|Chinese name||李香蘭 (traditional)|
|Chinese name||李香兰 (simplified)|
|Pinyin||Lǐ Xiānglán (Mandarin)|
|Birth name||Yoshiko Yamaguchi|
|Ancestry||Kishima District, Saga, Japan|
12 February 1920|
|Died||7 September 2014
|Other name(s)||Yoshiko Ōtaka (大鷹 淑子)
Pan Shuhua (潘淑華)
|Spouse(s)||Isamu Noguchi (1951–1956)
Hiroshi Otaka (1958–2001)
|Parents||Fumio Yamaguchi (山口 文雄)
Ai Yamaguchi (山口 アイ)
Yoshiko Yamaguchi (12 February 1920 – 7 September 2014) was a Chinese-born Japanese actress and singer who made a career in China, Japan, Hong Kong, and the United States. Early in her career, she played a Chinese woman and used the stage name Li Xianglan, rendered in Japanese as Ri Kōran. This allowed her to represent China in Japanese propaganda movies. After the war, she appeared in Japanese movies under her real name, as well as in several English-language movies under the stage name Shirley Yamaguchi. She was elected as a member of the Japanese parliament in the 1970s and served for 18 years. After retiring from politics, she served as vice president of the Asian Women's Fund.
Fumio Yamaguchi was an employee of the South Manchuria Railway. From an early age, Yoshiko was exposed to Mandarin Chinese. Fumio Yamaguchi had some influential Chinese acquaintances, among whom were Li Jichun (李際春) and Pan Yugui (潘毓桂). By Chinese custom for those who became sworn brothers, they also became Yoshiko's "godfathers" and bestowed upon her two Chinese names, Li Xianglan (Li Hsiang-lan) and Pan Shuhua (潘淑華). ("Shu" in Shuhua and "Yoshi" in Yoshiko are written with the same Chinese character). Yoshiko later used the former name as a stage name and assumed the latter name while she was staying with the Pan family in Beijing.
As a youth Yoshiko suffered a bout of tuberculosis. In order to strengthen her breathing, the doctor recommended voice lessons. Her father initially insisted on traditional Japanese music, but Yoshiko preferred Western music and thus received her initial classical vocal education from an Italian dramatic soprano (Madame Podresov, married into White Russian nobility). She later received schooling in Beijing, polishing her Mandarin, accommodated by the Pan family. She is a coloratura soprano.
Career in China
Yoshiko made her debut as an actress and singer in the 1938 film Honeymoon Express 蜜月快車, by Manchuria Film Production. She was billed as Li Xianglan, pronounced Ri Kōran in Japanese. The adoption of a Chinese stage name was prompted by the film company's economic and political motives—a Manchurian girl who had command over both the Japanese and Chinese languages was sought after. From this she rose to be a star and Japan-Manchuria Goodwill Ambassadress (日満親善大使). Though in her subsequent films she was almost exclusively billed as Li Xianglan, she appeared in a few as "Yamaguchi Yoshiko." Many of her films bore some degree of promotion of the Japanese national policy (in particular pertaining to the Greater East Asia Co-prosperity Sphere ideology) and can be termed "National Policy Films" (国策映画).
The 1940 film China Nights (支那の夜) also known as Shanghai Nights (上海の夜), by Manchuria Film Productions, is especially controversial. It is unclear whether it was a "National Policy Film" and portrays Japanese soldiers in both good and bad lights. In this film, Li Xianglan portrayed a young woman of extreme anti-Japanese sentiment who came to fall in love with a Japanese man. A key turning point in the film has the young Chinese woman being slapped by the Japanese man, but instead of hatred, she reacts with gratitude. The film was met with great aversion among the Chinese audience as they believed that the Chinese female character was a sketch of debasement and inferiority. 23,000 Chinese people paid to see the film in 1943. But after the war one of her classic songs, "Suzhou Serenade" (蘇州夜曲), was banned in China and continues to be. A few years later when confronted by angry Chinese reporters in Shanghai, Yoshiko apologized and cited as pretext her inexperienced youth at the time of filmmaking, choosing not to reveal her Japanese identity. Though her Japanese nationality was never divulged in the Chinese media until after the Sino-Japanese War, it was brought to light by Japanese press when she performed in Japan under her assumed Chinese name and as the Japan-Manchuria Goodwill Ambassadress. Oddly enough, when she visited Japan during this period, she was criticized for being too Chinese in dress and in language.
