Aspiring Actors from Seattle Find Success in Tokyo
by Dave Bockmann
North American Post Tokyo
TokyoóWant to be a star? Tokyo just might be the place to begin.
Whether it's movies, television or theater, breaking into show business in
the U.S. is a long shot, at best. Not so, in Japan.
Here, fame is often fleeting. But as several aspiring northwesterners have
discovered, with hard workóand some talentófame can be yours. More
quickly, than you might think.
Few, of course, will become overnight Japanese pop-culture sensations like
former UW footballer Bob Sapp. Known here as the "Beast," Sapp
parlayed a nascent K-1 kickboxing career into hundreds of TV appearances,
product endorsements and movies to become what Time Magazine says just might
be, "the most famous foreigner to live in Japan since General Douglas
They arenít yet that famous, but Jennifer Barr and Matthew Barron,
both of Seattle, are making their mark in Tokyo.
only 21 years old, a graduate of Rentonís Liberty High School and now a
full-time student at Sophia University in Tokyo, began her quest for Tokyo
stardom just a year ago. In that short time, she has already appeared on TV in
a number of commercials, half-a-dozen comedy shows and five re-enactment
dramas. Barrís most memorable TV appearances have been with famed actor and
director Kitano "Beat" Takeshi and co-hosting a popular game show.
She also landed a role in the just released movie, The Grudgeóshe was
a stand-in for leading lady Sarah Michelle Gellar.
"Since I was small, I always wanted to be on TV," Barr said,
adding with a laugh, "I like the focus on me." She didnít come to
Japan expecting to find herself on television. But about a year ago, at the
suggestion of a friend, she signed up with a talent agency and ended up acting
in a short TV drama. "There is," she learned, "a ton of work
for people who would like to act in short dramas. If you stay around for
awhile, you can get quite a few assignments."
Will she stay around? "After I finish school, Iíd like to stay on in
Japan for a few years," Barr said. "At least for the next year Iíll
be doing this kind of work. In the future, Iíd like to work in the media, TV
or movies, as an actor or behind the scenes."
Barr came to Japan to study and ended up on television. Matthew Barron on
the other hand, came seeking a career in show biz. A graduate of Roosevelt
High, Barron, now 23 years old, moved to Japan four years ago. "Iím
kind of a clown who likes to entertain," he said, "so I thought, why
not do it for a living. I realized it would be hard to make it in Hollywood,
so I decided to try Tokyo."
Barron, a jack-of-all-trades in the entertainment world, has found steady
employment in Tokyo. For animation films and video games, he does voice work.
On TV he does comedy, variety and drama shows. On stage, he appears as a DJ
with popular Japanese "hip-hop" bands. And he has found work in
film, landing a supporting role in the about to be released Godzilla movie, Final
Wars. "Iím a pilot and one of the good guys," he says.
"Itís a long part, but in the end I die."
Why Tokyo? "In part, because I already spoke the language,"
Barron says. Born in Seattle, he and his parents lived in Japan while he was
in kindergarten, staying until he had completed the third grade. On his return
to Seattle, Barron kept up his ties to Japan, and, of course, he says, "I
used to buy manga comics at Uwajimaya."
As for getting started in Japan, "it wasnít hard to break in,"
Barron said. "There are many foreigners here doing work in entertainment,
but most have other jobs and they are just seeking extra money. Maybe one in a
thousand are trying to go somewhere. But this is the only job I have."
And the future? "I give myself goals every year. If I feel Iím
meeting the test, Iíll continue," Barron said. His first year in Japan,
he signed up with an agency, in his second year he began to make appearances
and by the third he was a regular on a childrenís TV show. Now in his fourth
year, heís won a movie role and is a regular on a late night cable show.
Next year? "Some producers are saying they can get a show for meóif
thatís true, itíll be great!
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