Many Japanese actresses first build a successful career in their home country before trying to make it big in Hollywood. Here are the top 10 Japanese stars who have managed to make a splash in Western cinema.
10. Keiko Agena
Japanese-American Keiko Agena was born in Honolulu and started acting at the age of 10. Agena is arguably most well known for her role as Lane Kim in the comedy-drama series Gossip Girl which ran for 7 seasons, but throughout her career she has also had guest spots on House, Castle, ER and Scandal as well as a main role in Transformers: The Dark Side of the Moon.
9. Chiaki Kuriyama
Chiaki Kuriyama started her career during Japan’s child model boom of the 1990s. With her roles in Ju-On (The Grudge) and Battle Royale, she soon gained widespread critical acclaim. Her Hollywood breakthrough came when Quentin Tarantino cast her in his two part film series Kill Bill as the schoolgirl bodyguard of Lucy Liu. On top of her voice work for Japanese dubs, she has also had a successful music career, with her top single selling over 21,000 records.
8. Devon Aoki
Born in New York to a Japanese father, Devon Aoki, like many on our list, started her life as a runway model doing campaigns for the likes of Chanel, Versace and Hugo Boss. Her big break came in 2003 when she was cast in 2 Fast 2 Furious as Suki, her highest grossing film so far. She soon followed her debut with roles in D.O.A. Dead or Alive, Sin City, War, and Mutant Chronicles. She also featured in The Killers music video for the single Bones, which was directed by Tim Burton.
7. Tao Okamoto
Tao Okamoto started modelling in Japan when she was just 14 years old. She made her move to European runways where she modelled for top brands including Chanel, Dolce & Gabbana and Louis Vuitton. Fairly new to Hollywood, her first screen role was opposite Hugh Jackman in The Wolverine as the character Mariko. The comic book flick was wildly successful and afterwards Tao joined the cast of the TV series Hannibal for season 3 and will next be seen on big screens in 2016 in Batman V. Superman as Lex Luthor’s number one bodyguard, Mercy Graves.
6. Yoko Shimada
Yoko Shimada first stunned Western audiences with her role in the miniseries Shogun, which aired across 5 nights in September, 1980. To date, it remains the only USA series to be filmed entirely on location in Japan. Shimada required help of a dialect coach, due to her limited English at the time. For her role, she won a Golden Globe and was nominated for an Emmy. She would go on to have roles in the feature films The Hunted and Crying Freeman as well as a return to US television with a guest spot in Chicago Story.
5. Tsuru Aoki
Tsuru Aoki emigrated from Japan to LA at the age of 11 where she took dance and ballet lessons before moving into an acting career. Aoki started out on the stage before she was noticed and quickly poached by film producer Thomas Ince. Her first role was in critically acclaimed The Wrath of the Gods alongside Frank Borzage. During the 1910s, Aoki starred in over 40 silent films and was quite possibly the first Asian actress to garner top-billing in the American film industry. Aoki’s first and only talkie role came in the form of 1960s Hell to Eternity alongside her husband Sessue Hayakawa.
4. Rila Fukushima
Rila Fukushima was persuaded into a career as a model after she originally applied to be a modelling agent. After partaking in many advertising campaigns in both print and media, Fukushima eventually turned to acting. Like Tao Okamoto, her first film was in The Wolverine as Yukio, a mutant with the ability to foresee the death of people. Soon afterwards, she starred as the recurring character Katana in season 3 of WB comic book series Arrow – a role originally taken by Devon Aoki before she left due to scheduling conflicts. Fukushima also recently featured as a Red Priestess in Volantis in season 5 of HBO’s Game of Thrones.
3. Youki Kudoh
Youki Kudoh started her career with the Japanese film The Crazy Family in 1984, which won her the award for best newcomer at the Yokohama Film Festival. She soon found herself landing top film credits in Hollywood films such as Heaven’s Burning alongside Russell Crowe, and Snow Falling on Cedars with Ethan Hawke. She had some breakout recognition thanks to her role as Pumpkin in the international hit Memoirs of a Geisha, but she is perhaps best known for her work with acclaimed indie director Jim Jarmusch, starring in his films Mystery Train and The Limits of Control.
2. Rinko Kikuchi
After starring in a range of Japanese films including The Taste of Tea (which was shown at the Cannes Film Festival), Rinko Kikuchi received international attention for her role in Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Babel as a deaf-mute teenage girl. She went on to receive an Oscar nomination for best supporting actress – becoming the first Japanese actress in 50 years to be recognised by the prestigious Academy. Kikuchi also appeared in Guillermo Del Toro’s Pacific Rim and starred alongside Keanu Reeves in 47 Ronin.
1. Miyoshi Umeki
Miyoshi Umeki broke into Hollywood in the 1957 film Sayonara starring opposite Marlon Brando. For her role as Mei Li, she became the first and, to date, only Japanese star to win an Academy Award. She followed her debut with the musical Flower Drum Song, which went on to secure 5 Oscar nominations. However, Umeki is perhaps best remembered for her role in the sitcom The Courtship of Eddie’s Father. She played Tom and Eddie’s housekeeper in over 70 episodes, nabbing herself a Golden Globe nomination for her performance. Alongside her wildly successful film and television career, Umeki also had great success as a singer both in Japan and America.