Machiko Kyo, Star of Akira Kurosawa's 'Rashomon,' Dies at 95

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Machiko Kyo in 'Rashomon' (1950)

The actress appeared in numerous Japanese classics of the 1950s, including Teinosuke Kinugasa's 'Gate of Hell,' which won the Grand Prix at Cannes in 1954.

Machiko Kyo, star of films by many of Japan's legendary directors, including Akira Kurosawa, Teinosuke Kinugasa, Kenji Mizoguchi, Kon Ichikawa and Yasujiro Ozu, died Sunday of heart failure at a Tokyo hospital, according to studio Toho. She was 95.

Born Motoko Yano in Osaka in 1924, Kyo began her career as a dancer and showgirl at the now defunct Daiei Co. in 1949, where her charms caught the eye of its president and producer Masaichi Nagata, who groomed her for stardom.

Nagata, with whom she became romantically involved, produced Kurosawa's Rashomon (1950), in which Kyo starred as the "samurai's wife," the central female character in the film who has her own version of what happened in the woods. Rashomon went on to win the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival the next year, helping to introduce Japanese cinema to a global audience.

In his 1982 memoir Something Like an Autobiography, Kurosawa wrote that "during the rehearsals before the shooting, I was left virtually speechless by [Kyo's] dedication. She came in to where I was still sleeping in the morning and sat down with the script in her hand. 'Please teach me what to do,'" she requested, and I lay there amazed."

Kyo starred in another Daiei/Nagata film, Mizoguchi's Ugetsu, which won the Silver Lion for best director at Venice in 1953 and is regarded as one of the defining pieces of the Golden Age of Japanese cinema.

Nagata was also behind Kinugasa's Gate of Hell (1953), which starred Kyo and was the first Japanese film in color to be screened internationally. It captured the Grand Prix at Cannes in 1954 and the following year won an honorary Academy Award (the official foreign-language category had yet to be established).

The number of honors won by Kyo's films overseas earned her the nickname the "grand prix actress" in Japan.

In 1956, she starred opposite Marlon Brando, who appeared as a Okinawan local in "yellowface," as a geisha in the Hollywood comedy The Teahouse of the August Moon.

Kyo also appeared in Ichikawa's Odd Obsession and Ozu's Floating Weeds, both in 1959. Although less active in later decades, she continued to act into her 80s, appearing in public broadcaster NHK's television drama Haregi Koko Ichiban in 2000.

In 2017, Kyo was given a lifetime achievement award at the Japan Academy Prize ceremony.

Rhett Bartlett contributed to this report.