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.

…Find out the reason why idols graduate to be an actress
…”アイドルを辞めて女優になる”ーーなぜこの言葉がテンプレになっているのか? そう発言するアイドルが増える、アイドル・女優業界の構造とは?

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Toshiro Arai
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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