Nationality: Japanese. Born: Mitsu Yamada in Osaka, 5 February 1917; daughter of the actor Kusuo Yamada. Education: Began studying dance, singing ( samisen ), and narration ( kiyomoto ) in 1922, license in kiyomoto , 1927. Family: Married 1) the actor Ichiro Tsukida, 1935 (divorced 1942), daughter: the actress Michiko Saga; 2) the producer Kazuo Takimura, 1942 (divorced); 3) the actor Shotaro Hanayagi, 1943 (divorced); 4) the director Teinosuke Kinugasa (divorced); 5) the actor Yoshi Kato, 1950 (divorced 1954); one additional marriage. Career: 1930—joined the Nikkatsu Studio, and studied with the director Kunio Watanabe; film debut in Tsurugi o koete ; established her reputation as an actress during the next decade with films from the Nikkatsu Studio, the Daiichi Company, 1934–36, Shinko Kinema, 1936–38, Toho studio, 1938–46, and Shin-Toho studio, 1947; 1931—stage debut; 1951—joined the leftist Mingei theater group, and later co-founded the Gendai Haiyu Kyokai theater group with Kato; 1957—international recognition for role in Kurosawa's Throne of Blood ; active in television after 1957, and concentrated on stage work after 1964. Awards: Many Japanese prizes for both film and stage acting.
Tsurugi o koete (Watanabe) (as Okayo); Dai-Chushingura (Ikeda) (as Hinagiku); Fuun tenman-zoshi ; Suronin Chuya (Ito) (as Yae); Udeippon (Watanabe); Kyoen koigassen (Watanabe); Koiguruma (Watanabe); Koi moyo ; Sakanaka ronin ; Nigeyuku Kodenji (Itami); Kobo Shinsen-gumi: Zen-shi, Ko-shi (Ito); Sarutobi Sasuke ; Tadanao-kyo gyojo-ki (as Matsue)
Edo bishonen-roku ; Onai goju-ryo ; Edokko ichiba ; Mabuta no haha (Inagaki) (as Otoyo); Tabi no hito ; Araki Mataemon ; Ohitsu oharetsu Somekawa Shohachi ; Nippon niju-roku seijin ; Zoku Ooka seidan: Mazo kaiketsu-hen (Ito) (as Osuzu); Fuyuki shinju (Tsuji) (as Okiku); Adauchi senshu (Uchida) (as Oshizu)
Kokushi muso (Itami) (as Yae); Yatoro-gasa: Kyorai no maki, Dokuho no maki (Inagaki) (as Oyuki); Yamiuchi tosei (Itami) (as Oshizu); Ai wa dokomaremo (Uchida); Kinno inakazamurai (as Kishimatsu); Byakuya no kyoen (Makino) (as Oichi)
Iniwa Hachiro ; Shinju fujin ; Koya no ka ; Tsukigata Hanpeita (Ito) (as Umematsu); Tange Sazen (Ito) (as Hagino); Konjiki-yasha (as Omiya); Nyonin Mandara (Ito) (as Yukiyo); Dansai Hyoe issho-tabi
Nyonin Mandara, Part II (Ito) (as Yokimo); Jinya no Shotaro ; Budo kagami (Itami) (as Otae); Furyu katsujin-ken (Yamanaka) (as Okyo); Chirimen kuyo ; Tange Sazen: Kenteki-hen ; Ureshii koro ; Chushingura: Ninjo-hen, Fukushu-hen (as Yozenin); Aizo-toge ( The Mountain Pass of Love and Hate ) (Mizoguchi) (as Utakichi); Sado jowa ; Kensetsu no hitobito (Ito)
Orizuru Osen ( The Downfall of Osen ) (Mizoguchi) (as Osen); Oroku kanzashi ; Maria no Oyuki ( Oyuki the Madonna ) (Mizoguchi) (title role); Ojo Okichi ; Chichi kaeru haha no kokoro ; Shinno Tsuruchiyo (Ito) (as Kikuhime and Himegiku)
Naniwa ereji ( Osaka Elegy ) (Mizoguchi) (as Ayako Murai); Shiju-hachi-nin me (Ito); Gion no shimai ( Sisters of Gion ) (Mizoguchi) (as Umekichi); Kutsukake Tokijiro (Kinugasa) (as Okinu); Aozora roshi (as Fujio-hime)
Kinno inaka-zamurai ; Then kurote-gume ; Yoshia goten (Nobuchi); Nangoku satsuma-uta ; Kekkon he no michi (Tanaka); Osaka natsu no jin ( The Summer Battle of Osaka ) (Minugasa) (as Sen-hime)
Shizuka gozen ; Uta-kichi andon ; Tsuruhachi tsurijiro (Naruse) (as Tsuruhachi); Budo sen-ichi-ya ; Shinpen Tange Sazen: Yoto no maki, Futate no maki (Watanabe)
Chushingura, Part II (as Okaru); Higuchi Ichiyo (title role); Kenka-tobi (Ishida); Sono Zenya ; Shinpen Tange Sazen: Sogan no maki, Koiguruma no maki (Watanabe)
Keshoyuki ; Hebihime-sama ( The Snake Princess ) (Jinugasa) (as Oshima); Niizuma kagami (Watanabe); Arashi nisakuhana ; Mozu ; Sakujitsu kieta oto (as Kotomi)
