September 15th, 2018 left the world heartbroken at the loss of one of Japan’s most legendary individuals on screen, the internationally acclaimed actress Kiki Kirin. She died peacefully at her home in Tokyo at the age of 75, surrounded by immediate family, presumably of cancer, a disease she had been battling since 2004. Her fighting spirit, witty humor, an endless list of movies that had forever changed the Japanese cinema, and a unique approach to life, however, will forever remain celebrated in Japan and overseas.
A curious life, a legendary character
Born in 1943 in Tokyo, Kiki (née Keiko Nakatani) started her acting career under the name of Chiho Yuki in the early 1960s as an actress for the Bungakuza theatre troupe. Initially, she had planned to become a pharmacist, but after failing to take the exam due to a ski injury, she grabbed the first job post she saw — an audition for a theatrical performance.
Today, leaving more than 100 television and film credits and nearly 30 acting awards behind, Kiki left the world as one of Japan’s most acclaimed actresses of all time. She remains best known for her frequent motherly and grandmotherly roles in award-winning movies such as Tokyo Tower: Mom and Me, and Sometimes Dad, Chronicles of My Mother, Kamikaze Girls, Half Confession, and her most recent work, Kore-eda’s Shoplifters. Despite her fame, however, her awards and solid presence on the Japanese screen were recognitions Kiki had always been modest about:
“I don’t remember any of them now,” she told media with a laugh. “Once we finished shooting, I just threw away the script and forget all about it.”
The former is only a glimpse into Kiki’s down-to-earth, witty and incredibly human character (both onscreen and in real life). In fact, she couldn’t be further from the quietly suffering, virtuously self-sacrificing grandmother roles often she played.
Throughout her life, Kiki lived defying the status quo both on set and in her personal life. In 1977, she found her name, Kiki Kirin, by thumbing through a dictionary after auctioning her old stage name (Chiho Yuki) on a TV show, telling the media at the time that she “had nothing else to sell (but her name). In 1973, after a short-lasting previous marriage, she tied the knot with rocker Yuya Uchida, a celebrity she remained legally married to until her death despite having lived with him for only about a year and a half after their marriage. Their unconventional marriage constantly created a buzz in the media, being as atypical as it was, yet showing a deeper connection between