Aya Ueto (上戸 彩 Ueto Aya?, born September 14, 1985) is a Japanese actress, singer, idol, and tarento. Born in Nerima, Tokyo, Ueto was discovered when she participated in the 7th All-Japan National Young Beauty Contest, where she won the Judges' Special Choice Prize. She made her acting debut at the age of thirteen in the film Satsujinsha Killer of Paraiso and in 1999, she and fellow participants of the Young Beauty Contest Mami Nejiki, Mai Fujiya, and Manami Nishiwaki formed the unsuccessful girl group Z-1. In 2002, after their disbandment, Ueto continued her music career as a solo singer under the label Pony Canyon, where she debuted with the single "Pureness". Ueto's breakthrough came when she was cast as a girl suffering from gender identity disorder in the sixth series of the TBS drama 3 nen B gumi Kinpachi-sensei. Her critically-acclaimed performance led to several leading roles in dramas and TV endorsements, eventually establishing her as one of Japan's most recognizable faces. She has also ventured onto the big screen in famed film director Ryuhei Kitamura's 2003 blockbuster Azumi and its sequel, Azumi 2: Death or Love in 2005. As one of Japan's most ubiquitous celebrities, Ueto constantly appears on billboards, shop windows and train adverts.
Early life and career
Aya Ueto was born in Nerima, Tokyo to a Hokkaidan father and Okinawan mother. She has two brothers; Shun, who is two years older and Makoto, who is sixteen years older. As a child, Ueto studied piano, modern ballet, swimming and rhythmics. She did not have ambitions to become an entertainer; she wanted to become a pre-school teacher. However, at the age of twelve, after hearing about one of her friends' experience as an extra on a TV drama, she decided she too "wanted to appear on TV". Unbeknownst to her daughter, Ueto's mother sent an application to the 7th All-Japan National Young Beauty Contest.
Aged only twelve, Ueto won the Judges' Special Choice Prize at the contest. She revealed later on that her real motivation for doing well was to "win the two million cash prize" because she "wanted to buy a house" for her family, however because what she won was an ad hoc prize decided that day, there was no cash prize. After her discovery, she joined the talent agency Oscar Promotion and started acting and singing lessons. In 1999, she obtained her first role in the film Satsujinsha Killer of Paraiso, in which her lines were entirely in English. Later that year she debuted with the girl group Z-1 and landed a recurring spot on the TV variety shows Kaishingeki TV! Utaemon and The Yoru mo Hippare.
Breakthrough and solo debut
In 2000, Ueto got her first TV role in the Fuji TV drama, Namida wo Fuite, starring Yōsuke Eguchi. The drama garnered strong ratings and gave Ueto her then biggest exposure yet. In 2001, Ueto was chosen as model for the annual Victor Kōshien Poster campaign, which, in the past, kick-started the careers of Noriko Sakai and Miho Kanno. Later that year, she was cast as a high school student suffering from gender identity disorder in the sixth series of the TBS drama 3 nen B gumi Kinpachi-sensei. The role propelled her to stardom and subsequently won her a Golden Arrow for Best Newcomer.
In January 2002, it was announced that Ueto would continue her music career as a solo artist under Pony Canyon subsidiary label, Flight Master. During her summer break from school, she appeared in a five-episode arc of the long-running home drama Wataru Seken wa Oni Bakari and starred in the TBS drama My Little Chef, alongside Akiko Yada and Hiroshi Abe. Ueto made her official solo debut in August with the single "Pureness". It peaked at #4 on the weekly Oricon chart, making it the first debut single by a female artist with no commercial tie-in to enter the Top 5 in three years. In between filming of her first feature film, Azumi, she recorded her second single, "Kizuna", and launched a radio show on Nippon Hōsō, entitled Seventeen's Map. The program would go on to last four-and-a-half years, changing names after each of her birthdays to Eighteen's Road, Nineteen's Nine, Hatachi ni High Touch! and 21 Peace!.
