The Evolution from “Actress→Idol” During the Solo Idol Era, and Now “Idol→Actress” During the Current Group Idol Era

The Evolution from “Actress→Idol” During the Solo Idol Era, and Now “Idol→Actress” During the Current Group Idol Era

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Whenever I see the headline that an idol is graduating to be an actress, it feels a little strange. That’s because during the 80s and 90s, it was normal for idols to be the lead actresses in dramas and movies, and they would sing the theme songs to these productions.


The idol magazine Momoco featured a corner called IDRAMA EXPRESS, that would give information on movies and dramas idols were acting in at the time. (Momoco, December 1989 edition) / アイドル雑誌『Momoco』には、『IDRAMA EXPRESS』というアイドルが出演する映画やドラマの情報を紹介するコーナーが用意されていた(Momoco 1989年12月号)

In the past, it was common for idols to start out as actresses. The process usually went actress→idol. Tsukasa Ito, after gaining popularity from starring in the drama 3-nen B-gumi Kinpachi Sensei, debuted as an idol singer, Seiko Matsuda continued to make a name for herself after appearing in the drama Odaiji ni, Momoko Kikuchi was the lead heroine in the drama Pantsu no Ana well before she made her idol debut, and following the same pattern, Miho Nakayama debuted in the drama Maido Osawagase Shimasu before debuting as an idol singer. Often idols debuted after singing the theme songs a movies would then go on to debut as an idol, like with Tomomi Nishimura who sang the theme to the film Don Matsugoro no Seikatsu.

During that period, there was no end to the number of idols starring in dramas and in film. Many of them starred in works that appeared on Monday Drama Land or the Daiei TV Drama Series. Not only limited to movies and dramas, idols also starred in manga turned into live action works like YAWARA!, Meimon! Tako-nishi Ouendan, Hana no Asuka-gumi, and Sukeban Deka. In the 80s and 90s, idol work and acting generally went hand in hand.


The manga series Sukeban Deka by Shinji Wada (Hakusensha Books). For the television adaptation drama of this series, Yuki Saito played the lead in Sukeban Deka, while Yoko Minamino played the lead in Sukeban Ddeka II, Shojo Tekkamen Densetsu, and Yui Asaka played the lead in Sukeban Deka III, Shojo Ninpocho Denki. Aya Matsuura also starred in the film version of the series. 和田慎二による漫画作品『スケバン刑事』(白泉社文庫)。この作品の実写テレビドラマ化されたものが、斉藤由貴主演の『スケバン刑事』、南野陽子主演の『スケバン刑事II 少女鉄仮面伝説』、浅香唯主演の『スケバン刑事III 少女忍法帖伝奇』だ。スケバン刑事は、そのほか松浦亜弥主演で映画化もされている

However, even in the 80s and 90s, there was the question of who was an idol or who was an actress. Were Hiroko Yakushimaru, Tomoyo Harada, and Noriko Watanabe from Kadokawa 3-nin Musume idols? Was Rie Takahara, who debuted as a singer after doing the insert song for the movie Mangetsu no Kuchizuke an idol? Or was Rie Miyazawa, who was part of the Tetsuya Komuro family and made her screen debut in Bokura no Nanokakan Senso, an idol? I remember debating about it with my friends.

As there has never been a real, clear definition of what an idol is exactly, I could never really had a base to support my argument, and although she would be included in the so-called “singer who debuted as an actress” category. Masami Nagasawa and Yui Aragaki would probably be included in this category, too.


“Sailor Fuku to Kikanju” (“Sailor Suit and Machinegun”), from the movie of the same title, was Hiroko Yakushimaru’s debut song. This song was then remade in 2006 by Masami Nagasawa, and then covered again by Kanna Hashimoto when the film was re-made to celebrate Kadokawa Picture’s 40th Anniversary in 2016.『セーラー服と機関銃』は同名の映画の主題歌で薬師丸ひろ子のデビュー曲だ。そしてこの楽曲は、2006年にドラマ版としてリメイクされた際に長澤まさみに、2016年に角川映画40周年記念作品として再度映画化された際に橋本環奈にカバーされた

On a random note, do you know what all of the actresses below have in common?

Kaoru Okunuki, Miki Nakatani, Hiromi Nagasaku, Kyoko Fukada, and Aya Ueto

Going by this article’s theme, you might have guessed that they were all idols, but actually all of them were idol group graduates.


Kaoru Okunuki (Angels), Miki Nakatani (Sakurakko Club), Hiromi Nagasaku (ribbon), Kyoko Fukada (HIP/Hori Idol Paradise), and Aya Ueto (Z-1) / 奥貫 薫(エンジェルス)、中谷美紀(桜っ子クラブ)、永作博美(ribbon)、深田恭子(HiP)、上戸 彩(Z-1)

That’s forgetting the many other women who went from group idol to acting, like Ryoko Shinohara, Yukie Nakama, Miho Kanno, and Miori Takimoto, as most went from idol→actress. That is to say, after graduating from idol work, they would put all of their efforts into becoming full-fledged actresses.

This the third category, where idols pursue actress work after graduating, and is probably the one you hear about most often now. This category is probably the most recognizable. You might be aware of this idol→actress flow, especially when it comes to group idols that are at the height of their careers.

When it comes to a solo acting career, group activities can sometimes hold them back. In that sense, it can become difficult to pursue both at the time, and by graduating from idol work they might be able to get more acting jobs. Idols like Umika Kawashima from 9nine continued to juggle both for a long period of time, until she announced that she would be graduating from the group at their tour final on July 23, 2016, in order to concentrate solely on acting.


