Yoshiko Yamaguchi: Actress who survived charges of treason in China and came to symbolise Japan's dreams of conquest

Star of films in Japan, China, and Hollywood who later became a member of parliament in Japan
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The Independent Online

Yoshiko Yamaguchi was an actress known as Rikoran who symbolised Japan's wartime dreams of Asian conquest. Known as Shirley Yamaguchi in the West, she was one of Japan's biggest film stars during and after the Second World War. Born to Japanese parents in northern China in 1920 and raised in Japan's wartime puppet state Manchukuo, she was adopted by a Chinese friend of her father and was renamed "Xianglan," or "Fragrant Orchid," when she was 13. As Li Xianglan – "Rikoran" in Japanese – she starred in Chinese-language films made by the Japanese-run Manchurian Cinema Association, many of them propaganda films.

`'Yue Lai Xiang," one of her best known songs, is still popular among Chinese singers. In the film "Song of the White Orchid", she depicted a young Chinese woman who falls in love with a Japanese man after her family is killed by the Japanese. Chinese authorities arrested Yamaguchi after the war and accused her of being a traitor, but a friend produced family records proving her Japanese origin, saving her from execution. She apologised for her duplicity and was allowed to leave China.

After the war she appeared in two Hollywood films and on Broadway during the 1950s. At home she starred in Akira Kurosawa's Scandal, and Seijun Suzuki's Escape at Dawn, among other films. She then largely withdrew from film-making, but the story of her life was made into dramas and musicals that are still performed today. Her 1987 autobiography Half My Life as Rikoran was a bestseller. In 1974 she was elected to parliament's Upper House as a member of the Liberal Democratic Party and served until 1992.

Yoshiko Yamaguchi, actress: born Fushun, Manchuria 12 February 1920; twice married; died 7 September 2014.

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