More than any other country, actors in Japan are often associated with a single studio, so it makes a crazy kind of sense that one of Japan’s oldest and most respected studios is linked with the career of one of Japan’s youngest and most popular actresses. Nagasawa’s career kicked off in 2000 when she auditioned for the Toho Studios Cinderella Contest, beating out 35,153 contestants to take the top prize. Only 12 years old, she was the youngest winner in the contest’s history. Her first movie was the Shusuke Kaneko pyrokinesis film, Crossfire, but she really entered the public consciousness when she did a Nabisco ad, becoming widely known as “That Pretty Girl from the Nabisco Commercial.” Her first leading film role was as a girl who participates in a national robotics contest for high school students, Robokon, for which she won “Best Newcomer” at the Japanese Academy Awards.
Not long after, she started appearing in Toho’s flagship series, the Godzilla films. Not only did she play in Godzilla: Tokyo SOS she also sang “The Song of Mothra” on the movie’s soundtrack album, and she appeared in Ryuhei Kitamura’s epic kaiju hoedown, Godzilla: Final Wars. But it was the massively successful teen romance, Crying Out Love in the Center of the World, that cemented her position as a serious actress, and she has gone on afterwards to become a major star in both films and TV dramas. For three straight years (2005 – 2007) she was the cover girl of the Toho calendar, a public acknowledgement by Toho that she is one of its most valuable stars. Which isn’t surprsing, seeing that she was voted “Most Popular Actress” in 2006’s Oricon magazine poll, and was ranked 9th on a list of the Most Influential People in Japan (she is the only woman to appear on the list).