Yoko Tani (谷洋子)
Itani Yōko (猪谷洋子)
2 August 1928
|Died||19 April 1999 (aged 70)|
Tani's birth name was Itani Yōko (猪谷洋子). She has occasionally been described as 'Eurasian', 'half French', 'half Japanese' and even, in one source, 'Italian Japanese', all of which are incorrect.
French records (1958) show that her father and mother—both Japanese—were attached to the Japanese embassy in Paris, with Tani herself conceived en route during a shipboard passage from Japan to Europe in 1927 and subsequently born in Paris the following year, hence given the name Yōko (洋子), one reading of which can mean "ocean-child."
According to Japanese sources, the family returned to Japan in 1930, when Yoko would still have been a toddler, and she did not return to France until 1950 when her schooling was completed. Given that there were severe restrictions on Japanese travelling outside Japan directly after World War II, this would have been an unusual event; however, it is known that Itani had attended an elite Catholic girls' school in Tokyo (unnamed, but probably Seishin Joshi Gakuen), and through it secured a Catholic scholarship to study aesthetics at the University of Paris (Sorbonne) under Étienne Souriau.
Return to France (1950–1955)Edit
Once back in Paris, Tani found little interest in attending university (although by her own account she persevered for two years despite understanding hardly anything that was being said). Instead, she developed a more compelling attraction to the cabaret, the nightclub, and the variety music-hall, where, setting herself up as an exotic oriental beauty, she quickly established a reputation for her provocatively sexy "geisha" dances, which generally ended with her slipping out of her kimono. It was here she was spotted by Marcel Carné, who took her into his circle of director and actor-friends, including Roland Lesaffre, whom she was later to marry. As a result, she began to get bit parts in films—starting as (perhaps predictably) a Japanese dancer, in Gréville's Le port du désir (1953–1954, released 1955)—and on the stage, with a role as Lotus Bleu in la Petite Maison de Thé (French adaptation of The Teahouse of the August Moon) at the Théâtre Montparnasse, 1954–1955 season.
Lesaffre and Japan (1956)Edit
Tani's involvement with cinema was, up to the mid-1950s, limited entirely to that of portraying stereotyped orientals in French films. With the end of the US occupation of Japan in 1952, however, postwar Japanese cinema itself burst upon the French scene, culminating in the years 1955 and 1956 when a total of six Japanese films, including Akira Kurosawa's Ikimono no Kiroku (I Live in Fear 生きものの記録) and Kenji Mizoguchi's Chikamatsu Monogatari (The Crucified Lovers 近松物語), were entered at Cannes. It was at Cannes that Tani made contact with directors Hisamatsu Seiji and Kurosawa, contacts which led to a trip to Japan in 1956 by Tani and Lesaffre and their joint appearance in the Toho production Hadashi no seishun (裸足の青春 fr. La jeunesse aux pieds nus), a film about the difficult lives of Catholics in the remote islands off Kyushu, in southern Japan. Tani played the part of a 'fallen woman' who has returned to the islands from Tokyo (where she had run off to become a stripper), and Lesaffre that of the local bishop. It was originally intended that the film be directed by Kurosawa himself, but in the end it fell to his Toho stable-mate Taniguchi Senkichi. Tani and Lesaffre's ambition was to bring the film back to France and release it in the French market, an aim which was, however, never achieved.
During the same trip, and also for Toho, Tani took a minor role in Hisamatsu's Jōshû to tomo ni (女囚と共に), a variant on the dubious but ever-popular "women in prison" theme, in which she played a westernised Japanese Catholic named Marie. This film, which now languishes in justifiable obscurity, was notable only in that it starred two veritable legends of the Japanese cinema: Hara Setsuko and Tanaka Kinuyo. (Despite this, it's not clear how much contact, if any, Tani would have had with them --- apart from the relative novelty of having a French husband in tow, she would have been very much beneath the notice of these great Japanese stars).
International period (1957–1962)Edit
Early in 1957, Tani appeared in a small role in her first English-language film: the MGM production of Graham Greene's The Quiet American, a political drama set in French Indochina. Despite being an American production, the film was shot entirely in Rome (with location scenes of Saigon added), with Tani cast as a francophone Vietnamese nightclub hostess.
But Tani's real "break" in English-language cinema came with the 1958 production The Wind Cannot Read. This film, a war-time love story, had originally been a project of the British producer Alexander Korda, and was to have been directed by David Lean, who in 1955 travelled to Japan with author Richard Mason and cast Japanese actress Kishi Keiko as the female lead. Locations were scouted in India, and Ms Kishi (then 22 years old) was brought to England to learn sufficient English for the part. At a very advanced stage, the project fell apart, and a few months later Korda died. The pieces were eventually picked up by the Rank Organisation, and it was decided to produce the film using the script and locations already set out by Lean, with one of Rank's big stars, Dirk Bogarde, in the male lead, Ralph Thomas to direct, and Tani, who was found in Paris, to play the leading female role. The film was a commercial success and one of the top British films of that year, and led to further roles in other British co-productions --- as the Inuit Asiak in the Anglo-French-Italian The Savage Innocents (Les Dents du diable) (1959 - nominated for the Palme d'Or at Cannes in 1960), and as the ingénue Seraphina in Piccadilly Third Stop (1960).
