There are two Naoto Kans in the Japanese imagination. One is the crusading health minister who lifted the lid on an AIDS scandal in the 1990s.The other is the uninspiring Prime Minister of today with a popularity rating below 20%.
Japan's tsunami tragedy is drawing out glimmers of the old Kan. It could make or break his government.
Kan swiftly dispatched the military to help rescue efforts. He opened the door to foreign aid. He has sent his top spokesman to meet the media day and night on the nuclear crisis. It seems to mark a shift in a country not known for strong leaders.
Kan could be hailed as a hero if he succeeds. But his political enemies will be waiting to pounce at any signs of failure.