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Asano Tadanobu's Renaissance Life

What will Asano Tadanobu (family name first in the Japanese tradition) do next?  If his track record is any indication, there’s really no telling.  Once a reluctant actor in little known independent films who entered the business at his agent-father’s urging, he now averages almost four films per year and has become one of Japan’s most famous and respected actors in recent memory.  Asano’s first love, however, was punk rock, and he has performed both vocals and guitar with bands such as Peace Pill, Safari, Mach 1.67, and Joujouka.  He also works independently as his musical alter ego, Bunodata, which is an anagram of his first name.  Bunodata may produce bluesy funk, house dub grooves, screeching punk rock, folksy vocals with bare-bones acoustic guitar, or he may DJ at a dance club; you just never know.  Apparently not content with these endeavors, Asano also designs his own clothing line called Jean Diadem, in which many items feature his drawings and paintings.  That’s right, he’s also a visual artist, not to mention a model for other fashion designers, as well as a much sought-after personality and voice in Japanese TV commercials.  Whether one considers his creative muse schizophrenically indecisive or spectacularly versatile, there is much to explore among the works of Asano Tadanobu.

Following memorable acting performances that helped boost movies such as Ichi The Killer and Mongol into the limelight, Asano has been cast in the upcoming Marvel extravaganza Thor, as well as Battleship, another big-budget movie that will star Liam Neeson and release in 2012.  Most recently he has been listed alongside Keanu Reeves in Carl Rinsch's impending remake of the Japanese classic 47 Ronin.  Although these Hollywood projects are all supporting roles for Asano, they may well prove to be stepping stones to a lead part in a major American film.  During a November 2010 interview with CNN-Go, the actor said that this is indeed a goal he wants to work toward, much to the delight of his stateside fans who have previously had to scour Asian media outlets and bootleg sources in order to enjoy his lesser known films.  Asano Tadanobu may not yet be a household name in mainstream America but if his trajectory of increasing stardom continues, that won’t be the case much longer.

Whether playing the role of a sadomasochistic yakuza torturer, a samurai with forbidden homosexual urges, a violent guitar-shredding survivor of electrocution, or an amnesiac medical student grieving for his dead girlfriend, the common thread that runs through Asano’s acting is a stoic calm that makes it seem as though he’s not acting at all.  This trademark cool reserve and deadpan delivery make the moments when emotion bursts forth, or subtly shines through, all the more powerful.  It creates a mesmerizing anticipatory effect that has proven sufficient to carry the story lines of some pretty quirky films which may have languished in the hands of lesser talent.  Asano has been compared to acting great Johnny Depp due to their similarity in choosing diverse projects, from obscure independent works to blockbusters, as well as for their shared qualities of uncontrived uber-coolness and distinctive good looks.  With his new roles in increasingly high profile films, Asano will likely maintain his prior excellence in the same way that Depp has done throughout the evolution of his career.  Early on, Asano did some television work, but has made the decision to focus solely on film since 2003.  He has also directed or co-directed two independent movies, Tori and R246 Story.

Though he may sometimes appear enigmatically detached on the big screen, Asano is anything but when playing punk rock, hamming it up in TV commercials, or speaking in interviews.  Asano as 'Bunodata' can in fact be quite wild on stage, making up in enthusiasm what he may lack in expertise.  Interviews show Asano to be personable, funny and humble, projecting an understated charisma that transfers through the translators and endears him to audiences of all nationalities.  According to the actor though, he was not always so popular.  Born and raised in Yokohama, Japan, his classmates taunted him for having fairer coloring, lighter hair and sharper features than the norm, due to Asano’s descent from an American maternal grandfather of Navajo heritage.  However, he now appreciates this outsider status, since it led to friendships with other outcasts who first introduced him to punk music, and later informed his acting roles as loners, rebels, or eccentrics of questionable sanity.

Little is published about Asano’s private life, other than the fact that he has a daughter and a son with Japanese pop singer Chara, his wife from 1995 until they divorced in 2009.  He has a brother named Kujun who is also a musician, though he plays more ambient electronic compositions.  In addition to his acting and assorted artistic endeavors, Asano and his father, Yukihisa Sato run an actor’s talent agency called Anore. Tadanobu’s mother reportedly shares his affinity for unique fashion apparel, having frequented flea markets while he was growing up and owning a used clothing store. 

Asano stated in an Asia Pacific Arts magazine interview that he would only consider himself a renaissance man if that’s defined as someone who is interested in and has fun at many varied pursuits, not someone who is talented at everything he tries.  While this versatile artist could be called something of a jack of all trades, he is indisputably the master of at least one.  Very few actors in today’s films possess more on-screen presence and effortless character immersion than does Tadanobu Asano.  We look forward to seeing his work more widely distributed and deservedly appreciated in America, as well as around the world.


