Shaping Up

Shaping Up

Tomoka Kurotani finds success on stage, film—and horseback


Originally published on on October 2009

Photo by Hiromi Iguchi

Photo by Hiromi Iguchi

It’s an autumn afternoon and actress Tomoka Kurotani is happily posing for photos outdoors in Aoyama. Few passersby take much notice.

“Actually, in Tokyo, people generally ignore you when you are out and about. I guess they are used to seeing celebrities,” says Kurotani, 33, giving her first interview with English media.

Born in Sakai, Osaka Prefecture, Kurotani became a model at 17 and studied Japanese literature in college before auditioning for her first movie part—which she got—in the 1995 film Boxer Joe.

Since then, Kurotani’s prolific career has included work in commercials, TV shows, movies and stage productions. Her cheerful demeanor also makes her a sought-after celebrity for appearances at various promotional events. In the last 12 months, she’s been a “Grapefruit Ambassador” for the state of Florida and was the recipient of the “Woman With the Most Appealing Teeth” honor from Philips

to promote its range of electric toothbrushes. “Those events are fun on the day,” Kurotani says.

Most recently, the actress has completed a run in stage production Bizan in Tokyo, Nagoya and Tokushima. The play depicts a mother-daughter bond that is deepened as the older woman fights a losing battle against cancer.

“It was a really memorable experience, especially in Tokushima, where the story is set,” says Kurotani. “I find doing theater really fulfilling. With movies, you get one or two takes and that’s it. On stage, you are doing the same thing night after night, but you can go into the story and your character more deeply.”

Kurotani’s newest project is the film Watashi ga Dasu (“It’s on Me”), which was entered in the Tokyo International Film Festival. Directed by Yoshimitsu Morita (Sanjuro), the movie stars Koyuki (Last Samurai) as a rich woman who returns to her hometown of Hakodate and mysteriously starts giving away money—with unanticipated results.

Kurotani, who plays one of the woman’s friends, says, “Being rich doesn’t make your dreams come true, unless you are just interested in material things. I’d like to think I’d give money away to my friends.

The script had some surprises in it, but the director was a very easy person to trust and made everything smooth.”

Kurotani is currently busy promoting her biggest passion: horse riding. She recently released a four-disc DVD set called Whipness, consisting of workout exercises in which she uses an elastic whip to simulate the saddle-back experience.

“The exercises can be easily done at home,” she says, adding that Whipness is aimed at women in their 30s and 40s. “I’ve been riding horses for more than ten years. I go to Chiba to do it as often as I can. I’m not really into other sports.”

When she’s not working or riding her horse Ralph, Kurotani enjoys gardening, reading and writing essays for the newspaper Tokyo Headline. She says environmental themes are closest to her heart. “I grow my own vegetables, use scrap wood and recycle as much as I can.”

A frequent traveler for her work, Kurotani has visited such places as Kenya, Australia, France, Germany, Italy, Florida, Hawaii, Korea and Thailand.

“Most of the time, I don’t get a chance to see much of the country because I’m busy with work. I wouldn’t mind living overseas, probably France, but it would have to be a country where I can ride horses.”

Chris Betros is the editor of Japan Today (