In 2003, Ueto starred in a remake of the 1993 drama, Kōkō Kyōshi, alongside Naohito Fujiki. She released her third single, "Hello", followed by her first album, Ayaueto. In April, it was revealed that Ueto had taken a leave of absence from school to focus on her career. In a 2007 interview, she stated that, at the time, she was only getting two hours of sleep trying to juggle work and school. In May, Ueto launched her first live tour, Ueto Aya First Live Tour Pureness 2003, released a fourth single, "Message/Personal", and Azumi opened nationwide. In July, Ueto starred in her first leading role in the TBS drama Hitonatsu no Papa e, for which her fifth single, Kanshō, served as theme song. Despite low ratings, the single was well received on the charts, peaking at #9.
In 2004, Ueto starred as Hiromi Oka in the live-action adaption of the popular manga Ace wo Nerae!. The drama won her the award for Best Leading Actress at the 40th The Television Drama Academy Awards. Ueto's seventh single, "Ai no Tameni.", was used as ending theme for the drama and became her biggest hit. During the award season of 2004, Ueto won several awards for her performance in Azumi; she swooped the Newcomer of the Year category of the Élan d'Or, the Japan Movie Critic awards, the Japanese Academy Awards and finally the Golden Arrow, becoming the only actress to win a Golden Arrow two years in a row. Furthermore, she was nominated at the Japanese Academy Awards for Outstanding Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role and won the Popularity Award. In March, her second album, Message, was released and became her highest-selling effort. In December, Ueto released a third album, Re., starred alongside Ryūnosuke Kamiki in the movie adaption of Risa Wataya's award-winning novel, Install, (which premiered at the 17th Tokyo International Film Festival) and performed as top-batter at the 55th Kōhaku Uta Gassen. With eighteen advertising contracts for sixteen companies, Ueto was crowned CM queen of 2004.
In 2005, Ueto appeared in the NHK taiga drama, Yoshitsune, played the part of twin sisters in a remake of "Koto" and starred in the sequel to Azumi in Azumi 2: Death or Love. In April, she was cast in the TV Asahi produced live-action adaption of another popular manga, Attack No. 1. "Yume no Chikara", Ueto's eleventh single and theme song to the drama, was another hit. In May, Ueto starred alongside Izumi Pinko in a special biopic of Misora Hibari. In August, Ueto launched her second concert tour, Ueto Aya Live Tour 2005 "Genki Hatsu Ratsū?", and released her twelfth single, "Kaze wo Ukete", as well as the remix album, Uetoayamix. In November, she was chosen as the mascot girl of the 2005 FIFA Club World Championship and covered all the matches throughout the month of December as a special presenter for NTV.
Intermingling success and struggles
In 2006, Ueto attended her Coming of Age ceremony, was a special presenter for NTV's coverage of the 2006 Winter Olympics (for which she traveled to Turin) and made a guest appearance as herself in the anime Meitantei Conan, for which she was chosen as special supporter. She released her thirteenth single, "Egao no Mama de", followed by her fourth album, License, which features a song penned by her brother Makoto. She starred in Celeb, the first episode of the TV drama adaption for the mobile novel, Tsubasa no Oreta Tenshitachi. Her episode was the highest rated of the series. This also marked her first appearance on a Fuji TV drama since 2000's Namida wo Fuite. In April, she starred in the modern remake of the 1970 Fuji TV drama, Attention Please, which became her most popular drama to date. In July, Ueto followed-up with the Yukihiko Tsutsumi-directed comedy, Shimokita Sundays, however the drama failed to capture audiences and was one of the worst rated of the summer. In September, Ueto released her first compilation album, Best of Uetoaya: Single Collection which peaked at #5. In December, she hosted the Nippon Hōsō 24-hour-long Radio Charity Musicthon and acted as special presenter for NTV's coverage of the 2006 FIFA Club World Cup.
In 2007, Ueto reprised the role of Yōko Misaki in the high-rated TV special Attention Please, Yōko, Hawaii ni Tobu. She starred in a two-part biopic on actress and singer Ri Kouran filmed in Shanghai. The drama was aired up against the popular drama Karei naru Ichizoku and resulted in low ratings. In March, Ueto released "Way to Heaven", her first single in over a year, and made a guest appearance in the eighth season finale of the TBS drama Wataru Seken wa Oni Bakari. In April, Ueto was cast in a remake of the Korean drama Hotelier, which recorded low ratings. Its theme song, "Namida no Niji/Save Me", was released in May. The single marked Ueto's first foray into songwriting. In an interview with Oricon Style, she revealed that the reason she insisted on not writing her own lyrics until then was because she felt "shy" about "opening herself completely" to her audience.
