Welcome to Akira Kurosawa info!  Log in or Register?

Scandal: Casting Yoshiko Yamaguchi

  •   link


    I’m a little curious about the casting of Yoshiko Yamaguchi as the wronged singer in the film. I get so used to seeing familiar faces in Kurosawa films it almost seemed a surprise to see a completely unfamiliar face so I’ve been trying to find out a little about her – and she does seem to have been quite a fascinating individual (she was even the basis for a novel by Ian Barumna). It seems she was very famous and indeed very controversial – if imbd is correct she even came close to execution after the war as the Chinese saw her as a traitor (she originally acted under a Chinese name).

    I assume therefore that her appearance in the film would have been quite ‘loaded’ symbolically for a contemporary audience. Here, after all, is a very famous and controversial singer/actress playing an innocent singer who is wrongly accused of being a hypocrite. Almost as if, say, in a modern film, Lindsay Lohan was cast in a film as an apparently partied out trainwreck of an actress who turns out, after all, to be sober and responsible. Well, sort of.

    I can’t find anything in the usual sources that would suggest there was something deliberate in the casting of Yamaguchi in the part – but I can’t help thinking that there is a deliberate attempt here to play with the audiences assumptions – surely they must have been a little confused at times as to whether they were seeing a character, or an actress actually playing herself. Was maybe Kurosawa playing a little with the audience in the way he did by breaking the fourth wall in ‘One Wonderful Sunday’?



    Dude! She was married to Isamo Noguchi!!!!!! Do you get how big that is????

    from IMDB…”After her marriage to famed Japanese-American sculptor Isamu Noguchi, they moved into a house in Kita-Kamakura provided by Japanese potter and epicure Kitaoji Rosanjin.

    She was elected to the first of several terms in the House of Councillors, the upper body of Japan’s parliament in 1974. Her life story has been made into a musical that has appeared on Tokyo stages.”

    Waaaa???!!! That so crazy.


    Vili Maunula

    Thanks for bringing this up, Ugetsu.

    Yamaguchi’s short biography over at IMDB echoes what Galbraith writes about her. Galbraith goes on to narrate a little bit about her life in general, and indeed Yamaguchi comes across as someone with a rather fascinating life.

    Galbraith also writes:

    It is also more than ironic that in making his film about the press, Kurosawa, who had never used Yamaguchi before nor would again, should cast Japan’s most scandalous, most notorious movie star as an innocent victim of yellow journalism. For her part, Yamaguchi didn’t relish working with Kurosawa. “As soon as I came on the set, I was terrified,” she said in 1974. “I don’t mean to suggest that director Kurosawa was himself frightening, but the atmosphere on the set was so incredibly intense you could hear a pin drop. … He was nice to me, but a perfectionist to the point that no mistake was lost on him. … Her never compromised a single shot until it was perfect. In that way I think he was like Mr. [Charles] Chaplin. This film was quite unique in my career, because never once did I laugh on the set.” (125)



    Oh, that reminds me, I really should get the Galbraith book, its the last of the major ones I haven’t got yet. Does he say anything about the reason why she was chosen? Its not really enough to say ‘its ironic that….’ he chose her as if there was no thought to it. Presumably Kurosawa was fully aware of her reputation and either didn’t think it mattered, or deliberately wanted the audience to get a little confused, which is always inevitable when a famous actor plays a famous actor (for example, Julia Roberts in Notting Hill).

    I’m really going back to my own little pet theory that I come back to every now and again, that of all the major directors Kurosawa thought most deeply about his audience and how they respond in the cinema. He was engaging in a dialog with them in a way I don’t think many directors have done.

    I just can’t think what exactly what his intention was – I am assuming of course that it was his choice – at this stage in his career I suppose it could have been a studio imposition. Perhaps he thought that by having a less than fictional character it rooted the story more firmly into ‘the present’, emphasizing that the story was specifically about Japan ‘now’. This might work into Vili’s comments in the other thread about the specifics of the year 1950?


    Vili Maunula

    The Galbraith book is certainly a great reference volume. I found it tough reading when reading it through, but as a reference book it is invaluable. Unfortunately, he doesn’t have any information why Yamaguchi was chosen.

    I couldn’t agree with you more, Ugetsu, when you say that Kurosawa always seemed to make films with the audience first and foremost in his mind. Because of this, I would be terribly surprised if Yamaguchi wasn’t deliberately chosen for the role because of the controversy around her. And yes, it most probably helped in rooting the film in the “now”.

    Note, actually, how little Yamaguchi does in the film. After the first few scenes, she is little more than a glamorous presence looming over Mifune’s character. Yet, even for someone like me who doesn’t approach the film as a member of the contemporary Japanese audience, she is a very strong presence indeed. I can only imagine how she must have dominated the screen with the controversy surrounding her!




    Yet, even for someone like me who doesn’t approach the film as a member of the contemporary Japanese audience, she is a very strong presence indeed

    She certainly had a lot of charisma. From the very first few shots, from before we know that she is a famous singer, its very obvious that she is much more than an average person. It makes me wish Kurosawa had used her more – Mifune could have done with a strong female foil in some of the later films.


    Vili Maunula

    While Kurosawa didn’t use her beyond Scandal, Yamaguchi actually ended up sharing the screen with Mifune altogether five times. One of those was the 1952 film Sword for Hire, which was co-written by Kurosawa.

    In 1950, the year of Scandal, she also appeared in Escape at Dawn, again co-written by Kurosawa. And ten years earlier she had a small part in the 1940 Kajiro Yamamoto film Songoku, where Kurosawa worked as the chief assistant director (this was the film he worked on just before Horse).

    It’s a small world.

Viewing 7 posts - 1 through 7 (of 7 total)


Leave a comment

Log in or Register to post a comment!