Actors, Features, Film discussion, Japan, Obituaries

Obituary: Machiko Kyo – the princess of Japanese cinema

A retrospective, reflections and ranking of Kyo’s most powerful and groundbreaking roles and films…

2019 was a tragic year for Japanese cinema and arts, with perhaps no loss reverberating more widely than that of Machiko Kyo on the 12th May, as she became a pivotal figure not just for Japan but world cinema altogether. Born Motoko Yano in Osaka under difficult circumstances of poverty and a (rare for the time) single mother, she started her professional career as a child dancer-performer in a Takarazuka-like all-female revue for Shochiku during the studio’s early years when they specialized in pan-Japanese theatre including kabuki, bunraku and revue. She stood out in a way from the very moment she entered the industry after adopting her stage name 京マチ子 Kyo Machiko, with half of her name unusually spelt in the katakana alphabet normally just used for foreign names, emphasis and onomatopoeias. But neither that nor her screen debut could even hint at the unprecedented directions her career would take.

Now, to be clear, in proclaiming Kyo the Princess of Japanese Cinema I am by no means attempting to make any kind of “objective” argument that no Japanese actress was better (or that another was “Queen”), as that question is very much up for debate. There were other great actresses of her time who could certainly be considered better or best in raw acting terms such as Ozu’s and Mizoguchi’s respective favourites Setsuko Hara and Kinuyo Tanaka, or (respects due) the other great Japanese actress lost in 2019 just months after Kyo and who had similar revue background, Kaoru Yachigusa (Samurai Trilogy). But for a more unique attribute of her career that I place special value in, Kyo was not particularly linked with any one director or style of film in her incredibly diverse filmography, and managed to work with virtually all the most notable directors of the era: not only Kurosawa, Ozu, Mizoguchi and Ichikawa (the latter two whom she did slightly more films with than everyone else), but also Naruse, Shindō, Teshigahara and Masumura. Her output also ranges from breezy romantic commercial fare like Tora-san to subtle avant-garde body horror in The Face of Another.

But most key of all, one is quite hard-pressed to deny Kyo as the single most important actress in establishing and solidifying Japanese cinema during its golden age, domestically to an extent and that much more so globally. Because in terms of putting Japan on the map as the very first non-Western/European film industry to become a world-renowned cultural force, Kyo played a crucial role by playing crucial roles in several breakthrough films. So like many royal princesses, Kyo ended up acting as an ambassador of sorts for her country on the cultural and recognition fronts, took part in many milestone events and ceremonies for her country’s people and cinema, and for a time was the most popular symbol for glamour and charisma and the face of her country in the eyes of the world.

So let us have a look back at five seminal performances not only for her but for the history of Japanese film and actresses as well. (Note: this ranking is based on a combination of how great, how groundbreaking and how iconic each role was. So there are a few notable films and performances in Kyo’s career not quite making it here by those criteria.)

#5 Mickey: Street of Shame (1956)

In Yoshiwara pleasure quarters, Kyo plays cold-hearted, unruly prostitute Mickey amongst her relatively modest, soft-spoken colleagues in Kenji Mizoguchi’s final film. This is an unusual role for Kyo not only in playing an Americanized woman (which she otherwise didn’t even do in her American film), but the sheer amount of background and characterization she’s given despite being with a larger main cast than usual.

Street of Shame also made for the most overt manifestation of Kyo’s status as the Japanese film industry’s first bonafide screen siren and sex symbol, and the first to be mass-marketed by her sexiness from posters to magazines to photobooks long before the days of gravure models and the like not necessarily required to have any talent. And it wasn’t just in Japan, as Kyo had simultaneously built an unprecedented niche image in the West as well. Or as critic David Thomson put it, she was “gently easing away from that Western prejudice: that Asian women could not be erotic or desirable” — to be clear, this was long before the opposite extreme of generalized Asian fetishism would take hold (483).

