Machiko Kyō

Japanese actress Machiko Kyo was a powerful and versatile presence in some the most critically acclaimed and successful films from her country in the 1950s, including Akira Kurosawa's "Rashomon" (1950), "Ugetsu" and "Floating Weeds" (1959). Born Motoko Yano in Osaka, japan, Kyo sought from an early age to become a solo dancer in order to provide financial assistance to her mother, who had raised her, along with her grandmother, after the departure of Kyo's father. In the mid-1930s, she joined the Osaka Shochiku Kagekidan revue, and adopted the stage name Machiko Kyo. In the late 1940s, she was discovered by a scout from Daiei Studios, and brought to the attention of company president Masaichi Nagata, who groomed her for an acting career while also pursuing a romantic relationship with Kyo. Her film career began with a minor role as a witch in the fantasy drama "Hana kurabe tanuki-goten" (1949), but critical praise for her performance in her second film, "Naomi," led to Nagata casting her in Akira Kurosawa's "Rashomon" (1950). The film, about conflicting accounts of a woman's rape and the murder of her husband by bandit Toshiro Mifune, won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival and praise for Kyo's performance, which required her to give four different takes on the incident for each of the recollections. For much of the 1950s, Kyo worked with some of the leading directors of Japan's "Golden Age" of moviemaking: she was the spirit of a deceased noblewoman who brings ruin to a potter's life in Kenji Mizoguchi's "Ugetsu," which won the Silver Lion at Venice, and a lady-in-waiting who sacrificed herself to save her husband in Teinosuke Kinugasa's "Gate of Hell" (1953), which earned both the Palme d'Or from the Cannes Film Festival and an honorary Academy Award. Mizoguchi would cast her in a number of his 1950s-era projects, including the title role in the historical drama "Princess Yang Kwei-Fei" (1955) and as a tough prostitute in "Street of Shame" (1955). The acclaim afforded by these films led to a brief foray to Hollywood, where she played opposite Marlon Brando and Glenn Ford in "The Teahouse of the August Moon" (1956); though she received a Golden Globe nomination for her turn, Kyo decided to remain in Japan, and continued to give notable performances for such acclaimed directors as Yasujiro Ozu ("Floating Weeds"), Kon Ichikawa (the Cannes Jury Prize-winning "Odd Obsession," 1960) and Yukio Mishima, who penned the script for the genre-bending "Kurotokage" ("Black Lizard," 1962). Her output slowed by the mid-1960s, though she remained a staple of high-profile projects, including Hiroshi Teshigahara's New Wave drama "The Face of Another" (1966). When Daiei declared bankruptcy in 1971, Kyo moved into television and stage work. Her appearances grew more sporadic, though she continued to act into her eighth decade. Kyo's final screen appearance came in the 2000 public television series "Haregi, koko ichiban" (NHK), and following stage work in 2006, she retired from acting altogether. Kyo received a lifetime achievement award at the 2017 Japan Academy Prizes; she died two years later, on May 12, 2019, at the age of 95.