In the late 1950s, Ishiro Honda directed Inao: Story of an Iron Arm (1959), a biographical film about famed baseball player Kazuhisa Inao. One of the director’s non-genre efforts, this 106-minute picture was subjected to a number of post-production excisions, in which some now-reputable cast members had their screen time mercilessly trimmed or entirely eradicated. Among those to suffer the wrath of the editor’s scissors was a newcomer named Yuriko Hoshi. As revealed in the recent biography Ishiro Honda: A Life in Film, from Godzilla to Kurosawa, Hoshi had been sequestered on location in Kyushu for an entire month during the shoot, the vast majority of her time spent waiting for the crew to get around to filming her scene; and when the finished product hit theaters in March of that year, the future star’s image was nowhere to be found. Presumably for the sake of pacing—and despite the fact that her name still appears in the credits—Hoshi’s scene had been cut.
Five years later, Hoshi, now one of Toho’s most popular actresses, reunited with her Inao director for the production of 1964’s Mothra vs. Godzilla. At one point, Honda approached his leading lady and apologized for the interminable wait she endured on their 1959 collaboration. (“I was surprised he even remembered,” Hoshi recalled in a 1996 interview with Stuart Galbraith IV.) And, consciously or unconsciously, Honda made it up to the young actress by granting her one of the new film’s most dramatic and powerful scenes, in which the female lead appeals to the humanity of the Infant Islanders, begging them to think of the scores of people falling victim to Godzilla’s wrath. “[E]ven as we speak, many people are losing their lives to Godzilla. There are many good people among them, but even the bad ones have the right to live.” This scene, and many others, flooded into my mind when I learned of Hoshi’s passing a few days ago.
Yuriko Hoshi, who died from lung cancer on May 16th (age 74), commanded a number of memorable parts in the course of her long, productive career. For international audiences, she’ll most likely be remembered for her science fiction pictures with Honda—the earlier mentioned Mothra vs. Godzilla, and Ghidorah the Three-headed Monster (1964)—and as the elder scientist in Masaaki Tezuka’s Godzilla vs. Megaguirus (2000). In addition to those performances, I’ll always have great affinity for her non-genre work. One that comes to mind as I write this is Shue Matsubayashi’s apocalyptic drama The Last War (1961). An extremely problematic film which draws most of its strength from individual scenes as opposed to its complete narrative, one of the The Last War’s bravura qualities is its collection of standout performances from its Japanese cast. Hoshi plays a young bride fated to perish in a global nuclear war mere days after wedding the man of her dreams; and the dialogue-free sadness she evokes while saying goodbye to her husband through Morse code I sincerely rank with the most moving performances I’ve ever seen in a motion picture. The actress took what was, at script-level, a fairly simple part and created a believable person before the eyes of the audience.
Other roles of note. Hoshi joining Yuzo Kayama in singing his iconic Kimi to itsumademo in 1965’s Campus A-Go-Go, one of many times she played love interest to Kayama in the long-running Wakadaisho (Young Guy) series. The passionate women she played in the films of Kihachi Okamoto, including Kill! (1968) and, most notably, as the sword-wielding bakashu in Warring Clans (1963). The last two performances, conducted a half-decade apart, brilliantly demonstrate Hoshi’s true range as an actress, as they show her playing two very different parts and playing both effectively. In the former, she’s a fairly regular woman aggressively devoted to her fiancé; in the latter, she retaliates to the unwanted advances of men by striking their heads with shafts of wood or slicing their hands with the edge of a blade. Of course, in listing the titles mentioned thus far in this article, I’m merely chipping the tip of a very large and fairly robust iceberg, as Hoshi acted in well over one hundred film and television projects (and that is to say nothing of her stage career). But in wrapping up, I would like to salute one more screen performance, this one coming from a motion picture I saw on the day of her passing..
In the 1963 Mikio Naruse film A Woman’s Life, Yuriko Hoshi plays a cabaret girl whose husband is killed in an automobile accident. It’s a very small part, limited to a couple of minutes of screen time, but exceedingly well-written and beautifully performed. In the picture’s finale, the widow, who is expecting a child, visits her mother-in-law (Hideko Takamine) for the first time, only to be ardently denounced and turned away. Takamine had objected to her son’s matrimony from the get-go, declaring the bride a “slut” based solely on the girl’s profession; and now she unfairly pins blame for her son’s death on his widow. Eventually, she comes to realize she was wrong in prejudging her daughter-in-law and that they, as it happens, have much in common: Takamine, once a single parent herself, underwent many of the struggles Hoshi’s character will soon endure. What follows is a genuinely moving sequence as the two women converse in the rain. Hoshi initially shrugs off all pleas for forgiveness but softens upon watching her mother-in-law sulking in the downpour. And then, in a move displaying her true compassionate colors, Hoshi invites Takamine to come up to her apartment, to get out of the rain. They leave together. A new bond has been forged and we join Takamine in realizing this young woman will make a wonderful mother. The emotional patterns demanded of the supporting actress—cautionary friendliness, defiance, reluctance to forgive, eventual exoneration—are delivered without a single false note.
Rest In Peace, Yuriko Hoshi. On May 16th, we lost one of the greats.