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The Most Famous

ACTORS from Japan

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This page contains a list of the greatest Japanese Actors. The pantheon dataset contains 9,996 Actors, 318 of which were born in Japan. This makes Japan the birth place of the 7th most number of Actors behind France and South Korea.

Top 10

The following people are considered by Pantheon to be the top 10 most legendary Japanese Actors of all time. This list of famous Japanese Actors is sorted by HPI (Historical Popularity Index), a metric that aggregates information on a biography’s online popularity. Visit the rankings page to view the entire list of Japanese Actors.

Photo of Olivia de Havilland

1. Olivia de Havilland (1916 - 2020)

With an HPI of 71.19, Olivia de Havilland is the most famous Japanese Actor.  Her biography has been translated into 75 different languages on wikipedia.

Dame Olivia Mary de Havilland (; July 1, 1916 – July 26, 2020) was a British-American actress. The major works of her cinematic career spanned from 1935 to 1988. She appeared in 49 feature films and was one of the leading actors of her time. At the time of her death in 2020 at age 104, she was the oldest living and earliest surviving Academy Award winner and was widely considered as being the last surviving major star from the Golden Age of Hollywood cinema. Her younger sister was Oscar-winning actress Joan Fontaine. De Havilland first came to prominence with Errol Flynn as a screen couple in adventure films such as Captain Blood (1935) and The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938). One of her best-known roles is that of Melanie Hamilton in Gone with the Wind (1939), for which she received her first of five Oscar nominations, the only one for Best Supporting Actress. De Havilland departed from ingénue roles in the 1940s and later distinguished herself for performances in Hold Back the Dawn (1941), To Each His Own (1946), The Snake Pit (1948), and The Heiress (1949), receiving nominations for Best Actress for each and winning for To Each His Own and The Heiress. She was also successful in work on stage and television. De Havilland lived in Paris from the 1950s and received honors such as the National Medal of the Arts, the Légion d'honneur, and the appointment to Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire at the age of 101. In addition to her film career, de Havilland continued her work in the theatre, appearing three times on Broadway, in Romeo and Juliet (1951), Candida (1952), and A Gift of Time (1962). She also worked in television, appearing in the successful miniseries Roots: The Next Generations (1979) and Anastasia: The Mystery of Anna (1986), for which she received a Primetime Emmy Award nomination and won the Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress in a Television Movie or Series. During her film career, de Havilland also collected two New York Film Critics Circle Awards, the National Board of Review Award for Best Actress, and the Venice Film Festival Volpi Cup. For her contributions to the motion picture industry, she received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. She and her sister remain the only siblings to have won major acting Academy Awards.

Photo of Joan Fontaine

2. Joan Fontaine (1917 - 2013)

With an HPI of 67.39, Joan Fontaine is the 2nd most famous Japanese Actor.  Her biography has been translated into 68 different languages.

Joan de Beauvoir de Havilland (October 22, 1917 – December 15, 2013), known professionally as Joan Fontaine, was a British-American actress who is best known for her starring roles in Hollywood films during the "Golden Age". Fontaine appeared in more than 45 films in a career that spanned five decades. She was the younger sister of actress Olivia de Havilland. Their rivalry was well-documented in the media at the height of Fontaine's career. She began her film career in 1935, signing a contract with RKO Pictures. Fontaine received her first major role in The Man Who Found Himself (1937) and in Gunga Din (1939). Her career prospects improved greatly after her starring role in Alfred Hitchcock's Rebecca (1940), for which she received her first of three nominations for the Academy Award for Best Actress. The following year, she won that award for her role in Hitchcock's Suspicion (1941). A third nomination came with The Constant Nymph (1943). She appeared mostly in drama films through the 1940s, including Letter from an Unknown Woman (1948), which is now considered a classic. In the next decade, after her role in Ivanhoe (1952), her film career began to decline and she moved into stage, radio and television roles. She appeared in fewer films in the 1960s, which included Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (1961), and her final film role in The Witches (1966), also known as The Devil's Own. She released an autobiography, No Bed of Roses, in 1978, and continued to act until 1994. Having won an Academy Award for her role in Suspicion, Fontaine is the only actress to have won an Academy Award for acting in a Hitchcock film. She and her sister remain the only siblings to have won lead-acting Academy Awards.

Photo of Liv Ullmann

3. Liv Ullmann (1938 - )

With an HPI of 66.10, Liv Ullmann is the 3rd most famous Japanese Actor.  Her biography has been translated into 57 different languages.

