Obituary: Actress Isuzu Yamada, 1917-2012

Isuzu Yamada scene

Isuzu Yamada is the sinister Lady Asaji in Akira Kurosawa's 1957 Throne of Blood.

Isuzu Yamada, one of Japan’s greatest actresses who starred in screen, stage and television productions in her native country for five decades, died on July 9, 2012 in Tokyo. She was 95 years old.

Over the course of her career, Ms. Yamada worked with many of Japan’s greatest film directors, including Kenji Mizoguchi (she starred in his Oyuki the Virgin and The Downfall of Osen, both from 1935), Yasujiro Ozu (1957’s Tokyo Twilight), Mikio Naruse (1956’s Flowing) and, of course, Akira Kurosawa, for whom she starred in The Lower Depths (1957), Yojimbo(1951) and Throne of Blood (1957).

It’s Throne of Blood, Kurosawa’s samurai-styled adaptation of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, that Ms. Yamada is best known in the U.S. Her take on the Lady Macbeth part opposite Toshiro Mifune’s Macbeth character remains one of the most memorable versions of the role I’ve ever seen. Chillingly quiet and controlled, Ms. Yamada is downright terrifying in her subtlety as she uses her sinister charms to direct her husband to a climactic downfall (for both of them!).

Throne of Blood is required viewing for any fan of Japanese cinema or filmed adaptations from the Shakespeare canon. Like the work of Kurosawa and Mifune in the film, Ms. Yamada’s contribution is simply outstanding.

About Laurence

Founder and editor Laurence Lerman saw Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest when he was 13 years old and that’s all it took. He has been writing about film and video for more than a quarter of a century for magazines, anthologies, websites and most recently, Video Business magazine, where he served as the Reviews Editor for 15 years.