Josh Hartnett’s a fan. In tribute to his Bunraku co-star and impressed by the Japanese actor’s legion of fans, Hartnett made himself a t-shirt which simply said: ‘The Gackt of America’. Bunraku may mark Gackt’s international movie debut but he’s certainly no newcomer. Huge in his home country, he’s now breaking out in the west. So who is this man from Japan?

Actor, singer-songwriter, martial artist, concert producer, model and multi-instrument musician, Gackt is an unusually talented performer. Famously getting by on not much sleep and punishing in his schedules – even his concert crews have to do press-ups and stretches – he’s a human dynamo. Dong nothing by halves, he even performed Bunraku’s fight scenes himself, to bruising effect.

Originally from the Japanese island of Okinawa, Gackt first made a name for himself as vocalist of the visual kei band Malice Mizer. Gothed-up, feathered and leathered, he didn’t look comfortable. Quitting ten years ago for a solo career, he never looked back, confident in his own creative choices and instincts. Debuting as a movie actor in his self-penned vampire film Moonchild back in 2003, it succeeded as a calling card, paving the way for small screen offers.

NHK television’s samurai drama Furin Kazan needed an actor to play the sword-wielding, horse-riding and rather intense, real-life hero Uesugi Kenshin. The director’s music-loving daughter pointed him to footage of Gackt in concert. Or rather to Gackt riding on horseback full-pelt into the vast arena of the Tokyo Dome, while a mini-movie on stage showed him as a doomed warrior in a fantasy setting. Furin Kazan was curve-ball casting but it worked. Even the show’s legendary actor, Ken Ogata, was impressed and said so.

So in 2008 when Guy Moshe was looking for a Japanese actor to play the enigmatic Yoshi in his western-cum-martial arts fantasy Bunraku, Gackt’s performance in Furin Kazan told him all he needed to know. Dedicated, equally comfortable as actor and action man and – importantly – looking cool, he was in.

Visuals have always featured in Gackt’s career. From his story-filled music videos to a cultivated love of the camera, cinematic impulses and expressions have permeated his work. His 2008 sell-out concerts were, in effect, movies. Cinema-screen backdrops depicted a cyborg protagonist in a war-torn drama of personal and national identity. Replete with end credits, it typified Gackt’s conceptual and controlling approach to his work.

With Bunraku, Gackt possibly hoped for further movie-making opportunities. But the slow, two year gestation from post-production to release, and then only to DVD, meant that crucial momentum was lost to him. Instead he honed his acting ability on the traditional Japanese stage in the period drama, Nemuri, and in voice parts for crossover productions such as Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles and Supernatural.

Since the earthquake and tsunami hit Japan in March this year, Gackt has used his cachet and show-biz contacts to lead some fund-raising and relief work, packing and shipping crates himself. And now, with two other TV series in the can, he’s taken to the road again with a major European tour of down and dirty concerts, literally miles away from the stadium-sized venues back home. Returning to London in July 2011, following his debut here in 2010, it’s clear that Gackt is gunning for wider recognition.

Bunraku will still help further his career and hopefully Gackt will avoid the stereotypical offers which bedevilled Asian stars like Jet Li and Jackie Chan. Crucially, in Bunraku, Gackt was at least picked for his abilities as an actor and physical performer.

So if you had to predict a flightpath for Gackt’s future career, it’s likely to be in films, as an actor or director. His concert programmes don’t call him ‘total concert producer’ for nothing. Hands-on, technical, creative and cinematic, Gackt is no novice. And his disciplined approach to self-improvement means he’s getting as much solid acting and movie experience as he can.

Gackt’s journey to the west, in music as in movies, can only be welcome. Josh Hartnett would agree: after all, he’s been there – and got the t-shirt.