Erika Sawajiri (沢尻 エリカ, Sawajiri Erika, born April 8, 1986 in Nerima, Tokyo) is a Japan-based actress, model, and musician. Her alias in her music career was Kaoru Amane, but she has recently started her own project under the name Erika. She was affiliated with Sony Music Entertainment Japan for her record label (formerly as Kaoru Amane and later Erika), and Stardust Promotion for her talent agency (with her real name, Erika Sawajiri) before her contract was terminated in late 2009. On September 10, 2010, it was announced that she signed with Avex label for talent management and music releases. She became popular after playing a girl who suffered from an intractable disease called spinocerebellar degeneration (SCD) in the nonfiction drama 1 Litre of Tears.
Erika was born to a Japanese father and an French-born Algerian Berber mother, and is the youngest of three brothers and sisters. Her father owned sixteen racehorses, including the horse Edonokoban (エドノコバン). Her father died of cancer when she was in her third year at junior high school. Her second eldest brother died in a car accident when she was in her first year at high school. Her mother managed a Mediterranean restaurant and Erika sometimes helped with it. She has been horseback riding since she was a child.
In 1999, Sawajiri passed the Stardust audition after graduating from elementary school. She became part of the idol unit Angel Eyes and began modeling for junior fashion magazines such as CUTiE and Nicola. She later won the grand prize for the 2001 Seikore and became a regular on the BS news program Harajuku Launchers. In 2002, Sawajiri started her career in film as well as extending her modeling career as a gravure idol. Her first film was Mondai no nai Watashitachi.
She became one of Fuji TV's Visual Queens in 2002. On the NTV variety show The Yoru mo Hit Parade, she became a regular from April till late June, shortly after leaving the program for the CX news program Chou VIP Fortune no Tobira from mid-June till late August. In November, she was on the CBC variety show Bijou Dokyuu and TBS show B-1. She got her big break when she was cast in the TBS TV drama Hotman. Her most notable role was in 1 Litre of Tears in 2005 when she portrayed a girl with the degenerative disease spinocerebellar degeneration.
Sawajiri first started her music career under the name "Kaoru Amane", the name of her character in her last drama, the TV adaptation of A Song to the Sun (Taiyou no Uta). The single went into number 1 in its second and fourth week. On July 16, 2007, Erika released her 'debut' single under only 'Erika,' "Free". The single was immediately ranked on its first day as number one on the Oricon Charts. Oricon stated that she is the only artist in 39 years to get their first two single hit number one since Hiroko Yakushimaru in 1983.
She decided to enter the entertainment world because she wanted to meet singer Namie Amuro whom she idolizes.
On January 20, 2009, Sawajiri married media creator Tsuyoshi Takashiro at Meiji Shrine in Yoyogi. The pair registered their marriage on January 7, which fell on the most auspicious of the days according to the six-day rokuyo calendar, and they held a small reception for close friends and family in Hawaii later that month.
Sawajiri and her mother both stated on separate occasions that she would return to Japan and make a comeback as soon as late summer 2009.
Sawajiri was originally scheduled to star in the live action film version of Space Battleship Yamato but was replaced by Meisa Kuroki.
In May 2010 it was announced that Sawajiri would be getting a divorce.
At the movie premiere for Closed Note on September 29, 2007, Sawajiri responded in a terse manner to reporters' questions.After much criticism in the Japanese press, she posted an apology on her website. A few days later she appeared on a TV Asahi's morning news show Super Morning, and gave them an exclusive 120 minute interview. She also denied the rumors that she was being suspended by her management.
She had planned to attend the 12th Pusan International Film Festival on October 6, 2007, but she cancelled. It was later discovered that she had been seen in a club with Tsuyoshi Takashiro. Sawajiri returned to Japan on March 29, 2008 after nearly three months in London with Takashiro. While in London, Sawajiri attended a language school. Her familiarity with English became evident at the airport when several cosmetics items fell out of her bag, and she exclaimed, "Oh shit!" She continued to mostly use English while at the airport, and she reportedly has become fluent enough to handle ordinary conversation.
During her 2 year break from show business, she spent a year in London and a month in Australia studying English. She also spent half a year in Spain studying graphic design.
In September 2009, the Japanese media started releasing reports that her management company, Stardust Promotions, would void her contract for undisclosed reasons. Her personal website became devoid of all content save one cryptic line: "See you at the next stage." Sawajiri's mother denied that termination of her contract was the result of substance abuse by Erika.
On September 1, 2010, in an interview on CNNGo.com, she said that her apology after the 2007 movie premiere incident was a mistake. She didn't want to apologize but her management at that time forced her to apologize; "I told them 'this is my way'... but in the end I surrendered. That was my mistake." Sawajiri believes that the agencies that are forcing too much from their idols are too old fashioned and that "The managers themselves are old but we have to change this situation."