When it comes to working in Japan as a foreign resident, it can often feel as if there aren’t many options — but that’s not necessarily the case. And for Chuck Johnson, the very opposite is true! After well over a decade in the country, Chuck has done everything from teaching English, to acting, to directing, to working as a bodyguard. He’s also an accomplished martial artist and stuntman — in fact, Chuck is the first non-Japanese person in the country to make a career out of doing stunt work. It’s a niche so small, he basically had to create an industry for himself!

After years of hard work and barely scraping by, Chuck has now made quite a name for himself, and this summer will see the release of a short action film in collaboration with big names such as Toei Studio, Adidas, and YouTube.

We recently stopped by the “fight action class” he teaches for aspiring and working stuntmen and discussed his experiences in Japan. If you want to get paid to kick people on film in Japan, Chuck is the man you want to talk to.


When first meeting Chuck Johnson, you’ll probably notice a few things. He’s quick to laugh, almost infuriatingly upbeat, and just too darn handsome for his own good.

The martial artist, who grew up in Michigan in the United States, has been working in the Japanese entertainment industry for over 12 years. He told us he got his start in Godzilla: Final Wars, though he hasn’t limited himself to stunt work. To date, Chuck has appeared in commercials, written and directed films, and recently debuted on stage in a theatrical production of Orpheus Descending, which had runs in both Tokyo and Osaka. He also teaches Taekwondo and fight action (stunt) classes multiple times a week in Tokyo.

▼ What’s a fight action class, you ask? Here’s our highlights video from the one we watched.

When we asked Chuck which of the jobs he’d had over the years he thought was the most interesting, he told us that it was hard to choose one, because he’d had so many. From handing out flyers, bouncing, and teaching English conversation to working as a peace activist, bodyguard, and a business consultant, Chuck has covered a wide range of fields during his time in Japan. But perhaps the most surprising is stripping! “It was so crazy,” he said of taking his clothes off professionally, “in fact, the first film I co-produced, Eastbound Traffic, was inspired by some of what I saw and experienced in the industry.”

▼ A trailer for Eastbound Traffic

Of course, we suspect Chuck’s favorite job is what he’s doing now: working in action films. Chuck has been in the entertainment industry for 12 years and has been involved in action and stunts the entire time. “My first job was as a martial arts extra [on Godzilla: Final Wars], and that got me onto a Japanese action team, so I started my action/fight choreography training then,” he explained.

Chuck formally graduating from the United Stuntmen’s Association’s International Stunt School (ISS) about five years ago, where he trained in 14 different disciplines of stunts. Since he has a background in martial arts – including two national championships in Taekwondo in the United States – he has largely focused on portraying fighting on film. He’s supplemented his stunt education with further study at Movement and Combat Education (MACE) and with Art of Combat instructor, John “Doc” Lennox. And since last year, Chuck has been a martial arts fight choreography instructor at the ISS in Seattle, Washington. He has also begun teaching martial arts and katana fight choreography at MACE’s Winter Wonderland Workshop in Chicago.

But perhaps his biggest accomplishment to date is running Japan’s first all-foreigner stunt team, for which he also does stunt coordination.

With all the work he’s put into it, we had to wonder what got Chuck interested in doing stunt work to begin with. “I love acting;” he explained, “in Japan, I’ve always occupied this bizarre space between acting and stunts because, quite frankly, no one ever really needed a big, black stunt guy. As such, the niche I ended up carving out was a bad guy who does all his own stunts. That meant having to be just as good at acting as the stunts, simply because every role required both.”


Of course, this also means Chuck has faced some unique challenges. “Like anything in life, the greatest hardships offer the greatest chances for success, and your biggest weaknesses can also constitute your biggest strengths. In my case, when I first came out here, there were no foreign stuntmen here that I knew of.”

At first, there wasn’t any work for Chuck, mostly because no one even thought there was someone out there to play those roles. “Breaking that barrier took forever, and a lot of tireless self promotion, and a lot of networking. Once I was established, though, because I was the only one, everyone knew me, and I was the only guy.” A brilliant marketing move if you ask us!

So, how does stunt work in Japan compare to stunt work in the United States? Aside from the difference in language, there is also a big difference in the cultures. Chuck explained that in the US, stuntmen are usually more specialized. “Everyone has a role, they are known as the person who does this job, and that job is 90% of what they do.”

But in Japan, things are relatively amorphous. “Everyone is expected to be able to do everything. In a way, it’s a perfect parallel between the difference in business culture between the States and Japan as well,” he told us. “In the States, everyone knows exactly what their job is, they only do their job, and they don’t like it if someone else does their job. In Japan, work groups are more like amoeba where people float between roles.”


There’s another important difference between Japan and the U.S.: nationalized health insurance.

In general, films are almost always insured, so if a stuntman gets injured, the production will take care of you. “You do hear about shady films though, where a production company finds a way to wriggle out of paying,” Chuck added. “Two years ago, I got really sick on a film set, and while recovering from the virus, I blew out both my shoulder and my knee. It took almost a year of rehab to fully recover. As a freelancer, with no company backing me, had it not been for Japan’s universal healthcare, that would have been the end of my career, most likely.”

▼ Chuck and a fellow stuntman at the fight action class (Click for larger version.)


So, what’s next for the stuntman?

This summer will see the release of a new short film by Chuck and his team. Called Fists of Absinthe, it is a collaboration between YouTube and Toei Studios. They also got a little help from Adidas, who provided their newest running shoes, the Ultra Boosts, for the stunt team. In addition to playing one of the leading roles, Chuck also worked behind the camera as the executive producer, writer, fight choreographer, production manager, and one of the stunt coordinators.

▼ Chuck demonstrating a choke during the fight action class


Finally, we asked if Chuck had a message for our readers.

“Don’t let anyone tell you you can’t do it. When I first started, no one believed that what I was setting out to do could be done…or that I could be the one to do it. I think when people say things like that, it’s often because they genuinely care and don’t want to see you get hurt or fail, so don’t get mad at them for it. They are just trying to look out for your best interests. Instead, listen attentively, but take what they have to say with a grain of salt. Learn what you have to, adapt and grow however you have to, and through it all just don’t give up. I didn’t get to this position in Japan because I’m the most talented actor, martial artist or stuntman here. I got here because I was the one guy who simply never gave up.”

If you don’t feel inspired now, you must be made of stone!

If you’re interested in taking a class with Chuck, be sure to send him an email at chuck.n.action@gmail.com. You can also check out Chuck’s personal YouTube channel with videos about self-defense, martial artists, and fitness. He also has a blog where you keep up with everything he’s doing. Finally, be sure to check out the YouTube channel for Quiet Flame Productions, Chuck’s film production team.

▼ A YouTube playlist with a few of Chuck’s demo reels

Keep an eye out for Fists of Absinthe later this summer!

All photos © RocketNews24