Eiga Stars IV: Hideko Takamine

Jason Sanders


Our Eiga Stars: Portraits of Japanese Divas in Fan Magazines of the 1950s continues with a look at Hideko Takamine, former child star, muse of Kinoshita and Naruse, and “always, to the Japanese movie-going public, completely representative of both their problems and their hopes” (Donald Richie). Our Japanese Divas series continues this Saturday night with screenings of two key (and very disparate) Takamine works, Carmen Comes Home and When A Woman Ascends the Stairs.

Takamine Color Balloons_no_jpg

Born in Hokkaido in 1924, Takamine was introduced to film by her aunt and uncle, who were both professional benshi (silent film narrators). Touring Shochiku studios one day in 1929, they volunteered the five-year-old Hideko for an impromptu audition, and she was hired on the spot. “Hideko entered films at a time when a truly pathetic child could go far,” wrote Phyllis Birnbaum in her excellent 1990 New Yorker profile. Cute and wide-eyed, but surprisingly spunky and self-assured, she soon became Japan’s most popular child star as she smiled, battled, and wept for her (usually dead) mother through an assortment of melodramatic plots. Takamine_Young_KindaiEiga_1953_06blook.jpg An image from an early Takamine film, from a special June 1953 Kindai Eiga career retrospective pull-out.

Having already appeared in nearly a hundred films, Takamine successfully made the transition from child star to full-fledged actress in the postwar era. “She became a genuine movie aidoru (idol) at this time, because she helped distract her audiences from the distress of facing Japan’s defeat, erratic food supplies, and the oversized Occupation soldiers in their mist,” wrote Birnbaum.

TakamineBlueColor_EigaFan_1950_04blook.jpg Eiga Fan, April 1950

“An actress of great versatility, the role Takamine most often takes is that of the average neurotic Japanese girl beset by the many difficulties which face the average neurotic Japanese girl….Always, to the movie-going public, she is completely representative of both their problems and their hopes.”—Donald Richie and Joseph Anderson, The Japanese Film.

TakaminePink_EigaFan_1951_02blook.jpg Eiga Fan, February 1951

“She was as much a part of postwar Japan as the strange-tasting powdered milk distributed by the American military.”—Birnbaum

Kindai Eiga, June 1952 cover

Takamine dominated Japanese film-magazine culture of the fifties; magazines seemed unable to be published without at least one Takamine spread or profile. Her dizzying variety of appearances solidified her status as the main symbol of Japanese postwar femininity, and as a vehicle of choice for promoting not only new films or new fashions, but new lifestyles….

TakamineSwim_EigaFan_1950_09blook.png Hitting the beach, September 1950 Eiga Fan

Takamine Bride_Eiga_Star_1950_6blook.jpg
June 1950 Eiga Star

TakamineHome_EigaFan_1953_05blook.jpg At home with Hideko, May 1953 Eiga Fan

TakamineKimono_EigaFan_1954_01blook.jpg A more traditional “Deko-chan,” January 1954 Eiga Fan

TakamineWedding_KindaiEiga_1951_06blook.jpg June 1951 Kindai Eiga

“In particular, Takamine’s hearty appetite threatened to disrupt the decorum of austere Japanese sitting rooms, in which she looked as if she might at any moment help herself to double portions of rice or seaweed-covered crackers.”—Birnbaum TakamineOctopus_KindaiEiga_1952_06blook.jpg June 1952 Kindai Eiga

TakamineCarmen_EigaFan_1951_02blook.jpg Takamine modeling her outfits from the musical comedy Carmen Comes Home, February 1951 Eiga Fan

TakamineHatGloves_EigaStar_1950blook.jpg Eiga Star 1950

A 1951 trip to Paris enabled Takamine to take a break from the demands of stardom and acting, which she found binding. “Every time I finished a film, I would feel that being an actress was a hateful occupation,” she wrote. Her relationship with her aunt (who had adopted her after her mother passed away, and pushed her through a childhood acting career without any breaks) was similarly conflicted.

TakamineKnitting_Kindai_Eiga_1954_2blook.jpg February 1954 Kindai Eiga

In 1955 Takamine married Zenzo Matsuyama, an assistant director to Kinoshita and later a prominent screenwriter and director. Breaking with the traditions of the time, Takamine vowed to continue her own career rather than retire into dutiful housewifery (especially, she joked, after realizing how little money Matsuyama made). She continued acting until she retired in 1979.

Takamine_KindaiEiga_1951blook.jpg Kindai Eiga 1951

In Takamine’s later years, she became a successful essayist and writer, discussing such subjects as travel, cooking, and her own life. To accompany her first book of memoirs, Alone in Paris (about her Paris sojourn), she later published her autobiography My Professional Diary (1976), where she delved further into her own complicated relationships with fame, cinema (her outspoken comments on figures such as Kurosawa, Ozu, and Naruse are the stuff of legend), and her family. She passed away in December 2010, at the age of 86, leaving behind a legacy of nearly 200 films.


Kinema Jumpo, 1955

As part of our Divas series, we’ll be showing many of her classic films with Kinoshita (Twenty-four Eyes; Carmen Comes Home; Immortal Love) and Naruse (When a Woman Ascends the Stairs).

*Some further web profiles of Takamine…. *

Chris Fujiwara

The Self-Styled Siren on Takamine

Ron Holloway

Catherine Russell’s “Three Japanese Actresses of the 1950s”

Dave Kehr’s obituary from the NYT