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Tokyo Rising

Despite an Oscar nomination and a couple of plum Hollywood roles, Rinko Kikuchi has the right to remain silent

Author Chris Wright

 

Photograph: Benoit Peverelli

Photograph: Benoit Peverelli

Rinko Kikuchi was hardly a household name when she landed a role in the 2006 drama Babel, with a cast that included Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett. Prior to that film, Kikuchi was known mainly for her work in her native Japan, if she was known at all. And then something remarkable happened.

Kikuchi’s performance as a woman who is deaf and cannot speak in Babel garnered her an Academy Award nomination, the first time this had happened for a Japanese actress in a half century. Suddenly, Kikuchi was in great demand.

“I was really honored to be nominated, and very happy,” she says. “After that, I received a lot of offers for roles in every country.” But Kikuchi hadn’t exactly fallen into her good fortune. In the year leading up to Babel, she was a regular visitor at institutes for the deaf, where she learned sign language and got to know people with the disability.

No matter what kind of film she’s in, Kikuchi immerses herself in a role. Even in Pacific Rim, in which she helps fight off alien invaders, she received praise for the emotional nuance of her performance. “Guillermo [del Toro, the film’s director,] stayed with me,” she says, reluctant to accept too much praise. “He gave me a lot of ideas.”

This month, Kikuchi’s ability to mine a part for gold will be tested again, as she stars alongside Keanu Reeves in the samurai romp 47 Ronin. In this one, she plays a villain, which is a bit of a stretch, given her pleasant manner and—it must be said—extraordinarily sweet face.

“It was really fun,” she says. “I’ve never done anything like this before, this kind of witch.” When asked what aspects of her own character she had to plumb to get to the heart of the role, Kikuchi laughs. “I think maybe I have some diva stuff, deep down inside.” — (Dec. 25)

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Kikuchi on…

Her modest and shy persona:
“I’m just really calm. Maybe it’s where I’m from.”

Working with Keanu Reeves:
“He was really focused on the role. He ate lots of healthy food.”

Being an accomplished samurai sword fighter:
“When I was a child, I loved samurai movies. So my father taught me to use the katana sword.”

On her personal style:
“Sometimes I’ll wear something punk rock, another time something elegant or sweet. It depends on what kind of mood I’m in.”

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Also out this month

TV TV Land unveils its new Kirstie Alley vehicle, “Kirstie,” co-starring former “Cheers” regular Rhea Perlman, former “Seinfeld” star Michael Richards and someone named Eric Petersen
MOVIES Will Ferrell, Steve Carell, Paul Rudd and David Koechner lampoon idiot newsmen again in Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues
BOOKS  Author Eric Van Lustbader beats the Jason Bourne dead horse once more with Robert Ludlum’s The Bourne Retribution 
MUSIC The Britney Spears revival continues apace with a new residency at Las Vegas’ Planet Hollywood and a new album in the same month: Oops! … She did it again

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