By Emi Yamada / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff WriterHigh school student and actress-model Rinka Kumada is expanding the range of her talents on the silver screen. Nicknamed Rinkuma, the 17-year-old is enormously popular among teenagers. She stars in the film “Nunuko no Seisen” (Girls Don’t Cry), which opened this month, giving a realistic portrayal of a girl dreaming of becoming a top model.
“I’m the type of person who becomes absorbed in one thing. The film was the only thing in my mind,” she said, describing herself during the shoot, adding that she immersed herself in the work to take the pressure off. She honed her acting skills in TV shows as well as another film, “Mix,” yet this is the first time she is playing the lead.
“Nunuko” in the Japanese title is the duo name of the two protagonists, both budding models. It is a kanji pun on the word “futago,” which means twins and points to how the two girls appear walking down the fashionable Takeshita-dori street in Tokyo’s Harajuku district in coordinated fashion. The girls — Aoi (played by Rinne Yoshida) and Rina (played by Kumada) — are aspiring showbiz talents who have many followers among junior high and high school students.
One day, they receive an offer to appear in a music video of a popular band. They willingly take part in the shoot, but the final video shows only Rina, who is then scouted for an elite model club. This makes their friendship shaky.
The film is directed by Takehiro Shindo. The producer is Yoshihiro Fukagawa, the director of “Kamisama no Karute” (In His Chart) and other movies.
The film portrays the two young women as they dream of becoming top models and grow up in spite of being hurt at times. They are good friends with contrasting personalities. Aoi is outgoing and full of friendly charm, whereas Rina lacks confidence although she looks super cute.
“Rina doesn’t express her feelings in words but swallows them. There were many scenes [in the film] where she spoke only with facial expressions,” Kumada said.
Yet there is one scene in the film where the character’s emotions explode. Despite getting the modeling job of her dreams, she becomes stuck and unreasonably rants at Aoi, saying, “It’s like I’m sorry for dreaming and getting carried away!” Aoi replies, “Aren’t you supposed to change?”
Aoi slaps Rina on the cheek. Rina slaps back with all her might and turns her back on Aoi.
“We rehearsed the scene together many times, but decided not to rehearse on the day of the shoot and gave our all to the performance,” Kumada said.
Shindo, the director, told her: “It’s become a great scene. You became awakened as an actress, didn’t you?”
On hearing this, she felt that she could understand a little bit about the excitement of acting, she said.
“To me, the job of modeling is about becoming how I want to be. Acting makes me aware of the side of me that I don’t want to know, because I have to spend a lot of time facing myself to create a role,” she said.
Aspirations for stardom
Born on Feb. 23, 2001, the 163-centimeter-tall Kumada comes from Tokyo and lived in Lyon, France, until the age of 6 because of her father’s work.
“I don’t have much recollection [of Lyon], but I remember that the grayish townscape looked beautiful,” she said. “I am a returnee for sure, but ‘bonjour’ is about the only French word I can speak.”
Now a third-year high school student, she is balancing her study with work.
An exclusive model for Seventeen magazine, she is one of the three girls in TV commercials for Ghana chocolate from Lotte Co., along with Minami Hamabe and Anna Yamada. She has also appeared in the film “Ao-Natsu: Kimi ni Koishita Sanjunichi” and TV variety shows.
Kumada loves clothing and dived into the fashion industry when she was in sixth grade. She was one of the grand prize winners in an audition for Nicola, a magazine for early teens. These auditions are seen as a gateway to up-and-coming actresses because they have launched the careers of Yui Aragaki, Marie Iitoyo and other starlets. Kumada subsequently became a model exclusively for the magazine.
Looking back on the days when she worked hard as a Nicola model with colleagues around her age, she said it was a lot like after-school club activities.
She used to wonder what was required of her from the magazine and frequented not only the shoot locations but also the magazine’s editing room.
“People in the editing division make the plans, form a team and gather clothing. The models’ job is to be the last piece of each project. I felt a sense of responsibility growing inside me and thought, ‘I can’t ruin this now’ and ‘I’ll do everything I can,’” Kumada said.
Seventeen and beyond
To Kumada, last year was a year of change. After gracing the covers of the Nicola magazine 11 times, she graduated and moved on to Seventeen magazine, which is targeted at junior high and high school students. She also made her debut at Tokyo Girls Collection (TGC), one of the largest fashion shows in the country.
“I was really happy because it had been my goal to take part in that show,” she said. “The runway was very long at TGC. I walked and walked, and it never ends! I’ll never forget what I saw at the venue on that day.”
When she appears at a fashion show, the audience erupts with screams. “It was like the rumbling of the earth!” one younger model once said, describing the sound. The remarks gave Kumada another moniker, Jinari JK (Earth-rumbling schoolgirl).
“[That moniker] is a bit embarrassing, but I feel very grateful,” Kumada said, blushing.
She usually wears “kawaii” cute attire in pink, white and floral patterns and so on. She also often wears miniskirts, showing off her slender, shapely legs. Miniskirts that reach 20 centimeters above the knees are called “Rinka length” among teenage girls. She said that when she is walking down the street in a miniskirt, girls her generation often come up and ask her, “Are you Rinka Kumada?”
“I will keep wearing two hats as a model and an actress,” she said. “My new goal is that I will be recognized not only by teenagers but also by people of all generations.”