Machiko Kyo: ‘Rashomon’ & ‘Ugetsu’ actress has died
Machiko Kyo, who reached the peak of her international fame in the 1950s as the leading lady in classics such as Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon and Kenji Mizoguchi’s Ugetsu, died of heart failure at a Tokyo hospital on May 12. Kyo (born in Osaka on March 25, 1924) was 95.
Following its World War II defeat, Japan was in ruins. Even so, its film industry underwent a surprisingly fast rebirth. Along with Toshiro Mifune, Masayuki Mori, Takashi Shimura, and several others, Machiko Kyo was at the forefront of Japanese actors gaining international attention during that period.
She was the traveling woman whose samurai husband (Masayuki Mori) is killed by a road thief (Toshiro Mifune) – or was he? – in Akira Kurosawa’s 1950 classic Rashomon, which offers different versions of the same event. The winner of the Venice Film Festival’s Golden Lion, Rashomon went on to receive one of the first Honorary Academy Awards for a film not in the English language.
Nearly seven decades after its release, Rashomon remains one of the best-known and most widely admired cinema classics. And Kyo’s fantastic performance is a key reason for the film’s effectiveness. (A 1964 Hollywood remake with a Western setting, The Outrage, was dismissed by critics. Martin Ritt directed Paul Newman, Claire Bloom, and Laurence Harvey.)
‘Ugetsu’ & ‘Gate of Hell’
Three years after Rashomon, Machiko Kyo and Masayuki Mori were reunited in Kenji Mizoguchi’s Ugetsu, a period ghost story set in late-16th-century Japan, when the country was enmeshed in civil strife.
Winner of the Venice Film Festival’s Silver Lion, Ugetsu was considered one of the Top Ten movies ever made by the British-based Sight & Sound magazine in 1962 and 1972. (And as evidence that such lists aren’t to be taken too seriously, Ugetsu has been gone from the list ever since having its “Japanese slot” taken by another 1953 release: Yasujiro Ozu’s Tokyo Story.)
Machiko Kyo’s third major Japanese release of the 1950s was Teinosuke Kinugasa’s 1954 period drama Gate of Hell, winner of the Cannes Film Festival’s Grand Prize, in addition to an Honorary Oscar and the New York Film Critics Circle’s Best Foreign Language Film award.
Set during the Heiji Rebellion of the mid-12th century, Gate of Hell has Kyo as a lady-in-waiting rescued by a samurai (Kazuo Hasegawa) who expects to marry her – the problem is, she has already got a husband (Isao Yamagata). In Double Indemnity and The Postman Always Rings Twice fashion, the couple decide to get rid of him. But will the plot work out as planned?
‘The Teahouse of the August Moon’
At the the height of her fame, Machiko Kyo landed the female lead role in a major Hollywood production: Daniel Mann’s 1956 Okinawa-set comedy-drama The Teahouse of the August Moon, based on John Patrick’s 1953 Pulitzer Prize- and Tony Award-winning play, and starring two of the biggest box office names of the decade: Marlon Brando, as a smart-ass Japanese interpreter, and Glenn Ford, as a U.S. captain sent to the war-scarred country to help build a school in The American Way.
The locals, as the captain is about to discover, don’t want to be Americanized; they want a teahouse instead. Kyo plays a cute geisha known as Lotus Blossom.
A major box office hit for distributor Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, The Teahouse of the August Moon netted the studio $8.92 in worldwide rentals. Curiously, this would remain Machiko Kyo’s sole appearance in a non-Japanese film production.
Japanese career honors
In Japan, Kyo would remain active on television and the stage into her 80s. In 1987, she was awarded the Medal with Purple Ribbon. Seven years later, she was honored with the Order of the Precious Crown. And two years ago, she was given a belated award of merit at the Japanese Academy Awards.
According to online sources, Machiko Kyo never married, having enjoyed a well-publicized relationship with Masaichi Nagata, president of the film company Daiei.
Please check back later. This Machiko Kyo post will be expanded in the not-too-distant future.