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Comic-Con 2012: 'Pacific Rim's' Rinko Kikuchi Says She Was Jealous of Co-Star Charlie Day

The star of films like "Babel" and "The Brothers Bloom" tells THR that her new film about fighting giant monsters helped her "learn a lot about other countries' cultures."

Rinko Kikuchi Comic-Con Panel - P 2012
Kevin Winter/Getty Images

If there’s an obvious joke about a Japanese woman fighting a gigantic monster that came from beneath the sea, don’t tell Rinko Kikuchi about it. The actress, who appears in Guillermo del Toro’s kaiju (giant monsters) homage Pacific Rim, tells The Hollywood Reporter that she agreed to do the film because it was a challenge, not because she’d have the opportunity to explore a cultural stereotype.

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Kikuchi sat down with THR at Comic-Con Saturday, where she del Toro as well as joined co-stars Charlie Hunnam and Charlie Day to premiere footage from the highly-anticipated action film. In addition to talking briefly about her character’s back story, she opined about films about Japanese culture being made by Westerners, and explained how she’s been able to play so many different kinds of roles, from Babel to The Brothers Bloom to Pacific Rim, in such a short amount of time as an international actress.

The Hollywood Reporter: It seems like there's an obvious joke with a Japanese actress fighting against kaiju -- how self-aware is the movie about things like that? Does the movie acknowledge that as a convention?

Rinko Kikuchi: Of course, as a little girl I used to watch a lot of monster movies and TV series, but I don’t know. It’s just that the kaiju destroy the whole world, so we have to fight with the monsters. It’s an international problem. And also, the kaiju comes from the ocean – deep, deep inside the water in the Pacific – so Japan is defending that. And also, Idris [Elba]’s character raised her and then she’s a student in the United States and she wanted to be a pilot, so it’s not like I feel like “I’m Japanese, so that’s why I’m in the movie.” I never thought of that.

THR: Guillermo has such a mischievous sense of humor. How dark is the film and how much fun is it trying to be?

Kikuchi:I can say both. In one way it’s really, really funny because Charlie Day is here. But on the other side, we have a trauma from our past, so we have to overcome all of those traumas. So she’s fighting her monsters and she’s also fighting her demons.

THR: How do you feel about having a Mexican filmmaker and an American filmmaker exploring subject like this one and 47 Ronin, which are not just Asian-oriented subjects but specifically Japanese ones?

Kikuchi:You know, I feel like film is an [exploration] of human stuff. We can share that stuff – all of those stories. So even if it’s old Japanese history or Mexican history, they can be international stories, because we are the same as human beings. And then I’m so happy to work on an international set, because I’ve learned a lot about other countries’ cultures – feelings, language, love, those things that I had never [experienced] before. And now I’m so happy to work on international sets.

THR: This cast is really young. How much does the movie address or explain that? I mean, Charlie Hunnam's character is 32 and I saw him described as washed-up.

Kikuchi: When we pilot the robots, we have to share everything, because we have to share our past memories. So that means that we can share the same memories. But I’m not sure – you’d have to ask Guillermo.

THR: Charlie Day also seems like an unlikely choice for this kind of movie. How was it to work with him -- and does he play comic relief or something more serious?

Kikuchi:I was so happy to work with him, because on set, he would do something every time, and it was a surprise. He tried it this way, and then that way, and it was amazing. And also, he made Guillermo laugh a lot, and that made me jealous – because I can’t do that.

THR: How are you choosing your roles now? It feels like you've already had such an interesting variety of characters to play -- are you getting really different sorts of offers, or do you have to pursue them in order to keep finding new things?

Kikuchi:I like challenges. That’s why if I read a script, and I feel, “Oh, I can’t do this,” I’ll take that role, because if I feel like, “Oh, I can do this,” I don’t want to take that because I can’t learn from that film. So it depends on my feelings, and it depends on the director and cast -- or if it’s a challenge.