Actress Rinko Kikuchi has been bewitching the camera with her enigmatic presence since she was a teenager, working as a model and appearing in commercials in her native Japan. Despite the demands of her education and blossoming career, Kikuchi developed tremendous skills in the arts of traditional Japanese dance and archery, as well as horseback riding and motorcycling. The well-roundedness of her life seemed to imbue her with a realness and believability, and she landed her first film role in 1999's Ikitai. Directed by veteran filmmaker Kaneto Shindo, the film followed two Japanese families along different timelines, exploring the way Japan's changing traditional values have effected family life.
Kikuchi was just 18, but Shindo was so pleased with her performance that he had her return for the next year's Sanmon Yakusha, a biopic about character actor Taiji Tonoyama. The exposure was dynamite for Kikuchi, who next found a starring role in 2001's romantic drama Sora no Ana, playing a street-smart waif who unexpectedly falls in star-crossed love with a fast-food worker. Set against the backdrop of the Japanese countryside, the poignant film was a hit, garnering her a slew of supporting roles in films like 2004's Cha no Aji and 2005's Taga Tameni.
In 2004, Kikuchi found herself faced with a serious challenge as a performer. Her agent told her about the role of Chieko, a deaf, mute, and emotionally disturbed character in Alejandro González Iñárritu's upcoming film Babel. As the star of one of the film's three interconnected storylines, Kikuchi would be tackling teenage Chieko's emotional turmoil over her mother's recent suicide, her emerging sexuality, and her place in the film's overall message -- all without the use of her voice. Kikuchi was determined to win the role, and so she enrolled in a sign-language school. A year-long audition process followed, and though the film's casting agents had planned to cast an actual deaf actress, she was given the part. The young actress was placed on the Hollywood radar as soon as the film hit theaters, and she was praised for delivering compellingly raw emotions through a subtle performance, and for submerging herself completely into the role. She was nominated for an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress, but despite the free pass this bought her into American film, Kikuchi remained interested in both American and Japanese film, considering projects from both nations.In 2008 she joined the cast of The Brothers Bloom to play the character of Bang Bang, and starred in Norwegian Wood (2010), celebrated Vietnamese director Tran Anh Hung's critically acclaimed adaptation of Haruki Murakami's nostalgic 1987 novel following a new relationship plagued by memories of a death from years before.