Rila Fukushima, the cover girl
Text by Erina Suto / Photography by Jorgen Axelvall
When she was a little girl, she dreamt of becoming a witch. She remembers asking her mother how it could be done. Her mother told her to practice riding a unicycle. She practiced and practiced until she could do a few tricks, then asked her mother when she’d get her broom. Her mother replied, “You believed me? I was kidding!” She was so hurt – so surprised – that it took her a week to recover. That girl, Rila Fukushima, has now become something else: a vivid, colorful woman. Spotlights find her. Power flows from her petite figure; everyone seems to seek her glance.
Coat by Bottega Veneta
She played Yukio opposite Hugh Jackman in The Wolverine. The character, with her long, red hair was striking, and so too was Fukushima’s performance. No one had foreseen her success – when she had entered the New York fashion scene a decade earlier, she’d barely known enough English to get by.
“I only knew the phrase ‘I am’. I would go into a coffee shop to order an orange juice and say ‘I am orange juice’ with a serious expression. Everyone would laugh.” Now she laughed, too, as she reflected on her first days in New York. Maybe the same boldness and inner confidence has made her what she is today.
In elementary school, while other girls read pre-teen magazines or comics, she saved her pocket money to buy fashion periodicals. “I was into grunge fashion. But my mother always bought me clean, shiny jeans. Wanting to make it more ‘grungy’, I would go to a near-by park and slide around in the dirt alone. When I look at photos of myself from that time, they just look American-casual,” she said.
The thought of becoming a model always hovered in the corner of her mind, a sensible part of her natural interest in fashion. But her modeling career didn’t launch as we might have expected. Unlike many models, she experienced “the real world” before jumping into the world of mode. Her fortunes changed when she went to an interview with a modeling agency for an agent position and walked out with a modeling contract in hand instead.
Rila moved to New York in late 2003. An American agency had expressed interest in her after a fashion shoot in Japan for an international magazine. The 168cm-tall Fukushima wasn’t the ideal catwalk model. In fact,
she never thought she had a model’s build at all. However, being in New York – an ideal place for stills and videos – worked to her advantage. Opportunities arrived one after another. A breakthrough moment arrived in the form of a new hair color. Dying her hair blond distanced her from stereotypical image of staid, graceful Japanese women. Her features grabbed the hearts of top fashion brands and photographers.
Being abroad was not all about filling her job description, nor was it all about success. “I finally became – and appreciated being – a true Japanese after experiences living abroad. Honestly, there were times when I didn’t like Tokyo that much when I was young. Tokyo felt too fast. Too much seemed to happen all at once. ‘Doing nothing’ for a day is allowed overseas. In Japan, I felt like that wasn’t allowed. At the time, that rhythm wasn’t for me. I had such a strong wish to go abroad, but when I went, as much as I treasure my time in New York,
I realized that I could never be an American. Being and working abroad, I came to love Japan more and I believe that I found my identity as a real Japanese then.”
Her identity as a Japanese woman also made her think about her modeling career and what it might mean. “I felt there was a limit to my career as a model,” she explained. Concomitantly, she discovered a deep desire to express herself with movement and voice. Movie productions had occasionally started calling her agency to book auditions for Asian characters in upcoming movies. Results were slow, but during this process she developed an interest in acting. She began to attend acting classes. In late 2010 she was called in for a video audition. She eventually learned that the arduous audition process that followed was for The Wolverine.
During this audition process Rila decided to move back to where her family was in Tokyo, ten days prior to March 11th, 2011, when a great earthquake shook Japan. “I felt the limits of how much further my modeling career could go. I wanted to act, too, but realized there were so few Asian roles I could audition for. Instead of waiting for an opportunity [in New York], I realized that I needed to gain more experience. I also wanted to be with my family. I thought that back home, there might be more roles available. At this point in my life,
I realized that if I didn’t act in one or two films soon, things would only get more difficult. I had no intention of giving up, but I thought I needed to wait [in Japan].”
The earthquake had hindered the film’s attempts to move out of the pre-production phase, but filming finally began six months later and she was chosen to play Yukio. Acting in her first role, Fukushima had much to prove. Director James Mangold and starring actor Hugh Jackman had helped to select her for the role. Filming took five months. “The casts, the crew, everyone was so wonderful,” she said. She was surprised by the number of action scenes she was called upon to shoot. But she brought some martial arts background to the role, and after three weeks of grueling training, she was ready. During the shoot, Rila couldn’t take modeling jobs – she had packed on too much muscle.
Dress,bracelet and necklace by CHANEL
Dress,bracelet and necklace by CHANEL
Shirt,Skirt and coat by BURBERRY PRORSUM
Dress, Cape and shoe by DONNA KARAN NEW YORK
Coat by CHANEL
Cover fashion story shot by Jorgen Axelvall for REVS #9, Styled by Takayuki Sekiya, with Hair by TAKESHI using Bumble and bumble, Make-Up by Kanako Yoshida and Nails by Eichi Matsunaga.
Retoucher: Flannon Jackson
Photographer assistant: Yuki Tanzawa
Stylist assistant: Kouhei