“He’s no genius,” said a certain producer of actor-singer Takayuki Yamada. It was not a put-down. On the contrary, he spoke admiringly. The context is a question posed by Shukan Gendai (Jan 5-12): “What constitutes an entertainer’s talent?” Why do some stars fade almost immediately upon flashing, while others endure? It turns out that too much talent can be as bad as too little.
The magazine looks at the careers of eight popular performers, only to conclude, predictably, that there’s no one answer. Each one has his or her own secret – without which all the talent and sex appeal in the world wouldn’t have added up to a lasting career.
Yamada, 29, is best known for his starring role in the 2005 hit movie “Densha Otoko” (Train Man), about a shy “otaku” who heroically rescues women passengers from a drunk molester on a train. Yamada’s career took off – he’s currently appearing in four movies and about to star in a new TV drama.
“He’s no genius,” the producer says of him. “On the contrary, he’s cowardly, timid. On the first take in front of the camera, he can barely get his voice out.” Well, that’s not what you expect of a star in his league. But, the producer continues, “In my opinion, an actor needs cowardice. Those who don’t have it lack delicacy. Those without a touch of cowardice in their makeup insist on doing everything their own way.”
It works for Yamada. It probably wouldn’t for Hitori Gekidan, a 35-year-old comedian. (His real name is Shogo Kawashima; his stage name means, roughly, one-man theater company.) “He was a weird kid,” his mother reminisces fondly. “He was the most troublesome to raise of all my three children. I never realized it was because he had talent.”
Weird? “For example, he remembers things from his infancy; he remembers me carrying him to daycare when he was 18 months old.”
Anything else? “He was very, very shy, always hiding behind his older brother. Once when Shogo was in second grade or thereabouts, his brother teased him about something, and all of a sudden he just exploded.” The brother, five years older, fled in terror and locked himself in his room. To this day, friends say, Gekidan is known for a temper that can explode when you least expect it.
“To him,” one associate tells Shukan Gendai, “laughter is not a business, it’s not money. To him, laughter is a drug. It’s all he thinks about.”
Singer-actor Masaharu Fukuyama, at 43, has been around for 22 years and shows no sign of fading. “Around” means everywhere – records, movies, TV, radio; he won a Best Actor award for his portrayal of an eccentric but brilliant physicist in the Fuji-TV drama “Galileo.” His appeal, an entertainment reporter tells Shukan Gendai, is his instinctive feel for what a particular audience wants, and his ability – and willingness – to deliver it, even at times to the detriment of his private life.
For example, “On late-night radio aimed mostly at young men, he’ll indulge in off-color talk, but at concerts attended mostly by young women, there’ll be nothing of the kind,” says an entertainment reporter. “Who he is depends on where he is, and who’s there with him. His image is important to him to the extent that he’ll end a romance if the press gets wind of it. It’s not good for his image to be seen as a one-woman man.”
So that’s what it takes to be a lasting star.