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In 1943, Yoshiko appeared in the film Eternity (萬世流芳). The film was shot in Shanghai commemorating the centennial of the Opium War. A few top Chinese stars in Shanghai also appeared in the film and consequently endured the repercussion of controversy. Though the film, anti-British in nature, was a collaboration between Chinese and Japanese film companies, its anti-colonization undertone might also be interpreted as a satire of the Japanese expansion in east Asia. Despite all this, the film was a hit and Yoshiko became a national sensation. Her film theme songs with jazz/pop-like arrangements such as "Candy-Peddling Song" (賣糖歌) and "Quitting (opium) Song" (戒煙歌) elevated her status to among the top singers in all Chinese-speaking regions in Asia overnight. Many songs recorded by Yoshiko during her Shanghai period became classics in Chinese popular music history. Other noteworthy hits include "Tuberoses"/"Fragrance of the Night" (夜來香), "Ocean Bird" (海燕), "If Only" (恨不相逢未嫁時), and "Second Dream" (第二夢). By the 1940s, she had become one of the Seven great singing stars.
Japan, United States, and Hong Kong
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At the end of World War II she was arrested by the Chinese government for treason and collaboration with the Japanese. After her childhood Russian friend helped locate Yamaguchi's Japanese birth certificate, she was cleared of all charges, and possibly the death penalty, since she was not a Chinese national after all. Before long in 1946, she resettled in Japan and launched a new acting career there under the name Yoshiko Yamaguchi, working with directors such as Akira Kurosawa. Several of her post-war films cast her in parts that dealt either directly or indirectly with her wartime persona as a bilingual/bicultural performer. For example in 1949, Shin-Toho studios produced Repatriation (帰国「ダモイ」), an omnibus film which told four stories about the struggles of Japanese trying to return to Japan from the Soviet Union after having been taken prisoners after the defeat. The following year, Yamaguchi starred with actor Ryo Ikebe in Escape at Dawn (暁の脱走) produced by Toho and based on the novel Shunpuden (春婦伝). In the book, her character was a prostitute in a military brothel, but for this film her character was rewritten as a frontline entertainer who falls into a tragic affair with a deserter (Ikebe). In 1952, Yamaguchi appeared in Woman of Shanghai (上海の女)in which she reprised her pre-war persona as a Japanese woman, passing for Chinese, who becomes caught between the two cultures.
In the 1950s she established her acting career as Shirley Yamaguchi in Hollywood and on Broadway (in the short-lived musical "Shangri-La") in the U.S. She married renowned Japanese American sculptor Isamu Noguchi in 1951. They divorced in 1956. She revived the Li Xianglan name and appeared in several Chinese-language films made in Hong Kong. Some of her 1950s Chinese films were destroyed in a studio fire and have not been seen since their initial releases. Her Mandarin hit songs from this period include "Three Years" (三年), "Plum Blossom" (梅花), "Childhood Times" (小時候), "Only You" (只有你), and "Heart Song" (心曲 – a cover of "Eternally"). She then returned to Japan and after retiring from the world of film in 1958, she appeared as a hostess and anchorwoman on TV talk shows. As a result of her marriage to the Japanese diplomat Hiroshi Ōtaka, she lived for a while in Myanmar. They remained married until his death in 2001.
In 1974, she was elected to the House of Councillors (the upper House of the Japanese parliament), where she served for 18 years (three terms). She co-authored the book, Ri Kōran, Watashi no Hansei (Half My Life as Ri Kōran). She served as a Vice-President of the Asian Women’s Fund. As part of the 1993 autumn honours list, she was decorated with the Gold and Silver Star of the Order of the Sacred Treasure, Second Class.
Ōtaka was considered by many Chinese in the post-World War II period to be a Japanese spy and thus a traitor to the Chinese people. This misconception was caused in part by Ōtaka passing herself off as Chinese throughout the 1930s and 1940s. Her Japanese identity was not officially revealed until her post-war persecution nearly led to her execution as a Chinese traitor. She had always expressed her guilt for taking part in Japanese propaganda films in the early days of her acting career. Because of this, she did not visit China for about 20 years after the war, since she felt that the Chinese had not forgiven her. Despite her controversial past, Li Xianglan influenced future singers who covered her evergreen hits (such as Teresa Teng, Fei Yu-Ching, and Winnie Wei 韋秀嫻). Hong Kong superstar Jacky Cheung wrote a hit Cantonese song bearing her name, "Lei Hoeng Laan."
Ōtaka was one of the first prominent Japanese citizens to acknowledge the history of Japanese brutality during the wartime occupation. She later campaigned for greater public awareness of that history and advocated paying reparations to so-called comfort women, Korean women who were forced into sex slavery by the Japanese military during the war.
A recording of a 1950 concert performance in Sacramento, California was uncovered by a professor from the University of Chicago in 2012. The concert included six songs and was performed to an audience of Japanese-Americans, many of whom had likely been interned during World War II. Speaking in 2012 about the concert, Yamaguchi said: "I sang with hope that I could offer consolation to the Japanese-Americans, as I heard that they had gone through hardships during the war." She died at the age of 94 in Tokyo in 2014.
