|BIG IN JAPAN
Just about the coolest guy in Japan right now is actor Tadanobu Asano. His credits include some of the most stylish, off-beat underground Japanese art-films of the ' plus he's married to one of the few J-pop stars with musical credibility.
Born in Yokohama in 1973
to a Japanese-American mother, Asano's looks as a child were more Caucasian than Japanese, resulting in the inevitable bullying and classroom prejudice. He soon learned to use his distinctive face to his advantage when his acting agent father arranged his first auditions. Asano debuted in the TV school drama series
"Kinpachi Sensei" at the age of 16, and his first film appearance was in
Bataashi Jingyo (Swimming Upstream, '90) directed by Joji Matsuoka.
Fried Dragon Fish ('93) was the first of Asano's films to get the critics raving about his screen presence, and from there he went on to have a string of successful arthouse movies. Asano successfully took the leads in
Nejishiki ('98), adapted from the surreal manga by Yoshiharu Tsuge, and
Samehada Otoko to Momojiri Onna (Shark Skin Man and Peach Hip
Girl, '98) a Trainspotting-inspired yakuza romp. He also appeared in
Away with Words ('99), a multi-cultural experiment from Hong Kong cinematographer Christopher Doyle.
In 1999 his career entered the mainstream with an appearance in Nagisa Oshima's samurai drama,
Gohatto (Tabou), alongside Kitano "Beat" Takeshi. Better received in the same year was his riveting portrayal of real-life war correspondent Taizo Ichinose, the photographer who went missing (presumed dead) while covering the Vietnam war, in
One Step on a Mine, It's All Over. This year, he re-entered the world of the
jidaigeki (historical drama) with Gojo Reisenkei (Gojoe), in which he plays the 12th-century warrior Minamoto no Yoshitsune. Future projects slated for release in 2001 include
Kaza-Hana, Party7 and his next movie, Distance.
In contrast to the troubled off-the-wall characters he portrays, Asano has settled into family life at an early
age - he married pop singer Chara when he was 21. The couple met in '94 on the set of Shunji Iwai's
Picnic and they married later that year. An atypical celebrity couple, they now have a five-year-old daughter Sumire, named after the English word Smile, and a one-year-old son, Himi.
Asano also finds time for modeling (for Takeo Kikuchi), illustration work and singing in a rock band. When he travels, he dubs himself a vocalist, embarrassed to call himself an actor.
This actor has also had his share of the inevitable commercial gigs -
the most outlandish being one for Canon printers, where a fully dressed Asano climbs into a bath and terrorizes its naked male occupant with a water pistol.
What makes Tadanobu Asano unique is his gift for playing idiosyncratic, mentally traumatized individuals without descending into the melodramatics of many mainstream actors. His performances are dark, insightful and shot through with a dark steam of chaos, making him an apt sex symbol for a country on the edge of the unknown.