Ever since she was a child, Fukuda, 19, has been passionate about music and the arts. She began studying dance at the age of seven in her hometown, Kumamoto, and has always loved to sing. “Every weekend, my parents would take me to karaoke,” she says with a smile, admitting that her earliest warblings were of TV show theme songs. But Fukuda never thought seriously about turning her interests into a career until junior high school, when she learned about the Bishojo Contest, an annual talent competition organized by entertainment agency Oscar Promotion. “I thought, why not take a chance? I might as well give it a try.”
Fukuda won the acting division of the contest, which was enough to get her a contract with Oscar Promotion and jump-start her career. She landed a series of small parts on various television shows, but her first starring role came in 2007 with the TV adaptation of the manga “Life.” Fukuda was cast as Manami Anzai, a manipulative high-schooler who starts a campaign of bullying and harassment against her former best friend when she thinks the girl is after her boyfriend.
For Fukuda, becoming Manami was a painful experience. “At first, I hated the character. Having to play her was awful,” she says. “But in the end, I realized that if I can’t understand this girl, there’s no way I can portray her. It was painful, but when it was all over, I really felt like I had grown.” The role won her recognition as an actress, and other television and film roles soon followed, including a star turn in Takashi Miike’s big-screen adaptation of popular kids’ series “Yatterman last year.”
“I’ve always loved superhero stories, like ‘Kamen Rider’ and ‘Ultraman,’” she says. “So to be able to become a hero… I felt like I went from being someone who had her dreams realized, to being someone who can help realize the dreams of others.”
Fukuda has also found time to keep up with her first love, singing. She has released seven singles and two albums since her musical debut in 2005; her seventh single, “Spring for You,” and sophomore album “Voice” were released simultaneously on March 3.
“I’ve always loved singing, but when you take something you love and turn it into a job, it becomes a lot harder,” she admits. “It’s not just a question of ‘well, as long as I’m having fun.’”
Trying to fit in a music career adds an extra layer of complexity to the actress’ schedule, too. Things came to a head last summer, when she was releasing her sixth single, “Ashita e no Hikari,” while filming the detective comedy “Maid Deka” in Kyoto. “That whole month was really busy with TV appearances, doing the photo shoot for the jacket, filming the music video,” she explains. “So I’d be there [in Kyoto] for a week, then come back to Tokyo on Saturday and work on my CD, and then go back again on Sunday. It was incredibly hard.”
Fukuda is currently in rehearsals for a play, “Tsubaki, Toki Tobi,” opening at the Meijiza theater in August. Based on a novel by fellow Kumamoto native Shinji Kajio, it tells the story of a struggling writer who gets sent back in time to the Bakumatsu period and falls in love with a girl from that era, played by Fukuda. This will be her second stage production, and the actress says she still hasn’t conquered those opening-night jitters. “Before I go on, I’m usually so nervous, I literally feel like I might throw up,” she says. “But as soon as I get on stage I’m fine.”
Next up, Fukuda says she wants a chance to explore the dark side of human nature. “I want to be able to get down in the dirt—to play a completely broken-down human being,” she says, leaning forward. “The kind of role where you think, ‘She’s horrible, but I get how it could happen.’ Characters where you have to show your selfish and spoiled side—the kinds of flaws that everyone has—are harder to play, but I’d like to try expressing that.”