate that loyalty overseas.