On Sunday, September 27, Japan lost another of its most prominent actresses. Yuko Takeuchi, star of Ring, Strawberry Night and most recently, the Hulu series Miss Sherlock, was found dead this Sunday in her apartment in an apparent suicide. She was 40.
Born in 1980 in Saitama Prefecture, Takeuchi debuted in 1996 with a TV drama role and has since starred in dozens of TV dramas and films, including NHK’s 1999 morning series “Asuka,” in which she played the leading role. Takeuchi has won multiple awards for her acting, including the Japanese Academy Award for best actress in a leading role for “Yomigaeri” (Resurrection, 2003), “Ima Ai ni Yukimasu” (Be with You, 2004) and “Haru no Yuki” (Snow of Spring, 2005). Recently, she also starred in The Confidence Man JP: The Movie and The Confidence Man JP: Episode of the Princess along co-star Haruma Miura who tragically took his own life in July this year.
— TN (@kung_iamtira) September 27, 2020
In her private life, in 2005, she married Shido Nakamura, a co-star she met on the set of Be with You, where the two played the leading characters. The couple had a son soon after the marriage but got divorced in 2008. In 2019, Takeuchi remarried actor Taiki Nakabayashi and gave birth to her second child in January 2020, only eight months before her death.
While as fans, we still struggle to come to terms with the news reports of her death, we have put together a list of our favorite Yuko Takeuchi performances, through which we hope she will be remembered.
Takeuchi only had a small role in Hideo Nakata’s watershed J-horror film “Ring,” yet it was a significant and very memorable one. She played Tomoko Oishi, a high school student who, at the start of the movie, is being told by her friend Masami about a cursed video that kills the person watching it one week later. A freaked-out Tomoko says that she received a phone call after seeing a weird tape seven days earlier while on a trip with her boyfriend and others. Suddenly the phone rings, but it turns out to be Tomoko’s mother, much to their amusement. When Masami goes upstairs, the TV turns itself on and then an unseen force kills Tomoko.
Takeuchi’s big break came in the NHK morning drama “Asuka,” in which she played the title character in her late teens (Enokizono Miho played the young Asuka). An adventurous young girl, she dreams of following in her father’s footsteps by becoming a top-rated wagashi (Japanese confectionary) maker in what is a very male-dominated industry. A hit with viewers, the 15-minute daily program ran for half a year from October 1999 until April 2000. There were 149 episodes in total, with average audience figures of 24.4 percent.
Starring alongside former SMAP member Tsuyoshi Kusanagi, Takeuchi excelled as Aoi Tachibana in “Yomigaeri,” a role that won her the Best Actress prize at the 13th Japan Movie Critics Awards. Colleague and friend Heita Kawada (Kusanagi) discusses a case with her about a boy who turns up on his mother’s doorstep despite the fact he was supposed to have been killed during World War II. Initially skeptical, Aoi becomes a believer as several other resurrections are revealed. She hopes the same will happen to her fiancé Shunsuke who died shortly before they were due to get married. Heita, who has always loved Aoi, has conflicting feelings about whether he should help her bring him back.
Be with You (2004)
One of Takeuchi’s most stirring performances came as Mio Aio in Nobuhiro Doi’s heart-warming story of love and loss “Be with You.” Her character passes away, leaving husband Takumi (Shido Nakamura) to take care of their only son, a role he struggles with. In a picture book left for her child, Mio departs in a celestial body called the “the Archive Star” and reappears in Japan the following rainy season. The story becomes a reality when father and son spot a woman who looks just like Mio in the woods. Things go back to normal until she has to leave again at the end of the rainy season.
Spring Snow (2005)
Based on Yukio Mishima’s novel of the same name, Spring Snow was nominated for nine Japan Academy Awards, including one for Takeuchi in the Outstanding Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role category. She played aristocrat Satoko Ayakura who has had romantic aspirations for Kiyoaki Matsugae (Satoshi Tsumabuki) since they were children. Despite feeling the same, Kiyoaki, the son of a nobleman, decides to avoid Satoko and even attempts to set her up with his uptight school friend Shigekuni Honda (Sousuke Takaoka). He also writes her an insulting letter in which he fabricates a story about him sleeping with a prostitute to put her off. He then starts to have second thoughts and wants the letter destroyed.
1,778 Stories of Me and My Wife (2011)
A tearjerker based on a true story, “1,778 Stories of Me and My Wife” was written by sci-fi screenwriter Taku Mayumura about his relationship with his wife after she was diagnosed with bowel cancer. Upon hearing from a doctor that laughter boosts the body’s immune system, he decided to write a short story for her every day until she died. She was given just one year to live but remarkably survived for five (1,778 days). Taking on his wife’s role, Takeuchi put in a touching and powerful performance once again alongside Tsuyoshi Kusanagi. The movie was shown in a special screening for the empress in 2011.
Strawberry Night (2012)
Takeuchi first appeared as the impressive detective Reiko Himekawa for a two-hour special drama called “Strawberry Night” on Fuji TV in 2010. Along with her team, she has to figure out who is responsible for a series of corpses found throughout Tokyo. She returned to the screen two years later to investigate the death of Yasufumi Yoneda, whose body has been severed in two symmetrical halves at the same location where he caused a train accident ten years earlier. In 2013, the program, based on Tetsuya Honda’s best-selling novels, was made into a movie. Last year “Strawberry Night Saga” aired on Fuji TV with Fumi Nikaido taking over Reiko’s role.
Miss Sherlock (2018)
A female-led adaptation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s detective novels, “Miss Sherlock” was the first major series to cast a woman as a Holmes-like-detective. Takeuchi took on the lead role as the supremely talented yet hugely unpredictable consulting detective Sara “Sherlock” Shelly Futaba who works in Tokyo solving various mysteries alongside her flat-mate Dr. Wato Tachibana (Shihori Kanjiya). A co-production between HBO Asia and Hulu Japan, the show ran for eight episodes and proved a critical and commercial success with Takeuchi receiving glowing reviews.
If you or someone close to you is going through a depression or emotional crisis due to problems that may be putting your or their wellbeing at risk, please know that there are available resources to help. The TELL Lifeline is available for those who need free and anonymous counseling in English or Japanese at 03-5774-0992 (9am–11pm every day) or via chat (Friday, Saturday, Sunday 10:30pm–2am). In case of emergency, please call 119 in Japan for help.
Featured image: Alamy Stock Photo