The Japanese poster and even more so American one (taken from the image on the right) both quite prominently featured Kyo in similar pose and the same getup.

In hindsight, the way Kyo was sexualized in the industry and alternately delicate or lascivious in her film roles could be thought of as negative or at least not a good thing. But in reality, for a female star to have that consistently dominated and upstaged nearly all of her male costars wherever she went at her peak popularity — especially for an industry that just a couple of decades before her didn’t even allow women into it with female characters almost always played by male impersonators like kabuki — was nothing less than remarkable and with little doubt helped establish a better, more firm position for actresses in general.

And it wasn’t all about her looks: Shame also has what could be the best scene in Kyo’s career for showing off her pure acting chops. When her businessman father comes to her brothel after years without contact and confronts her with criticism that her life as a prostitute is ruining the family reputation and hampering family business and marriage prospects alike, the dynamic quickly shifts to her confronting her father, as her tightly shelled cold indifference suddenly explodes into hysterically passionate acrimony that was long-simmering and reserved only for him. Her speech in a crescendo of passion and animation provocatively covers bitter, broken family ties, prostitution, infidelity, incest and suicide, leaving the audience almost as unpreparedly dazed as her father.

A rare big hit for Mizoguchi, his film and Kyo’s lead performance that goes from love-to-hate scandalous to sympathetic and pitiable not only seemed to deeply move the Japanese public but even the Japanese government. They passed a comprehensive Anti-prostitution Law (which realistically aimed to improve rehabilitation services and combat pimping and trafficking rather than abolish prostitution per se) not long after this film came out.

#4 Lotus Blossom: The Teahouse of the August Moon (1956)

Glenn Ford plays an Army Captain tasked with introducing American values and democracy to an Okinawan village during the Occupation. But after they warm up to him it may be he who has more trouble fighting off the influences of the village instead, as they have their own ideas including pushing for a new teahouse and sending the Captain “1st class geisha girl” Lotus Blossom as a “gift.”

The sole non-Japanese movie on the list and of Kyo’s career altogether, truth be told, Teahouse has aged rather terribly. And if there’s one thing that aged worse than the movie itself, it’s Kyo’s ultra-obsequious Lotus Blossom (and if they’re two things, it’s also Marlon Brando trying a wee bit too hard to “immerse” himself into a role this time as “Okinawan” interpreter Sakini complete with questionable makeup and accent). Much of the movie’s comedy revolves around her frantic, unwavering and ironically aggressive attempts to serve and please her man literally from the moment she sees him (while coldly rebuffing the courting of Japanese men), spending every early part the movie either grabbing on him, trying to yank off his clothes or quietly waving a fan to his face the whole time he’s on the phone. In that way the film extended on the groundwork establishing the popular image of Japanese (or more broadly Asian) women that had already been laid out half a century earlier in Puccini’s Madame Butterfly, but updates it by leaving us with lines like, “Don’t give me any of that Oriental hanky-panky!”.

But Teahouse still has a few fine silver linings. As hard as it might be to process in this day and age, the movie was actually well-intentioned (even if also misguided) and in other ways quite progressive for its time, with the main purpose of being a call for understanding and reconciliation that also welcomed at least the idea of interracial relationships when the war was still fresh on many American minds (and it didn’t matter that Okinawans were primarily victims of both sides in the battle there anyway). So even while ungracefully perpetuating stereotypes, it does not delve into ridiculing racism and actually pokes fun at more prejudiced/haughty American attitudes.

Furthermore, while this certainly wouldn’t make a list of Kyo’s greatest films per se, this was nevertheless a milestone in her career as well as in the much broader sense of becoming only the second Japanese actress after Yoshiko [Shirley] Yamaguchi to star in a major Hollywood movie, and the first to star in a particularly successful one. It also stands as one of her more challenging roles, as she was by no means a skilled polyglot or seasoned traveller familiar with other countries and industries like Yamaguchi was, so had to venture into the unknown here. So the way Kyo actually managed to maintain her dignity despite her role and amidst all the antics around her on this film is as much testament to her versatility as an actress and performer as nearly any of the superior films in her career could be.