Ani no hanayome ; Shinpen bocchan ; Kaiketsu ; Shanhai no tsuki ( Shanghai Moon ) (Naruse); Yukiko to Natsuko ; Jogakusei-ki ; Kawanakajima gassen ( The Battle of Kawanakajima ) (Jinugasa) (as Oshino)
Musashibo Benkei ; Matteita otoko (Makino); Fukei-zu (Makino) (as Otsuta); Zoku Fukei-zu (Makino) (as Otsuta)
Ina no Kantaro (Takizawa) (as Oshin); Uta-andon ( The Song Lantern ) (Naruse) (as Osode), Meijin Chojiro-bori (Hagiwara) (as Outa); Himetaru kakugo
Shibaido ( The Way of Drama ) (Naruse); Yottsu no kekkon
Hinoki butai (Toyoda); Aru yo no tonosama ( Lord for a Night ) (Kinugasa) (as Omitsu)
Toho senichiya ( 1001 Nights with Toho ) (Ichikawa); Joyu ( Actress ) (Kinugasa) (as Sumako Matsui)
Koban-zame: Aizo-hen (Kinugasa); Koi okami-bi (Suda) (as Kiyoshi Kusuda)
Hana no tsukihi ; Koga yashiki ( Koga Mansion ) (Kinugasa); Hebihime dochu (Kimura)
Koku Hebihime dochu (Kimura); Kageboshi ; Zoku Kageboshi ; Haruka nari haha no kuni (Ito); Otomi to Tosaburo (Fuyushima) (as Otomi); Bojo ; Tateshi Danpei (Makino); Fuun Konpira-san ; Amagi kara kita otoko ; Midareboshi Aragami-yama (Hagiwara)
Oboro-kago ; Otsuya goroshi (Makino); Wagaya wa tanoshi (Nakamura); Kurama-tengu: Kakubei-jishi ; Natsumaturi sando-gasa ; Orizuru-gasa (Fuyushima); Umi no hanabi ; Oedo gonin otoko ; Satsuma hikyaku
Haha nareba onna nareba (Kamei); Shusse tohi ; Hanahagi sensei to Santa ; Hakone fuun-roku (Yamamoro, Kusuda, and Kosaka) (as Ritsu); Ako-jo (Hagiwara); Tsukigata Hanpeita ; Zoku Ako-jo (Hagiwara); Mazo ; Itoshigo to taete yukamu (Nakagawa); Gendaijin (Shibuya); Mangetsu sanju-koku-sen (Murune)
Edo iroha matsuri ; Kaga-sodo (Saeki); Onna hitori daichi o yuku (Kamei); Shukuzu ( Epitome ) (Shindo); Kumo nagareru hate ni (Ieki); Abare-jishi ; Miseraretaru tamashii ; Hiroshima (Sekigawa); Onna Kanja hibun: Ako-roshi (Sasaki)
Tojin Okichi ; Mama no shinkon-ryoko ; Kinsei Meishobu monogatari: Ogongai no hosha ; Ooka seidan: Yogiden: Hakuro no kamen, Jigokudani no taiketsu ; Mittsu no ai ; Chushingura ( 47 Loyal Ronin ) (Ohsone) (as Riku); Hirate Miki ; Karatachi no hana ; Okuman-choja ( A Billionaire ) (Ichikawa)
Aisureba koso ; Tokyo no sora no shita niwa ; Ai no onimotsu (Kawashima); Banba no Chutaro ; Yataro-gasa ; Furisode kenpo ; Minamoto Yoritsune ; Takekurabe ( Comparison of Heights ; Growing Up ; Daughters of Yoshiwara ) (Gosho) (as Oyoshi); Hana hiraku ; Araki Mataemon ; Seido no Kirisuto (Shibuya); Jinsei tohbo-gaeri ; Ishi-gassen (Wakasugi) (as the mother); Wakaki ushio
Oatari otoko ichidai ; Namida no hanamichi ; Zoku Minamoto Toshitsune ; Yuyake-gume ( Clouds at Twilight ) (Kinoshita); Hahako-zo (Saeki); Byosai monogatari ; Aya ni kanashiki ; Kyoraku yonin otoko ; Neko to Shozo to futari no onna ( A Man, a Cat and Two Women ) (Toyoda) (as Shinako); Nagareru ( Flowing ) (Naruse) (as Tsuta-yakko); Oshidori no aida
Kumonosu-jo ( Throne of Blood ; Cobweb Castle ; The Castle of the Spider's Web ; Macbeth ) (Kurosawa) (as Lady Washizu); Onna dake no machi ; Abarenbo kaido (Uchida); Tokyo boshoku ( Tokyo Twilight ) (Ozu) (as Kikuko Soma); Hikage no musume ; Ikiteiru ningyo ; Dai Chushingura ; Donzoko ( The Lower Depths ) (Kurosawa) (as Osugi, the landlady); Kuroi kawa (Kobayashi); Shitamachi ( Downtown ) (Chiba) (as Orio); Samurai Nippon
Haha san-nin ; Shiki no aiyoku ; Noren (Kawashima); Taiko-ki ; Dai-Tokyo tanjo: Oedo no kane ; Nemuri Kyoshiro burai hikae: Majin jigoku ; Akujo no kisetsu (Shibuya)
Fubuki to tomo ni kieyukinu ; Shura-zakura ; Aijo-fudo ; Banjun no santo-kocho ; Hime-yasha gyojo-ki ; Todoke haha no sakebi ; Hana no Banzui-in ; Wakare ; Furai monogatari: Ninkyo-hen ; Onatsu torimono-cho: Tsukiyo ni kieta onna ; Painappuru butai
Sen-hime goten ; Nurekami kenka tabi ; Yokaren monogatari: Konpeki no sora toku ; Hiho ; Bonchi (Ichikawa); Tenpo rokkasen: Jigokuno hanamichi ; Kusama no Hanjiro: Kiri no naka no wataridori ; Ruten ; Yoru no nagare ; Onatsu torimono-cho: Torima ; Furyu Fukagawa-uta ; Furai monogatari: Abare Hisha ; Tenka gomen ; Robo no ishi ( The Wayside Pebble ) (Hisamatsu)
