Odagiri Joe fell under my radar after seeing him in Shinya Shokudo. He only has a supporting/guest role, but his signature amused yet cool demeanor instantly got me hooked. Needless to say, since then he has become part of my Top 20 Actors list.
To really appreciate Odagiri you should be open to viewing eclectic indie style works—because those are the types of dramas and films you’ll typically see him appear in. Rarely are his roles mainstream—and I have yet to see him in a clichéd idol-centric romantic-comedy. In fact, he doesn’t conform to a traditional idol look. He gives off a nonchalant air that is underscored by a scruffy, goth style with a head of hair that is all part of his charm.
In an interview he emphasized, “Well, I think I am oriented for independent movies. I don't think I can make mainstream movies and compete in the major field. If anything, I have strength in expressing myself in narrow and partial areas. So I will try not to get involved in major films, or the ones people in general accept and appreciate. There are many craftsmen in Japan. And I am like one of them. Rather than being widely accepted, I am one of those actors who resonates strongly with limited people.”
Odagiri acts, directs, writes and sings. It’s interesting to note that he studied acting at California State University in Fresno by accident. His true intent was to study film directing, but due to an application error he ended up in acting classes. He still has a strong interest in directing however, and in 2009 his first feature length film, “Looking for Cherry Blossoms,” was showcased at the Rotterdam Film Festival.
I typically prefer Odagiri’s movies over his dramas because his characters are more varied and better showcase his depth and creativity as an actor. But there are still a number of his dramas that I thoroughly enjoyed.
This 2010 mystery comedy centers around the disappearance of four young girls. One girl is found almost immediately, but is in a coma. Three years later, their case is being re-investigated by Hoshizaki Kenzo, played by Odagiri, and Sae Kitajama, played by Kuriyama Chiaki. Everyone in the town acts suspiciously, giving us a semi-unpredictable and oftentimes hilarious drama.
Atami no Sousakan is entertaining, well-acted and visually interesting. As usual, Odagiri provides a solid performance in a drama which is right up his alley, with its long list of oddball characters and fantastical plot twists that keep you wondering at the identity of the abductor. I really had fun watching Odagiri’s expressions and his off-beat sleuthing skills. The drama also raises a multitude of questions, and it’s no surprise the internet is flooded with theories surrounding the symbolism that appears throughout the series, as well as its vague ending. It’s a pity a second season didn’t air, as it could have continued where it left off, clarified some questions viewers had, and given us more of Odagiri!
This 2006 comedy was so popular that its sequel, Kaette Kita Jikou Keisatsu premiered the following year. The story follows Kiriyama Shuichiro, played by Odagiri, who works as an information management officer in the prefectural police station. His hobby is solving unresolved cases that have reached their statute of limitations. Shuichiro's sidekick, office colleague Shizuka Mikazui, played by Aso Kumiko, helps him with his cases. At the end of each episode, he hands the criminal, who can no longer be prosecuted, a card stating that he won’t tell anyone they are the culprit.
This drama is quirky, funny, and entertaining, but probably won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, as some of the Japanese humor may be untranslatable. The mystery behind the perpetrator is also pretty transparent about halfway through each episode. Which is why, the series is more about the off-beat jokes and antics of a cast full of zany characters that keep you laughing. Odagiri does a delightful job playing a geeky yet observant investigator with a crazy head of hair who is clueless that his sidekick, Mikauzui, has a crush on him.
After watching this 2002 comedy, I was reminded of the Jim Carey movie, “The Truman Show.” Both feature a main character that is unaware that his life is literally an open book to the world around him. In this case, Satomi Kenichi, played by Odagiri, is a satorare—a person whose inner thoughts are heard by those within 20 feet, unbeknownst to them. Tsuruta Mayu plays the female doctor who tries to help Kenichi when hospital colleagues, who feel inconvenienced by hearing his thoughts, try to drive him away.
Odagiri plays such a gentle, innocent and vulnerable soul. Hearing Kenichi’s thoughts is heartbreaking, uplifting and sometimes just downright hilarious. Yes, he’s a good person—but like everyone, his thoughts are colored with reactionary observations about the people around him. Since satorare are protected by the government, no one is allowed to let them know they can hear their thoughts. So the expressions on the staff’s face when they hear Kenichi’s thoughts are priceless, and their subsequent struggle to keep straight faces is hysterical. Odagiri really helps you feel Kenichi’s pain and while the overall series is a comedy, the episodes when Kenichi finds out everyone can hear his thoughts, is heartrending.
A few other Odagiri dramas stood out for me. These were evenly paced series, and sometimes a bit slow for my taste, but they managed to keep my attention with their exceptional cast of characters and resonating storylines.
Kazoku no Uta - In this 2012 comedy, Odagiri plays Masayoshi Hayakawa, a has-been rock star who ekes out a living by relying on an early morning radio show, a few fan meetings and alcohol. He finds out he is the father of three middle school girls and gradually becomes a better person. I’ve only watched the first few episodes, but I enjoy seeing Odagiri playing a fatherly role—albeit an irresponsible one. Throw in some humor and a lighthearted storyline, and this becomes an easy watch for a rainy afternoon.
