Karen Fukuhara

On connecting culture and childhoods


Talents: Karen Fukuhara @karenfukuhara

Photos: Jeremy Choh @jeremychohphoto

Fashion: Estella Aparongao @estella.png

Makeup: Hinako @nhinako_makeup

Hair: Eduardo Mendez @eduardomendezhair

Photo Assist: David Yoo @davidkyoo_

Video: Brannon Gee @brannon_gee

Location: Studio Neue Haus @studioneuehaus

It’s 8 p.m. and Karen Fukuhara has just arrived home from her photoshoot with us. As she sinks into the plush embrace of a cozy chair, her smile hasn't dimmed a watt. The fatigue of a six-hour shoot in hair and makeup can't quite extinguish the spark in her eyes. A low sigh, more a contented exhale than anything else, escapes her lips and dissipates into the soft fabric. "I was feeling very low energy before the shoot, but the shoot went so well that, I don't know, I felt this adrenaline rush. I'm on such a high from having such a great time." It’s the pleasant languor that settles in after pouring one's all into a buzzing, but rewarding day.

The infectious energy that crackles through the Zoom screen stands in sharp contrast to Fukuhara's character, Kimiko Miyashiro, on Amazon’s subversive superhero satire, The Boys. Initially a steely-eyed enigma, Kimiko, nicknamed "The Female," is a mute superhuman weapon. Her incredible strength, speed, and violent repertoire, often involving gory head-ripping, belie a yearning for humanity. Among The Boys' ragtag crew, Kimiko finds a sense of belonging, particularly with her close friend Frenchie, the drug-fueled weapons expert. At the start of the show’s latest fourth season, Kimiko attempts to visit a therapist but leaves after only a few minutes. “She longs to be a normal girl,” Fukuhara explains. “It’s difficult for her to build friendships without the ability to speak. She thinks her issues are physical and hopes for an easy fix, but it all comes down to her emotional trauma, which she must face before making any progress.”

Kimiko's desires are conveyed through a blend of sign language, written words, and fierce facial expressions. Embodying this character has become a source of strength for Fukuhara. As she explains, "What I love about Kimiko is that she has no filter. Being in survival mode for so long, she has no room for ambiguity. Every time she communicates, she's completely genuine. She never sugarcoats anything and remains true to her feelings and beliefs, even when things don't go her way. I admire her for always speaking her truth." A subtle shift washes over Fukuhara's features. "I'm not sure if I can always be that honest in my own life," she admits with modesty. "But being on the show with such a phenomenal team—cast, crew, and showrunner—has definitely emphasized the importance of speaking your truth. Sharing your thoughts and ideas can be so beneficial, and it's something I'm actively trying to incorporate more in my personal life."

She doesn’t give herself enough credit. Far from a passive participant, Fukuhara puts her fluency in Japanese and experience as a translator to good use, ensuring the show's language and translations are accurate. Her influence extends beyond technical details, though. This season, she and co-star Jack Quaid successfully lobbied for more scenes together. "We tried to give her different moments with other characters," she says. "For instance, the sequence with Jack’s character Hughie, on a mission was something I really fought for. Jack and I were very vocal about wanting a scene where it's not just Kimiko and Frenchie. It's important for Kimiko to build friendships and relationships with the other members of The Boys."

jacket & skirt-ZOELLE, shoes-JONAK

Eric Kripke, the creator and driving force behind The Boys, fosters a collaborative environment for cast and crew, essential for navigating the show's dark and often disturbing content. Season two exemplifies this. Kimiko's younger brother, Kenji, becomes the target of a brutal attack by Stormfront, a Nazi supervillain, who unleashes a racial slur before viciously snapping his arms. The episode's release in 2020 coincided with a surge in real-world anti-Asian violence, adding a layer of raw resonance. "Eric consulted us extensively," Fukuhara says, grateful for his sensitivity. "He emailed and called to ensure we were comfortable with how the scene unfolded." The scene with Kenji was a painful gut punch, underscoring an unsettling reality: Even the most invincible people can't always shield themselves from the ever-present threat of racism and hate. With Kimiko, Fukuhara recognizes the weight of representation and responsibility. "I've had numerous people express their gratitude for my portrayal of our culture, and it feels empowering and validating." she reflects. "Asians haven't always been portrayed positively in the past, so being part of projects where I align with the character's beliefs or the show's social commentary is truly fulfilling.”

Getting to do wirework and badass action sequences doesn’t hurt either. Fukuhara, who took karate classes at a young age, loves the physicality of Kimiko. Her favorite scene comes from season three. “The dildo fight,” she exclaims with a laugh. “It was based on a Philippine form of martial arts called Kali, usually done with two sticks, but we adapted it for our show. It took a long time to rehearse and practice with the stunt team to get it right. It's quite technical, and I had the best time doing it.”

