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Naho Yamada: Duality of an Actwres Girl

1 year ago

Naho Yamada: Duality of an Actwres Girl

By: Jeff Brown

Special Thanks to Sean Bradley for question translations and Yumi Agawa for coordination

In less than one year, the 29-year-old Naho Yamada has become the epitome of Actwres girl’Z. Yamada is many things in this world, and among them are being a professional wrestler and stage actress. Born in the Hyogo Prefecture of the Kansai region, she is a true artist with a large smile and an even larger personality.

She enters each arena like she stepped right out of an anime, with headphones and a megaphone. Naho’s outfit is reminiscent of a sci-fi world similar to the Grid from Tron and is one of the most unique looks in all of wrestling. With around 27 matches to her name, Naho has secured ten wins in ACTwrestling, but it’s the performances bell to bell that really stand out; the tenacity and fighting spirit on display in each loss are integral parts of her growth and popularity with fans.

The rookie has really flourished in her tag team with AWG veteran Misa Matsui; both have had to struggle for every victory in their careers, so it is only natural that Misa would be a mentor to Naho, her Virgil to Naho’s Dante, guiding her as they journey across the land of Joshi towards the Paradiso of main events and championships. While not the largest or strongest member on the roster, Yamada is best described as an all-around or jack of all trades, master of none wrestler, though she has a speed advantage and can be quite elusive. Those skills got her to the finals of the #1 Contendership Tournament against Chiaki, and though she lost, it was her first singles main event and the most important match of her career so far. Yamada can be quite mischievous in the ring, even resorting to yelling into her megaphone to break up a pin attempt—an absolute audio terrorist.

A smaller detail to highlight is her massive enthusiasm that is on display during a show. Whether she is singing and dancing to AWG theme music or her tag partner’s entrance themes, it is safe to say that nobody in the arena loves the music during an ACTwrestling show more than Naho. In addition to puro, Naho has a full career in stage acting, she currently performs with StrayDog Promotion, which has been one of the theater groups that serves as a conduit for new talent at AWG. Beginning in 2011, she has appeared in nearly 20 productions and, within the last year, has done them in concert with being a full-time AWG roster member. She also has supporting roles in numerous TV, Netflix, and film appearances, including the 2020 Toshiyuki Morioka-directed film 悲しき天使/Sad Angel, a bittersweet love story about a sex worker and a penniless young man who exist in a beautifully sad world.

Naho is also a member of the ARG side of AWG where she portrays Hinata, a member of the faction Kaguya, the original faction of Action Ring Girlz. The group previously included Marina Hamada and Ami Miura (now known as Ami Sourei in Stardom) and was also part of GPS Promotion’s Hero events, which are accessible to fans with disabilities including blindness and deafness. Kaguya are time traveling samurai who on a quest to save their destroyed village, Hinata’s story is shrouded in mystery and yet to be told, she was found in the Kaguya village as an orphan and has become their little sister. Kaguya’s leader, Hisen, is portrayed by Yuka Yasukawa (Act Yasukawa), Naho’s real-life mentor and the reason she is involved in AWG and ARG. As Hinata, she now performs the song “花月夜(KAGUYA)” during ARG productions.

During the third week of March, Yamada was both the “act” and the “wres” of the portmanteau Actwres, as she was in the ring for ACTwrestling at Korakuen Hall and performing on stage for Stray Dog Promotion and their production of A Girl’s Story. Understanding that an Actwres Girl is an artist that not only portrays a professional wrestler in AWG but also creates in theaters and sound stages, Monthly Puroresu decided attending both would be the only way to fully cover and represent the ethos of this company and its talent. Below are reviews of both the actress and the wrestler Naho Yamada in different environments and with different audiences as she staged her craft.