Boku no Imoto – This 2008 series deals with the responsibilities of family. It has an interesting plot, great acting, and plenty of twists, centering on the death of a woman that throws the two main lead’s lives, Egami Saya, played by Nagasawa Masami, and Egami Mei, played by Odagiri, into a tailspin. The drama touches on a few serious themes that are thought-provoking, but mainly it’s about the sacrifices you make for family (in this case siblings) and the undesirable situations you sometimes have to face because of them. Odagiri delivers on his usual solid performance, although I found him to be more restrained than usual. My only complaint is that the series moved along at a snail's pace.
Shinya Shokudo - The description for this drama was interesting enough and the ratings were great, but it still took me a while before finally watching this eclectic 2008 drama. I was sorry I waited so long because this was a great drama. After watching the first season, I immediately dramathoned season two which aired in 2011. The story is set in a small restaurant that only opens after midnight and consists of a single menu item. Customers however still go for its entertaining conversation and the owner’s willingness to cook any dish on request. Odagiri’s plays a supporting role as Katagiri. In fact, he rarely speaks. But his uncomplicated and mysterious character draws you in. That and the fact he wears a kimono throughout the series.
It was truly a challenge to narrow down the movies to the ones showcased below. Odagiri has stated he prefers directing to acting, but he certainly doesn’t show it…really. The man has appeared in over 40 films in the last 15 years. At least half of those movies have been nominated for or won prominent awards, or been featured in international film festivals.
With a $25 million dollar budget, the highest costing Korean movie to date, this World War II action drama impresses with its special effects alone—that and a cast of 16,000 extras to pull off the battle scenes. While the storyline becomes a bit unrealistic midway into the movie, it still delivers on the brutality, gore, and action expected of a war film. The movie centers on two rival marathon runners who bitterly hate each other. They find themselves in the Japanese army during WWII and their fierce rivalry continues into the war. As the movie progresses, they eventually rely on each other for survival.
Odagiri plays Tatsuo Hasegawa, a Japanese aristocrat living in Korea during the Japanese occupation. Opposite him is Jang Dong Gun, who plays Korean rickshaw driver, Kim Jun Shik. The bromance that develops between these two is endearing, but it certainly doesn’t start that way. What I enjoyed about Odagiri’s character is that he played an uncaring, sadistic imperialist—a character-type I had never seen him portray. I truly hated his character during the first half of the film. This movie, with its huge budget, was also a departure from the independent movies Odagiri typically appears in. In fact, he turned the movie down and then relented when the script was rewritten especially for him. Overall, a good film even if at times unrealistic.
2007 brought us this gem of a film, which is adapted from the best-selling autobiography of Lili Franky, a Japanese novelist, actor, illustrator, designer, musician and photographer. The film was one of the highlights of 2008—receiving several nominations and winning five awards at the Japan Academy Prizes including Best Film. The picture is a solid, well-acted story of a young man, Masaya, played by Odagiri, who inherits the irresponsible character of his father, but must care for his cancer-stricken mother, Eiko, played by Kiki Kirin. Through his interactions with her, he slowly matures and takes stock of his life.
Odagiri’s character is the opposite of his mother who is hard-working, responsible and would do anything for her son. The transformation that he shows us is subtle and realistic. As time passes, Masaya, becomes more and more like his mother, making sacrifices for her as she battles cancer. The movie is solemn as it addresses terminal illness, but humorous moments are injected, which may not have been delivered as well, if another actor other than Odagiri had played the role. In an interview, he indicated that at the time he was offered this role, his own mother was hospitalized from diabetes-related complications. Odagiri had reservations about accepting this movie, but his mother encouraged him to move forward with the film, saying he shouldn’t decline such a wonderful work because of her.
Shinobi: Heart Under Blade is a fantasy action-adventure about two opposing ninja clans trained in the deadly arts of shinobi. Concerned the clans will become too powerful and reignite war, the Lord of Lords’ creates a ploy to wipe them out. They are told that to decide the next shogunate, they must vest their five best warriors against one another in a battle. The two young heirs to the thrones of these respective clans, Oboro, played by Nakama Yukie, and Gennosuke, played by Odagiri, have fallen in love, however, and prior to the contest, married in secret.
This is not one of my favorite films, but no Stalker’s Guide would be complete without one of the earlier roles Odagiri is most known for. Overall, the movie is about forbidden love—a theme which has been done repeatedly. What kept me engaged are the action scenes which you rarely see Odagiri in. He confidently portrays both a deadly ninja and compassionate soul capable of self-sacrifice.
I want to mention these films because while they weren't necessarily my favorite movies, the characters Odagiri played were phenomenal--showing his versatility and excellence as an actor.
Sway - 2006 featured this intense mystery film which is about sibling rivalry and a possible murder. Odagiri plays Hayakawa Takeru, a successful Tokyo photographer with a racy big-city lifestyle. He returns to his small hometown for his mother's funeral. Odagiri did an excellent portrayal of a man who is torn between wanting to return to his successful life in the city and denying his roots, and reconciling with his past, family and choices (sometimes bad) he has made in life. The emotions he displays, first nonchalant and selfish, then emotional and compassionate, made me vicariously live through his feelings. This movie is superbly written and Odagiri has mentioned in interviews that this was a pivotal role for him as he realized many of his indie dreams through Sway.
