Article: Top 10 Japanese Celebs Who Rocked The Global Stage

In every industry, some individuals have something magical about them. Their fame and popularity transcend countries and oceans. These individuals have not only wowed us all with their superb acting skills but have also made quite a splash on the international spectrum. If we talk about Japan, there are quite a few celebs who have become household names around the world. Through this list, we aim to shine a light on those who have given us unique experiences. Let’s look at the top 10 Japanese celebs who rocked the global stage!

1. Sessue Hayakawa

Sessue Hayakawa is the stage name of Japan-born actor Kintarō Hayakawa. Hayakawa was incredibly popular during the silent era in Hollywood. As a matinee idol, he enjoyed stardom in the United States and Europe, and he was the first artist of Asian descent to have that. Sessue enjoyed fame in America at a time when racial discrimination was rampant, and his various roles as the lead, as well as his “broodingly handsome” looks, helped him become one of the first sex symbols in Hollywood. He starred in The Typhoon in 1914, and his breakthrough was due to the 1915 film The Cheat. Hayakawa also did a brief stint on Broadway.

2. Toshiro Mifune

Toshiro Mifune is considered one of the greatest actors of all time. He spent his early years in China (which was occupied by Japan at that time) and then was drafted into the Japanese Imperial Army in the Aerial Photography unit. A friend of his convinced him to join Tojo Production, where Mifune made acquaintance with famed Japanese director Akira Kurosawa. He mainly acted as a samurai in his films, who are portrayed as gruff and tough, which helped him gain fame with Western audiences. His American filmography includes projects like Shogun, The Challenge, Shatterer, and Shadow of the Wolf. Rumor has it that Mifune turned down the role of Death Vardar in Star Wars (1977).

3. Miyoshi Umeki

Miyoshi Umeki was the first actor of Asian descent who won the prestigious Academy Award, also known as the Oscar, for her role in Sayonara in 1957. During World War II, Miyoshi started her career as a nightclub singer and dancer under the stage name Nancy Umeki. Inspired by American pop music and Japanese theater, she moved to America to make her career. After recording two music albums and making appearances in variety shows, she got her big break with Sayonara, which remains her most famous film to date. Umeki did four films after Sayonara and quit the industry at 45 to focus on her family. Random fact about the actress: she threw away her Oscar trophy!

4. Ken Watanabe

Even though Ken Watanabe is Japanese, most of his acting work is in the American industry. He has starred in Hollywood’s biggest blockbusters like Christopher Nolan’s Inception and Batman Begins. As a teen, Watanabe wanted to enroll in a music conservatory in Japan, but couldn’t owing to his family’s financial condition. He joined the acting scene in Japan and became famous for his Samurai roles in films. The Last Samurai, released in 2003, marked his Hollywood debut, and since then, Ken has become a staple in Hollywood. His most recent works are Tokyo Vice, Kubi, and The Creator.

5. Hiroyuki Sanada

Hiroyuki Sanada is a Japanese actor and martial artist. Wanting to be an action movie star, he became a pupil of Sonni Chiba. His first role was in Shogun’s Samurai sequel, and afterward, he worked in the Hong Kong cinema. His stint in Hong Kong cinema led to friendships with prominent Hollywood icons such as Michelle Yeoh and Jackie Chan, who helped him to appear in foreign films. The Wolverine, Life, The Last Samurai, and Avengers: Endgame (in which he had a small role) are some of his most recognized works in the Western industry.

6. Rinko Kikuchi

For the 2006 film Babel, Japanese actress Rinko Kikuchi scored at least 30 award nominations, out of which she won nine. One of the awards was the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress, making Rinko the second Asian artist to win an Oscar. Will to Live and The Taste of Tea are her most popular Japanese films. Following the stardom that Babel brought her, she started getting roles in major Western films like The Sky Crawlers (2008), Assault Girls (2009), and The Brothers Bloom (2009). Rinko now works in both Japanese and American movies.

7. Tadanobu Asano

Tadanobu Asano is well known for cult classic Japanese like Ichi the Killer, Electric Dragon 80.000 V, and Gohatto. Marvel fans will recognize him as Hogun from Thor, the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s (MCU) fourth film. Unlike some actors on this list, Tadanobu took his time making his international debut. His Western roles were sparse, appearing in Thai director Pen-Ek Ratanaruang’s Invisible Waves’ and Russian director Sergei Bodrov’s ‘Mongol.’ “Battleship” and “Midway” are his Hollywood blockbusters, but he still takes time to contribute his talents to his home country’s film industry.

8. Tao Okamoto

Tao Okamoto is a Japanese actor and supermodel who goes by her professional name Tao. Alongside Ai Tominaga and Hiroko Matsumoto, she is one of the most famous models in Japan. Tao has modeled for the luxury brand Ralph Lauren and was one of the brand’s faces in 2009. Starring alongside Hugh Jackman in The Wolverine, she made her acting and Hollywood debut. Since then, she has worked in films on both sides of the Atlantic.

9. Rila Fukushima

Rila Fukushima is another model who made her acting debut with The Wolverine. She starred alongside Tao Okamoto, and the film served as the ladies’ debut. She also appeared in the Taiga drama Gunshi Kanbei, where she portrayed the role of Omichi. Rila has garnered a name for herself by performing comic book roles in movies. Her filmography includes Arrow, Ghost in the Shell, and Million Yen Women.

10. Ryo Kase

Ryo Kase debuted with Sogo Ishii’s directorial Gojoe: Spirit War Chronicle in 2000. Since his debut, Kase’s career has been marked by collaborations with prominent directors such as Abbas Kiarostami and Wes Anderson. He has many Western films under his belt too. Clint Eastwood's Letters from Iwo Jima, Michel Gondry's Tokyo!, Gus Van Sant's Restless, Abbas Kiarostami's Like Someone in Love, Hong Sang-soo's Hill of Freedom, Takeshi Kitano's Outrage and Outrage Beyond, Martin Scorsese's Silence, and Paul Weitz's Bel Canto are some of his international films.