Other names used as movie actress:
- Li Hsiang-lan
- Li Hsiang Lan
- Ri Kōran
- Li Xiang Lan
- Hsiang-lan Li
- Xianglan Li
- Li Xianglan
- Yoshiko Yamaguchi
|1938||Mi yue kuai che/Honeymoon Express (蜜月快車)||Bride|
|1939||Byakuran no uta/Song of the White Orchid (白蘭の歌)||Li Xue Xiang|
|1940||Vow in the Desert (熱砂の誓い)||Li Fangmei|
|Monkey King (孙悟空)||Oriental Woman|
|China Nights (支那の夜)||Japanese orphan|
|1941||Suzhou Night (蘇州の夜)|
|Kimi to boku (君と僕)|
|Tie xue hui xin (鐵血慧心)|
|1942||Ying chun hua (迎春花)|
|1943||Chikai no gassho (誓ひの合唱)|
|Sayon's Bell (サヨンの鐘)||Sayon|
|Fighting Street (戦ひの街)|
|1944||Yasen gungakutai (野戦軍楽隊)||Ai Ran|
|Watashi no uguisu (私の鶯)|
|Noroshi wa Shanghai ni agaru||Yu Ying|
|1948||The Bright Day of My Life (わが生涯のかゞやける日)|
|Koun no isu|
|Human Patterns (人間模样)|
|Shooting Star (流星)|
|1950||Scandal/Shubun (醜聞)||Miyako Saijo 西条美也子|
|Escape at Dawn (暁の脱走)||Harumi|
|Women's Fashion (女の流行)|
|1952||Fuun senryobune (風雲千両船)|
|Woman of Shanghai (上海の女)||Li Lili (Singer)|
|Sword for Hire (戦国無賴)||Oryo|
|Japanese War Bride||Tae Shimizu|
|1953||The Last Embrace (擁抱)||Yukiko Nogami|
|1954||The United States Steel Hour||Presento|
|1955||House of Bamboo||Mariko|
|Jin ping mei (金瓶梅)||Pan Jinlian|
|The Red Skelton Hour||Guest vocalist|
|1956||The Legend of the White Serpent (白蛇傳)||Madam White|
|1957||The Lady of Mystery (神秘美人)|
|Robert Montgomery Presents (The Enemy)||Hana|
|1958||The Unforgettable Night (一夜風流)||Ge Qiuxia|
|A Holiday in Tokyo (東京假日)||May Kawaguchi|
|Ankoru watto monogatari utsukushiki aishu (美しき哀愁 アンコール・ワット物語)|
In the media
Movies about her
- Fuji Television made a TV movie, Sayonara Ri Kōran, starring Yasuko Sawaguchi in 1989, as a special project to mark the company's 30th anniversary.
- A two-part TV movie, Ri Kōran, starring Aya Ueto was made in 2006. It was broadcast in Japan by TV Tokyo on February 11 and 12, 2007.
- Japanese film-maker Hirokazu Koreeda is planning a feature film based on her story.
- The novel The China Lover (2008) by Ian Buruma is a fictionalized account of her life.
- A Japanese musical based on her life was produced by the Shiki Theatre Company.[when?]
- 大鷹淑子副理事長に聞く「21世紀のいま、若い人々に伝えたいこと」 Asian Women's Fund
- Baskett 2008, pp. 77–79
- 映画旬報」昭和18年6月1日号 20・21p 中国人の鑑識眼 野口久光
- Baskett 2008, pp. 79–82
- Baskett 2008, pp. 69–70
- "Bai Guang". Baidu. Retrieved April 28, 2007.
- Baskett 2008, pp. 142–144
- Stephenson, Shelley (January 1, 2002). "A Star By Any Other Name: The (After) Lives of Li Xianglan". Quarterly Review of Film and Video 19.
- Interview with Ri Kōran by Tanaka, et al. "Looking Back on My Days as Ri Kōran (Li Xianglan)" on ZNet (Zmag.org) January 26, 2005. Article appeared in Sekai, September 2003, pp.171–75.
- Vitello, Paul (September 22, 2014), Yoshiko Yamaguchi, 94, Actress in Propaganda Films, The New York Times
- "Recording of Japanese actress Yoshiko Yamaguchi's 1950 U.S. concert uncovered". Mainichi Shimbun. August 18, 2012. Retrieved September 4, 2012.
- "山口淑子さん死去＝女優「李香蘭」、政治家として活躍－９４歳" [Yoshiko Ōtaka / Li Xianglan dies at 94] (in Japanese). Jiji Press. 14 September 2014. Retrieved 2014-09-14.
- Hadfield, James (29 July 2009). "The China Lover". Retrieved 16 January 2013.
Baskett, Michael (2008). The Attractive Empire: Transnational Film Culture in Imperial Japan. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press. ISBN 978-0-8248-3223-0.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Shirley Yamaguchi.|
- Shirley Yamaguchi at the Internet Movie Database
- Yamaguchi Yoshiko at the Japanese Movie Database (Japanese)