×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Japanese Actress Shirley Yamaguchi, Who Starred in ‘House of Bamboo,’ Dies at 94

Chinese-born star had a life that was as dramatic as many of her movies

Yoshiko “Shirley” Yamaguchi, who starred in Japanese WWII pics posing as a Chinese but segued postwar to fame in Japanese and Hollywood films such as Samuel Fuller’s “House of Bamboo,” died at her Tokyo home of heart failure on Sept. 7, her family announced on Sunday. She was 94.

Born in 1920 in Manchuria to Japanese parents, Yamaguchi took the name Li Xianglan (in Japanese “Ri Koran”) to use in her Chinese singing and acting career, presenting herself as a local. Her films, including the 1938 “Honeymoon Express” and the 1940 “China Nights,” made her popular with Chinese audiences, while serving the propaganda purposes of her Japanese backers.

After the war she was tried and nearly executed for treason by a Chinese court, but was repatriated to Japan after her true identity became known. In the early postwar years, this time as Yoshiko Yamaguchi, she built a thriving singing and acting career in Japan.

In Hollywood, where the English-fluent actress was known as Shirley Yamaguchi, she scored major roles in films, television and even a short-lived Broadway play, “Shangri-la.”

Among her credits were Akira Kurosawa’s “Scandal” (1950), King Vidor’s “Japanese War Bride” (1952), Samuel Fuller’s noir classic “House of Bamboo” (1955) and the pioneering Toho and Shaw Brothers co-production “Madame White Snake” (1956), in which she played an ancient snake spirit able to take human form. In Hong Kong she appeared in several now-lost local films, while recording Chinese-language hits.

In 1951 she married Japanese-American sculptor Isamu Noguchi, but the union ended in divorce in 1956. In 1958 she wed Japanese diplomat Hiroshi Otaka and retired from show business. In 1974, she was elected to the House of Councillors, Japan’s upper house, as a member belonging to the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, a post she held until 1992. She also wrote her autobiography, in which she expressed regret for her wartime deceptions, hosted a TV talk show and otherwise maintained a media presence, this time as Yoshiko Otaka.

She penned an autobiography and her dramatic life was fictionalized in Ian Buruma’s novel “The China Lover.” In Japan her life story has inspired a hit musical, TV dramas and a biopic that director Hirokazu Kore’eda is reportedly preparing.

Popular on Variety

More Film

  • Leonardo Dicaprio Once Upon a Time

    Leonardo DiCaprio's Earth Alliance Commits $5 Million to Amazon Fires

    Earth Alliance, an environmental initiative backed by Leonardo DiCaprio, has committed $5 million toward the preservation of the Amazon rain forest following an alarming surge in wildfires. After launching Sunday, the organization’s emergency Amazon Forest Fund is working to support local partners and indigenous communities in their efforts to protect the sensitive habitats within the [...]

  • (from left) Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson)

    Box Office: 'Hobbs & Shaw' Scores $102 Million Debut in China, Nears $600 Million Globally

    Universal’s “Hobbs & Shaw” returned to first place on the international box office charts, thanks to a massive $102 million debut in China. The “Fast & Furious” spinoff, starring Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham, collected another $120 million overseas, boosting its foreign tally to $441 million. “Hobbs & Shaw” is nearing the $600 million mark [...]

  • Angel Has Fallen

    Box Office: 'Angel Has Fallen' Rises to No. 1 With $21 Million Debut

    “Angel Has Fallen,” the third chapter in Lionsgate and Millenium’s action franchise starring Gerard Butler, had a stronger opening weekend than expected, collecting $21.25 million during its first three days of release. Those ticket sales were enough to top domestic box office charts, bumping last weekend’s champ, Universal’s comedy “Good Boys,” to second place. Starring [...]

  • Amanda

    ‘Amanda’ Takes Home Best Int’l Film at 15th Sanfic

    SANTIAGO, Chile    French director Mikhael Hers’ “Amanda” scooped up the Best Int’l Film award Saturday (Aug. 24) at the 15th Santiago Int’l Film Fest (Sanfic), which reported a 20% audience uptick in the past two years and continues to grow its reputation as the most vibrant and prominent film festival in Latin America’s Southern [...]

  • disney d23

    Cruella, Kit Harington and Black Panther's Return: Everything We Learned at D23 Day Two

    Not to be outdone by the avalanche of series orders and casting announcements bolstering the new streaming series Disney Plus, Walt Disney Studios showed off its film wares in a marathon presentation at D23 on Saturday. The Anaheim, Calif. expo brought star power, if perhaps fewer surprises than Friday’s presentation, as fans in princess and [...]

  • Harvey Weinstein, Katie Holmes, Taylor Swift'The

    Taylor Swift Downplays Association With Harvey Weinstein

    Taylor Swift’s association with disgraced movie mogul Harvey Weinstein was among the topics the singer addressed in a revealing new interview with The Guardian. Weinstein held producer credits for the movies “One Chance” and “The Giver,” both of which featured Swift — in the former, a song, and in the latter, a supporting role. She [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content