(Western titles in parenthesis)

2012 (47 Ronin) - Lord Kira

2012  (Battleship) - Nagata

2011 Regular Boy - Chris

2011 (Once in a Blue Moon) Sutekina Kanashibari

2011 (Thor) The Mighty Thor - Hogun

2011 Korede iinoda! Eiga Akatsuka Fujio - Fujio Akatsuka

2010  (Walking Home) Yoi ga Sametara, Uchi ni Kaero -

2010 (Vengeance Can Wait) Ranbo to Taiki - Hidenori

2009 (Snow Prince) Suno Purinsu: Kinjirareta Koi no Merodi  -

2009 (Villon's Wife) Viyon no Tsuma - Otani

2009 Redline - [voice]

2009  (Dumbeast) Donju - Dekogawa

2009 (Mt. Tsurugidake) Tsurugidake: Ten no Ki - Shibasaki

2009 Yume no Mani Mani - Black Marketeer

2008 R246 Story -

2008 (Kabei: Our Mother) Kabei - Yamazaki Toru

2007 Sad Vacation - kenji Shiraishi

2007  Mongol: The Rise of Genghis Khan - Temudjin

2006 (Hana) Hana Yori mo Naho - Jubei Kanazawa

2006 Invisible Waves - Kyoji

2005 (Tokyo Zombie) Tokyo Zonbi - Fujio

2005 (Rampo Noir) Ranpo Jigoku - (2x) Private Detective Kogoro Akechi; (1x) A Man; (1x) Masaki

2005 (Funky Forest: The First Contact) Naisu no Mori: The First Contact -

2005 (Portrait of the Wind) Taga Tameni - Tamio Murase

2005  Takeshis'

2005 Eri Eri Rema Sabakutani - Mizu

2005 (The Buried Forest) Umoregi - San-chan

2004 Survive Style 5+ - Aman

2004 (The Face of Jizo) Chichi to Kuraseba - Kinoshita

2004 Vital - Hiroshi Takagi

2004 (The Taste of Tea) Cha no Aji - Ayano Haruno

2004 Tori - [director]

2003 (Cafe Lumiere) Kohi Jiko - Hajime Takeuchi

2003  Dead End Run -

2003  (The Blind Swordsman: Zatoichi) Zatoichi - Hattori Genosuke

2003 (Last Life in the Universe) Ruang Rak Noi Nid Mahasan - Kenji

2003 (My Grandpa) Watashi no Guranpa -

2003 (Bright Future) Akarui Mirai - Mamoru Arita

2002  (Woman of Water) Mizu no Onna - Yusaku

2001 (Ichi the Killer) Koroshiya 1 - Kakihara

2001 Distance - Sakata

2001  Electric Dragon 80.000 V - Dragon Eye Morrison

2000 Party 7 - Okita Souji

2000  Kaza-hana - Sawaki

2000 Gojo Reisenki: Gojoe - Shanao

1999  (Taboo) Gohatto - Samurai Hyozo Tashiro

1999 (One Step on a Mine, It's All Over) Jirai wo Fundara Sayonara  - Taizo Ichinose

1999 (Hakuchi: The Innocent) Hakuchi - Isawa

1999 (Gemini) Soseiji - Revenger with Sword

1999 A Way with Words -

1999  San Tiao Ren - Asano

1998  (Shark Skin Man and Peach Hip Girl) Samehada Otoko to Momojiri Onna  - Kuroo Samehada

1998  (Screwed) Neji-shiki - Tsube

1998  Love & Pop - Captain XX

1997  Tokyo Biyori -

1997  Yume no Ginga - Tatsuo Niitaka

1996  Focus - Kanemura

1996  (Swallowtail Butterfly) Suwaroteiru - Customer in Club

1996  Acri  - Hisoka

1996  Helpless  - Kenji Shiraishi

1996  (Picnic) Pikunikku - Tsumuji

1996 wkw/tk/1996@7'55"hk.net - Man

1995 (Maborosii) Mabarosi no Hikari - Ikuo

1995  Yonshimai Monogatari  - Akira Higuchi

1994  119 - Satoshi Matsushita

1993  Nemuranai Machi - Shinjuku Same  - Sajo

1993  Fried Dragon Fish - Natsuro

1992  Seishun Dendekedekedeke  - Seiichi Shirai

1991 Aitsu - Sadahito Iwata

1990  Bataashi Kingyo - Ushi



Mainichi Film Concours, Best Actor: Portrait of the Wind (2005) and Rampo Noir (2005).

Venice Film Festival Upstream Prize, Best Actor: Last Life in the Universe (2003).

Hochi Film Award, Best Supporting Actor: Gojoe (2000) and Taboo (1999).

Mainichi Film Concours, Best Actor: One Step on a Mine, It's All Over (1999), Gojoe (2000) and Taboo (1999).

Yokohama Film Festival, Best Actor: Gojoe (2000) and One Step on a Mine, It's All Over (1999).

Yokohama Film Festival, Best Actor: Picnic (1996), Focus (1996), Helpless (1996) and Acri (1996).

Most Popular Performer: Acri (1996), Focus (1996), Fried Dragon Fish (1993) (TV) and Picnic (1996).

Japanese Professional Movie Award, Best Actor: Helpless (1996) and Focus (1996).

Bibliography  – books of Asano’s artwork, all published by Little More, Japan

Tori – August 2004

Bunch – December 2003

Error – May 1999

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