Will Japan Finally Adore This Pacific Rim Star?

Pacific Rim is Guillermo del Toro's big love letter to Japanese monster movies like Godzilla and anime like Neon Genesis Evangelion. Too bad Japan isn't exactly in love with Kikuchi.

Actress Rinko Kikuchi is Mako Mori, one of the film's lead pilots to battle the dreaded kaiju in one of this summer's biggest Hollywood flicks. Pacific Rim is already getting good notices — Hideo Kojima and Kanye dig the GlaDOS infused flick. Now if only Kikuchi could turn that into popularity in her home country.

The actor made a big splash internationally with her role in Babel as Chieko, a deaf high school girl. This role put her on the map. Prior to Babel, nobody really knew who the heck she was.

Kikuchi didn't make a name for herself like many Japanese celebrities and actors typically do, which is either by appearing in numerous TV dramas, variety shows, or in a string of commercials. The Japanese film industry is a shell of its former self. TV is king. Even though she did appear in a few dramas, such as Liar Game, prior to Babel, and she did some car ads, Kikuchi never was really able to parlay that into becoming a huge star in Japan.

Even after Kikuchi was nominated for an Academy Award, the first Japanese female to get an Oscar nod in 57 years, and became the face of Chanel, Japanese success remained elusive. She did top an opinion poll about who Japan was most proud of internationally, but that seemed to flitter away.

A Livedoor News article from 2007 talked how in the wake of her international success, Kikuchi wasn't exactly in demand back at home and wasn't popular with Japanese housewives. When you don't have a fan base, being a talented actor isn't enough in Japan.

On 2ch, Japan's largest bulletin board, a thread talked about why Kikuchi hadn't become popular in her home country. The thread is fairly brutal (actually, it's really brutal), and some say her looks aren't appealing to Japanese, while others commented about the graphic nudity in Babel — something that seemed unbecoming. Then, some didn't even know who she was.

In 2010, Kikuchi appeared on afternoon variety show Waratte Iitomo!, which is an iconic Japanese program. It's an institution, like The Tonight Show. Her appearance went so poorly that people on Yahoo! Japan (here and here, for example) began saying she should never appear on variety or talk shows again. While she seemed stylish, Kikuchi didn't make a very good impression and came off as awkward. Perhaps she was nervous? Whatever the case was, she seemed to lose even more fans.

One of the main issues seemed to be how in Japan the mass media and the country's entertainment complex work in tandem. Her success was achieved outside of that realm. And then when she actually did appear on Japanese TV, she seemed somewhat awkward and not exactly quick with quips — a necessity to survive in mainstream Japanese show business. For many Japanese it's perhaps baffling why she, out of all the Japanese actors, has been successful abroad. For Americans, it's probably akin to when particular entertainers become far more popular in foreign countries than in Hollywood.

That year, however, she appeared in two TV dramas in Japan. Since the country's television industry overshadows its film business. The following year, she appeared in a Japanese period drama. But since Babel, Kikuchi has done mostly foreign film work (though, she did do voice acting on two Mamoru Oshii anime). Then, she appeared in major Hollywood films 47 Ronin with Keanu Reeves and the previously mentioned Pacific Rim.

So far, her popularity hasn't really taken off at home. With the good buzz around Pacific Rim, perhaps Japanese fans can focus on her acting, instead of how good she can work the Japanese entertainment machine.

菊地凛子はなぜ人気が出ないのか [2ch] The End of Gyaku-Yu'nyū [Neomarxisme]

An earlier version of this story was posted in December 2012.


    I say: good for her! Screw the Japanese market. All of those TV dramas and variety shows are absolutey crap. Japanese media is this big joke, there's a reason why so few Japanese get famous outside of Japan, and I find it accurate that she was only able to achieve success by avoiding the bullshit variety show/tv commercial circut.

      the japanese variety show is more better then australian tv show imo

        Regardless of what you think of Aussie TV, most of the successful actors here actually come out of the theatre tradition, which is quite strong and vibrant in Sydney and Melbourne. I would not expect most of my fellow nerds here in Kotaku to know this, as I have to admit it wasn't until I started dating a local theatre director and got first hand exposure.

      Why would they want to be famous outside of Japan is the question?

    yep, learned many years ago to totally ignore Japanese entertainment culture, except to laugh at it, because they're all totally nuts.

      i gotta say, to me the only good live-action-non-anime jap movies were Battle Royale and the sequel

        Go watch Versus. Absolutely fantastic live-action non-anime Japanese film. It's like Highlander and Evil Dead had a baby that proceeded to kick everybody's ass.

      Being totally nuts is what makes it so awesome.

    Japanese have an odd relationship with their famous actors. I found this out having spoke to a large number of Japanese students where I live. Most admire the actors for their looks, but rarely say anything about their acting style or skill. Compared to Western audiences, as for example they typically associate Johnny Depp with acting in roles allowing quirky humor first, looks second.

    Last edited 10/07/13 9:22 am

    That year, however, she appeared in two TV dramas in Japan. Since the country’s television industry overshadows its film business. The following year, she appeared in a Japanese period drama.
    Shatner, is that you?

    She should totally live-act faith from Mirror's Edge!


    Wasn't she the mocap model used for one of the bosses in MGS4?

    Wow there are so many things that come out of Japan that i love but this whole situation is bullshit. If she wants the japanese people to love her then by all means try to get them to but if not screw it. Everyone else loves her

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