best film:   Isuzu Yamada is a bigger part of Throne of Blood – but Yojimbo is the better film. Kurosawa’s 1961 film is yet another Kurosawa masterpiece from an artistically fertile period from the great master that started in the 1950s and extended into the early 1960s. One could easily write 1000 words on the cultural impact and cinematic influence of Yojimbo. Certainly, without Yojimbo, there would not be A Fistful of Dollars which was the breakthrough film for both Sergio Leone and Clint Eastwood (two of the best 100 directors of all-time and one top 25 actor). Yojimbo leads directly to Sergio Corbucci’s Django (essentially the same plot)- and modern cinema is still seeing the reverberations of that in 21st century cinema obviously (Tarantino). Kurosawa’s Yojimbo is a pillar… an archetype. Yamada plays Orin and it is not an inconsequential role/part- but in this one she is certainly in the shadow of Toshiro Mifune- with the rest of the cast.



There is a stunning shot at 25 minutes with the three heads in the frame— Isuzu Yamada’s character, her husband and son– this is it– it is not some zoom-in from a pan and scan still shot- literally all that makes up the entirety of the wide frame is the three heads– beautiful.



best performance:  Osaka Elegy. Yamada’s films with Mizoguchi are not nearly as available, fashionable, and studied as her three with Kurosawa but she is the full lead here instead of backing up Mifune (and still somehow stealing scenes from him in their films together- which seems like an impossible task).



Yamada in MIzoguchi’s Osaka Elegy here. She was not quite twenty (20) years old yet in 1936 with already more than a dozen credits to her name.



stylistic innovations/traits:   Yamada’s Mizoguchi and Kurosawa collaborations are drastically different showing off her range. She is just missing one more major accomplishment on her resume (or a little more depth of archiveable filmography) to crack the top 50 on this list. Yamada is remembered for Throne of Blood and that is not a bad fate. She could clearly play the ice cold revenge role to perfection.



Yamada as Lady Asaji Washizu in Throne of Blood.  Kurosawa’s 1957 film is a heady meditation on greed, ambition and manipulation.  Often, and rightly, regarded as one of the finest Shakespeare adaptations. Kurosawa lifts Macbeth from the Bard and makes it his own by placing the drama in feudal Japan with Mifune and Yamada in the lead roles. Yamada’s poker-faced embodiment of evil contrasts perfectly with Mifune’s animated puppet. She is sublimely Machiavellian. Kurosawa brilliantly uses a specific eerie noise when Yamada’s character walks, and she disappears into an open door like a serpent.



directors worked with:    Akira Kurosawa (3) and these are later in her career in the 1950s and early 1960s and the two collaborations with Kenji Mizoguchi (2) in the 1930s.



top five performances:

  1. Osaka Elegy
  2. Thone of Blood
  3. Sisters of the Gion
  4. Yojimbo
  5. The Lower Depths



archiveable films

1936- Osaka Elegy
1936- Sisters of the Gion
1957- The Lower Depths
1957- Throne of Blood
1961- Yojimbo