The amplified warrior on hallowed ground

AWG ACTwrestling at Korakuen Hall 12-3-2022

Yamada participated in a six-person tag match at Korakuen Hall on March 12th, along with team mates Nagisa Shiotsuki and Natsumi. Together, the trio is called “Na Na Na, as each member’s name begins with both of those letters. Their opponents were The Serpent’s Path, consisting of members Allen, Bulldozer Todoroki, and MARU. Yamada entered Korakuen with her usual high energy and yelled into the megaphone. She was the focal point early on, getting beaten up by The Serpent’s Path to garner sympathy from the crowd and encourage cheering. Allen even broke her snake-wrapped umbrella over Naho, which was later auctioned off for an AWG crowdfunding campaign. However, she staged a comeback that saw her give Maru a facebuster on the floor that led to Na Na Na triple teaming for the advantage. As the match returned to the ring, she was now paired against Bulldozer Todoroki, who is much larger and stronger than Yamada. After a few striking battles, Yamada cinches on a guillotine to equalize her opponent. She even hits one of her signature “out of nowhere” stunners to really even the odds, but ultimately her team of good guys succumb to the cheating of The Serpent’s Path and lose the match. It was, like many of her previous matches, a showcase for the upbeat tempo that Yamada is capable of performing at and her ability to sell her opponent’s offense. This would appear to be a one-time teaming, as Yamada has joined a faction called Teppen☆ (To the Top) led by Misa and including Asahi, who is on an excursion from Ice Ribbon.

A different stage, but the artist remains

CBGK Theater A Girl’s Story 15-3-2022

On the 6th floor of The Prime sits the intimate CBGK theater, home of Stray Dog Promotions March production of A Girl’s Story. Supervised and directed by Toshiyuki Morioka, its production is part of Stray Dog’s 30th anniversary. This show, as most of the recent Stray Dog plays, featured AWG’s Naho Yamada, who lived out the other side of being an Actwres Girl and performed on a moodily lit stage instead of the wrestling ring at Korakuen Hall three nights prior. The lobby had lanterns of each cast member that could be purchased in lieu of flowers to honor COVID-19 protocols taken by the Stray Dog production staff. The cast casually takes the stage and begins talking with the crowd before the show begins. As is the case with the AWG roster, Yamada is not the lead but maximizes her minutes as she is allowed to seemingly do whatever she wishes with this spotlight. She challenges one of the co-stars to a sprinting contest across the stage, and when other cast members are talking, she is behind them doing Hindu squats instead of passively standing around like her castmates. The interaction with the crowd is very much like at a wrestling show; they have regulars in the crowd and have a style of applauding that is unique but easy to pick up as a first-time viewer. The play is an autobiographical tale by manga artist Rieko Saibara, based on a film and a manga of the same name, in which a disillusioned manga artist reminisces about her childhood and happier times.

The story has a melancholy feel that often comes with reliving the past. While there is humor sprinkled throughout, this is quite a serious drama that touches on the sadness and loss a person encounters on their journey in life. Yamada plays multiple parts in this play and begins as a background character at a party. In the flashback scenes, she plays the role of “the mother,” and not unlike her Actwrestling persona, she is carrying a unique item, in this case a frying pan in lieu of a megaphone. It is a stereotypical and comedic mother character that bashes her family with the pan when she wants to keep them in line. Yamada’s mother also prevents her daughter from breaking into song for the next musical number in a moment that is perhaps fourth-wall breaking. While she is very strict with her family, in one scene, she cares deeply for their sick cat and shows compassion for the little animal that she doesn’t have for her children. Ironically, Yamada herself breaks into song using a flower vase as a microphone, which really showcases the powerful singing voice she has. Yamada has a style very much suited to Heisei-era power ballads or 90s anime. Very reminiscent of Norico, the singer of the synthpop group Date of Birth most known for their song “Echoes of Love” from Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzlila, Yamada has a soulful approach that thrives with long, sustained notes, and when the chorus hits, she digs into each line with emotion and a full-throated delivery. Yamada has a very active account on the karaoke site Smule ( that further highlights her singing abilities especially her rendition of “Itoshisa to Setsunasa to Kokoro Zuyosa to” (This Love, This Pain, This Strength of Heart) from Street Fighter II: The Animated Movie.

