Machiko Kyo, an actress who starred in some of the most internationally acclaimed Japanese films of the postwar era, died in Tokyo on Sunday at age 95, her former studio Toho announced Tuesday. The cause of death was heart failure.
Born in Osaka in 1924 as Motoko Yano, she joined the Osaka Shochiku Girls Opera in 1936 and, using the stage name Machiko Kyo, the Daiei studio in 1949. Though viewed by studio boss Masaichi Nagata as a Japanese answer to the voluptuous Hollywood sirens of the era, she first came to attention of the world as the sexually assaulted wife of a murdered samurai in Akira Kurosawa’s “Rashomon” (1950). The winner of the Golden Lion at Venice, the film brought not only Kyo and Kurosawa but also Japanese cinema to the attention of the West.
Kyo followed up with starring roles in Kenji Mizoguchi’s “Ugetsu” (1953) and Teinosuke Kinugasa’s “Gate of Hell” (1953), with the former winning the Venice Silver Lion and the latter the Cannes Palme d’Or. She was a particular favorite of Mizoguchi, who also directed her in “Princess Yang Kwei-fei” (1955) and “Street of Shame” (1956).
Kyo also appeared opposite Marlon Brando in the 1956 cross-cultural comedy “The Teahouse of the August Moon.” Rather than pursue a career in Hollywood, however, Kyo continued to work with Japan’s master directors, including Yasujiro Ozu (“Floating Weeds,” 1959), Kon Ichikawa (“Odd Obsession, 1959) and Hiroshi Teshigahara (“The Face of Another,” 1966).
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After Daiei’s bankruptcy in 1971 she appeared mainly in television dramas and on stage, with her film roles becoming fewer. Following a final stage role in 2006 in a woman-centered version of the classic Chushingura story, she retired from show business.