Isuzu Yamada in Sisters of the Gion (1936)

Isuzu Yamada, one of the most renowned actresses in Japanese cinema history, passed away on July 9, 2012. She was 95.

Her memorable screen performance includes Mizoguchi’s “Osaka Elegy”, Naruse’s “Nagareru” and Kurowsawa’s “Thone of Blood”, to name the few. She started her career in her teens in Nikkatsu and was recognized quickly for superb acting skills. Her portrayal of damaged, rebellious teenage mistress and Geisha in Mizoguchi’s “Osaka Elegy” and “Sisters of the Gion” was breakthrough in prewar Japanese cinema, and boosted both Mizoguchi’s and Yamada’s careers. Before WWII, she was a top star at Toho, starring in many popular star vehicles.

While the contemporary of Setsuko Hara, she is best remembered for three pivotal Kurosawa’s films; “The Lower Depths”, “The Throne of Blood” and “Yojimbo”. In later years, she shifted her field to popular Jidaigeki on TV and traditional dramas on stages. She received Order of Culture in 2000 (first ever as an actress).

I am always sucked into magic of her performance, either in Kurosawa’s masterpieces, in early Mizoguchis or lesser-known gem by Chiba. Many people remember her as “extravagantly urbane” women roles, but if you examine closely, her performance is nuanced yet powerful. Even that (in)famous speech at the end of “Sisters of the Gion” is saved by her delicately balanced delivery, just enough dose of emotion.

Which is your favorite Yamada’s performance?

Isuzu Yamada seleted filmography

Osaka Elegy (浪華悲歌, Naniwa erejii) (1936)
Sisters of the Gion (祇園の姉妹, Gion no kyōdai) (1936)
Nagareru (Flowing) (流れる) (1956)
Throne of Blood (蜘蛛巣城, Kumonosu-jō) (1957)
Tokyo Twilight (東京暮色, Tōkyō boshoku) (1957)
The Lower Depths (どん底, Donzoko) (1957)
Yojimbo (用心棒, Yōjinbō) (1961)