Rinko Kikuchi exclusive


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A sight to behold
by Marissa-Catherine Carrarini

Born in the Kanagawa prefectures near Tokyo, Kikuchi is already famous in her native Japan for films such as the The Taste of Tea and Funky Forest: the First Contact, as well as several TV adverts. However, Kikuchi's intelligent, bravely innocent yet provocative performance in the hypnotising Babel is sure to take her to new, movie-making clouds.

In a London hotel, I get to talk, with the help of an interpreter, to the beautiful and polite Kikuchi about making her first international film. Before we start chatting, she pours everyone in the room a glass of water and asks if it's OK if she has a cigarette. She then settles down to give the interview her full concentration.

What inspired you to start acting?
As a child, my parents took me to see a lot of movies. I loved watching them with my parents and I think that's been a great influence in my life. Also, both of my older brothers were always so naughty that they took up a lot of my mother's attention. I wanted my mother's attention as well and I would often weep or cause problems without any reason because I needed it. In the end I started acting because I wanted special attention from my mother.

Tell me about your experience working with I��rritu.
I have always respected him as a filmmaker and I loved his films, 21 Grams and Amores Perros, but what was so great about working with him was that the film is so 'serious, serious, serious', but after we'd shot the scene we would always laugh.

Also, he really expressed the painful feeling of human beings and humanity. [He asked] 'What is real humanity?' and that is a very wonderful concept to work with. As an actress, I feel that his films have saved my life and given me more hope so it has been wonderful to work with such a wonderful director. He is also a very passionate person, very beautiful, and a very sexy person.

The character you play in the film is a deaf-mute who is struggling as much with her perception of herself as with how others see her. In essence, though, she just wants to be shown affection. Can you tell me how - if at all - you identify with her?
Sometimes when I play roles I pick up some of my own elements and explore them as I perform, but sometimes I have to create a role that is completely different from my personality. In Chieko's case, she has a very strong personality but she also wants to be loved and for someone to love her. She is asking all the time for somebody to please stay with her. I also have the same feelings. Maybe all women have feelings like that.

At the end of the film, Chieko gives a note to a policeman she has tried to get affection from. The audience never learns what Chieko wrote. Could you tell me what is in the letter?
We shot the policeman scene at quite an early stage of filming and what she wrote is a very important element of the film. Alejandro had asked me to write the letter so I wrote and rewrote the letter by myself. When Alejandro read it, he really agreed with what I had written and said that we shared the same feelings over what Chieko is about. That letter is interesting because only three people know the contents. We don't want to reveal what it says because everybody must have the freedom to interpret what was written for themselves.

What was the most challenging aspect of playing Chieko?
I had to get through one year of auditions. Alejandro would audition me maybe once a month, so I would have to recreate Chieko's world in front of him many times. That�s quite a hard process because I always had to keep up my energy and concentration for the role, but the auditioning process was very good training for me as an actor. I learnt a lot.

Do you think I��rritu's portrayal of Japan and Japanese youth culture is accurate?
There are so many different people in Japan and maybe Alejandro did pick up some part of youth and Japanese society, but filmmakers create their own world, rather than the realistic world. It is not necessary to ask whether this youth culture really exists in Japan or if this world is very similar to Japan, but I do feel it is very important for actors to play their role in a very realistic way. That is the important thing.

How do you think the film will be received in Japan?
I'm not sure. We're not sure when it is going to be released there. In the end, it is a Mexican director shooting part of his film in Japan and talking about miscommunication, humanity, society and youth. If anybody can feel things through this film then I'm really happy.