Japanese songstress Yoshiko Yamaguchi, who posed as Chinese, dies aged 94
Japanese actress and singer Yoshiko “Shirley” Yamaguchi, who was nearly executed in China at the end of the second world war, has died aged 94 after a life as dramatic as her films.
Yamaguchi, who was born to Japanese parents in pre-war Manchuria, where her father worked for the railway, entertained Chinese and Japanese audiences posing as a Chinese under her assumed identity Li Hsiang-lan.
The actress, who formally went by the surname of her late husband and diplomat Hiroshi Otaka, died of heart failure at her home in Tokyo on September 7, her family said yesterday.
“She always stayed home in recent years because of her old age but led a normal life,” a family member said.
Yamaguchi was long regarded as Chinese after making her debut in the 1938 movie Honeymoon Express. Some of her films were seen as pro-Japanese propaganda, including China Nights (1940), in which she starred with Japanese heartthrob Kazuo Hasegawa. She later expressed regret over them.
Arrested after the war as a traitor, she narrowly avoided execution for treason by revealing her Japanese identity to the Chinese court. Her hit songs included Fragrance of the Night and Suzhou Serenade, which was banned on mainland China after the war.
Following her deportation from China in 1946, she relaunched her career in Japan under her birth name, Yoshiko Yamaguchi, and starred in Akira Kurosawa’s Scandal and other films. She also played a leading role in US movies and musicals in the 1950s as Shirley Yamaguchi, including Samuel Fuller’s A House of Bamboo (1955).
From 1974 to 1992 she served as a member of the upper house of parliament for the ruling Liberal Democratic Party.
She was active in promoting relations with China and other Asian countries. One of her concerns was Japanese military brothels, an issue which still strains ties in the region.
Chinese online news outlet The Paper said Yamaguchi had contributed greatly to peace between China and Japan since the 1970s.
“I think songs are something that help shrink boundaries and distances,” Yamaguchi said in 1985. “I myself suffered much as I was trapped in a war between two countries as long as I remember. Therefore I am determined not to tolerate any war.”