Kyo not only maintained her dignity (in a role she actually enjoyed for showing her the very different and freer American system for making movies), but lent an extra degree of it to the film itself in the latter part. Aptly enough the definite highlight is the extended scene where she performs a traditional Okinawan dance for the Captain (to music by Okinawan composer Kikuko Kanai, showing there was some dedication to authenticity despite the tomfoolery), putting her exceptional skills as a dancer mostly seen in her pre-film career to some of its most spectacular use alongside her equally campy (but action rather than romance-oriented) 1962 star vehicle Black Lizard.

Teahouse naturally marked Kyo’s apex of international popularity, around the same time touring Western countries and getting acknowledgements and invitations from everywhere and everything from the Cannes jury to Life and Madamoiselle covers/articles to complements from Eleanor Roosevelt.

#3 Kesa: Gate of Hell (1953)

Gate of Hell has an oddly un-enduring legacy compared to almost every other international smash Japanese film of the breakthrough 1950s decade. It’s now best known for having (in retrospect) incredulously won the highest acclaim and racking up major awards all over the West including the top prizes at Cannes, Locarno and (for foreign films) the Oscars beyond any other Japanese film of its time. That doesn’t sound too remarkable for this perfectly respectable and sumptuous period film from veteran director Teinosuke Kinugasa. That is, until noticing its competition just from that same 1954 award cycle alone (which also includes the last months of 1953) that it distinctly overshadowed in acclaim and popularity: Seven Samurai, Sanshō the Bailiff and Tokyo Story — all now among the most commonly considered as the greatest Japanese film of all time.

Yet in one of cinema history’s more ironic turns, Gate of Hell went from curiously overrated to curiously underrated, now being rather obscure and forgotten and going for a very long period (until 2012) without even proper DVD release. But even if the movie itself hasn’t resoundingly endured (as in fact, some of Kinugasa’s silent-era fare was yet more inspired and groundbreaking), Kyo and the equally splendid beauty all around her from the early colour cinematography does. On this film, she played Kesa, a court lady who volunteers to act as the double of the Emperor’s sister during the 1185 seizing of Kyoto to open the Kamakura (shogunate) period. Not long after saving her, rural samurai Morito becomes utterly smitten and requests her hand in marriage. But even beyond class difference problems, she’s already married to Fujiwara Clan Imperial guard Lord Wataru, placing Morito’s infatuation on a perilous course.

Like with many roles of Kyo, it’s not just her acting skills that are on display here that fully form the role’s magic: it’s her more nuanced dedication to performance art on a wider scale, as she makes the intricate Heian court etiquette and its expected mannerisms of a desirable but modest lady fully convincing, which is as important for this film as the acting itself. Her every step, bow and sitting position has as much care taken into it as her lines. So even as brothers Morito and Moritada are trying to kill each other in sword combat then bitterly arguing which side to take for the fate of Japan, Kyo’s character steals full attention of the viewer when she rises up to disrobe the outer layer of her juunihitoe 十二単 (special court kimono from the Heian Era).

And that brings us back to the subject of sex symbols to make a crucial distinction: unlike Western ones including her Hollywood contemporary Marilyn Monroe (who both even had their first starring roles in the same year!), Kyo was not openly marketed as a prurient, coquettish or so-stupid-she’s-sexy woman (her mostly-negatively portrayed Street of Shame character only something of an exception). Monroe’s image ended up being largely defined by her skirt blowing open — an image she would strongly resent and that directly contributed to her second divorce and possibly her mental breakdown. Kyo, on the other hand, was more often than not more heavily clothed than the average woman in cinema, and in the most elaborate and lustrous clothing of all in Gate of Hell. So even as “The Girl With the Perfect Legs” as Kyo was nicknamed, they were very seldom shown even close to fully or flashed too provocatively. So it was a different, might we say more sophisticated, kind of sex symbol status, and one that perhaps, as a result, didn’t appear to take any such toll on Kyo at all as she in fact continued living on her own terms and showing little strain from public pressure and image.

