Few actors go to the lengths that Kikuchi did to win her breakout Babel role. And her powerful performance as an angry, sexually charged deaf-mute in the film thrust her into the Hollywood spotlight. Kikuchi began modeling as a teen and soon graduated to commercials and then feature films, appearing in a dozen movies in her homeland before Babel gained her international acclaim. Yet while the director, Alejandro González Iñárritu, had been impressed with her talents from the outset, he was determined to cast a hearing-impaired performer. Undeterred, Kikuchi enrolled in a school for the deaf and learned sign language, and after a grueling, yearlong audition process, Iñárritu was finally convinced she was the actress for the job. Kikuchi proved her worth, earning rave reviews and myriad accolades, including Golden Globe, SAG and Oscar nominations.
- In her youth, learned horse back riding and Japanese sword-fighting.
- At age 15, started modeling and acting in Japan.
- In 1999, made film debut in the movie Ikitai, directed by the well-known Kaneto Shindo. He cast her again immediately in Sanmon Yakusha (2000).
- Her first American film role as a deaf-mute teenager in Babel (2006) required a year-long audition process, during which she enrolled in a school for deaf students in Japan and learned sign language.
- 2006, Screen Actors Guild Awards — Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Supporting Role: Nominee
- 2007, Golden Globe — Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture: Nominee
- 2006, Screen Actors Guild Awards — Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture: Nominee
- 2006, Oscar — Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role: Nominee
- 2007, Critics' Choice Awards — Best Supporting Actress: Nominee
- 2007, Critics' Choice Awards — Best Acting Ensemble: Nominee
- 2015, Independent Spirit Awards — Best Female Lead: Nominee