In the summer, Ueto held her third concert tour, Ueto Aya Best live Tour 2007 Never Ever. At the release event of her concert DVD, she stated that the tour gave her energy after dealing with a less than stellar year. In September, Ueto starred alongside Hideaki Itō in the TBS period piece Wachigaiya Itosato and in October, she starred as Yō Ōizumi's wife in the Fuji TV drama, Abarenbō Mama, garnering good ratings.
In March 2008, Ueto won the 24th Asakusa Entertainment Newcomer Prize, which is awarded to the most prominent entertainers based in Tokyo. In April, she took on the role of Yōko Misaki for a third time in the second special of Attention Please, shot in Sydney, Australia. She also starred in her first NTV drama, Hokaben. She was crowned CM Queen for a second time, raking in a significant 360 million yen for her 8 advertisement contracts. In June, she participated in the Japanese dub of Speed Racer, as the voice of Trixie. She became the first actress to ever appear on official postage stamps by releasing an original set with photos taken from her 2007 tour. In August, she made a secret guest appearance at the 2008 Kobe Collection runway show, where she modeled for Emanuel Ungaro. In October, Ueto starred in her ninth TV drama leading role in the Fuji TV comedy Celeb to Binbō Taro, alongside Shūchishin member, Yūsuke Kamiji. She was also chosen as poster girl for the new jury system after playing the part of a lawyer in Hokaben. Ueto attended the premiere of Saki Fukuda's first feature film Sakura no Sono, in which she makes a guest appearance, at the 21st Tokyo International Film Festival. In December, Ueto hosted two of the year's biggest festivities: the M-1 Grand Prix and the 50th Japan Record Awards.
In January 2009, in collaboration with bridal shop Joyful Eli, Ueto launched her own wedding dress collection, entitled U Aya Ueto Dresses. While she has designed her own tour goods in the past, namely the t-shirt line Buddy in 2005, U marks her first official foray into fashion design. In February, it was announced Ueto would co-star with Hayato Ichihara in the Shunji Iwai produced CG film, Baton, created in commemoration of the Port of Yokohama's 150th anniversary. The film also reunites her with Azumi director, Ryuhei Kitamura. In March, Ueto held her first fashion show in support of her wedding dress collection. In April, she starred alongside SMAP leader Masahiro Nakai in her first Getsuku drama, Konkatsu!. In June, after a two year hiatus, Ueto resumed her singing career by releasing the Kohmi Hirose-produced "Smile for...", followed by her fifth studio album, Happy Magic: Smile Project. In October, Ueto dubbed the voice of Atom for the Japanese release of the live-action Hollywood adaption of Astro Boy, was chosen as special supporter for the Cirque du Soleil production, Corteo, and in November, became one of the recipients of Vogue Nippon's Women of the Year 2009 award. Ueto starred in the TV special, Kekkon. In December, she hosted the M-1 Grand Prix for a second year in a row and appeared on the 2009 Radio Charity Musicthon. With 12 advertising contracts, Ueto was crowned CM queen for a third time.