Liv Johanne Ullmann (born 16 December 1938) is a Norwegian actress and film director. Recognised as one of the greatest European actresses of all time, Ullmann is known as the muse and frequent partner of filmmaker Ingmar Bergman. She acted in many of his films, including Persona (1966), Cries and Whispers (1972), Scenes from a Marriage (1973), The Passion of Anna (1969), and Autumn Sonata (1978). Ullmann won a Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Motion Picture Drama in 1972 for the film The Emigrants (1971) and has been nominated for another four. In 2000, she was nominated for the Palme d'Or for her second directorial feature film, Faithless. She has received two BAFTA Award nominations, and two nominations for the Academy Award for Best Actress, for The Emigrants (1971) and Ingmar Bergman's Face to Face (1976). On March 25, 2022, Ullmann was presented with an Honorary Academy Award in recognition of her "bravery and emotional transparency that has gifted audiences with deeply affecting screen portrayals".

Photo of Sonny Chiba

4. Sonny Chiba (1939 - 2021)

With an HPI of 65.61, Sonny Chiba is the 4th most famous Japanese Actor.  His biography has been translated into 34 different languages.

Shinichi Chiba (Japanese: 千葉 真一, Hepburn: Chiba Shin'ichi, born Sadaho Maeda; 22 January 1939 – 19 August 2021), known internationally as Sonny Chiba, was a Japanese actor and martial artist. Chiba was one of the first actors to achieve stardom through his skills in martial arts, initially in Japan and later before an international audience.Born in Fukuoka, Chiba played a variety of sports in high school, including baseball and volleyball. He also practiced gymnastics and participated at the National Sports Festival of Japan in his third year. When he was a university student, he learned martial arts, earning a black belt in Kyokushin Karate in 1965 and later receiving a fourth degree in 1984. Chiba's career began in the 1960s, when he starred in two tokusatsu superhero shows. In his first role, he replaced Susumu Wajima as the main character Kōtarō Ran/Seven Color Mask in Seven Color Mask (Nana-iro kamen) in the second half of the series. However, his breakthrough role was in the 1974 film The Street Fighter. Before retiring, Chiba had starred in Kill Bill: Volume 1, and The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift. Chiba died from complications of COVID-19 on 19 August 2021, at age 82.

Photo of Ken Watanabe

5. Ken Watanabe (1959 - )

With an HPI of 62.92, Ken Watanabe is the 5th most famous Japanese Actor.  His biography has been translated into 48 different languages.

Ken Watanabe (渡辺 謙, Watanabe Ken, born October 21, 1959) is a Japanese actor. To English-speaking audiences, he is known for playing tragic hero characters, such as General Tadamichi Kuribayashi in Letters from Iwo Jima and Lord Katsumoto Moritsugu in The Last Samurai, for which he was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. Among other awards, he has won the Japan Academy Film Prize for Best Actor twice, in 2007 for Memories of Tomorrow and in 2010 for Shizumanu Taiyō. He is also known for his roles in Christopher Nolan's films Batman Begins and Inception, as well as Memoirs of a Geisha, and Pokémon Detective Pikachu. In 2014, he starred in the reboot Godzilla as Dr. Ishiro Serizawa, a role he reprised in the sequel, Godzilla: King of the Monsters. He lent his voice to the fourth and fifth installments of the Transformers franchise respectively, Transformers: Age of Extinction and Transformers: The Last Knight, as Decepticon-turned-Autobot Drift. In 2022, he starred in the HBO Max crime drama series Tokyo Vice. He made his Broadway debut in April 2015 in Lincoln Center Theater's revival production of The King and I in the title role. In 2015, Watanabe received his first Tony Award nomination for Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical at the 69th Tony Awards for his role as The King. He is the first Japanese actor to be nominated in this category. Watanabe reprised his role at the London Palladium in June 2018.

Photo of Takashi Shimura

6. Takashi Shimura (1905 - 1982)

With an HPI of 60.48, Takashi Shimura is the 6th most famous Japanese Actor.  His biography has been translated into 38 different languages.

Takashi Shimura (志村 喬, Shimura Takashi, March 12, 1905 – February 11, 1982) was a Japanese actor who appeared in over 200 films between 1934 and 1981. He appeared in 21 of Akira Kurosawa's 30 films (more than any other actor), including as a lead actor in Drunken Angel (1948), Rashomon (1950), Ikiru (1952) and Seven Samurai (1954). He played Professor Kyohei Yamane in Ishirō Honda's original Godzilla (1954). For his contributions to the arts, the Japanese government decorated Shimura with the Medal with Purple Ribbon in 1974 and the Order of the Rising Sun, 4th Class, Gold Rays with Rosette in 1980.

