Ko Shibasaki is one of those actors you will see often in Japanese movies, but but you could be forgiven for not noticing it at first. The woman has a chameleon quality that blends into the role, the movie and the director’s vision. In a word, she is superb.
This is how many fans in the west first encountered her, as sexy, deadly Mitsuko in Battle Royale. Tokyo born Yukie Yamamura started her acting and singing career at 14, changing her name to that of her favourite manga character. It was Battle Royale that propelled her to starring roles on TV and in movies.
In Chugashin Ari (One Missed Call) she played Yumi, whose friend Natsumi dies after receiving a mysterious voice message of herself screaming in terror in two days’ time. She was paired with the brilliant actor Shinichi Tsutsumi for the first time as the detective who helps her get to the bottom of the mystery.
In Maison de Himiko, Ko played Saori, a girl estranged from her father, who ends up at a nursing home for gay men when she goes with her father’s lover, Haruhiko, to see him before he dies. Haruhiko is played by Shinobi’s Jo Odagiri. A touching and beautiful story of the struggle to accept and be accepted for your differences, and one of Ko and Joe’s best performances.
In Shinji Higuchi‘s Nihon Chinbotsu (Japan Sinks) she was somewhat overshadowed by the dazzling CGI, but still managed to stand out as rescue worker Reiko, who helps care for a child orphaned by the disaster (Mayuko Fukuda from L Change the World) and falls tenderly in love with submersible pilot Toshio (Tsuyoshi Kusanagi). They provide the sense of humanity underlying the big splashy special effects.
She looks magnificent in the period drama Dororo, where she plays the title role of a girl raised as a boy, an artful thief who joins with demon hunter Hyakkimaru to retrieve parts of his body that will make him human again.
In Maiko Haaan!!! she plays Fujiko, who is dumped by her boyfriend for a glamorous geisha. She starts training as a maiko (apprentice geisha) to win him back. I haven’t been able to get a copy of this movie to review it, but it’s billed as a ‘screwball comedy’.
In The Devotion of Suspect X, one of my favourite movies, it is Shinichi Tsutsumi who steals every scene he is in, as the obsessive but devoted math teacher who manages to stay one step ahead of detective Shunpei Kusanagi (Ko Shibasaki) and physicist and scientific consultant Yukawa (Masaharu Fukuyama).
Ko Shibasaki is next due to appear in Keanu Reeves’ 47 Ronin and can also be seen in Ooku and Shokudo Katatsumuri (Rinco’s Restaurant) both released in 2010.