Like some of her films’ more modern characters (notably on Naruse’s Older Brother, Younger Sister and Ozu’s Floating Weeds), Kyo did not see any fixed or urgent need for a common married homemaker life taking care of a family, instead having a longterm but uncommitted romantic and business relationship with her studio Daiei’s President and main producer Masaichi Nagata.

But that didn’t stop Kyo from being more than a sex or modern woman symbol. Contrarily, roles like this also made Kyo into a Nippon symbol: the lead purveyor of Japanese culture and tradition internationally. This was not by actual deliberate effort, as absolutely no one could’ve expected Japanese cinema to explode in popularity and acclaim like no non-Western cinema had even come close to before it as suddenly as it did. But it worked out immaculately, as her characters would consistently don the most beautiful and intricate of traditional Japanese clothing and have scenes largely built around her wardrobe and engagement in Japanese arts and ceremonies.

Likewise, there was something about Kyo that made Japanese filmmakers themselves figure her as an embodiment of Japanese female identity just about as much as foreigners came to, as she was chosen to star and co-star in several films representative of Japan’s most symbolic cultural heritage from The Tale of Genji to the [Loyal] 47 Ronin to (dare I say) Tora-san. And no other film shows that quality of Kyo more magnificently than Gate of Hell. While real-life historical figure Taira no Kiyomori ’s character — the Emperor’s son and de facto military ruler — is initially perplexed at how his great, stern warrior could possibly give in to reckless infatuation, upon his seeing Lady Kesa serenely playing the koto in her kimono, he quietly but emphatically nods to himself, “naruhodo” (now I understand).

#2: Masako: Rashomon (1950)

Actually one of Kyo’s earliest parts not even a full year into her film career, her role as Masako in Rashomon like the film itself earned now-legendary praise from audiences, critics, festivals and luminaries of cinema over generations. We all know the story by now (at least about as well as we ever could): after Masako is raped and her samurai husband dies as a result of bandit Tajomaru’s attack, the wife, the bandit and the samurai’s ghost plus a “neutral” woodcutter all give conflicting accounts of the incident.

Rashomon makes for the most smoothly encompassing showcase of Kyo’s acting talent even if it hadn’t yet reached its peak in arguably her most demanding performance overall, as we’re literally shown four different Masakos. The actress wears multiple faces with considerably starker contrasts than the other leads to show the woman that others (and herself) imagined or perhaps wanted her to be. The one true constant among them is that Masako is always raped, thereby literally leaving her the direct perpetual victim (as the samurai’s death might’ve been a murder, a suicide or an accident).

In that regard, Rashomon could also be considered the quintessential Machiko Kyo role, as the beguiling beauty of her characters has far more often than not manifested itself as a curse instead of a blessing, even when seeming quite pure and seldom flaunted. That’s because there was edgy sexuality running paradoxically concurrent with that exemplar of traditional feminine refinement and nobility many saw in Kyo.

Across many different films from different directors and writers, a recurring theme among Kyo’s characters is them having a perceived “irresistible” allure. It’s what “brings” a criminal to rape and murder on Rashomon, and what yet more shockingly moves what seems like an otherwise noble man (in both senses of the word) to a demonic possessiveness that has him warning if he can’t have her neither she, her family nor himself is fit to live in Gate of Hell. And even in Kon Ichikawa’s Odd Obsession with a “normal” modern setting, her own husband is the one taken by that power to suspicion that shifts into paranoia and a bizarre fascination and arousal from the prospect his soon to be son-in-law is bedding his wife in addition to his daughter. So in essence, the general consensus derived from her roles and mystique is that in the most literal sense of the term, Kyo drove men crazy!

