Countdown to the Top 30 Hottest Japanese Actresses (2013 Edition)

Young, talented, charming, controversial, popular – just a few to describe our list of 30 hottest Japanese actresses today. While it took years and years before America’s Oscar awards took notice of young Japanese talent in the person of Rinko Kikuchi (Babel), young actresses in Japan have been charming their way into the hearts of Japanese and worldwide audiences.

In our introduction (countdown) to the top 30 list, we’re featuring four amazing actresses who are already household names in Japan. Get to know them and why they ought to be in the hot list!

Oscar nominee Rinko Kikuchi said in an interview with Midnight Eye what she thought about great actors, and she said:

What is a great actor? What is a real actor? What are the criteria for a great actor? Nobody knows. Nobody can decide those criteria, and I don’t want anybody deciding them for me. There is no predetermined hierarchy of great acting. It’s not that absolute or simple. Also, your essence will always show through. You can try to cover it up with acting, but something of yourself will always be noticeable. That essence of yourself is more important than trying to be a great actor. It’s about how you live your life, how you live as a woman. The characters you play will reflect that, and so that’s the most important thing. [ read more ]

Kikuchi’s observation is one of the reasons why we made this list. 

To explore the many possibilities of ‘claiming’ great actresses in our midst. There have been lists before ours, and while there may be similar names, our list is based on our preferences – how an actress deliver comedy with such charm, how she proceeds to warm our hearts, how she provoke us and challenge us with her sensuality and beliefs. Yes, Kikuchi is right – judging how great and authentic an actress depends on our personalities and perceptions.

In her latest movie, Tokyo Family, Yu Aoi reprises the role of the daughter in law who selflessly welcomed the old couple into her small abode in this remake of the highly-acclaimed Tokyo Story. As in her previous roles, the young actress delivered the kind of performance expected of her – brilliant, honest, emotional acting.

But her best performances were in movies that show her dancing talents. In both Hula Girls and Hanna and Alice, Aoi played two of Japanese cinema’s unforgettable characters. Remarked FilmIntuition:

Much like the characters they play, the energetic young cast, led by Yu Aoi, who earned numerous awards and nominations for her fine portrayal, had never danced before the shooting of the film and studied for three months to convincingly play the part, according to IMDB. While 1960’s women’s liberation is nothing new, seeing the transformative power of art and the way that self-confidence and teamwork help the young women mature in a Japanese setting is quite intriguing to behold and one not often depicted on film. [ read more ]

In Hanna and Alice, AsianWiki said of her portrayal:

Yu Aoi’s breakthrough in acting came with her first starring role in 2004’s “Hana and Alice.” This would also be her second time working with director Shunji Iwai. In the film, Yu Aoi was able to demonstrate not only her talents in acting but also her skills in ballet. A five-minute dance performance by Yu Aoi was included during the climatic moments in “Hana and Alice.” Yui Aoi would go on to win the 2005 best actress award at the Japanese Professional Movie Award for that performance. [ read more ]

But what made me become a fan of the young actress is her portrayal of Rai in The Lightning Tree. As the kidnapped young girl who grew up in the forest, Yu was excellent showcasing naivety, independence, loneliness and strong will of a young woman who just discovered love. The on-screen chemistry between Yu and Masaki Okada made a big difference.

Think of any young Japanese actress who can combine drama and comedy with aplomb and spontaneity? Only one name comes to mind – Haruka Ayase. In Cyborg She, Hayase played a futuristic robot who came back in time to rescue her maker.

Reviewer Ben Austwick @QuietEarth commented:

With few other cast members, Cyborg She hangs on the relationship between Jiro and the cyborg, and the chemistry between the two stars is the first step in what amounts to a charming and touching romantic comedy. Keisuke Koide is perhaps a little wet as hapless Jiro, but Haruka Ayase is fantastic as the cyborg, giving a versatile performance of energy and charm that pretty much steals the show. [ read more ]

Her acting versatility continues in Oppai Volleyball, where Hayase plays a Volleyball coach inspiring a group of uninterested volleyball players into becoming the best in the game – but there is a twist to the story… she promises them that she will show her boobs if they win a game!

Hayase also played a flight stewardess in Happy Flights and a blind swordswoman in Inchi. Up next is the sci-fi drama/thriller Real opposite Takeru Sato.

It took 5 years for Erika Sawajiri to make her latest movie, Helter Skelter after the romantic drama Closed Notes (shown in 2007). The waiting is well worth it, and even the Japanese Academy Prize agrees – Sawajiri is nominated as one of 2012’s best actresses.

Sawajiri figured prominently in controversies for speaking her mind, something that is frowned upon by the conservative press in Japan. Which is a pity because she could have done more roles and ordinary moviegoers like you and me would have enjoyed seeing more of her on the big screen.

Playing geeky, nerdy characters might be her forte – the role of an ugly duckling turning into a beautiful swan! That happened in the romantic drama Heavenly Forest. But playing such characters is not enough for the versatile actress.

One of her most acclaimed films is Harmful Insect, a performance recognized by the Nantes Festival which bestowed on her a Best Actress award. In the movie, Miyazaki plays a young student who went through a lot of difficulties in life, including the suicide of her mother and the nasty gossiping of her fellow students regarding an alleged affair with her former teacher.

But ordinary moviegoers might consider her role in Nana as one of her best. Together with Mika Nakashima, Aoi played Nana (who has the same name as Nakashima’s character) and explored both beautiful and painful memories of growing up.

Why do we believe she has a special place in Japanese cinema? Because her unique beauty and character made her the best choice for special characters – those roles that are both magical and real, funny and tragic, dark, quirky and ultimately satisfying.

Opposite Ryuhei Matsuda, Miyazaki will next play his love interest in Fune wo Amu. She is also the lead in Yellow Elephant, with popular actor Osamu Mukai.

Who among the four actresses is your favorite? What are some of your favorite movies featuring these actresses? Let us know what you think!