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Playing at the film club: Taking a break

Machiko Kyo

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    Mugibuefan

    Just heard that the incomparable Machiko Kyo, who as everyone knows, starred in Rashomon, Mizoguchi’s Ugetsu Monogatari, and, of course, Ozu’s Floating Weeds, among others, passed away at 95 from heart failure. I’m sure those in this forum have an appreciation for arguably the greatest Japanese actress of the 1950’s. Although less active in later years, I understand that she worked in television well into the 1980’s. Nevertheless her place in the history of Japanese cinema is secure.

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    Patrick Galvan

    She was a remarkable actress of great diversity. Just looking at her career in the first few years of the 1950s, we saw her going from playing bizarre characters as in Rashomon and Ugetsu to tragic figures as in Gate of Hell and The Princess Yang Kwe-Fei to strong, passionate women as the Life of a Horse Trader (a film I dearly hope gets some kind of subtitled release soon) and always being equal to what the role required of her.

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    Ugetsu

    Wow, I’d no idea she was still alive. Thats a great age, those Golden Age actors certainly seem to have good longevity.

    I’d agree she was a remarkable actress, who got better and better as her career went on – there is a toughness to her as she got older that was very ‘real’ and vivid. Much as I love her performance in Rashomon, I think she was even better for Ozu and Mizoguchi. She really shined in Mizoguchi’s films, almost to the point of being too strong and charismatic for the other actors – she was particularly good in Street of Shame. She was wonderful in Floating Weeds, although I must admit it wasn’t until later that I realised that it was the same actress as in Rashomon, she seemed to have changed so much.

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    Vili Maunula

    Thanks for the information, Mugibuefan! She’s indeed pretty remarkable in the handful of films that I have seen with her. I should watch more. Variety mentions that she did theatre work until 2006.

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    Mugibuefan

    Patrick: Thanks for the heads up on Life of a Horse Trader (Bakuro Ichidai) which I understand was based on a novel of the same name by Nakayama Masao who was from northern Japan (Hokkaido) where the story takes place; the film was apparently made by Mifune and Kyo about the same time they did Rashomon and casts Mifune in an unusually sympathetic role. I know little about the director Keigo Kimura, but in trying to research him online came across an incredibly seductive picture of Kyo Machiko-san in another picture you may have heard of directed by Kimura called “Bijo to Tozoku” from 1952 being of the jidai gekki genre. It translates roughly, I believe as, “the pretty girl and the thief”.

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    Ugetsu

    I assume this is the picture you are referring to, Mugibuefan? She was indeed very beautiful. If I’m not mistaken, the studio originally hyped her as ‘the Japanese Jane Russell’ and thought she would be their leading sex symbol – either through her efforts or good luck I guess she was rescued from this by being chosen by quality directors for much better parts than the studio no doubt had in mind.

    But she certainly did seem to have the ability to ‘turn on’ her attractiveness according to her character. While I guess its hard to judge due to changing cultural notions of what constitutes sexiness, I didn’t think she was particularly beautiful in Rashomon or some of Mizoguchi’s films, she was certainly drop dead gorgeous in my eyes in some other later films, most notably for me in Floating Weeds.

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    Mugibuefan

    Yes, Ugetsu, that is the photo, thank you. It’s interesting what you say about the studio which in retrospect clearly underestimated her talent. And your other comments are a testament to her versatility, as Patrick mentioned. It’s amazing that, like Setsuko Hara, another favourite of mine (and of many), she never married. As Kurosawa was noted as saying in his memoir “Something Like An Autobiography” he was left “virtually speechless” by her dedication to her craft.

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    Patrick Galvan

    Mugibuefan: Not only does “Life of a Horse Trader” feature the likes of Toshiro Mifune and Machiko Kyo, but Takashi Shimura as well (playing a character completely unlike his role on “Rashomon,” and giving a performance that Yoshio Tsuchiya thought was his best work. It’s certainly in the top 5 Shimura performances, for my money). I haven’t seen “Beauty and the Thief” yet, though I am aware of it. That one came from a novel by Ryunosuke Akutagawa who, as we all know, wrote the short stories upon which “Rashomon” was based. I hope to see it someday.

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    Ugetsu

    I’m intrigued by that film, Patrick, can you recommend a good source? Googling it shows a few download and dvd websites I’m not familiar with, I’m not sure how genuine they are.

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    Patrick Galvan

    Ugetsu: Here’s one I can recommend. This is the same indie publisher from which Vili obtained the copy of Song of the Horse for the site’s review.

    https://samuraidvd.com/life-of-a-horse-trader/

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    Mugibuefan

    Patrick: Takashi Shimura, believe it or not, also appeared in [drum roll, please]: Mugibue. It sometimes seems that this brilliant character actor appeared in almost every Japanese film made during the ’50’s.

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    Ugetsu

    Thanks for the link, Patrick. I’ll give them a try.

    Ah, I was wondering what Mugibue was – seems a pretty obscure film, there isn’t even much of a synopsis on imdb, can I ask you whats so special about it, Mugibuefan? I agree about Shimura, he was an incredibly busy actor.

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    Mugibuefan

    To me it’s a different kind of Japanese film conveying a special feeling right from the “get go”. The French have called it an “etude psychologique”, which it is, focussing on the relationship among three teenagers living in post-WWI Taisho, the protagonist an aspiring poet (Shimura plays his father), his friend, the girl they both loved, and their journey into adulthood. The music soundtrack I find quite affecting.

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