Isuzu Yamada, the famed Japanese actress whose career lasted from 1930 until 2002, passed away on July 9 at age 95. Along with Kinuyo Tanaka (1910-1977), Setsuko Hara (b. 1920), Machiko Kyô (b. 1924) and Hideko Takamine (1924-2010), Ms. Yamada was one of the five major female stars of classic Japanese cinema.
Born February 5, 1917, Yamada made her film debut in 1930 and soon went on to star in a number of Kenji Mizoguchi classics, including The Paper Cranes of Osen (1935), Oyuki the Virgin (1935), Osaka Elegy (1936) (photo seen above), Sisters of the Gion (1936) and The Famous Sword Bijomaru (1945). Yamada became one of the most famous actresses in Japanese cinema, making her name in films like Tsuruhachi and Tsurujiro (1938 – Mikio Naruse), The Song Lantern (1943 – Naruse), Flowing (1956 – Naruse), Throne of Blood (1957 – Akira Kurosawa), Tokyo Twilight (1957 – Yasujirô Ozu), The Lower Depths (1957 – Kurosawa), Bonchi (1960 – Kon Ichikawa), Daredevil in the Castle (1961 – Hiroshi Inagaki), Yojimbo (1961 – Kurosawa), Buddha (1961 – Kenji Misumi), and The Shogun’s Samurai (1978 – Kinji Fukasaku).
Ms. Yamada’s films have often popped up in my college film classes. In my Film 101 class, I saw Throne of Blood; in a History of Film class (tracing the 1890s through 1946), I saw Osaka Elegy; in an Asian film class my professor showed Throne of Blood and Yojimbo. Ms. Yamada’s portrayal of Lady Asaji Washizu in Throne of Blood, in which she plays the Japanese version of Lady Macbeth, is impressive in its creepiness.
RIP Isuzu Yamada 1917-2012