Eiga Stars: Portraits of Japanese Divas in 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’s entry showcases images from the library’s rare holdings of Japanese film magazines from the 1950s and 1960s, in honor of our Japanese Divas series.

TanakaCovers_jpg Kinuyo Tanaka, Eiga Star, June 1950; Tanaka, Eiga Fan, Sept 1950

The Japanese film-going public was as movie mad as any of their counterparts in the U.S., England, or France., with a healthy film publications industry that rivaled any other. According to the 1937 Cinema Yearbook of Japan, over fifty film-specific magazines were being published every year, each categorized into various sub-groups such as “Magazines for Businesses,” “Magazines for Education,” or “Magazines for Amusement,” (with the latter further separated by target audiences including “the educated class,” “young people,” and “cine-investigators.” ) Some titles, like the scholarly Eiga Hyoron (Film Critic) or Eiga Bunka (Film Culture), were targeted at Japan’s growing film-studies movement, while others, like the venerated Kinema Jumpo (Motion Picture Times), combined aesthetic scholarship, director profiles, trade news, and even technical and educational articles.

HaraDrawingCover_Romance_jpg A cartoon Setsuko Hara, Romance, 1951 or 1952

Takamine_Cover_EigaFan_jpg Hideko Takamine, Eiga Fan, 1950s

Our focus, however, is on Japan’s colorful fan-culture magazines like Kindai Eiga, Eiga Fan, and Eiga Star, which drew inspiration from such Hollywood publications as Movie Story or Screen Romances for their personality pieces, gossip-fueled editorials, and star-laden photo shoots of various actors and actresses engaged in a seemingly endless modern-world whirlwind of badminton games, race-car driving, acoustic-guitar playing, and “household chores.” Unlike many of their more breathless Hollywood counterparts, however, a certain decorum reigned supreme, with surprisingly little rudeness and few tasteless personality attacks.

Kyo Color Bird Cover_Heibon_1951_jpg Machiko Kyo and friends, Heibon, April 1951

Ayako Wakao, Kindai Eiga, May 1958

“Even though they are aimed at persons who lack a serious interest in the cinema, they do not cater to that moron level to which American fan magazines appeal.” —Joseph L. Anderson, in a 1955 article on Japanese film periodicals.

Hara_Calendar_Kindai_Eiga_1951_jpg Setsuko Hara, in a pull-out calendar from Kindai Eiga, October 1951

Many of the magazines even featured color pull-out calendars of various stars. Others began with glossy, well-staged portraits of individual actors or actresses, before diving into hundreds of pages worth of articles, interviews, and gossip. Most were roughly 140-150 pages per issue, with twelve issues a year.

HaraAtHome_EigaFan_1951_jpg Just a normal day in the life of Setsuko Hara: knitting, sweeping, pondering, pointing. From Eiga Fan, February 1951

Setsuko Hara doing laundry, Eiga Star, 1951

More than simple profiles and photos, of course, fan magazines were an integral part of creating and defining a star’s personality. Studios worked hand-in-hand with the magazines to make sure that the pictured “offscreen life of stars” (or the version found in magazines) was tailored to specific onscreen personas. Setsuko Hara, Japan’s “Eternal Virgin” known for her portrayal of becalmed, stoic daughters and mothers and her roles in many Yasujiro Ozu films (including Late Spring and Early Summer), was often depicted accomplishing household chores with a smile (see the spread above).

Modern girl Hideko Takamine busy enjoying cigarettes and reclining, Eiga Fan, March 1950

Takamine Color Balloons_no_jpg
Hideko Takamine playing with balloons, Eiga Fan, 1950s

Hideko Takamine, on the other hand, who began as a child star, was a woman of many photo shoots, befitting both her cinematic range and her reputation as the modern face of Japan. Onscreen she could be a country-girl—turned-Tokyo stripper (Carmen Comes Home) or an idealistic teacher during the War (Twenty-Four Eyes); offscreen she could be seen smoking in a fetching plaid blazer in one spread, then bedecked in a traditional kimono in the next.

A risqué Machiko Kyo, Eiga Fan, November 1957

About as far from Setsuko Hara as possible was Machiko Kyo, who became Japan’s best-known actress abroad thanks to her roles in Rashomon and Ugetsu. Ironically, it was her risqué modern-day roles, not her costume dramas, that made Kyo’s reputation; roles such as the Americanized prostitute in Mizoguchi’s Street of Shame and the knocked-up, unmarried sister who returns home in Naruse’s Older Brother, Younger Sister solidified her sex-symbol status.

Kyo Swim_Kindai_jpg Machiko Kyo in swimsuit, Kindai Eiga, September 1954

“She was the first star to be built on a glamour and sex-appeal campaign, her body being featured more than her face,” noted Donald Richie in the seminal The Japanese Film.

Kinuyo Tanaka, Eiga Fan, April 1950

Takamine Tanaka_Eiga_Star_1950_jpg Tanaka with Hideko Takamine, Eiga Star, June 1950

One of the few performers able to maintain a fan-magazine presence even after her twenties (fan magazine readers were, and are, a notoriously ageist bunch), Kinuyo Tanaka was Japan’s biggest female star of the 1930s, and in the 1950s was not only continuing to act, but had even transitioned into the director’s chair (becoming only Japan’s second female director). Elegant, classy, and refined, Tanaka’s appearances in magazines continued through the 1950s.

A young Ayako Wakao, Eiga Fan, 1950s

By the 1960s, actresses such as Takamine, Hara, and Kyo were rapidly disappearing from the fan magazines, replaced by a new generation of stars. One of the brightest was Ayako Wakao, whose career began in the late 1950s with a succession of similarly inoffensive roles, described by Donald Richie in Japanese Film as that of “the brainless young ingenue.”

An older, more elegant Ayako Wakao at home, Kindai Eiga, March 1961

Her career took a turn towards darker, more challenging waters through her collaborations with Yasuzo Masumura such as A Wife Confesses and Seisaku’s Wife. By the midsixties, however, fan magazines were entirely focused on the young and the younger, with star such as Hibari Misora, Ruriko Asaoka, and Sayuri Yoshinaga (and boys like Yuzo Kayama, Yukio Hashi, and Mitsuo Hanada) filling the pages.

As the Japanese Divas series continues, we’ll bring you further blog entries spotlighting the individual actresses—Kyo, Hara, Takamine, Tanaka, and Wakao—with more details on their careers and even more images from our collection of Japanese fan magazines. All the 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 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 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 their support that the library can offer such rare material.