Kôji Yakusho

Bitten by the acting bug after seeing "The Lower Depths" by Maxim Gorky, Kôji Yakusho attended numerous plays and in 1978 auditioned with 800 others for a coveted spot at the prestigious Mumeijyuku acting studio. Winning one of four spots into the studio, the young novice soon changed his family name of Hashimoto to the stage name of "Yakusho," which literally means "ward office." He soon won small roles in feature films, including the 1979 movies "Eireitachi no Oenka" and "Yami no Karyudo." After marrying fellow actor, Saeko Kawatsu in 1982, Yakusho starred in the television series "Tokugawa Ieyasu," which brought him national recognition. In popular demand, Yakusho appeared in several other popular Japanese television series, including "Sambiki ka Kiru" in 1985. Yakusho also continued appearing in feature films throughout the 1980s, but it was the following decade that he rose to international prominence with the romantic charmer "Shall We Dance?" in 1996, followed by the tragic "Shitsurakuen" ("A Lost Paradise"), and the 1997 drama "The Eel," which went on to win the Palme d' Or at Cannes. Yakusho worked steadily in Japanese cinema through the early 2000s, and in 2005 had a co-starring role in the Hollywood feature "Memoirs of a Geisha," followed by "Silk" in 2007. Yakusho turned to directing in 2009 with the feature film "Gama no Abura," in which he also starred. In 2010, Yakusho starred in Miike Takashi's epic samurai movie "13 Assassins."