Aside from The Quiet American, her only other "Hollywood" roles were in My Geisha (1962, shot on location in Japan) and the fatuous Dean Martin comedy Who's Been Sleeping in My Bed? (1963, Paramount Studios Los Angeles).
Despite being type-cast as an exotic, Tani got to play some unusual roles as a result, as evidenced by her portrayal of Japanese doctor/scientist Sumiko Ogimura in the self-consciously internationalist 1959 East-German/Polish film production of Stanisław Lem's novel The Astronauts, Der schweigende Stern (First Spaceship on Venus), and as Miyake Hanako, Japanese common-law wife of the German double-agent Richard Sorge in Veit Harlan's Verrat an Deutschland.
Perhaps even more unusual (for the time) was her trip to Vancouver, Canada in 1962 to play the role of Mary Ota in James Clavell's The Sweet and the Bitter, which treats the aftermath of the wartime internment of Canadian Japanese and the loss of their properties and businesses. Ota, a young Japanese woman, returns to British Columbia after a twenty-year absence to avenge her father's internment-camp death, her hatred directed towards the man who stole her father's fishing boats. The movie also includes the obligatory love story between the Japanese girl and a Canadian boy. The film was completed in 1963, but there was no North American release due to legal and financial difficulties. British Lion finally underwrote a showing of the film in London in 1967.
Spies, swords and sandals (1963 - )Edit
1962/63 marked a shift in Tani's career: a return (once again) to France and the definitive end of her marriage to Lesaffre. From this point on she was to be more strictly European-based and to take on work mainly in the low-budget Italian peplum cinema and in femme fatale roles in UK television dramas such as Danger Man and Man in a Suitcase.
Despite her involvement with film, Tani never abandoned her attachment to the nightclub and cabaret. The British producer Betty Box, when looking for the female lead for The Wind Cannot Read (vide supra), wrote:
- As Richard [Mason] suggested, it had been extremely difficult to cast the Japanese girl -- we spent months on that, and nearly gave up. We eventually found Yoko Tani in, of all places, a girlie club -- more or less a striptease joint -- in Paris, and we were delighted with Richard's reaction to her.
And, from a 1960s account of the well-known Le Crazy Horse de Paris nightclub:
- [Le] Crazy Horse Saloon is a training ground for stars. From first to last the strippers all have names which are likely to crop up in the movies or Parisian social life: Yoko Tani, Rita Renoir, Rita Cadillac, Dodo d'Hambourg, Bertha von Paraboum, etc.
Yet images of Japanese-Brazilian sensuality, both explicit and potential, were not confined to film: in 1977, Yoko Tani starred in a transvestite show in downtown São Paulo...
Tani's 1956 marriage to Roland Lesaffre was childless, and ended in divorce in 1962. Lesaffre claimed in his autobiography Mataf (éditions Pygmalion, 1991), that theirs was the first Franco-Japanese marriage after World War II --- conceivably true, but almost impossible to verify. (True or not, it may have begun something of a trend, since Kishi Keiko and Yves Ciampi were married the following year.)
In later life Tani remarried, wedding Roger Laforet, a native of Binic, Côtes-d'Armor (Brittany). A wealthy industrialist, Laforet was an associate of Baron Marcel Bich, co-founder of the BIC consumer products empire. Tani's declining years were spent between Paris and their house in Paimpol overlooking the sea.
Tani was survived by her younger sister, Aiko.
In popular cultureEdit
- 1954 (France) : Le port du désir dir. Edmond T. Gréville - unnamed dancer
- 1954 (France) : Les Clandestines dir. Raoul André - unnamed Chinese girl
- 1954 (France) : Ali Baba et les Quarante voleurs dir. Jacques Becker
- 1954 (France) : Marchandes d'illusions dir. Raoul André - unnamed Eurasian
- 1954 (France) : Les pépées font la loi dir. Raoul André - The Lotus Flower
- 1954 (West Germany) : Verrat an Deutschland dir. Veit Harlan - Hanako (Sorge's Japanese common-law wife)
- 1955 (France) : Interdit de séjour dir. Maurice de Canonge - unnamed dancer
- 1955 (France) : Gueule d'ange dir. Marcel Blistène - Bamboo Flower
- 1955 (France) : Paris canaille dir. Pierre Gaspard-Huit, released 1956 - unnamed student
