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Kaoru Yachigusa (1931-2019)

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    Patrick Galvan

    Kaoru Yachigusa, a popular actress most widely remembered for playing Mifune’s love interest in Hiroshi Inagaki’s Musashi Miyamoto trilogy, passed away a few months ago. She was married to Senkichi Taniguchi, one of Kurosawa’s colleagues from his assistant directors days at Photo Chemical Laboratory. A short piece on Yachigusa’s career.

    https://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/cats_2019/?fbclid=IwAR1DgNXjA2OHR8l7PTC8AUgB4i2ssKm2dM_g2q-huKxjEKrNFex8SXjc_B0

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    Patrick Galvan

    And, of course, I attached the wrong link the first time…..

    Kaoru Yachigusa: In Memoriam

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    Vili Maunula

    A wonderful article, as always, Patrick! Such a lovely homage.

    I must say I don’t really know Yachigusa’s work, but I have long been intrigued by her husband Senkichi Taniguchi, whose relationship with Kurosawa I would like to know more about than what I have read. In addition to working together during their assistant director days, Kurosawa ended up writing or co-writing no less than five (!) screenplays for Taniguchi. Taniguchi was also involved in the productions of Stray Dog and The Silent Duel. Also, is it true that Taniguchi was the original choice to direct Godzilla, but he declined?

    Anyway, I definitely don’t want to hijack this to be about Yachigusa’s husband. She seems to have had an interesting career and I will definitely keep an eye out for her performances.

    Thanks for sharing!

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    Patrick Galvan

    Thanks for reading, Vili!

    That is correct. Taniguchi was indeed the studio’s original choice to direct Godzilla. To elaborate a little further, Godzilla was actually a replacement project for an unmade Japanese-Indonesian co-production called In the Shadow of Glory, which Taniguchi had been slated to direct. Toho had planned to begin filming on location in Jakarta in April 1954 but was denied filming rights at the last minute, reportedly due to lingering anti-Japanese sentiment in Indonesia after the war. Since Taniguchi had been set to direct In the Shadow of Glory, the studio logically asked him if he would direct the replacement project, which ended up being Godzilla. He turned the job down and instead made an adaptation of Yukio Mishima’s novel The Sound of Waves.

    I don’t remember if it was mentioned in Stuart Galbraith’s Kurosawa-Mifune biography, but during their assistant director days, before any of them married, Kurosawa and Taniguchi would often go on camping trips with their mutual friend Ishiro Honda — and the trips often ended with Kurosawa and Taniguchi at each other’s throats while the very non-confrontational Honda tried to mediate between the two of them. And of course there is that famous anecdote about Taniguchi allowing Kurosawa to stay at his house only to grow annoyed with him and eventually kick him out. Given their history of clashing with one another, I too would be curious to know more about their relationship on the films where they did collaborate.

    I would similarly like to see more of Taniguchi’s work, but so few of them are readily accessible and even fewer have been subtitled. He seems to have made a number of interesting films in the ’40s and ’50s — and then his career fell apart afterward and his wife, who remained popular and active up until she died, basically looked after him from then on.

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    Ugetsu

    Thanks for that Patrick, a very interesting and touching homage. I must admit to have never come across her or Taniguchi before. I’m intrigued now.

    Your last line intrigues me – if Musashi Miyamoto was a similar film to Seven Samurai in terms of budget and success, I’m curious thats sequels were made, but I don’t recall seeing anywhere that Kurosawa was ever asked/encouraged to do a Seven Samurai sequel?

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    Patrick Galvan

    Thanks for reading, Ugetsu!

    I imagine the main reason why Toho went forward with sequels to the 1954 Musashi Miyamoto was simply because they’d planned it to have sequels from the start. I only mentioned it briefly in the article, but the first film was based on part of Eiji Yoshikawa’s colossal serialized novel about Miyamoto; consequentially, the first film has a deliberately open-ended denouement, setting groundwork for a sequel (i.e., an adaptation of the next part in Yoshikawa’s novel). Japan had produced dozens of movies about Miyamoto before, often in the form of a trilogy or a short series, so it was something of a known commodity and therefore a safe business venture.

    In terms of production, what distinguished the 1954 film from the others was simply that the studio crammed an exceptional amount of money into it. Hiroshi Inagaki was not a rampant perfectionist like Kurosawa, but the nature of this particular shoot demanded more time and money than an average Japanese feature. Huge sets, hundreds of horses and fully costumed actors, a high percentage of scenes filmed on location, and on top of that, it was filmed in color — which was a very new thing in Japan at the time. As assistant director Jun Fukuda recalled, “There were something like 210 warriors on horseback, and 800 samurai extras. Filming it in Eastman Color took longer to shoot than black and white. It took six months to shoot the film.” So the movie had a huge budget because that had been the plan all along, not because the director was constantly increasing his budget and shooting schedule in search of his exact vision a la “Seven Samurai.”

    I imagine there was further encouragement to make sequels to “Musashi Miyamoto” after William Holden paid a much-publicized visit to the set and started talking the movie up when he returned to Hollywood.

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    Ugetsu

    Thanks Patrick, that makes sense. To take a major left-field turn, I was arguing recently with a friend that the reason most Star Wars movies suck is that the original Star Wars ‘universe’ was simply not rich or complex enough to support the infrastructure of a serial – in contrast to (to take a random example), Game of Thrones, which had a much richer base to support a long running serial (even Battlestar Galactica proved more fertile ground for an extended story, and this was supposedly a Star Wars rip-off). I guess Seven Samurai proved that to an extent, in that the sequels to The Magnificent Seven were generally pretty poor. Some stories are perfect in their own right, and simply shouldn’t be stretched.

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