Koji Yakusho was born in Isahaya city, Nagasaki Prefecture on January 1st,1956, as the youngest of five
brothers. His name was then Koji HASHIMOTO.
After graduating from Nagasaki Prefectural High School of Technology (in 1974), he found employment in
Tokyo at a KUYAKUSHO or a municipal ward office.
In the summer of 1976, he happened to see a stage play by Maxim Gorky, called THE LOWER DEPTHS,
and was very impressed by it. Having thus become interested in stage dramas, Koji started seeing lots of
plays; and in due course he decided to become an actor.
In the spring of 1978, he challenged an audition organized by Mumei-juku, an actors & actresses training
studio, led by a well known actor called Tatsuya Nakadai. Koji passed his audition and was selected as one
of only four lucky ones out of about 800 candidates.
In 1983, he won fame when he played a major role-namely that of ODA NOBUNAGA -in a year-long TV
drama entitled TOKUGAWA IEYASU ( Japan's famous early 17th-century Shogun). The next year,1984, he
appeared in the NHK's year-long samurai drama, MIYAMOTO MUSASHI, performing the title role and
thereby securing his standing with the general public as a popular star. Since then he has appeared in
various stage plays and some movies, as well as in TV dramas and commercials.
Koji's stage plays may interest you. He has performed major roles in productions of:
Machiavelli's MANDRAGOLA (as Callimaco), Shakespeare's HAMLET (as Laertes), Lanford Wilson's
BURN THIS (as Pale), and Martin Sherman's BENT (as Max).
As for his private life, in 1982 he married Saeko Kawazu, a trainee actress from Mumei-juku. The couple
have a son born in 1985.
In 1996, he won a total of 14 awards as best actor for his performance of roles in SHALL WE DANCE?,
SLEEPING MAN, and SHABU GOKUDO.
In 1997, he played the lead in Shohei Imamura's THE EEL, which won the Golden Palm at the 50th Cannes
Film Festival. In the same year, Koji won the Best Actor Award for his performance in THE EEL at the
Asian Pacific Film Festival. In 1997 too, he was awarded the Best Actor Award for CURE directed by
Kiyoshi Kurosawa at the Tokyo International Film Festival.
In 1998 Koji received a special award from the Japanese Minister of Education, Science, Sports and Culture
in the category of Cinema.
Koji Yakusho: Profile II
( Created on February 9 , 2006 )
Aiming to become a versatile actor
1996 is remembered as a happy year for Koji Yakusho. As can be seen in the Profile (I) page, the three
movies, which were released that year, namely, "Shall we dance?", "Sleeping Man," and "Shabugokudo"
brought Koji numerous movie awards in 1997 as 'best actor'.
Yet, 1996 is also remembered as a very sad year for Koji, since that year he lost Yasuko Miyazaki, Tatsuya
Nakadai's wife, who had been his acting teacher during his Mumeijuku studio days. On June 27, 1996 at the
age of 65, actress, playwright, and director, Yasuko Miyazaki breathed her last . Her death was due to
pancreas cancer .
At her funeral held onJune 30 at the Nakadai Gekido (Theater) in the precincts of Nakadai's home, Koji
read a very moving tribute to Miyazaki on behalf of the Mumeijuku studio graduates with trembling voice;
and Koji also made a pledge to her, stating that all the actors from the Mumeijuku studio would continue to
aim at becoming versatile actors, such as Miyazaki had wished to train.
It was a great relief to us Yakusho fans to hear Koji reporting in a TV interview program (called, "Tetsuko
no Heya") on April 8 in 1997 that when Koji went to see her at Nakadai's house early spring the previous
year, Miyazaki - san (as Mumeijuku students called her) had praised her former student 's acting in "Shall
we dance?" . It was also very touching to hear that as events turned out, Koji became the last Mumeijuku
student ever to have a talk with Miyazaki-san face to face.
From 1997 up to the present day, Koji has starred in two or three movies each year, through which he has
gained a high reputation as a versatile actor who can challenge any sort of roles in any genre of movies.
Collaboration with same directors
Koji often mentions that the key point of his deciding on movies or TV dramas in which he is to appear,
usually depends on scenarios first,and then on directors. What is most peculiar about his movie selections
from around 1997 is that he has worked with the same directors repeatedly:
1. Starting with "Cure" (1997), Koji has worked with kiyoshi Kurosawa six times in movies such as "Ningen
Goukaku / License to Live (1998), Charisma (1999), "Korei / Seance"(TV drama & later movie) "Kairo/
Pulse" (2000) and "Doppelganger" (2003) Apparently, Koji is now filming his 7th movie with Kiyoshi
2. Starting with Kamimaze Taxi in 1995, he has worked with Masato Harada in movies such as " Bounce
koGals", "Jubaku / spellbound " (1999), and "Totsunyuseyo, Asama Sanso Jiken / The Choice of Hercules"
3. With Shohei Imamura, Koji has worked twice in "Unagi / The Eel" (1997) and in "Akai Hashi no shitano
Nurui Mizu / Warm Water under a Red Bridge" (2001). (Koji won the Silver Hugo Award at the Chicago
Internatuional Film Festival for 'Best actor'.)