That being said, it must be noted that in this day and age Rashomon is one of more prominent retroactive targets for modern socially conscious criticism, with more than a few more recent film critics and general viewers questioning or outright attacking Kurosawa for misogyny (an especially dubious charge when noting the fact he was actually quite faithfully adapting Ryunosuke Akutagawa’s original 1922 short story “In a Grove”). Some also say that the story/Kyo’s performance makes her character look very bad from every perspective, but that’s only when not taking the context of the story of 12th-century Japan via 1920s Japan via 1950s Japan into account. To his defense, David Thomson made such a criticism long before it became en vogue, lampooning “Rashomon’s very persuasive evidence that women were not to be trusted” (ibid). And while it’s hard to argue with that comment in and of itself, by implication it’s also suggesting that Rashomon actually presents anything close to evidence that men are to be trusted.

Is Masako frail and pitiful (best-case scenario)? Yes. The physically powerless one in every story yet serving as the very powerful focal point and cog to revealing the weakness and shortcomings of all humanity rather than any particular variety of it. Masako fully sums up her account of the incident and of herself by lamenting  “what could a poor, helpless woman like me do?”. That cleverly leaves the character up for interpretation either as a tragically sympathetic victim making a terrible mistake or just maybe a manipulative vamp yet still not too contemptible for taking full advantage of the patriarchy’s underestimation and devaluing of her. But either way, the key thing to be taken from that summarization is that she was acting exactly as her society was expecting of her. The way the other accounts portray her are another story — but the two male protagonists aren’t exactly living up to their expectations as men and warriors by most accounts either.

So in fact, it can reasonably be argued that Masako’s character in Rashomon is really the least negative of all the leads or at least the most richly complicated, as her account is the only one that’s not particularly self-righteous and concerned with making herself look good at the expense of the other[s], or fully rationalizing her decisions. She’s actually the one showing concern with the tragedy of the situation itself above self-absolution or blame games.

After all, one of very few things that remains a constant through accounts is the samurai’s pivotal cold stare (which triggers the most memorably frenetic parts of Kyo’s performance), and how he focuses his blame and contempt towards Masako for getting raped rather than himself or even the bandit. But under the circumstances it was even more of his expected responsibility as a samurai not to be so easily hoodwinked, tied up, murdered/defeated and having his wife raped, as Masako even when hysterical correctly points out on the later account. But interestingly, the samurai ghost in his account is so utterly fixated on cursing and blaming his wife that he actually makes the bandit look more sympathetic and honourable than the bandit’s own account does at her expense. And we need not even get far into the account of the said bandit, who literally blames the wind for his acts of lustful murder and rape for revealing Masako’s beauty. And yet even within all of this, many nowadays want to single out Kyo’s character (and by implication, women altogether but not men) as portrayed in an unforgivably negative light.

The film was never required to make any explicit or trenchant statements about the plight of women in Japan or against the forces that treated and regarded Masako as they did as seen in the film. After all, being a broader mirror to society and the sometimes appalling subconscious motivations of self-imaging and human nature altogether is already more than enough to consider in itself.

Not to say that Rashomon is quite the perfect film as many initially thought either. But it was indeed the perfectly chosen film for the perfect time that showcased the unique talents and charisma of exactly the best three people — Kurosawa, Kyo and Mifune — to introduce Japan’s already-rich cinema to the outside world. Ozu, Kinuyo Tanaka, Kazuo Hasegawa etc. were great in their own right, but I seriously doubt any of them would’ve been able to immediately grab the world’s attention critical and popular (breaking US box office records for foreign films) in the way that trio did. Soon after this film Kurosawa was openly admired and directly copied by Western directors and Kyo was the international face of Japanese cinema and sometimes culture altogether, initially even above co-star Mifune before his concurrent rise reached even greater fame.