When the lights come on, the result is a play that perfectly encapsulates those quiet moments when you take stock of your life, with pangs of nostalgia looking back at childhood friends and the memories you had with people that you fell into friendship with without prejudice or preconceived notions, how you grew as life hit hard and fast but also how eventually, for various reasons, you drifted apart, be it a tragedy that created a rift that perhaps couldn’t be mended. Does time heal all wounds, or do we realize when listening back to life’s echoes that we all have decades-old pain and regret quietly flowing through us? Would you be who you are today without these people? Is your story as much about you as the people and places that you bonded with along the way? Love and loss have similar results in shaping your persona, and with sad happiness, you remember times that are over with people you’ll never speak with and places you will never visit again. Life may not currently be perfect or where you want it to be, but the past wasn’t perfect, and your memories may have sanded down the rough edges to create an idealized version of your story.

The Actwres Girl, in her own words

Prior to her busy week of performances in March, Naho Yamada was kind enough to take time out of her full schedule and participate in an interview with Monthly Puroresu with the assistance from Actwres girl’Z management via their office.

Monthly Puroresu: What inspired you to become a stage actress?

Naho Yamada: What inspired me to become a stage actress was seeing a musical by the “Shiki Theater Company” when I was in the second year of junior high school, which moved me so much that I started attending a musical school.
Currently, I perform not only on stage but also in video productions.

Monthly Puroresu: What led to you joining both Actwres girl’Z & Action Ring Girlz?

Naho Yamada: The reason I joined “Action Ring Girlz” was because of the pandemic. When I was out of work for about two months due to COVID-19, actress and former female professional wrestler “Akuto-san” (Yuka Yasukawa) asked me if I wanted to do a stage performance with professional wrestling together, and after attending a practice session I immediately said “I will do it! “I’ll do it. I wanted to move my body anyway, and I wanted to get an action experience that I had never had before.

I also wanted to participate in ACTwrestling because I wanted to improve the skills and abilities that I could do, as well as to mark the milestone of Actwres girl’Z becoming a new organization.

Monthly Puroresu: Who are you portraying in Girl Story「女の子ものがたり」, and what is her background?

Naho Yamada: My role in “Onnanoko monogatari” varies, sometimes as a mother, as a character in a play within a play, or as a high school girl. Not only the acting, but also the singing and dancing are highlights, so please watch carefully to see where I appear.

Monthly Puroresu: Who are your influences as a wrestler?

Naho Yamada: As a professional wrestler, I was influenced by Yasukawa. She is the person who gave me the opportunity to pursue professional wrestling, and who always supports me both at work and in my private life. She is a wonderful person and I have always respected her..

Monthly Puroresu: What inspired your ring gear?

Naho Yamada: I love music, sing and listen to music. I made the image of “sound” inside me into a costume, and added a performance where I came out with a loudspeaker at the admission. The skirt has a pattern that resembles a digital sound waveform.

Monthly Puroresu: Do stage acting and wrestling have similarities?

Naho Yamada: I think the similarity between wrestling and the stage is that it is a live performance. Even if you do the same thing, not everything will be the same every time. That day’s live performance will only happen once. The atmosphere of the venue changes as the audience changes, as do the feelings and atmosphere that can only be experienced at that moment. This is what is interesting about both wrestling and the stage.

Written by:

I mainly focus on making music, while writing on the side. After graduating high school, I studied guitar in the Seattle area. Music reviews really got me started with blogging and journalism. Meantime, I watched ‘90s AJW and Gaea throughout the 2000s & parachuted in for Ice Ribbon, Stardom, Actwres Girl’Z. I live in Edgewood, WA and am a proud member of the Duwamish tribe.