|1999||Satsujinsha Killer of Paraiso||Hikari|
|2002||Return to Never Land||Jane||Japanese voice|
|2003||Azumi||Azumi||Élan d'or Award for Newcomer of the Year|
Golden Arrow Award for Newcomer of the Year – Motion Picture
Japan Academy Award for Newcomer of the Year
Japan Academy Award for Most Popular Performer
Japan Movie Critics Award for Newcomer of the Year
Nominated – Japan Academy Award for Best Actress
|2005||Azumi 2: Death or Love||Azumi|
|Ashita Genki ni Na~re!||Kayōko||Voice|
|2007||Piano no Mori||Kai Ichinose||Voice|
|2008||Speed Racer||Trixie||Japanese voice|
|Sakura no Sono||Rimi|
|Astro Boy||Atom||Japanese voice|
|Space Battleship Yamato||Sasha|
|1999||Ultraman Gaia||Herself (Z-1)||Episode 46|
|2000||Namida wo fuite||Momo Fuchigami|
|2001||Yome wa Mitsuboshi||Mayu Shinjō|
|3 nen B gumi Kinpachi-sensei||Nao Tsurumoto||Season 6|
|2002||Wataru Seken wa Oni Bakari||Kana Kojima||Season 6, episodes 10-15|
|My Little Chef||Nazuna Kamosawa|
|2003||Kōkō Kyōshi 2003||Hina Machida|
|Hitonatsu no Papa e||Marimo Mochizuki (Lead)|
|Satōkibi Batake no Uta||Mie Hirayama|
|Namahōsō wa Tomaranai!||Herself|
|2004||3 nen B gumi Kinpachi-sensei||Nao Tsurumoto||Season 7, episode 11|
|Ace wo Nerae!||Hiromi Oka (Lead)||The Television Drama Academy Award for Best Actress|
|Reikan Bus Guide Jikenbo||Misaki Aoyama||Episode 3|
|Ace wo Nerae! Kiseki e no Chōsen||Hiromi Oka (Lead)|
|Koto||Chieko Sada, Naeko (Lead)|
|Attack No. 1||Kozue Ayuhara (Lead)|
|Misora Hibari Tanjō Monogatari||Kazue Kato (Misora Hibari, 15-20 year old)|
|Nada Sōsō, Kono Ai ni Ikite||Miki Oda|
|2006||Tsubasa no Oreta Tenshitachi||Nanako Komine (Lead)||Episode 1|
|Attention Please||Yōko Misaki (Lead)|
|Shimokita Sundays||Yuika Satonaka (Lead)|
|2007||Attention Please Special: Yōko, Hawaii ni Tobu||Yōko Misaki (Lead)|
|Ri Kouran||Yoshiko Otaka (young Ri Kouran) (Lead)|
|Wataru Seken wa Oni Bakari||Kana Kojima||Season 8, episode 50|
|Hotelier||Kyoko Odagiri (Lead)|
|Wachigaiya Itosato||Itosato (Lead)|
|Abarenbō Mama||Ayu Kawano (Lead)|
|2008||Attention Please Special: Australia, Sydney||Yōko Misaki (Lead)|
|Hokaben||Akari Dōmoto (Lead)|
|Celeb to Binbō Taro||Alice Mitazono (Lead)|
|2010||Zettai Reido: Mikaiketsu Jiken Tokumei Sousa||Izumi Sakuragi (Lead)|
|Jūnen Saki mo Kimi ni Koishite||Rika Onozawa (Lead)|
|Ai wa Mieru: Zenmō Fūfu ni Yadotta Chiisana Inochi||Juri Tatematsu (Lead)|
|Fall Getsuku (Title N/A)||Risa|
Awards and prizes
|2003||Golden Arrow Award||Newcomer of the Year||Won|
|Hashida Award||Newcomer of the Year||Won|
|2004||Élan d'or Award||Newcomer of the Year||Azumi||Won|
|Golden Arrow Award||Newcomer of the Year – Motion Picture||Won|
|Japanese Academy Award||Newcomer of the Year||Won|
|Japanese Academy Award||Most Popular Performer||Won|
|Japanese Academy Award||Best Actress||Nominated|
|Japan Movie Critics Award||Newcomer of the Year||Won|
|The Television Drama Academy Award||Best Actress||Ace wo Nerae!||Won|
|1997||7th All-Japan National Young Beauty Contest Judges' Prize|
|2003||14th Japan Jewelry Best Dresser Prize|
|2004||17th DVD & Video Data Best Talent Prize|
|Triumph Little Devil Prize|
|2005||Best Hair Prize|
|45th ACC CM Fesival Acting Prize|
|Best Smile of the Year Prize|
|Nail Queen Prize|
|2006||3rd Miss Cotton USA Prize|
|12th E-Line Beautiful Prize|
|2007||1st Good Teeth and Diet Prize|
|2008 Ear Jewelry Image Leader Prize|
|2008||24th Asakusa Entertainment Newcomer Prize|
|37th Best Dresser Prize|
|48th ACC CM Festival Grandprix and Acting Prize|
|2009||Vogue Nippon Women of the Year 2009|
|Exelco Diamond Award|
|2010||1st Aomori Ringo Queen Prize|
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- Official website
- Template:Title without disambig at the Internet Movie Database
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