Tanaka Kinuyo (田中絹代)

Kinuyo TANAKA (December 29, 1909 - March 21, 1977) was a Japanese actress and film director in the Taisho and Showa periods.

She was a superstar who bolstered the Japanese cinema world from its dawning age as well as one of the greatest actresses represented in the history of Japanese movies. She was a triple crown winner, with her films winning prizes from three major world film festivals (Cannes, Venice and Berlin) (see below). She was also the second female movie director in Japan.

Biography and Personal Profile
From birth in Shimonoseki to the life in Osaka:
She was born in Maruyama-cho, Shimonoseki City, Yamaguchi Prefecture, to father Kumekichi TANAKA and mother Yasu as the youngest of the four sons and four daughters. Her mother Yasu was from the Kobayashi family, a merchant family of hereditary large landowners in Shimonoseki, and the Kumekichi served as head clerk. Kumekichi and Yasu married and went independent to deal in dry-goods and other materials and also had about 20 properties that they leased. Despite their affluence, Kumekichi died in January 1912 soon after Kinuyo turned three years old. Following his death, Kinuyo's mother ran a business manufacturing to-omote (tatami (Japanese straw mat) facings made of rattan), but their life gradually went into decline after they suffered misfortunes including the theft of money by servants.

In 1916, Kinuyo entered Shimonoseki Municipal Oe Jinjo Elementary School, but was unable to go to school every day due to economic difficulties. In the same year, her 20 year old brother Keisuke dodged the military draft and disappeared. This made the Tanaka family an object of contempt and their economic conditions deteriorated further. In the following year of 1917, her family finally became unable to continue by themselves so they moved to Tennoji, Osaka with the assistance of her mother, Yasu's older brother. In April, 1918, Kinuyo was admitted to the third grade in Tennoji Jinjo Elementary School. She was brought up in Osaka since this time.

Her success as an idol star during the prewar and war periods:
From a young age, Kinuyo took lessons in playing the biwa (Japanese lute) and appeared on stage with the girls' opera in Osaka's Rakutenchi in 1919. Through the connection of her older brother who was working as a steward at the Osaka Branch of Shochiku Co. Ltd., Kinuyo joined the Shochiku Shimogamo Studio in 1924 and debuted in the film "Genroku Onna" (literally, "A Woman from the Genroku Period") directed by director Hotei NOMURA. Before long, she was selected by then budding film director, Hiroshi SHIMIZU, for the lead role in "Mura no Bokujo" (literally, "a ranch in a village").

After being transferred to the Shochiku Kamata Studio in 1927, "Hazukashii Yume" (Shameful Dream) directed by Heinosuke GOSHO was very well received. She subsequently paired with the then popular star Denmei SUZUKI, becoming a cash cow for Shochiku and being promoted to a company executive. Kinuyo also starred in Japan's first ever talkie entitled "Madamu to Nyobo" (Madame and the Courtesan) directed by Gosho, and was thus received as a star even in the era of talking pictures.

In particular, the 1938 film "Aizen Katsura" (The Love-Troth Tree) in which she starred alongside Ken UEHARA became a record-breaking hit and was made into a season. In 1940, she appeared in the film "Naniwa Onna" (literally, "a woman in Naniwa") directed by Kenji MIZOGUCHI, in which she bolstered her self-confidence by meeting the Director's severe demands.

Post-war Transition from Acting Star to Director
Even in the post-war period, Kinuyo gave well received performances in "Joyu Sumako no Koi" (The Love of Sumako the Actress) directed by Mizoguchi and "Kaze No Naka No Mendori" (A Hen in the Wind) directed by Director Yasujiro OZU. She was successively awarded the best actress award at the 1947 and 1948 Mainichi Film Awards.

Thus it looked like she was doing everything well as an actress but in 1950, when she returned to Japan from her trip to the United States as part of the Japan-US goodwill envoy, she blew a kiss while wearing a gaudy dress and sunglasses on, an action that resulted in a heavy backlash from the public. After that, she fell into a slump and resigned from Shochiku.
At that time, she received heavy blows from media's harsh criticism which referred to her as a 'hag.'

In 1952, Kinuyo starred in the "Saikaku Ichidai Onna" (The Life of Oharu) which Director Mizoguchi had reserved as a vehicle for her. This film received the International Award at the Venice Film Festival, and Kinuyo made a full comeback. In the following year of 1953, Kinuyo and the director Yokomizo created "Ugetsu Monogatari" (Tales of Moon and Rain) which won the Silver Lion Award at the Venice Film Festival. She also directed "Koibumi" (Love Letter) in the same year. She was Japan's second female director but this is said to have alienated Kinuyo from Mizoguchi.

Subsequently, she constantly continued to actively lead the film industry; producing films including "Narayama Bushiko" (The Ballad of Narayama) directed by Keisuke KINOSHITA, "Higanbana" (Equinox Flower) directed by Ozu, and "Ruten no Ohi" (The Wandering Empress) starring Machiko KYO. Since her appearance in the NHK historical drama "Mominoki wa Nokotta" in 1970, she expanded her activities into television dramas, and became popular in roles such as the mother of the leading character in "Zenryaku Ofukurosama" (literally, "My Dear Mother") and the narrator for the soap opera "Kumono Jutan" (literally, "Cloud Carpet").

Her accomplished performance in the film "Sandakan Hachiban Shokan: Bokyo" (Brothel 8) directed by Kei KUMAI in 1974 was so highly appreciated worldwide that she received the Silver Bear (best actress) at the Berlin International Film Festival and Geijutsu Sensho (Fine Arts Prizes) of the Ministry of Education.

Kinuyo died of a brain tumor on March 21, 1977.
It is said that in her final years, she would ask those who visited her in her sick bed 'Even if I go blind, will there still be roles that I can perform?'
After her death, she was awarded the third class Order of the Sacred Treasure. Her funeral was held on March 31 of the same year and attended by 5,000 people from the film and broadcasting industries.

Her homyo (posthumous Buddhist name) (Jodo Shinshu sect (the True Pure Land Sect of Buddhism)) was Karyoin Shakuni Kenho (迦陵院釋尼絹芳). Her grave is at the Engaku-ji Temple in Kamakura City, Kanagawa Prefecture.

Her residence in Zushi City, Kanagawa Prefecture was such a stately building that it was called 'Kinuyo Goten' (lit. "Kinuyo Palace") (it was originally the second home of a politician). After her death, the building was preserved as a Japanese restaurant but after it closed, it was purchased by Monta MINO and demolished.

Posthumous Honors
In 1985, her cousin Masaki KOBAYASHI, a film director, created the "Tanaka Kinuyo Award" at the Mainichi Film Awards to be given to such actresses that have contributed to the development of the film industry. The first recipient of the award was Sayuri YOSHINAGA.

She was also well known as 'a woman with many loves,' with relationships including her cohabitation with and spilt from director Hiroshi SHIMIZU as well as her romance with Keio University Baseball Club headliner Shigeru MIZUHARA. Her eventful life was made into a movie titled "Eiga Joyu" (literally, "A Film Actress") starring Sayuri YOSHINAGA, directed by Director Kon ICHIKAWA in 1987.