Yoshiko Yamaguchi, Japanese film star in the 1940s and '50s, dies at 94

Yoshiko Yamaguchi, 94, a Japanese film idol who became one of the country’s biggest film stars during and after World War II, died Sept. 7 in Tokyo of heart failure, according to Japanese public broadcaster NHK.

Also known as Rikoran at the peak of her career, she was credited as Shirley Yamaguchi in her later U.S. film work.

Born to Japanese parents in northern China in 1920, Yamaguchi was raised in Japan’s wartime puppet state of Manchukuo, or Manchuria. At 13, she was adopted by a Chinese friend of her father and was renamed Xianglan or Fragrant Orchid.

She debuted as Chinese singer Li Xianglan — Rikoran in Japanese — and starred in Chinese-language films made by the Japanese-run Manchurian Cinema Assn., many of them propaganda movies. Widely believed to be Chinese, Yamaguchi was a star in Asia, particularly in Japan.

Chinese authorities arrested Yamaguchi after the war and accused her of being a Chinese traitor. But a friend produced family records proving her Japanese origin, saving her from execution. She apologized for her duplicity and was allowed to leave China.

After the war, Yamaguchi appeared in Hollywood productions, including director Sam Fuller’s 1955 film noir “House of Bamboo.” At home, she starred in Akira Kurosawa’s film “Scandal” (“Shûbun”) and other movies before withdrawing from acting.

After her first marriage to Japanese American sculptor Isamu Noguchi ended in the mid-1950s, Yamaguchi married Hiroshi Ohtaka, who was Japan’s ambassador to Burma, also known as Myanmar, and occasionally appeared on television. In 1974, she was elected to parliament’s Upper House as a member of the governing Liberal Democratic Party and served until 1992. She was among the contributors to a private atonement fund for Asian “comfort women” used as prostitutes for Japan’s wartime military.


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Yoshiko Yamaguchi, Japanese film star in the 1940s and '50s, dies at 94
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