Dubbed the hippest movie star in Japan, Tadanobu Asano's radiant good looks and dark charisma quickly made him the leading actor of his generation. Combining an offbeat sense of vulnerability and alienation that recalls Johnny Depp with the screen presence of Toshiro Mifune, Asano has worked with almost every significant director to emerge in the 1990s. Though he is one of the few actors to work almost solely in movies, he has gained the attention of Japan's ultra-cool sect as a model, punk rock singer, cartoonist, and the husband of one of Japan's hottest pop singers. Born in 1973 in Yokohama, Asano was the son of a popular television comedian and was nudged into acting by his father, who suggested that Asano audition for a TV series that he was involved in. Asano's feature film debut came at the ripe age of 16, with the comic book-inspired film Swimming Upstream (1990), but he first began garnering critical and popular attention with his lead role as a fish expert and suspected terrorist in the 1993 television movie Fried Dragon Fish. A major cult hit, the film lent both Asano and director Shunji Iwai a certain currency among Japan's hip and trendy. Asano's next project of note was in Hirokazu Kore-eda's haunting masterpiece Maboroshi no Hikari (1995), in which he mesmerized audiences with his performance as Ikuo, an ebullient young husband and father whose mysterious suicide deeply grieves and bewilders his wife Yumiko (Makiko Esumi). Maboroshi marks a turning point in Asano's career. Not only did it establish him as one of the premier leading men of the Japanese indie set, but it marked a definitive end of his television career. In a country where television is more often than not a more lucrative career avenue, Asano's decision was almost unheard of. Asano next starred in a string of renowned art house flicks. He gave a blistering performance as Kenji in Shinji Aoyama's shocking debut Helpless (1996) and he teamed up with Iwai once again in his bizarre, existential road movie Picnic (1996), which picked up an award at the 1996 Berlin Film Festival. While on the set for the latter film, he met, fell in love with, and married his co-star Chara, one of Japan's top pop divas. He next appeared in Focus, Satoshi Isakai's scathing look at investigative journalism and then as a serial-killing bus driver in noted director Sogo Ishii's atmospheric thriller Labyrinth of Dreams (1997). Asano began to garner international acclaim with his performance as a gun-totting hood in Katsuhito Ishii's wildly kinetic crime flick Shark Skin Man and Peach Hip Girl (1998). He continued to accrue international accolades with his starring role in the dystopic Hakuchi (1999), which was warmly received at the Venice Film Festival, and with his lead performance in Away With Words (1998), an elliptical, lyrical directorial debut by renowned cinematographer Christopher Doyle. Some film critics stated that Asano was likely to be propelled fully into the international spotlight by Gohatto (1999), a period film about gay samurai, his collaboration with cinematic legend Nagisa Oshima, in the director's first film in almost 13 years.