Photo of Hiroyuki Sanada

7. Hiroyuki Sanada (1960 - )

With an HPI of 59.47, Hiroyuki Sanada is the 7th most famous Japanese Actor.  His biography has been translated into 33 different languages.

Hiroyuki Sanada (真田 広之, Sanada Hiroyuki, 12 October 1960) is a Japanese-American actor and martial artist. He is best known to international audiences for his roles as Genbu in Ninja in the Dragon's Den (1982), Ryuji Takayama in Ring (1998), Seibei Iguchi in The Twilight Samurai (2002), Ujio in The Last Samurai (2003), Kenji in Rush Hour 3 (2007), and Scorpion in Mortal Kombat (2021). His role as 'The Fool' in the Shakespeare play King Lear also gave him notable theatrical notice in the United Kingdom. In Japan, Sanada is also known for songs he recorded for movies he was in as well as songs he has performed for the public.He made his first major Hollywood appearance portraying Ujio in The Last Samurai (2003), later appearing in such films as Sunshine (2007), Speed Racer (2008), The Wolverine, 47 Ronin (both 2013), Minions (2015), Life (2017), Avengers: Endgame (2019), Army of the Dead (2021), and Bullet Train (2022). He also had a recurring role on the HBO series Westworld (2018-2020).

Photo of Setsuko Hara

8. Setsuko Hara (1920 - 2015)

With an HPI of 59.36, Setsuko Hara is the 8th most famous Japanese Actor.  Her biography has been translated into 38 different languages.

Setsuko Hara (原 節子, Hara Setsuko, 17 June 1920 – 5 September 2015) was a Japanese actress. Though best known for her performances in Yasujirō Ozu's films Late Spring (1949) and Tokyo Story (1953), she had already appeared in 67 films before working with Ozu.

Photo of Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa

9. Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa (1950 - )

With an HPI of 58.11, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa is the 9th most famous Japanese Actor.  His biography has been translated into 32 different languages.

Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa (Japanese: 田川 洋行, Tagawa Hiroyuki; born September 27, 1950) is a Japanese-born American actor, film producer, and martial artist. Often cast as villains, he is known for his film roles in The Last Emperor (1987), the James Bond film Licence to Kill (1989), Showdown in Little Tokyo (1991), American Me (1992), Rising Sun (1993), The Phantom (1996), Snow Falling on Cedars (1999), Pearl Harbor (2001), Planet of the Apes (also 2001), Memoirs of a Geisha (2005), Tekken (2009), 47 Ronin (2013), Tekken 2: Kazuya's Revenge (2014), and Kubo and the Two Strings (2017). He starred as Trade Minister Nobusuke Tagomi on the Amazon Prime television series The Man in the High Castle (2015–2018) and Hiroki Watanabe on the Netflix series Lost in Space (2018–2021). Tagawa is known for his role as the evil sorcerer Shang Tsung in various works of the Mortal Kombat franchise: he first played the character in the 1995 film adaptation, and reprised it in 2013 for the television series Mortal Kombat: Legacy and in 2019 for the video game Mortal Kombat 11.

Photo of Tatsuya Nakadai

10. Tatsuya Nakadai (1932 - )

With an HPI of 57.59, Tatsuya Nakadai is the 10th most famous Japanese Actor.  His biography has been translated into 27 different languages.

Tatsuya Nakadai (仲代 達矢, Nakadai Tatsuya, born Motohisa Nakadai; December 13, 1932) is a Japanese film actor.He was featured in 11 films directed by Masaki Kobayashi, including The Human Condition trilogy, wherein he starred as the lead character Kaji, plus Harakiri, Samurai Rebellion and Kwaidan. Nakadai worked with some of Japan's best-known filmmakers—starring or co-starring in five films directed by Akira Kurosawa, as well as being cast in significant films directed by Hiroshi Teshigahara (The Face of Another), Mikio Naruse (When a Woman Ascends the Stairs), Kihachi Okamoto (Kill! and The Sword of Doom), Hideo Gosha (Goyokin), Shirō Toyoda (Portrait of Hell) and Kon Ichikawa (Enjō and Odd Obsession).

Pantheon has 318 people classified as actors born between 1886 and 2004. Of these 318, 269 (84.59%) of them are still alive today. The most famous living actors include Liv Ullmann, Ken Watanabe, and Hiroyuki Sanada. The most famous deceased actors include Olivia de Havilland, Joan Fontaine, and Sonny Chiba. As of April 2022, 114 new actors have been added to Pantheon including Masako Nozawa, Mie Hama, and Juzo Itami.

Living Actors

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Deceased Actors

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Newly Added Actors (2022)

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Which Actors were alive at the same time? This visualization shows the lifespans of the 25 most globally memorable Actors since 1700.