Umika Kawashima joined the older version of 9nine as a second generation member in 2007. From 2010 she worked under the group as a five-member girls performance unit. She starred in her first movie in 2009, called Keitai Kareshi./ 川島海荷は、旧9nineの2期メンバーとして2007年に加入。2010年からは5人組パフォーマンスガールズユニットとして活動してきた。2009年には、映画『携帯彼氏』にて初主演を果たす

From here on out, it’s possible that when idols consider pursuing a solo career over a group one, they’ll turn to the acting path. Currently, however, going from model→actress is still more common. Compared to the 80s and 90s, there’s not as many chances for idols to act in movies and dramas.

Meanwhile, represented by Alice in Project, there stage shows centered on idols continue to increase. One of the biggest features of the shows is the opportunity to interact with idols through face-to-face contact, along with pamphlets, candid photos, and item sales, skills that are also useful for idols and their careers. Therefore more people have become bigger fans of idols, so even when they perform as an actress, they can’t help but see these performances as part of the idol image. Of course, it’s fair to say that idols that are live singers and dancers are on a different path.



Alice in Project continues to manage a theatrical stage girls unit Alice in Alice (above). Nomakes is a similar idol group featuring actresses, managed by film direct Noboru Iguchi (below).『アリスインプロジェクト』では、舞台女優で構成されたアイドルユニットアリスインアリスのプロデュースも行っている(上)。同様に女優で構成されたアイドルには、映画監督の井口昇がプロデュースを手がけるノーメイクスもある(下)

By digger deeper you’re bound to find more examples of this stage and idol relationship. Minami Aoyama Shojo Kagekidan, which appeared in the 90s, wasn’t an idol group, but a musical/theatrical group made up of girls in their teens. I attended their musical performances for about 10 years. Since 2001 they’ve become inactive, but I think the style of entertainment they created was carried on by Hello!Project.

You may think Hello! Project is mainly centered on live concerts, but members from Gekidan Geki Hello, Engeki Joshibu, and Hello!Project have often participated in stage performances. Also, works by them like Stacey’s and LILIUM have garnered huge amounts of praise.


For some reason the official website for Minami Aoyama Shojo Kagekidan remains active. You can still view content on their past performances. / なぜかまだ現存している南青山少女歌劇団のオフィシャルウェブサイト。過去の公演内容などを見ることができる

Minami Aoyama Shojo Kagekidan official site :



Gekidan Geki Hello started in 2006 as a collaborative project between Hello!Project and Shoengekikai, and finished with their 13th performance in the series, Warera Jeanne ~Shojo Seisen Kageki~ in 2013. From 2014 Upfront Group-affiliated talents became part of a girls-only performing group called Engeki Joshibu. / ハロー!プロジェクトと小演劇界がコラボして2006年からスタートした『劇団ゲキハロ』は、2013年の第13回公演『我らジャンヌ ~少女聖戦歌劇~』でシリーズを終了。2014年からはアップフロントグループ所属タレントが出演する女子だけの公演プロジェクト『演劇女子部』となっている

For example, Hiromi Nagasaku, which I mentioned earlier, was a member of the group ribbon, and by starring in the Gekidan☆Shinkansen play TIMESLIP Oh-gon-maru and by opening herself to theater work, she jumpstarted her life as an actress. Starring in stage productions was encouraged and allowed her to pursue acting.


The ribbon song “Be My Diamond” was used as the theme to TIMESLIP Oh-gon-maru. It was included on the album More Delicious ribbon II, and in self-penned liner notes, Hiromi Nagasaku introduces it as a song that reminds her of fond memories of the play./『TIMESLIP 黄金丸』では、ribbonの楽曲『Be My Diamond!』が劇中歌として使われていた。アルバム『More Delicious ribbon Ⅱ』に収録されており、永作博美のセルフ・ライナー・ノーツには「『TIMESLIP 黄金丸』を思い出す」曲として紹介されている

In that sense, idol work has spread beyond just doing concerts, and can lead to big “stage” roles.

Although I’ve written about the strong tendency during the solo idol era for actress→idol and idol→actress during the group idol era, the foundation for idols being able to pursue acting careers was laid by pioneers in the solo idol era. Kyoko Koizumi (KYON2) is just one of these pioneers, and I’m fond of a comment she made during a Nikkei Entertainment! article, where she states,

“I feel that perhaps because of the way they’re always facing new challenges, idols have come to present a model way of living.

The way Momoe Yamaguchi retired after getting married may be one that women longed for, but that was the only future idols were presented with at the time. Then later, Seiko Matsuda continued idol work after she got married and had a child, but these were the only two models there were. There’s a sense of pride in singing, doing plays, or writing, and showing a completely different model than Momoe’s and Seiko’s.” (Nikkei Entertainment! March 2012 edition)


Kyoko Koizumi 30nen no Kiseki (30-year Miracle) – “I really hated singing “Nantettatte Idol”「『なんてったってアイドル』を歌うのは嫌でした」小泉今日子 30年の軌跡

The link to the article :


Idols were faced with various challenges, and acting was just one of these. By following this new road, those aforementioned group idols can now open the doors to their own dreams.

With a guidepost like this, what exactly does it mean when headlines say an idol is graduating to pursue an acting career? Surely in the future, a new model will appear besides acting for idols to follow, and the road that idols follow will only continue to widen.

※Feature Song: ribbon – “Be My Diamond”

Read the author’s serialization about “idols’ past and present” more

Translated by Jamie Koide

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Toshiro Arai

A producer of website "TOKYO IDOL NET", which "photography" and "idol" is its concept. He also writes for Tokyo Idol Project, and so on.

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