Grad Shares Japan’s Film Talent With the World

In 2006, Akira Otaguro made a bold move. Newly graduated from Full Sail’s Film program, the Japanese native was struck by the way movies like Memoirs of a Geisha and The Last Samurai were exporting Japanese culture to the West.

“I thought there must be someone who was connecting Hollywood and Japan,” says Akira. “So I checked the IMDB Pro website and found a common name credited on all of the movies: [Casting Director] Yoko Narahash.” Akira decided to reach out to the industry icon.

“I wrote a long email to her company’s ‘info’ address introducing myself and expressing my desire to work with her and share Japan with a wider foreign audience,” Akira says. “After exchanging emails over time, I met her and was hired. My determination and personality helped me to achieve my goal.”

Since then Akira has received a Casting Assistant credit on numerous Japanese films, most recently 47 Ronin, Emperor, and Wolverine Samurai.

“In 47 Ronin, we auditioned tons of actors because there were are all Japanese characters except Keanu Reeves,” he says. “Happily, lots of the actors we hired were really good actors but were not famous in Japan. I found myself introducing Japanese actors to not only a foreign audience but also a Japanese one, which is even more of an important decision for me. I found out that actors must not be casted solely on their fame, but on their genuine talent.”

Emperor was a memorable movie as well because my boss (Yoko Narahash) produced it, and it was the movie I was most deeply involved with as both a casting assistant and an assistant of the producer,” Akira says. “I had to handle all of the Japanese casting, which was a big challenge, as most of the actors were quite big names in Japan.”

Casting has become a niche Akira feels at home in, and it’s helped him stoke his passion for Japanese film. “I love casting because I can introduce great Japanese actors to a wider foreign audience. I also love the responsibility that comes with this position as I feel I am representing my small hometown in Kyushu, on the southern Island of Japan,” he says. “When a director or producer agrees with my judgment and presentation of choosing actors for each character, I feel very satisfied.”

These days, Akira has shifted his focus to other forms of media. “Since I became a freelance contractor, I have been involved in lots of music videos in Japan. These videos have appeared on MTV Japan and other music TV shows in Japan. Also, I am writing a short film script about a girl who sells apples.”

His days are spent on production, editing footage, or working on new projects. “In the afternoon, after a good lunch and a nice cup of coffee, I usually have meetings with clients or catch up on e-mails. These meetings can be short or last into the evening,” he says. “As I live near Tokyo, there is always something going on at night but sometimes I just like to relax at my house or walk around to see what is happening in my area. It is where I draw my inspiration.”