As we shared in part two, we mentioned how the dub of the first game featured the talents of Michael Madsen and Mark Hamill. While such big name celebrities to Western audiences may not have helped its credibility, in Japan, the Yakuza series has maintained its domestic popularity by heavily featuring its own domestic A-list celebrities.
Yakuza Films Actors
This practice dates back to the very first game! One of the notable big name actors from the first game was Tetsuya Watari, who voiced Kazama, Kiryuu’s foster father. In his youth, Watari made a name for himself starring in yakuza films such as Tokyo Drifter and Outlaw: Gangsters VIP in the 1960’s. The Kazama character notably takes influence from the character he plays in Tokyo Drifter, where he is a hitman.
As the series progressed, it would continue to feature famous Japanese performers who gained fame by starring in yakuza films, most notably Riki Takeuchi, Hitoshi Ozawa, and Hideo Nakano, who all played Kiryu’s rivals in Yakuza 0. As insane as it sounds, this isn’t the first time they have worked together in any capacity. In the 90’s, they starred in a lot of yakuza films either individually or together. Thanks to their established reputations, their performances and likeness in the game brings a distinguishing credibility to the franchise for its domestic audience.
In addition, Yakuza has long featured sexy actresses, Japan’s PC way of referring to adult actresses. In the first game, Mihiro, who was the biggest actress of the mid-2000’s, lent her voice (not her likeliness) to a character in a side story. In tradition to how Nagoshi wants to appeal to mature domestic audiences, the inclusion of such celebrities further emphasizes that conceived notion.
This feature continues with recent titles (notably 6 and Kiwami 2) with present big name actresses such as Aika, Yua Mikami, Kirara Asuka, and Shoko Takahashi. In 6, it features a webcam chat mini-game where it uses actual recorded footage of actresses, and one of the featured actresses is Anri Okita, who was one of the biggest names of Japan’s adult entertainment industry in the 2010’s! With their inclusion, it helps give a unique boost to the franchise’s appeal, give the actresses international exposure, and showcase their singing abilities through karaoke!
Beyond porn, Yakuza 6 and Kiwami 2 feature some of the hottest names from New Japan Pro Wrestling. In 6, there’s a mini-game where Kiryu has to face NJPW champions such as Tetsuya Naito, Hiroshi Tanahashi, and Kazuchika Okada. Just like the other celebrities featured, their voices and likeliness are featured in the game, and have their own roles within the story. When Kiryu has to face these wrestlers one-on-one, they even bust out some of their trademark moves! When you face Tetsuya Naito, he uses his Destino, or when you face Tanahashi, he can take you down with his Sling Blade at full force. If Okada hits you with his Rainmaker, you’re down for the count!
For Kiwami 2, this mini-game is repackaged to feature the older talents of NJPW such as Masahiro Chono (the OG nWo leader), Riki Choshu (who was Hulk Hogan’s first opponent in Japan), Keiji Muto, and Tatsumi Fujinami (who you would put on a Mt. Rushmore of Japan’s wrestling industry along with Rikidozan, Antonio Inoki and Giant Baba). While these guys may be old, they still got what it takes to put up a fight!
The Biggest Names in Japan
As the series continued to put out more games and with more sales, the bigger names Sega was able to get! If anything, 6 probably has the biggest ensemble of A-list celebrities you could think of by combining adult, sports, music and mainstream entertainment. Besides NJPW wrestlers and sexy actresses, what more could you ask for? In 6, it featured an ensemble of highly reputable Japanese celebrities such as Shun Oguri (who was in GTO and Gokusen), Tatsuya Fujiwara (Light in the live action Death Note), and Takeshi Kitano!
Casting Takeshi Kitano in 6 was a big deal not because of his reputation as an accomplished actor but how he has publicly criticized games and modern technology in the past. Due to him making such statements, it was surprising to have him in the game. The only story we could find why he made it into the game is that him and Nagoshi are friends, and Nagoshi simply asked him to be in the game and he accepted.
However, the inclusion of Kitano is just the beginning since the studio’s most recent release, Judgment (or Judge Eyes in Japan), notably features one of Japan’s biggest celebrities, Takuya Kimura. Some of you probably know him as the Japanese voice of Howl from Howl’s Moving Castle, and his inclusion to the Japanese audience was a huge deal. As a result, the game became a huge hit over there.
Not only are we getting the biggest names in Japanese movies, adult entertainment, and sports entertainment, we can’t forget about music! Unfortunately, due to licensing issues, certain songs tend to be cut from international releases. Some big name musicians featured in the franchise are Eikichi Yazawa (who did the opening theme to the third game), Crazy Ken Band (who did December 17 for Yakuza 2), and for the Japanese version of the sixth game, it featured the works of Tatsuro Yamashita, the husband of Mariya Takeuchi, who has become famous on youtube for her 1984 hit, Plastic Love. So if you want to hear Japan’s biggest musicians, Yakuza is it!
These reasons largely contribute as to why Yakuza is a unique hit to Japanese audiences. Even so, the inclusions of such big name celebrities can help them get recognized on a global scale that wouldn’t have been possible before. Unfortunately, some of their inclusions have had a downside which we’re covering in our next article as it relates to some controversies.