Osaka-jo monogatari ( Daredevil in the Castle ; Devil in the Castle ) (Inagaki) (as Yodogimi); Mozu (Shibuya); Yojimbo ( The Bodyguard ) (Kurosawa) (as Orin); Anju to Zushio-maru (animation) (as voice); Hitorine ; Shaka ( Buddha ) (Misumi) (as Kalidevi)
Sanroku ; Yama no sanka: Moyuru wakamono-tachi ( Glory on the Summit ; Burning Youth ) (Shinoda) (as Taka Hirooka); Sanbyaku-rokuju-go-ya ; Shin no shikotei ( The Great Wall ) (Tanaka) (as dowager empress)
Sakiko-san chotto ; Ratai ( The Body ) (Narusawa)
Ooku maruhi monogatari
Yagyu ichizoku no inbo ( Shogun's Samurai ) (Fukasaku) (as Sugenin Oeyo)
Hissatsu! ( Hissatsu!: Sure Death ) (Sadanaga) (as "Shamisen Shop" Oriku)
"Memories of Mizoguchi," in Cinema (Beverly Hills), Spring 1971.
* * *
Still a teenager, but an actor's daughter, Isuzu Yamada began her career as a period film star at the Nikkatsu Studio in 1930. She studied with director Kunio Watanabe, and, through working with excellent period film directors such as Ito, Itami, Uchida, Inagaki, Makino, and Yamanaka, and playing opposite such stars as Denjiro Okochi and Chiezo Kataoko, she gradually established herself as the most popular actress at Nikkatsu.
She did not gain critical acclaim, however, until her two films for Mizoguchi in 1936: Osaka Elegy and Sisters of Gion. In both films she played strong-willed "modern girls" ( moga ) who rebel against their environments, using their beauty and youth to take advantage of exploitative men, although they are finally vanquished by them. Yamada achieved powerful performances, even utilizing the Osaka and Kyoto dialects to project a heightened realism. In the famous last shot of Osaka Elegy , which is the film's only close-up, Yamada stares defiantly at the camera, directly implicating the audience in her character's downfall.
During the war she established the theater group Shin Engi-za with actor Kazuo Hasegawa and continued her stage activities. Her postwar film work began with her collaboration with Kinugasa, producing fine results such as Lord for a Night , in which she lightly played the role of a pure-hearted inn maid, and Actress , in which she passionately portrayed the innovative actress Sumako Matsui.
After her private relationship with Kinugasa (her fourth of six husbands) ended and she began a new relationship with leftist actor Yoshi Kato, Yamada started to participate in the leftist independent film movement. One of the representative works that brought her recognition was her performance as the wife in the feudal period piece Hakone fuun-roku. Although Yamada, in a prolific professional career, played various roles for many directors including Ichikawa, Kobayashi, Kawashima, Shibuya and Shinoda, her most memorable postwar roles are those of the ex-wife in Toyoda's comedy, A Man, a Cat and Two Women , and of the weary brothel owner in Naruse's Flowing. For Kurosawa, she played Lady Washizu (Macbeth) in Throne of Blood , employing the Noh play-style of acting with horrifying effectiveness; the role brought her international acclaim. She also starred as the greedy landlord's wife in The Lower Depths and the nagging wife of the head of a competing sect in Yojimbo. Her intensity was well-suited to Kurosawa's powerful direction. She excelled at powerful portrayals of strong-willed women as well as the more delicate characterizations of women who are aging and showing the suffering of life.
Her achievements were acknowledged many times during her long stage and screen career. The consistent high quality of her best-known performances makes one wish her many other films were more widely available.
—Kyoko Hirano, updated by Corey K. Creekmur