Babe in the Wood

Hannah Sinclair | 6 October 2011

Academy Award nominee Rinko Kikuchi talks Chanel, dating Spike Jonze and making it as a Japanese actress in Hollywood.

Despite her natural talent and striking looks, Rinko Kikuchi never set out to become an actress. “It wasn’t something I wanted since I was a child but I can’t see myself doing anything else at the moment,” she says. It’s a good thing too, because she won’t be getting a rest anytime soon. Since the 30-year-old became the first Japanese actress to be nominated for an Oscar in 50 years for her breakout performance in Babel, the roles have been pouring in.

Her latest turn is in the film adaptation of Haruki Murakami’s best-selling novel Norwegian Wood, a tortured love story set in 1960s Tokyo. “I first read the book when I was 18, and I was very drawn to the character of Naoko,” says Rinko.

She had to fight for the part of the melancholic young girl and convince director Tran Anh Hung that she could inhabit the role. “There was a process of questions and answers within myself to figure out the character. Why is the character reacting that way? Or why is Naoko doing this? I see it as a process of spending time with the character, not analysing it,” she says.

favourite of Karl Lagerfield, Rinko is as well known for her fashion stripes as her acting chops. “What I wear is very much guided by how I’m feeling on the day. But certainly with Chanel they have expressed something about being different. That’s the kind of relationship we have.”

It isn’t just professional relationships that have been blossoming either; Rinko recently moved to New York to live with her boyfriend, director Spike Jonze. “We’re both artists and we’re in a relationship where we both influence each other and help each other see different and new things.” She says that neither cramps the other’s creative style: “It’s not that difficult living with a director, it’s actually an easy thing.”

Though she’s currently in training for Guillermo del Toro’s action flick Pacific Rim, and has another film, 47, due for release this year, Rinko is far from complacent about her standing among Hollywood’s elite. “There is always the language barrier, but it’s not just that. The stories are Western so the characters are Western too. It’s not easy for Asian actors to break into mainstream films, and it’s certainly not easy to achieve fame – it’s very unusual.” Unusual, perhaps. But we’ve got a feeling we’ll get used to it.

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