Kirin Kiki, Matriarch in Palme d'Or Winner 'Shoplifters', Dies at 75

'Shoplifters' Still 1 - Publicity -H 2018
Courtesy of Cannes Film Festival

The veteran maverick actor was a regular in Hirokazu Kore-eda's films and had spoken openly about the cancer she said had spread throughout her body.

Actor Kirin Kiki died Sept. 15 after an award-winning career that spanned six decades and saw her work with many of Japan's leading directors. She was first diagnosed with cancer in 2004 and had said earlier this year it was beyond treatment, but the official cause of death has yet to be announced.

Born Keiko Nakatani in Tokyo in 1943, she began acting in the early 1960s under the name Yuki Chiho in a theater troupe, before finding success in television comedies, in particular as a grandmother in Terauchi Kantaro Ikka, despite her young age. She married actor Shin Kishida from the same theater group, but they divorced in 1968.

In 1973, she married musician Yuya Uchida and had daughter Yayako, who played the younger version of her character in Tokyo Tower: Mom and Me, and Sometimes Dad, for which Kiki won the Japan Academy Prize best actress in 2011. She also appeared alongside her granddaughter Kyara Uchida in Hirokazu Kore-eda's I Wish in the same year, as well as in Naomi Kawase's Sweet Bean, which competed in the Un Certain Regard at Cannes in 2015.

A firm favorite of Kore-eda, she also starred in Still Walking (2008), Cannes Jury prize-winner Like Father, Like Son (2013), My Little Sister (2015), After the Storm (2016) and this year's Palme d'Or winner, Shoplifters, as the matriarch of an unconventional family of petty thieves.

Her son-in-law Masahiro Motoki, star of best foreign-language Oscar winner Departures (2008), told the media she had broken her leg at the end of August in a fall at a friend's house and suffered complications related to the cancer and bronchial problems following surgery.

"My cancer has spread throughout my entire body and there's nothing the doctors can do," Kiki told Kyodo news agency in a June interview. "Rather than fighting reality, I choose to accept what's in front of me and go with the flow."

Kiki also criticized the trend of using pop idol group members and models as actors in Japanese film and television.

"Today the talent pool for screen actors in Japan is shallow. They all look and dress the same and I can't tell them apart. This isn't a fashion show, you know. Actors should show originality," said Kiki.