Femme Fatale

Femme Fatale

From Kill Bill to Uniqlo, Chiaki Kuriyama marches on—with a CD debut on the horizon


Originally published on metropolis.co.jp on February 2010

Photo by Lorenzo Barassi

Chiaki Kuriyama is surprised to hear she has legions of fans abroad. The 25-year-old actress says she is impressed when she gets mail from overseas, especially from young women who like to dress up as Gogo Yubari, the schoolgirl killer made famous by her in Quentin Tarantino’s 2003 film Kill Bill Vol 1.

“I guess because I have lived in Japan all my life, it is strange to hear that I am famous overseas or that guys like me because of Battle Royale and Kill Bill,” says Kuriyama, sitting down for a chat in the office of Sony Music Studios in Roppongi. “Am I really a sex symbol in America? Maybe I should go and live there. It’s cool to have fans in many countries.”

Kuriyama recalls being hooked on showbiz when she was about 5. “I remember watching TV and wondering where the pictures were coming from. I wanted to get inside the TV set and play with the characters.”

She was also captivated by seeing supermodels like Cindy Crawford and Naomi Campbell, and started her career doing magazine photo shoots for shichi-go-san festivals. That was followed by more magazine work and bit parts in TV programs and movies in the mid-’90s.

Kuriyama’s big-screen breakthrough came in 1999 with Shikoku (“Land of the Dead”), but it was Battle Royale in 2000 that put her on the international map. Interestingly, she seems to achieve her greatest successes in films with violent or disturbing themes.

“It’s not that I prefer dark-themed films or TV dramas. It’s just that the impact of horror films tends to be stronger. I’ve done a lot of non-horror roles, too,” she says.

The next few weeks will see a lot of exposure for Kuriyama. First, she sings the theme song for the animated feature film Mobile Suit Gundam Unicorn, which marks her CD debut. “It’s a ballad, but not a love song. Rather, it’s a song that encourages people to be positive. I sing another track as well, a rock number. I’m very nervous about it because it was difficult for me—completely different from anything I have ever done.”

On TV, Kuriyama is appearing this month in a WOWOW drama called Sono Toki Made Sayonara, which is yet another foray into the otherworldly. In it, she plays a mysterious woman who learns that she is linked to a widower and his son by two rings that they own.

In the summer, she’ll be seen in Neck, about a university student (Saki Aibu) who wants to create a ghost in a laboratory. Kuriyama, who plays an editor, describes the film as a “refreshing romantic horror movie that will make people laugh. You have never seen a horror movie like this before—it will make your heart beat with love.”

In between movies and TV work, Kuriyama is never far from the public eye, appearing in the ad campaign for cosmetics maker Shiseido’s Maquillage brand, as well as Uniqlo’s eye-popping bra-top TV commercial, in which she gets dressed, walks out of her bedroom and segues onto the streets of Tokyo.

“That ad has gotten a good reaction. People often ask me how we filmed it,” she says. “The thing about doing these kinds of ads is that, unlike movies, it’s not really acting. I can be myself.”

As for her own style, Kuriyama says she likes the “Gothic Lolita” look and often goes shopping in Shibuya and Harajuku—where, of course, she gets recognized.

“People do come up and want to shake hands. If they ask for permission to take photos, I don’t mind, but some people just take photos without asking, or follow me around. That’s creepy.”

Kuriyama also says she’s thought about starting a blog so she can interact with fans, but then reconsidered.

“It’s hard to find the time to keep updating a blog. Maybe it is better not to have one and remain a little mysterious.” she says, adding that if she hadn’t been a movie star, she would have liked to try a “normal” life, such as working as an OL.

Speaking of a normal life, how does she feel about being single, and what sort of men does she like?

“I want to get married one day, but not right now,” she replies. “When I do, I want it to last for the rest of my life. The ideal man for me would be someone who likes anime and manga, because I do.”

When she’s not working, Kuriyama gets exercise by going on long walks and occasional visits to the gym. As a child, she used to do classical ballet, but her schedule makes that difficult nowadays.

“Sometimes, I like to have a party with people, but I also enjoy going out for dinner by myself. I think of that as a reward for myself, especially after the end of a job or movie shoot.”

Of course, whenever Tarantino is in town, she and the other Japan-based members of the Kill Bill family get together for dinner—usually at Gonpachi in Nishi-Azabu, which served as the backdrop for Gogo Yubari’s infamous fight scene.

“It’s fun hanging out with him,” she says. “I just wish I was better at English. It’s my New Year’s resolution that I make every year, and I never get around to it.”

Chris Betros is the editor of Japan Today (www.japantoday.com).