Japan's hottest export to Hollywood has already been nominated for an Oscar and earned the approval of the fashion world. Now Rinko Kikuchi suits up for her most major moment yet, battling aliens as a giant robot in Guillermo Del Toro's Pacific Rim. The future of movie stardom is shining bright in the boldest breakout pieces of the present.

Rinko Kikuchi wasn’t even a twinkle in her parents’ eyes when Gloria Swanson played the part of Norma Desmond in the seminal Sunset Boulevard. But a scene in that film sums up the Asian phenom’s breakthrough performance. “We didn’t need dialogue. We had faces!” the ill-fated Desmond cries. The same can be said of Kikuchi, whose silent part in 2006’s Babel made her the first Japanese actress in half a century to be nominated for an Academy Award.

Kikuchi returns to cinema with this summer’s Pacific Rim, Guillermo del Toro’s sci-fi thriller, which has her climbing into an alien-fighting super-robot costume. She grew up outside Tokyo, in a town called Kanagawa, riding horses, fencing, and go-carting, “which I always wanted to incorporate into my acting,” she says, “which I have now been able to do.” And what of this suit, that transforms the petite actress into a crime-fighting machine? “I’d love to wear it again,” she smiles. “But not to dinner, because I can’t sit in it!”

The fashion world has fallen for Kikuchi too, particularly Karl Lagerfeld, who has invited her to Chanel shows around the world and included her in last year’s book and traveling exhibition, The Little Black Jacket. “There is nothing like Chanel to make you feel confident on the red carpet,” Kikuchi laughs. The Chanel aesthetic fits hers, she explains, because “sometimes I’ll wear something really punk rock and other times something very elegant. I don’t like to be defined by one style.”

Kikuchi was particularly thrilled to revisit the world of futuristic fashion for us here. “I love combining sci-fi and fashion,” she laughs. “And who wouldn’t love wearing a superhero armor suit?”