But there’s one more truly inconceivable thing about Rashomon’s legacy to keep in mind here: it almost never happened at all. While not quite complete happenstance, the success could not possibly have been fully predicted either — least of all by studio head Nagata, who was consistently disdainful about the film (the end result of Kurosawa’s brief contract with Daiei) and even walked out on its early screening. And if he’d had his way in blocking the film from international festivals, Kurosawa, Mifune and to a lesser extent Kyo — all for whom international success, support and roles were significant or essential to the careers of at one point or another — would never have been able to get there, meaning there also would’ve been little chance for others in the industry to have gotten their often late in life recognition, and there’d probably have been no essential career launches for filmmakers/actors indebted to them like Sergio Leone and Clint Eastwood. Just imagine. So to think the whole direction of world cinema was saved by an exiled Italian fascist: Tokyo University Italian professor Giuliana Stramigioli, who circumvented Nagata’s block by successfully pushing for Rashomon to be sent to Venice (Davis et al., 46-48).

#1 Lady Wakasa: Ugetsu (1953)

While not quite creating the international waves of Kyo’s most famous films or roles, Ugestu Monogatari nevertheless stands and has in fact further risen as the most unforgettable of them all.

After Rashomon’s pivotal Golden Lion win, Nagata made a 180-degree turn in going from the man who tried and almost succeeded in thwarting Japanese cinema’s international success to the primary factor driving it. He did similar for the film itself, seeing infinitely more potential in it and the international film market after Rashomon’s festival run. He then put in much effort and resources to export it for theatrical release, and threw in Gate of Hell and Ugetsu for good measure — all starring his love, funny enough. This wasn’t just because he was so proud and confident about her accomplishments (and beauty), but because he came to recognize they were all damned fascinating films, with them and her showing the world something they’d never seen before. He also connected with MGM for casting Kyo and more mild cooperation in Teahouse of the August Moon. In short, he showed brilliant business acumen in marketing Kyo and her movies to captivate the outside world after he started doing the same for Japan. (Remarkably, he would end up playing an equally important role in introducing Japanese cinema to the People’s Republic of China in producing and releasing 1976’s breakthrough hit, Manhunt.)

But while Rashomon and Gate of Hell palatably accommodated Western tastes and styles with distinct Eastern flavours for stories that were simple and relatable at heart with even more universally appealing action and suspense, Ugestu was a more bold export as something completely unheard of in a way beyond exoticism. Ugetsu uncompromisingly drew from a deep well of Japanese culture, history and even philosophy including the Sengoku Era, medieval antiques, Japanese Buddhism, folklore, noh drama and kaidan ghost stories. So Kyo must have been that much more of an invaluable selling point for this film in the West than she was in Japan. After all, Kyo’s role in terms of screen time and part in the main plot is technically minor compared to the two lead couples, only having about 20 minutes of the film. Yet she was again top billed commercially and pictorially, and not without reason as she’s indeed the film’s structural centerpiece.

But for the technical protagonist, Masayuki Mori finds himself re-exploring a couple of Rashomon’s hard-hitting themes of the frailty of human life and unreliability of perceptions of reality in a very different, more metaphysical sense as Genjuro. A peasant potter seeking fortune, Genjuro is joined by Tobei who desperately wants to become a samurai to embark on a journey amidst the chaos of the Warring States period — much to the chagrin and peril of both of their wives. Genjuro is later beckoned to a mansion at the behest of a mysterious noblewoman named Lady Wakasa to sell some of his pottery. He arrives to find something very mystifying about the mansion, whose apparent sole survivors of a massacre are a maid and Lady Wakasa, who proceeds to have him not so much seduced as transfixed into agreeing to marry her.

In a way, Kyo is playing against type here (especially compared to her other internationally famous roles), for once being the one taking charge and using her sexual power transferring across nearly every role fully proactively and on her own terms. But at the same time, she’s the ultimate tragic figure here, thus even while trying to snatch the loyalties of a married man with a family that desperately needs him, the audience is just as entranced and easily forgetting of it all as Genjuro is. But calling Lady Wakasa a seductress or temptress can’t begin to ascribe full justice to the far more recondite character, nor can the cliche-sounding but actually accurate description of Ugetsu’s most prominent theme as “forbidden love” let one even begin to fully grasp or appreciate its meaning here, as it’s in a far deeper sense than one could imagine. It’s more akin to an otherworldly experience that no ghost story since has been able to emulate no matter how many more millions of dollars or hi-tech editing/makeup techniques have been at filmmakers’ and actors’ disposals since then.

