Eiga Stars: Machiko Kyo in Japanese Film-fan Magazines of the 1950s

Jason Sanders


Periodically Blook will be featuring blog entries drawn from the PFA Library and Film Study Center’s exceptional collection of film-related magazines, press kits, and ephemera. Today we continue our Japanese Divas-related series, which showcases images from the library’s rare holdings of 1950s Japanese film magazines, with a spotlight on Machiko Kyo, the first Japanese actress to gain international fame.

Born in Osaka in 1925, Machiko Kyo supported her divorced mother by working as a preteen dancer in Osaka’s famed Nihon Kagekidan troupe (an all-girls song-and-dance theater company), and later as a showgirl in Tokyo (where she was billed as “the girl with the perfect legs”). In 1949 she was discovered by a Daiei Studios scout, and promptly signed to a contract. Less than a year later, she would star in Rashomon.


Eiga Fan, October 1952

As discussed in our first post, Kyo was one of the first Japanese actresses to be marketed as a Hollywood-style pin-up, with emphasis placed on her body, dancer’s legs, and overt sensuality. This went against the grain of the traditional ways that studios had marketed their emerging starlets, who normally “had been typed as typical, gentle, sweet home-bodies” (Donald Richie). Kyo_PinUp_EigaStar_1950jpgblook.jpg
Eiga Star, 1950

Studios knew that endless shots of bare legs and seductive poses were bound to alienate some fans, however, so they also took care to position Kyo in more traditionally feminine ways.

Kyo Color_Kindai_Eiga_1952_4blook.jpg Kindai Eiga, April 1952

KyoElegantColor_EigaFan_1952_07blook.jpg Eiga Fan, July 1952

Kyo’s more modern, glamorous look also meshed with her increasing profile in the West. In 1953, Daiei Studios kingpin Masaichi Nagata (who had turned Kyo into a pin-up sensation) launched an unheard-of plan to export Japanese cinema to the world, at a time when international film distribution was just starting to re-emerge. Teaming with American distributor Edward Harrison, he released three films—Rashomon, Ugetsu, and Gate of Hell (Jigokumon)—in the U.S. All three became sensations in America, as well as cornerstones of film history—and all three starred Kyo.

KyoGlamour_KindaiEiga_1952_03blook.jpg The various styles of a modern woman of the world; Kindai Eiga, March 1952

A 1955 U.S. publicity tour rocketed Kyo into sudden international stardom. Reporters compared her to Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell; she was spotlighted in a glowing Life Magazine profile, and Mademoiselle magazine even named her one of the “seven great women of the world.”

Kyo Color 2_Kindai_Eiga_1954_10blook.jpg Kindai Eiga, October 1954

“Miss Kyo likes to fish and looks quite attractive in blue jeans,” helpfully noted one New York Times writer. “When reporters asked her today to hike up her kimono for a cheesecake picture,” noted another, “she replied, ‘Kimonos are not to be pulled up.’”

In 1956 she appeared in one of her most defining roles, as the Americanized, gum-chewing prostitute of Mizoguchi’s Street of Shame. The film was also distributed in the U.S, marketed as “a jolting story of Tokyo’s love-for-sale girls!” and complete with a lead image of a prone man leering up at a pair of legs. “ADULTS ONLY!! AUDIENCES WILL BE STUNNED,” screamed the ads (“…by the film’s unblinking realism,” they concluded, in a much smaller font). (See the original press kit in Cinefiles).
Kyo_StreetShame_EigaFan_1956_05blook.jpg Street of Shame article; Eiga Fan, May 1956

Kyo’s U.S. press tours led to a starring role in MGM’s Japan-set comedy Teahouse of the August Moon, where Kyo played a sassy geisha trying to work over an affably clueless American army captain (Glenn Ford). Marlon Brando co-starred as, rather dubiously, the captain’s Okinawan interpreter. This lengthy Eiga Fan article brings readers behind the scenes of the film’s press events. KyoFordTeahouse_EigaFan_1950sblook.jpg


Having worked with such directors as Akira Kurosawa, Kenji Mizoguchi, Teinosuke Kinugasa, and Kozaburo Yoshimura through the 1950s, Kyo refined her career in the sixties with challenging roles in such disparate films as Kon Ichikawa’s Odd Obsession, Hiroshi Teshigahara’s The Face of Another, and Yasuzo Masumura’s Thousand Cranes. Her appearances decreased with the bankrupcy of Daiei Studios (her prime employer) in 1971, but in the ensuing decades she branched out to become a successful theater and television star. She currently resides in Tokyo, and is still acclaimed as one of the greatest actresses in Japanese film history. Kyo_KindaiEiga_1956_02blook.jpg

Kindai Eiga, February 1956

All the Archive’s Japanese film magazines are available to look through at the PFA Library and Film Study Center, located in the main BAM/PFA building at 2621 Durant Ave. The Library is open Mon-Thur, 1-5 p.m; access is free of charge to BAM/PFA members and UC affiliates and available to others for a $3/day use fee.

Thanks to Melanie Honma, Michelle Kwon, and Zensuke Omi for helping to process our Japanese fan magazine collection, and to Ian Gill for scanning many of the images. Thanks most of all to all those who have donated their magazine collections and other materials to the PFA Library and Film Study Center through the years, especially the family of Koga Kogyobu and Mrs. Frank Motofuji. It is through such donations that the Library can offer such rare material.