Beyond live-action, a playful attitude shines through in her diverse voice acting roles across film, television, and even a Taco Bell commercial. Fukuhara fulfilled childhood dreams by lending her voice to Lady Himi in the English dub of Hayao Miyazaki's Oscar-winning The Boy and The Heron and to the protagonist Haru in Netflix's stop-motion animated series Pokémon Concierge. “Pokémon was a huge thing for me because I grew up watching the original Pokémon series in Japan. I just remember when everyone played the first edition Gameboy. I was not very good at it, but it was just so fun to be a part of that culture and collect cards,” she says. When asked if she would rather escape to the world of Ghibli or Pokémon, she muses for a moment wondering if she would be a Pokémon or trainer, but ultimately leans to Ghibli, which still captures her heart with pure nostalgia and imagination. She goes through phases, favoring Princess Mononoke, Kiki’s Delivery Service, and Pom Poko, but does have a definite standout. "I recently had the chance to see Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind in theaters for the first time as part of Ghibli Fest," Fukuhara says with excitement. "It was actually my childhood favorite animated film! The story is just beautiful. It's incredible to think it was made so long ago, yet it continues to reach the hearts of so many."

Studio Ghibli’s impact echoes across generations. Unprompted, Fukuhara becomes giddy, sharing an anecdote about her recent trip to the Ghibli museum in Japan with her grandmother. “She is 90 years old. We couldn't go to the park due to the distance and all the walking involved. So, we went to the museum instead. She climbed the spiral staircase to see the Castle in the Sky robot at the top. It was special and I cherish the time I spent with her in Japan. Being part of The Boy and the Heron this year felt like a very full circle moment."


With her filmography, the conversation moves to the topic of the sub vs. dub debate that plagues anime culture, Fukuhara jokes she is the worst person to ask about that. However, being presented with the English dubbing opportunities on The Boy and The Heron and Pokémon Concierge shifted her perspective to an unspoken value of voices across cultures. “I had the chance to meet the Pokémon team in Japan after wrapping my recordings. During our meeting, they explained that Haru in the Japanese version has a slightly more introverted personality. Japanese audiences are charmed by her depth. She's a bit pessimistic, beaten up by life and not confident in who she is,” Fukuhara notes. She continues, “Being Japanese American and growing up watching Japanese TV, I understand the appeal of the character. The Pokémon team said the American audience perceives Haru to be too downbeat. The team appreciated that my natural voice is more uplifting and cheerful—they call it Genki—which resonates better with American viewers. They didn't foresee this when they casted me, but they really liked it.”  

It’s here where Fukuhara pauses to be proud of her milestones. “It's been a really great year. A few years, actually.” She ponders. “It hasn't always been like this, you know? I love Japanese culture and I think that Hollywood is being more accepting of diversity and having them at the forefront of their storylines.” The sentiment swells when Fukuhara mentions her attendance at Gold House’s third annual Gold Gala last month, a grandiose celebration of Asian and Pacific excellence. “Lucy Liu was awarded. During her speech she was tearing up, we all were too. And She said something really sweet but heartbreaking. I'm paraphrasing but she said she almost didn't come to the event because she had imposter syndrome and felt very alone when she was at the height of her career. I can't imagine what that must have been like since representation was not a big thing back then.” Fukuhara's next response is softly invitational, with a change in language the Asian Americans find themselves defaulting to with gentle consideration and unifying pride. She goes from “I” to “We” and “Us.” Making direct eye contact and remarking, “We kids looked up to Lucy Liu. She was the best. One of the few actors that were Asian, representing us. I've always looked up to her. I'm just grateful that people like her have paved the way for us.”

Fukuhara, though perhaps too humble to admit it, is undeniably inspiring a new generation.  Whether it’s her voice in animated titles like Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts, She-Ra and the Princesses of Power, Pokémon Concierge, or The Boy and The Heron, her work has become a precious part of many childhoods. Her filmography spans across numerous devoted fanbases, and it was her breakout role as the DC Comics character Katana in 2016’s Suicide Squad movie where she first learned her work could have meaningful purpose. “I remember a mother, who was Asian, approached me and said, 'Thank you so much for playing this character. Now my daughter has someone to dress up as for Halloween.'”

Nowadays, that purpose has crystallized further. “My ultimate goal in life is to bridge the gap between America and Japan. It may sound ambitious, but it's something I've always aspired to do,” Fukuhara declares. For us, she already has gracefully built that bridge, with one hand holding onto her heritage and the other her ebullient inner child.