Blood and Bones - This movie is intense. It centers on the main lead, Kim Shunpei, played by Beat Takeshi, and the disrespect he feels for humanity, which he takes out on his family and those closest around him. Odagiri only appears in the movie for about 20 minutes, but in that short amount of time, his outstanding portrayal garnered him Best Supporting Actor at the 2004 Japan Academy Prizes. Odagiri plays Kim Takeshi, an illegitimate son of the main lead. Kim is a thug complete with gangster tattoos and an entitled attitude that his father owes him for abandoning him. The father-son relationship concludes with a brutal fighting scene which takes place during a rainstorm. Unfortunately, Odagiri's role makes an exit after the fight.
Azumi – I only watched this to see Odagiri play Bijomaru Mogami. The character doesn’t appear until halfway in the movie, but when he does you’re introduced to that sadistic, sociopathic swordsman who wears a white kimono and always carries a red rose. His fighting skills are worthy of any combatant, and his portrayal of a mentally unbalanced psychopath is superb. I can see why he won Best New Actor for this film—he stole the show in my opinion.
Odagiri has been busy in 2014. So far he has appeared in four dramas and will play a supporting role in a movie slated for end of June.
River’s Edge Okawabata Tanteisha – In this April/May detective drama, Odagiri plays the main lead, Muraki. It’s set within a detective agency located along the Sumida River in Tokyo's Asakusa District – and hence the titular name. The agency receives impossible requests from clients, but they still manage to find solutions by conducting meticulous investigations. I’m currently watching it and can’t wait until the rest of the episodes are subbed. I’m hooked—seriously. The Japanese and their esoteric dramas can be hit or miss—but this one really fits Odagiri well and is a hit for me. The OST is phenomenal. The cinematography is creative. The show is gritty, real and while not overly unique—Odagiri and Japan have done the whole detective spin a thousand times over – it’s entertaining in highlighting aspects of society that are oftentimes brushed under the carpet. So far the episodes I have seen feature yakusa, love hotels/voyeurism, prostitution and has-been idols. There is also a supernatural spin—Odagiri’s character can glimpse the future in his dreams.
Alice no Toge – Another April/May drama, Odagiri plays supporting role Nishikado Yusuke, a reporter who had a childhood interest in the main lead, Mizuno Asumi, played by Ueno Juri. The story is about Asumi, a doctor at the University Hospital, who gives up everything to take revenge on the immoral and negligent doctors who are responsible for her father’s death. I just began watching this and so far it's kept my interest. Odagiri plays a reporter which quite honestly just feels like another detective role - shocker. But what I'm enjoying about Odagiri's character is that Nishikado seems to always have something up his sleeve and isn't everything he appears to be.
S - Saigo no Keisatsukan - Aired earlier this year, this crime drama is about the National Police Safety Rescue who combat 'specialty' crimes, such as terrorism. Odagiri doesn’t play a main lead, but it’s a role I’m looking forward to seeing him in. In this drama, he plays an international terrorist, Masaki Keigo, who is intelligent, off-kilter and describes his occupation as a professional destroyer. He will be the biggest enemy facing the leads Kamikura and Sogo played respectively by Mukai Osamu and Ayano Go. It's on my 'Plan to Watch' list as rarely do we get to see Odagiri play a bad guy.
Gokuaku Ganbo – Also aired this April/May, Ono Machicko plays Kanzaki Kaoru, who grows up in poverty. She manages to save one million yen only to lose it when she lends it to a colleague. She learns of a money making opportunity that ends up thrusting her into a dangerous world where betrayals are the norm, and everyone is trying to outdo the other. I’m unsure if I’ll give this drama a go, because from what I gather, Odagiri’s role as Ijyuin Tamotsu, seems to be minor and the storyline doesn’t completely grab me.
The World of Kanako/Thirst - This movie is expected to release in late June. The story centers around Showa Fujishima, played by Yakusho Koji, a former detective. One day, his daughter Kanako, who is a model student, disappears. As he carefully investigates his daughters last steps, he becomes shocked at what he discovers. Odagiri plays supporting role Detective Aikawa---yes another, detective! I can only say that Odagiri’s judgment is usually spot-on when selecting roles, so I’ll place this on my ‘Plan to Watch’ list. That and the synopsis and trailers so far seem to be pretty intriguing.
Odagiri is unique with his eccentric but entirely engaging presence in films and television. It's no wonder that his creative acting skills have secured him a much deserved place in stardom. A lot of his success can also be attributed to Odagiri's discerning process of selecting roles. It is no secret that he is particular about the roles he chooses and will often go for characters that are complicated with some sort of flaw. I, for one, am looking forward to future works.
If there is an actor or an actress that is worthy of a Stalker's Guide in your opinion, and you have watched enough dramas of his/hers to prove it, please contact Elisabetta about it.