Born in Australia to Japanese parents, Shioli Kutsuna started out in the entertainment industry in her early teens after winning a special award at the Japan Bijosho Contest, the annual beauty pageant held by talent agency Oscar Promotion. She thought it would be a nice excuse to visit her parents’ homeland for a short trip; instead, it turned out to be the start of a new career.

At 14, she debuted in the long-running series Mr. Kinpachi in Class 3B, before featuring in several other famous Japanese dramas and movies, including the live-action adaption of the popular manga series Beck and Lee Sang-il’s remake of Clint Eastwood’s Western Unforgiven. More recently, she’s been making a name for herself outside Japan with appearances in major international productions such as the Marvel blockbuster Deadpool 2 and Murder Mystery with Jennifer Aniston and Adam Sandler. She’s also the beating heart of Simon Kinberg and David Weil’s sci-fi series Invasion.

Alien Invasion

Premiering on Apple TV+ in 2021, the program, which tells the story of an alien invasion through the perspectives of people around the globe, was renewed for a second season that came out last August. Kutsuna plays Mitsuki, a skilled aerospace technician who sees the world through patterns and codes. Searching for her missing astronaut girlfriend, Hinata (Rinko Kikuchi), in season one, she becomes the first person to make contact with the extraterrestrial invaders. She then begins the second series by attacking them with Molotov cocktails before being recruited by the research organization Dharmax, led by billionaire megalomaniac Nikhil Kapoor (Shane Zaza).

“From the start, Mitsuki was one of the most emotionally challenging characters I’ve ever played,” Kutsuna tells TW. “I didn’t really have anything to act off of, so it required lots of imagination. In the first season, it’s her love for Hinata and that determination to find her that keeps her going until the end. In the second, she goes on another mental and kind of spiritual journey, but this time, it’s connected to the aliens as she tries to get inside their heads. Another thing I found tricky about playing her was the technical language she uses. There were a lot of difficult words that I had to try to digest.”

Kutsuna’s character is arguably the most intriguing in the program and has been widely praised by critics, including Kate Sánchez, who wrote, “Invasion Season 2 is objectively good, and that’s thanks in large part to heavy lifting by Shioli Kutsuna as Mitsuki Yamato,” adding that it is “worth the watch for Mitsuki and her incredible character journey.” Co-creator Kinberg has also described her as “probably the most soulful character and the soul of the show.” He pitched the idea for the series to Apple as a “War of the Worlds meets Babel film,” featuring a global invasion rather than just focusing on American protagonists, as is often the case in alien movies.

“I think the international element is one of the things that makes this show stand out from other alien or sci-fi series,” says Kutsuna. “Another thing that sets it apart is the fact that it is more character-driven. In the first series, you learn a lot about what’s going on in everyone’s lives and the emotional impact the invasion is having on them. Rather than being front and center, the aliens are within the unknown — in fact, you don’t even see one until the sixth episode. The second season is then more explosive as people face the situation head-on. From a personal perspective, I found it easier to film this latest series, as the first was heavily disrupted due to the coronavirus pandemic. It was also amazing to shoot in Cape Town, which was one of the most beautiful cities I’ve ever visited.”

Shioli Kutsuna

Tackling Sumo

In addition to Invasion, Kutsuna’s other major release in 2023 was the Netflix sumo drama Sanctuary, which made the streaming service’s “Top 10 by Country” ranking in several countries and territories around the globe. She plays Asuka Kunishima, an outspoken journalist who’s been transferred from her newspaper’s political department to the sumo one after an overly critical interview with a politician. Initially shocked by the brutality of the 1,500-year-old sport and angry at the sexism within it, particularly the fact that women aren’t allowed on the dohyo, she slowly begins to embrace it as her respect for the wrestlers grows.

“In Australia, my dad would always have NHK World on, so I saw lots of sumo, but never really knew the rules or much about it,” says Kutsuna. “Preparing to play Asuka, I didn’t do any research into the sport because she basically starts reporting on it without any real background knowledge herself.

“There was a moment during filming when I started to get into it and that corresponded with Asuka changing her opinion, too, so it felt very natural. The series featured former real sumo wrestlers, and watching them perform was intense. Even a simple training scene could take two days to shoot, as they had to wash their bodies and retie their hair. You could see the effort they put into building their characters, and the rest of the cast were determined to make it a hit for them.”

Shioli Kutsuna

Back to the Marvel Universe

Sanctuary was Kutsuna’s first Japanese production in several years, and while she admits it took a little while to get used to things again, the experience increased her appreciation of the way actors and crew members conduct themselves here, particularly the respect they have for the director and the way everyone pulls in the same direction.

The working environment in the States, she says, is more casual, and though she’s not fixated on Hollywood, Kutsuna does feel there are more challenging projects for her there. The biggest to date was undoubtedly Deadpool 2, in which she plays Yukio, the badass girlfriend of Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand). She’ll reprise the role for the third film in the franchise, slated for release in the US this summer. Hugh Jackman is joining the star-studded cast as Wolverine alongside his friend Ryan Reynolds, who once again portrays Wade Wilson.

Shioli Kutsuna

“I hadn’t met Ryan in a few years, so it was great to see him again, as well as other familiar faces,” says Kutsuna. “He’s always very sweet and makes you feel comfortable. Just a simple greeting like, ‘Thanks for coming such a long distance to do this,’ is nice to hear. He’s the lead actor and writer and therefore has much to focus on, yet always makes time for others and understands how intense it can be working on a Marvel production for those who aren’t used to it. On top of that, he’s an amazing performer who delivers his lines incredibly quickly and in a quirky way. It’s a real pleasure working with him.”

Looking ahead, a third season of Invasion seems likely, though no official announcement has been made at the time of writing. Kutsuna, however, isn’t overly concerned about when her next role comes. While she loves her job, she says she has no problem taking a break from work, as she can always find something to do. This kind of attitude no doubt helped her during last year’s Writers Guild of America strike when productions were shut down. Ultimately, her approach is just to enjoy life and do whatever feels comfortable.

More Info

Keep up with Shiolo Kutsuna on Instagram at @shiolikutsuna

All images from Invasion courtesy of Apple TV+.

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