- 1955 (France) : À la manière de Sherlock Holmes dir. Henri Lepage
- 1956 (Japan) : 裸足の青春 - Hadashi no seishun / Barefoot Youth dir. 谷口千吉 / Senkichi Taniguchi - Okano Mariko (岡野マリ子)
- 1956 (Japan) : 女囚と共に - Jōshû to tomo ni / Women in Prison dir. 久松静児 / Seiji Hisamatsu - Marie (マリー), a prisoner
- 1956 (France) : Mannequins de Paris dir. André Hunebelle - Lotus
- 1957 (France) : Les Œufs de l'autruche dir. Denys de La Patellière - la comtesse Yoko
- 1957 (France) : La Fille de feu dir. Alfred Rode - Zélie
- 1958 (Italy) : The Quiet American dir. Joseph L. Mankiewicz - head nightclub hostess
- 1958 (UK) : The Wind Cannot Read dir. Ralph Thomas - Aiko Suzuki (Sabby)
- 1959 (East Germany/Poland) : Der schweigende Stern/Milcząca Gwiazda - The Silent Star/First Spaceship on Venus dir. Kurt Maetzig & Hieronim Przybył - Sumiko Ogimura
- 1959 (France/Italy/UK) : The Savage Innocents dir. Nicholas Ray - Asiak
- 1960 (UK) : Piccadilly Third Stop dir. Wolf Rilla - Seraphina Yokami
- 1961 (Italy/France) : Ursus and the Tartar Princess dir. Remigio Del Grosso - Princess Ila
- 1961 (Italy) : Maciste alla corte del Gran Khan - Samson and the Seven Miracles of the World dir. Riccardo Freda - Princess Lei Ling
- 1961 (Italy/France) : Marco Polo dirs. Hugo Fregonese, Piero Pierotti - Princess Amurroy
- 1962 (USA/Japan) : My Geisha dir. Jack Cardiff - Kazumi Ito
- 1962 (Canada) : The Sweet and the Bitter, dir. James Clavell, released 1967 - Mary Ota
- 1963 (USA) : Who's Been Sleeping in My Bed? dir. Daniel Mann - Isami Hiroti
- 1964 (Italy) : F.B.I. - Operazione Baalbek dir. Hugo Fregonese & Giuliano Carnimeo - Asia
- 1964 (West Germany) : The Secret of Dr. Mabuse dir. Hugo Fregonese - Mercedès
- 1964 (Italy) : Bianco, Rosso, Giallo, Rosa - The Love Factory, dir. Massimo Mida - Yoko
- 1965 (Italy/France) : OSS 77 – Operazione fior di loto dir. Bruno Paolinelli
- 1965 (Italy) : Agent Z-55, Desperate Mission dir. Roberto Bianchi Montero - Su Ling
- 1965 (UK) : Invasion dir. Alan Bridges - Chief of the "Lystrians"
- 1966 (Italy) : The Spy Who Loved Flowers dir. Umberto Lenzi - Mei Lang
- 1967 (Italy) : Le 7 cinesi d'oro dir. Vincenzo Cascino - La giapponese
- 1969 (Spain/Italy) : Goldsnake 'Anonima Killers' dir. Ferdinando Baldi - Annie Wong
- 1977 (Brazil) : O Estripador de Mulheres dir. Juan Bajon
- 1978 (France) : Ça fait tilt dir. André Hunebelle - Youyou
- 1960 (UK) : Chasing the Dragon - BBC television (scriptwriter Colin Morris)
- 1961 (UK) : Rashomon - BBC television adaptation dir. Rudolph Cartier - The Wife
- 1961 (USA) : Here's Hollywood - NBC Television; season 1, episode 28 (broadcast 26 April 1961) - herself
- 1962 (USA) : Ben Casey - season 1, episode 27, "A Pleasant Thing for the Eyes" - Aiko Tanaka
- 1963 (UK) : Edgar Wallace Mysteries - episode 31, "The Partner" (based on A Million Dollar Story (1926)) dir. Gerard Glaister - Lin Siyan
- 1964 (UK) : Drama - episode "Miss Hanago" - Miss Hanago
- 1966 (UK) : Armchair Theatre - Associated British Corp. - episode "The Tilted Screen" - Michiko
- 1967 (UK) : Danger Man - ITV; season 4, episode 1, "Koroshi" - Ako Nakamura
- 1967 (UK) : Danger Man - ITV; season 4, episode 2, "Shinda Shima" - Miho
- 1967 (UK) : Man in a Suitcase - ITV; episode 5, "Variation on a Million Bucks pt. 1" - Taiko
- 1967 (UK) : Man in a Suitcase - ITV; episode 6, "Variation on a Million Bucks pt. 2" - Taiko
- 1968 (France/Canada) : Les Dossiers de l'agence O - episode 10, "L'arrestation du musicien" - Kiku - la stripteaseuse
- 1971 (UK) : Shirley's World - episode 12, "A Girl Like You" - Okiyo - ITV (UK transmission date 23 June 1972)
- 1972 (France/Québéc) : Le fils du ciel - Gisèle
- 1986 (France) : Série rose (erotic anthology) - episode "Le lotus d'or" dir. Walerian Borowczyk - Madame Lune
- 1954 (France) : Namouna by Jacques Deval - Théâtre de Paris - Sao-Ming
- 1955 (France) : La petite maison de thé adapted by Albert Husson - Théâtre Montparnasse - Lotus Bleu
- 1958 (France) : Chérie Noire by François Campaux, Théâtre Michel - Chérie
- 1965 (UK) : The Professor by Hal Porter, Royal Court Theatre - Fusehime Ishimoto (housemaid)
- 1967 (France) : Une femme à louer by François Campaux, mise en scène Christian Alers, Théâtre de la Potinière
- fr:Yoko Tani
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