Dancer and Actor Naoki Kobayashi Featured

Published in Feature Story  

Dancer and Actor Naoki Kobayashi

From EXILE to Hollywood

Over the last decade, Naoki Kobayashi has carved out a place for himself in Japan’s entertainment industry. Best known as a performer and choreographer for the J-pop bands EXILE and Sandaime J Soul Brothers, he performs frequently for audiences in the thousands while balancing projects as a runway model and TV and film actor. His latest venture is into Hollywood, making his debut in the English film Earthquake Bird, a psychological thriller produced by Ridley Scott and directed by Wash Westmoreland that was released worldwide in October 2019. Tokyo Journal Editor-in-Chief Anthony Al-Jamie talked to Naoki Kobayashi about his career in music and film.

TJ: How did you get started in your career?
When I was 17, I saw a dancer who had recently passed, and I was fascinated with him. I copied his moves in front of the TV at midnight, and then I joined a class. After a few years, I was still just a street dancer. I was performing in a club in Tokyo and I met a man — Akira. He told me, “You should join our group.” So, I became a member of his group, and then after that he became a member of EXILE in 2006. When I saw his first stage performance as an EXILE member, I was so shocked. I had never seen that kind of performance. There were 10,000 people in attendance cheering for Akira. He inspired me, so I decided to follow him. After that, I joined LDH dance school and later became an instructor. He invited me as a choreographer of the theater group Gekidan EXILE. Before that, I was just a dancer and I did not speak at all on stage. But with the theater group, I said my first line. I played a gang member and I caught the heroine. She bit my arm, and then I said, “This is not chicken.” I was shocked because I could use language as an additional way to express myself on stage.

TJ: EXILE does not seem to be a typical group. Can you tell me about how the group works?
EXILE has a unique style. Now we have 19 members — two vocalists and 17 dancers, and some of the members have already retired. We cover a range of generations. The oldest member is now 49 years old and the youngest is 23. We continue to pass down the same message: love, dreams, and happiness through entertainment as the same group, but with different members. We toured Japan in 2019 with only 15 of our members. I’m in two groups, EXILE and JSB, which means J Soul Brothers. J Soul Brothers is like the second generation of EXILE, with different members. I am a leader of that group. We are touring and replacing new songs in an EXILE way.

TJ: What do you think is the most challenging part of being in EXILE?
It’s like a movie. A movie has a director, producer, a writer, a DP [director of photography]. I need to collaborate with every performer constantly to perfect the production. We are together almost every night.

TJ: I understand you’ve also done acting. Can you tell us about that?
I was in a movie called Samurai. It’s the story about a blacksmith. And then I was in two movies of the High & Low series.

TJ: Can you tell me about your Netflix movie?
The title is Earthquake Bird. The setting is Japan — 1989. A Swedish woman is living in Tokyo as a translator, and she meets a man who is a photographer — that’s me. They have a relationship and become lovers. Suddenly, an American woman enters the story and it becomes a love triangle, but the story quickly takes a dark turn. The film’s story is one filled with love, mystery, and suspense. The story is amazing. The director, Wash Westmoreland, who directed Still Alice and Collette, is a genius. It’s a beautiful art film. And then the producer is Ridley Scott — he is familiar with Japan’s unique stories and scenery.

TJ: Who stars in the movie with you?
I worked with Alicia Vikander from Tomb Raider and Riley Keough from Mad Max. Alicia has received several awards as an actress. She’s amazing and she brought me to the next level as an actor. Riley is always organic, natural, and she definitely has that special something.

TJ: Was the whole movie filmed in Japan?
Yes. Mainly in Tokyo, but we went to some other places with a foreign crew.

TJ: Was it very different working on an American film?
Yes. There are a lot of differences between a Japanese crew and an American crew. The DP was Chung-hoon Chung. He shot the film called Oldboy, the Korean movie. The cinematography was amazing. The color and the angles are terrific. He definitely incorporated some of his ideas into the film. And the director always received ideas from the staff. All in all, it was a great experience.

TJ: Is that very different from what hap pens in Japan?
Yes. In Japan, I’m afraid to say, sometimes the director or producer has strong power, but this film was like a jam session.

TJ: Did you enjoy that culture? Do you want to have a Hollywood career?
Yes. I’m planning to move to L.A.

TJ: Nothing seems to intimidate you. You became a dancer. You learned English. You’re in movies. Now you’re in Hollywood movies. What’s next after this movie?
I’m gonna be a Hollywood star like Leonardo DiCaprio. Call me Leo. (laughs.)


The complete article can be found in Issue #280 of the Tokyo Journal.

Written By:

Anthony Al-Jamie

Anthony Al-Jamie lived and worked in Japan for over 20 years. His in-depth understanding of Japanese language and culture has allowed him to carry out interviews with many of the most renowned individuals in Japan. He first began writing for the Tokyo Journal in the 1990s as Education Editor, later he was promoted to Senior Editor, and eventually International Editor and Executive Editor. He currently serves the Tokyo Journal as Editor-in-Chief.

Email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


Staff Continued



Our Poll

What is your favorite city in Japan?

Tokyo Journal

© 2024 Akademeia Vision, Inc. All rights reserved