Karen Fukuhara is an American actress and voice actress of Japanese descent. A martial arts champion with a striped brown belt in ‘Kyokushin Karate,’ she is known for her role as Samurai warrior ‘Tatsu Yamashiro’ aka ‘Katana’ in DC comics superhero film ‘Suicide Squad.’ Born and raised in the Japanese immigrant family of California, she got interested in martial arts while babysitting her younger brother. During her teen years, she appeared as a reporter on Disney Channel’s ‘Movie Surfers,’ and also as sports reporter on the Japanese broadcasting corporation’s NHK. After graduating from ‘University of California at Los Angeles’ with a BA in Sociology and Theater, Fukuhara worked as a translator, subtitle editor etc. for a while before auditioning for various roles. Her training in Karate helped her win the role of ‘Katana’ in the superhero film ‘Suicide Squad,’ wherein she worked alongside prominent artists of the Hollywood industry. Her other appearances include films ‘Stray,’ and ‘The Lost,’ and web series ‘The Boys.’ She has also provided voice for ‘Sewer Queen’ in Cartoon Networks ‘Craig of the Creek,’ and for ‘Glimmer’ in Netflix series, ‘She-Ra and the Princesses of Power.’
Childhood & Early Life
Fukuhara was born Stephanie Karen Aika Fukuhara on February 10, 1992, in Los Angeles, California, to Japanese immigrant parents. Being from a family of first generation immigrants, she learnt and is fluent in both Japanese and English.
During her middle school years, Fukuhara was given the responsibility of babysitting her younger brother, who according to her was ‘troublemaker.’ So when he began taking karate lessons, she too followed him and soon got interested in martial arts. She even won championships and went to Japan to participate in international karate competitions. She has earned a striped brown belt in ‘Kyokushin Karate’ which means, ‘the ultimate truth.’
As a teenager, [during her high school years] Fukuhara got her first job with Disney Channel’s ‘Movie Surfers,’ in which teenagers got an opportunity to interview the movie stars of the current Disney films. As this happened around the time of ‘Pirates of Caribbean,’ she got to interview Johnny Depp and Keira Knightley on her first episode.
This was followed by work opportunities on Japanese TV, where Fukuhara was seen on several shows on the Japanese public broadcasting corporation, NHK. During her high school years, she appeared as a sports reporter on ‘World Sports’ on NHK, and also in some programs with educational content as well.
After high school graduation, she joined the ‘University of California at Los Angeles.’ While at the university, Fukuhara was a part of the college A cappella group called ‘UCLA Medleys,’ and also contributed to this group as a singer. In 2014, she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Sociology and Theater.
Before embarking on acting as her profession, Fukuhara also worked as a translator, subtitle editor and as a waitress in a reggae sushi-themed restaurant. At the time when she auditioned and then was signed for her first film, she was working as a translator to a Japanese model in the ‘New York Fashion Week.’
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After her graduation, she began auditioning for roles with the help of her manager, Sally Hinata. Initially Fukuhara found it difficult to break into acting business. Coming from a first generation immigrant family, at the time of her early auditions she didn’t even know what an agent was. Apart from her few TV shows presentations, she had no acting experience. However, director David Ayer wanted to cast an Asian to play the Japanese character ‘Katana’ in his film ‘Suicide Squad.’ That and her martial arts training helped her get a chance to audition for Samurai warrior ‘Katana’ in the film.
Before appearing for the ‘Suicide Squad’ auditions, she didn’t know which character she was auditioning for; she only knew that it was a role of a character with fighting skills. For the second audition, Fukuhara was asked if she could bring a sword along and give a demonstration. During the sword fighting part of the audition, she tried to estimate the length of her hand and that of the sword and tried to manage her movements accordingly. However, while moving with the actions, she hit one of the lights, but continued nonetheless, which, she feels, won the director’s approval.
Thus, DC Comics superhero film ‘Suicide Squad’  became Fukuhara’s debut film, in which she essayed the role of ‘Tatsu Yamashiro’ aka ‘Katana,’ the blade carrying masked mystery warrior who protects the squad. The movie, for which she underwent rigorous sword fighting training for two months, was filmed in Toronto. In this big-budget film, she worked alongside such star performers as Margot Robbie, Will Smith, Jared Leto, Viola Davis, Ben Affleck and Cara Delevingne. She performed all her stunts [except one] in the film by herself.
In 2016, Fukuhara appeared in various TV shows including ‘Conan,’ ‘Good Morning America,’ ‘Made in Hollywood’ and ‘Up Close with Carrie Keagan.’ In 2017, she worked as voice actor for the character of ‘Sewer Queen’ in the animated television series ‘Craig of the Creek.’ Since 2017, she has provided voice for the same character [recurring role] in the Cartoon Network’s TV series ‘Craig of the Creek’ and also, for the lead character of ‘Glimmer’ in the much-admired Netflix animated series, ‘She-Ra and the Princesses of Power’
In 2017, Fukuhara appeared in the role of ‘Nori’ in the film ‘Stray,’ and as ‘Laura Baker’ in the short film ‘The Lost.’ She was seen in the role of ‘Kimiko’ in 2019’s Amazon Prime Video’s superhero dark comedy web series, ‘The Boys,’ based on the comics of same name. Her future projects include voice over for the character of ‘Kipo’ in the upcoming series, ‘Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts.’