Lady Wakasa becomes Genjuro’s ultimate fantasy: not just through her celestial beauty and grace but revealing herself as the only person who truly knows of and appreciates Genjuro’s skills at pottery. Her fully idealized beauty and compatibility by extension represents a wishful epiphany for Genjuro’s disheartening world of war, poverty, toil and obscurity altogether. “This is paradise!”, he exclaims, with Hell literally just right outside her mansion’s grounds — or does it really lie more in them and Lady Wakasa’s most insidious catharsis?

If I had to choose only one scene to represent the ultimate essence of Japanese cinema or Japanese culture and history as seen through cinema, it would be the scene of Lady Wakasa’s haunting in the mansion, as there’s an ineffable spirituality to it almost. Even with Mizoguchi’s fabled perfectionism on his greatest films (that went right down to details of ensuring the full authenticity of the antiques in the background and making sure they’re perfectly pictured despite a minuscule amount of viewers being in any position to notice), he certainly couldn’t have achieved the same effect here with just any actress.

While she was not versed in filmmaking or marketing, what turned out to be an important component to Kyo’s allure was her own initiative: shaving her eyebrows in favour of hikimayu  引き眉  (lit. “eyebrow pulling”, more eyebrow painting) for enlarged eyebrows she thought more becoming of the feudal era noblewomen she played. She started the practice on the set of Rashomon to Kurosawa’s fascinated approval for her now-iconic look on that film, but then — further enhanced by an illusory pale face seeming more ethereal than ghastly — made it that much more tantalizing for Ugetsu (Shimbun). Kyo also puts her background and skills in performance here to unparalleled effect in a way far different from the flashier varieties of revue or other films, channelling a restrained and poetic yet insidiously alluring elegance. So even as one of Kyo’s shortest roles post-stardom, Lady Wakasa is the sole emblem elucidating the total package of her talents and mystique: as an actress, as a dancer, as a performer, even as an ambassador of sorts and as a goddess of beauty and seduction figuratively and literally merged into one.

Machiko Kyo was born on 25 March, 1924, and died on 12 May, 2019 aged 95. 


Side note

One more (in this respect) unsung figure who played an invaluable part in establishing Kyo’s legend — particularly in capturing her beauty and radiance — was the great cinematographer Kazuo Miyagawa. It’s quite easy not to notice with all of the very different directors and projects involved, but he ended up shooting Kyo in no less than an astounding seven films: Rashomon, Ugetsu, Street of Shame, Night Butterflies (1957), Odd Obsession, Floating Weeds (both 1959), and the Kyo-starring, Ichikawa-directed segment of the omnibus film A Woman’s Testament (1960).


Works cited

  • Thomson, David. “The New Biographical Dictionary of Film”. NYC, Knopf, 2002, p. 483.
  • Blair Davis, Robert Anderson, Jan Walls ed. “Rashomon Effects: Kurosawa, Rashomon & Their Legacies”. Routledge, 2018, p. 46-48.
  • The Yomiuri Shimbun. “Musings, May 16, 2019”.   accessed 22 Dec 2019.

About the author

Wally AdamsWally Adams Wally Adams
Technically a product of the Carolinas; branching more widely in roots; a citizen of the world at heart. Asian cinema is but one of many avatars of my longtime fascination with cinema, general culture, music and languages all over. But by now I recognize it may be the strongest of them all and sum it up like this: Whether Mifune in a duel or Madhuri in a dance, Song Kang-ho being a dunce or Gordon Liu in his stance, the finest Asian cinema always leaves me in a trance. Find me on Facebook.
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