4. With Kon Ichikawa, he has worked three times in a movie entitled "Dora Heita" (2000) and in two TV
serial dramas, "Keiji Ou" (two episodes) and 窶廝angaku no Issho /Life of Bangaku " (two episodes) in
1996 and 2003 respectively.
5. With Shinji Aoyama, Koji has worked twice in "Eureka" and in "Lakeside Murder Case". (Eureka was
nominated for the 53rd Cannes International Festival, gaining the FIPRESCI Award and the Prize of the
Ecumenical Jury. )
Collaboration with playwright and director Koki Mitani is another good example:
Koji first appeared in works written by Koki Mitani, such as a period stage farce, "Ganryujima" (1996), a
TV serial comedy, "Aikotoba wa Yuki / Password is Courage" (2000) and a movie adaptation of Mitani's
original stage play, "Warai no Daigaku /University of Laughs" (2004). As of February 9, 2006, the news is
that he has recently been starring in a movie called, "The Uchoten Hotel", written and directed by Koki
The above facts go to show that directors who had worked with Koji were fascinated by Koji's performance
ability and wanted to work again with him. We often hear koji express admiration for those directors.
By contrast, the work done on a one-off basis with those directors such as Juzo Itami ("Tampopo"),
Yoshimitsu Morita ("Shitsurakuen / Lost paradise"), Kichitaro Negishi ("Kizuna"), Jun Ichikawa ("Tadon
to Chikuwa"), or Gen Yamakawa ("Tokyo Genpatsu / Tokyo Level I") , Izuru Narushima ("Yudan Taiteki /
The Huner anf the Hunted"), and Shinji Higuchi ("Lorelei") gave Koji further opportunities for
outstandingly good acting.
Fewer stage plays & TV dramas
As his work for movies increases, as a matter of fact, the number of his stage plays and TV dramas has
decreased: he has appeared in only two stage performances since "Ganryujima" , that is, a dramatic reading
on the stage of : "Hachigatsu ni Nemure / Sleep in August" (2000) written and directed by Ryo Iwamatsu
and "Futatabi no koi (2003)" written by Hisashi Nozawa.
As for TV serial dramas, following "Keiji Ou" (1996) which ran 26 episodes, Koji appeared in "Otona no
Otoko" (12 episodes - 1997), "Aikotoba wa Yuki" (11 episodes - 1999) and Bangaku no Iassho (10 episodes -
2002), and as for special TV dramas, Kojo appeared in dramas such as "Yukon" (1999), "Keijitachi no
Natsu " (1999), "Secchan" (2002), and "Toride Nakimono" (2004).
Appearing in Hollywood movies
September, 2004 to February, 2005 was a memorable period for Koji, since he had to spend nearly half a
year in Hollywood, filmimg Arthur Golden's movie adaptation of "Memoirs of a Geisha / SAYURI" directed
by Rob Marshall. Koji performed the role of Toshikazu Nobu. Together with Koji, the film featured three
Chinese actresses, Zhang Ziyi, Michelle Yoeh, and Cong Li, and those Japanese actors like Ken Watanabe,
Kaori Momoi and Youki Kudo. Koji Yakusho fans were thrilled to hear Koji speak English for the first
His stay in Hollywood seems to have brought him another opportunity for him to appear in another
Hollywood movie. While he was living in Los Angelese, he was introduced to director, Alejandro Gonzalez
Inarritu and agreed to appear in Inarritsu's next movie, entitled, "Babel", which is supposed to be released
in the US in 2006.
Reportedly, Koji Yakusho is now preparing for his third Hollywood movie, called, "Silk" directed by
Francois Girad in which one of the 2005 Oscar nominees, Kiera Knightley as well as Michael Pitt are due to
Koji Yakusho fans are now enthusiastically looking forward to seeing "Babel"(IMDb) and "Silk"(IMDb),
admiring his indomitable, challenging spirit.
Japan Society's introduction on Koji Yakusho is worth reading.
Updated on Septenber 7, 2014
Koji Yakusho: Profile I & II
Shohei Imamura and Koji Yakusho