Rola (also known as Eri Sato) is one of the most recognisable faces in Japan. The mixed-race star of Bengali, Japanese and Russian descent burst onto the scene after being scouted on the streets of Shibuya as a high school student. She started modeling, made her first appearance as a TV tarento in 2010 and her musical debut the following year.
Today, Rola has one of the largest social media followings of any Japanese celebrity, having appeared on magazine covers, fashion front rows, and in countless advertisements—she had more commercial contracts than any other celebrity in Japan in 2014. The It girl has also appeared on variety shows and made her Hollywood debut as female soldier Cobalt in Resident Evil: The Final Chapter (2016). That’s not all; Rola’s other pursuits include launching a brand of fragrances called Vasilisa as well as publishing books on fashion, cooking, and learning English.
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Rola, who spent her formative years in Bangladesh and Japan, is one of many blazing the trail for a shift in the Japanese entertainment landscape. Slicing the strict convention that governs Japan’s largely mono-ethnic society, her child-like bluntness and quirky charm is redefining what it means to be sexy. Now based in Los Angeles, Rola has set her sights on becoming a global Hollywood star and creative powerhouse, by first “doing things that are friendly to both the earth and people.”
Inspired by her move from Tokyo to Los Angeles—where she discovered a natural and sustainable way of living—Rola launched lifestyle brand Studio R330 in 2020, aimed at providing “essentials for a good life.” Creatively involved in building the brand and designing for long term use and versatility, the outspoken advocate for environmentalism and animal welfare released an inaugural collection of workout wear made from recycled clothing and plastic waste. The brand has since introduced sustainable denim and knits, eco-fur and organic cotton pieces.
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Ahead, our May 2023 cover star tells us about her personal style, what being sexy means to her, and how she attributes her free-spirited nature and passion for the environment to her upbringing.
You grew up in Bangladesh before moving back to Japan when you were 9. What was that experience like and how has that shaped you?
I appreciate my father because he showed me many worlds and ways of living. Before moving to Japan, I lived in the jungle with my father in the tribal village. We ate raw food and raised chickens. Picking mangos is one of my favorite childhood memories. We didn’t have much but my father loved adventure. He was working in Japan at the time and decided to move my twin brother and I there. Japan was like a concrete jungle; I had never seen a city or even a train before. I didn’t speak Japanese but as a child I went to Japanese school and remember the other children being so welcoming and warm. I’m grateful for these experiences.
How has modeling and being a TV personality been like for you?
Modeling for me is more expression of art, transforming myself. But for acting—that’s the real me. I love making people laugh and sharing happy energy. I can really be myself.
What does being sexy mean to you?
Self-love is the ultimate sexy!
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You’re involved in different projects and ventures outside of modeling such as acting, being an author and having your own clothing line. How do you juggle it all?
It’s all about balance and doing things I genuinely love and enjoy doing. Sometimes it doesn’t feel like work; I’m just having a good time. I have a great team of people who support me. I meditate and don’t feel the need to rush. Also, I tell myself, “no excuses”!
Tell us about your experience playing the female soldier Cobalt in Resident Evil: The Final Chapter. What are your thoughts on Asian representation in Hollywood?
It was an amazing experience traveling to Africa and being on such an incredible set. There were so many zombies! The makeup and hair was so real—I could see the hard work and energy the team put in. I killed a zombie and then a zombie killed me. It was awesome. The cast and crew were all so kind. After that I fell in love with action movies—I’m actually working on one now. Representation is so important and Hollywood is changing. I hope one day we break all boundaries.
What inspires you?
Design and architecture are very inspiring. I also find inspiration in my heritage, like traditional Japanese tea ceremonies.
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How would you describe your style and what are your wardrobe essentials?
My influences are a little traditional Japan, a little L.A. and a lot of sustainability. I try not to buy a lot of clothing; I wear my own brand and create pieces I feel can be worn many ways and many times. It’s easy for peace of mind but it’s also a more sustainable way. My wardrobe essentials are timeless staples, vintage and cute jewelry.
Why are you passionate about the environment and animal welfare?
I think growing up in Bangladesh, in the jungle, had an impact. The environment and all its creatures are a part of us and we’re all connected in a deeper way. To protect the environment and its creatures is to protect each other and the future generations.
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What are some lessons you’ve learnt in your career?
Treat everyone with love. Lead with love and gratitude.
What is your ultimate career goal?
I’m so blessed to be living my dream, but I have so many goals for my brand R330 and personally when it comes to learning and educating myself. For now, just being present and enjoying the process; not too focused on the end goal.
What are your favorite things to do to unwind?
Meditating, Japanese tea ceremony, boxing training, hiking with my dogs, aromatherapy and reading.
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What would you like to tell young girls out there who want to be like you?
Love yourself. Don’t rush. Don’t compare yourself to others. Move your body. Give more than you take.
What’s next for Rola?
Growing my sustainable lifestyle brand Studio R330! We’re hoping to do another pop-up soon. It was so incredible to connect with my followers and friends in person. Let’s see where we will do it next!
Photographed by Alvin Kean Wong
Styled by Heather Picchiottino
Makeup: Chi Chi Saito/Art Dept using Atelier Westman
Hair: Marc Mena using Amika
Manicure: Naoko Saita
Producer: Sheila Pane
Lighting director: Naoki Fukuda
Photographer’s assistant: Kai Kohrogi
Stylist’s assistants: Landon Rivera, Lucy Sylvester
Shot on location at Myron Palms, Los Angeles