Rinko Kikuchi might be best known for her role as the mute school girl in Babel directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu. Nominated for an Oscar, she’s gone on to numerous projects including Brothers Bloom and is in 47 Ronin with Keanu Reeves and yet another project currently filming with Guillermo Del Toro. Her role in Tran Anh Hung directed adaptation of Haruki Murakami’s Norwegian Wood is far from a tender character as she’s cast as Naoko, a person who’s mentally ill, plagued by her own demons. Kikuchi currently lives in New York City and we caught up with her during her Norwegian Wood promotions. Her English is coming along as well as her acting roles.
GR: Can you tell me about your experience of reading Norwegian Wood?
RK: When I read the book, I was the same age as Naoko, so I fell in love with Naoko’s character and ten years later, I got this role. Now I understand her better than when I first read the book.
GR: When I read some books when I was younger and then I re-read it again at a different time it felt a lot different. How did you see that? Did it change a little bit when you read it one more time before the movie?
RK: Yea, when I made this film, I learned everything has an end. Naoko and Kizuki wanted to keep their beautiful memory so they committed suicide. They were scared to open the other door, you know? That’s why I think this book is really beautiful, poetic and fragile. So I got a new experience of the book after making the film.
GR: I know that the character is kind of a difficult one and I was reading how you had to get into that character. How do you do that?
RK: I read the book over and over again, and I asked Naoko questions and tried to get the right answers from her. Right at the beginning of the shoot, the answers and questions melded, so finally I could do that the role, but every specific hint from the novel mattered.
GR: That role looks kind of difficult and kind of painful. Does that affect you personally in any way? Or is it just easy to separate yourself.
RK: Completely separate. I am a happy person. She was the opposite. That’s why I could keep us separate. If she were the same as me, I couldn’t do that. So she’s a really opposite side of me, so that’s why I could look at her and understand her.
GR: This movie isn’t really a Japanese movie. Can you talk about how that role is different than other role you have in Japan?
RK: Yes, I think so. You know, I am living in New York right now, far away from Tokyo, and I feel like I can see Japan better than when I lived in Tokyo. In the same way, Tran has a different point of view about Japan. I think he is the right person to make this film. Because Murakami is the biggest name in Japan, so some Japanese directors cannot carry his novel, I think.
GR: In the end, the film is finished and it’s been done maybe one year. How do you feel about it compare to a novel or do you see it just kind of a film by itself?
RK: I think you shouldn’t compare a novel and a movie, because each is made in such a different way. We shouldn’t compare novels and movies. That’s my rule.
GR: Yea, a lot of people will watch it and have never read the book. It’s going to happen a lot I think.
RK: Yea, it’s possible. Well, I was already such a big fan of this novel before I got the role. Haruki’s novel is a part of my life, so I don’t know what others are feeling when they see this film, without reading the novel, and what they’re thinking about this film. I’m not sure, but I hope they love it.
GR: What projects are you working on now because this is already been a year.
RK: I’m working with Guillermo del Toro, a great Mexican director. The name of the film is Pacific Rim. We are shooting in Toronto right now.
GR: I’ve read that you got cast in that 47 Ronin movie.
RK: Yes. My role was the witch and yeah, we are completely finished.
GR: You’re starting to make maybe films that are more international. Is that sort of a goal to just work outside of Japan or is it to do everything?
RK: I never compared Japanese film to international film. I just wanted to work for film. But now that I’m living in New York City and working on international films, it is harder than Japanese films because I have to speak English and prepare my pronunciation. I really enjoy that very challenging process. I love it. So that’s why I tried to get roles internationally.