People To Watch: Sawajiri Erika
I may be a bit biased since I’m a guy, but Sawajiri Erika really gets to me, in a good way (at least in her early career, as of now). She’s a rare example of an idol that I cannot dislike, despite her poor reputation. Why am I writing this? I felt like it. It came to me easily. I also believe that Sawajiri Erika is one of Japan’s gems, an actress that may be able to successfully cross over to the West at some point (barring English proficiency). As long as she fixes her image and gets back into acting, she could quickly rise up the ranks as one of Japan’s best young actresses once again.
Who is she?
For those who don’t know, Sawajiri Erika is a half Japanese/French super-idol whose base of activities is in Japan. She began her career in gravure modeling after elementary school when she passed an audition for Stardust Entertainment and became quite successful in the modeling world. She soon began appearing in TV Dramas and really broke out with her starring role in 1 Litre of Tears, where she played a young girl suffering from an incurable, degenerative disease. Erika became incredibly popular after this, taking many starring roles in film and drama.
In true idol fashion, Erika began a singing career under the name Amane Kaoru–a character that she played in the 2006 drama, Taiyo no Uta. She ultimately succeeded at this, gaining two number one singles in a row on the Oricon charts. Her career went well for a couple of years, though she became known as somewhat of a problem, considered by many to have a bad personality. Then the “Closed Note” incident occurred.
In September 2007, Erika showed up for a media conference for her new film Closed Note. She answered the media’s questions with short, uncaring, and noneffective answers. This earned her much criticism from the media and a backlash from the population. She became one of the most despised celebrities in Japan, earning the nickname “Erika-sama” (-sama is an incredibly polite name ending dictating extreme respect). Erika has since taken a two year hiatus, spending much of her time abroad with her husband, Tsuyoshi Takashiro (they are currently rumored to be getting a divorce). Only recently has she made her comeback, and what a comeback it has been!
After her contract was terminated by Stardust, Erika set up her own agency in Spain. She also sent demands to the media in Japan, basically ordering them to give her space. She has also singed with Avex, a massive entertainment company, for her future film and music endeavors. She has done much modeling recently (view a HD video here) and has recorded a (very stupid-sounding) song completely in English for her brother, congratulating him on his marriage. She may be heading in the wrong direction here. What’s next? Who knows, but it is sure to be reported on widely by the media. She is the tabloid queen of Japan.
Why You Should Care
Sawajiri Erika is a very talented actress, in my opinion. She has a screen presence that exceeds that of most other similar actresses, and has a unique beauty that one cannot take their eyes off of. Her role in 1 Litre of Tears is phenomenal. She has also been quite good in films (Pacchigi!, Sugar and Spice, Tegami), though most of her roles have been supporting. Her draw isn’t only beauty–she has been devoted to her roles and is very convincing on screen. One can only hope that her attitude doesn’t overshadow her talent in the future. If filmmakers can get past her reputation, she should undoubtedly appear on screen again…
A Few Notable Film & Drama Roles
1 Litre of Tears (Drama, 2005) — Write-up here.
— Will she ever surpass this performance? Delivered at such a young age and with such effectiveness, Erika burst onto the scene. She also appeared in the following film, also to much success.
— Erika won the Japan Academy Award for Best Newcomer for her role as a cute and resilient zainichi (Korean living in Japan) who wins the affection of a Japanese boy. This film won a lot of awards, and Erika definitely contributed to its success. She embodies her character perfectly, giving off an aura of independence but still remaining cute.
Sugar & Spice: Fuumi Zekka (2006)
— Despite the lack of development for her character and the film’s hollowness, Erika still provided a nice performance that was my entire reason for not dismissing the film right off the bat. She doesn’t do much, but her screen presence and beauty is enough to hold the attention of the viewer.
Tegami (The Letters, 2006) — Write-up here.
— One of my favorite films, Tegami depicts the struggles of a young man whose brother is in prison for murder. Erika plays a girl who loves him and is undeniably cute and spunky throughout. She’s good at bringing a smile to your face, as the film is often dark. Her character goes through a transition, from naive, cute young girl to sophisticated beauty school student and then to mature mother. She plays all roles equally well.
Let’s wait and see what she has to offer now beyond looking good and creating headlines. One thing is certain–she has once again taken Japan by storm, but it’s not the same storm that followed her when she was younger. It’s time to learn and adapt. Hoping for the best.