Getting Started in Showbiz in Tokyo
by Dave Bockmann
North American Post Tokyo
Getting a start in show business in Japan isn’t difficult, but making a
success of it requires hard work, dedication and "a look."
The IMO Talent Agency of Tokyo has about 4,000 foreigners on its list of
"talents"—the term used in the film industry for actors, actresses
and models. Samy Pop, an IMO talent agent says if you have a visa that allows
you to work in Japan and a residency card, "you can just come in and
register. When we get a call for talent, we’ll let you know." The
chances of getting a call are not bad. "Maybe half get work," Pop
says. "The other half they sign up, go home and don’t come back. Some
get jobs everyday, some don’t."
Seattleites Jennifer Barr and Matthew Barron are among those who get jobs
everyday. "It’s easy to sign up," Barr said, "but it’s what
you put into it. You have to make frequent appearances at the agency and go to
auditions even if you don’t think you’ll get the part. That way they’ll
Barron agrees and adds this advice, "first thing, save your money and
learn Japanese. The better you can speak it the more comfortable the staff
(agents and producers) get. If the staff feels they can depend on you, you’ll
get lots of jobs. Don’t ever say, ‘I’m a foreigner’—try to fit into
The culture, according to Pop, means "you should be punctual. In Japan
punctuality is important. And you should be respectful. If you are, it’s
pretty easy to get work." Not all of Pop’s talents learn to fit in,
however. "The only trouble with American guys, sometimes they think they
are number one. If you’re working for a client, you should…you shouldn’t
have such a big ego. Or be a know it all," he said.
And then there’s the "look." Pop says the talents most in
demand are North Americans, but there are opportunities for everyone. "We
can provide talents of all ages and ethnic groups," Pop said. "Of
course, the client often wants a certain ‘look.’ If you look good, are
handsome or look sophisticated, then you have a really good chance. Sometimes
they are looking for a special person. You should have a ‘look’ or talent
that is yours."
So, armed with a visa, residency card and a good attitude there’s a great
chance of getting into show business in Japan. Staying in it, though, requires
hard work and a willingness to put up with tough conditions. For this article,
Matthew Barron was interviewed by telephone from a chilly mountainous area
about an hour from Tokyo. "I had to be here at 6 a.m. and we won’t
finish until midnight. Right now, we’re shooting a reenactment show. It’s
hard work and we’re up in the mountains freezing our a***s off."