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One of China's Seven Great Singing Stars, as well as a top actress. Li Xianglan was born Yamaguchi Yoshiko on February 12, 1920 in the outskirts of Mukden (now Shenyang ) Fushun, Manchuria. Yoshiko made her debut as an actress and singer in the 1938 film Honeymoon Express 蜜月快車, by Manchuria Film Production. She was billed as Li Xianglan (Chinese: 李香蘭; pinyin: Lǐ Xīanglán), pronounced Ri Kōran in Japanese. The adoption of a Chinese stage name was prompted by the Film company's economic and political motives—a Manchurian girl who had command over both the Japanese and Chinese languages was much sought after.
From this she rose to be a star and Japan-Manchuria Goodwill Ambassadress (日満親善大使). Though in her subsequent films she was almost exclusively billed as Li Xianglan, she indeed appeared in a few as "Yamaguchi Yoshiko." Many of her films bore some degree of promotion of the Japanese national policy (in particular pertaining to the Greater East Asia Co-prosperity Sphere ideology) and can be termed "National Policy Films" (国策映画).
The 1940 film China Nights (支那の夜) also known as Shanghai Nights (上海の夜), by Manchuria Film Productions, is especially controversial. In this film, billed as Li Xianglan, Yoshiko portrayed a young woman of extreme anti-Japanese sentiment who came to fall in love with a Japanese man. A key turning point in the film has the young Chinese woman being slapped by the Japanese man, but instead of hatred, she reacts with gratitude. The film was met with great aversion among the Chinese audience as they believed that the Chinese female character was a sketch of debasement and inferiority. It is for this reason that to this day, one of her classic songs, "Suzhou Serenade" (蘇州夜曲) is still banned in mainland China. A few years later, when confronted by angry Chinese reporters in Shanghai, Yoshiko apologized and cited as pretext her inexperienced youth at the time of filmmaking, choosing not to reveal her Japanese identity. Though her Japanese nationality was never divulged in the Chinese media until after the Sino-Japanese war, it was brought to light by Japanese press when she performed in Japan under her assumed Chinese name and as the Japan-Manchuria Goodwill Ambassadress. Oddly enough, when she visited Japan during this period, she was criticized for being too Chinese in dress and in language.
In 1942, Yoshiko appeared in the film Leaving a good name for posterity (萬世流芳). The film was shot in Shanghai commemorating the centennial of the Opium War. A few top Chinese stars in Shanghai also appeared in the film and consequently endured the repercussion of controversy. The film was of anti-British nature and was a collaboration between Chinese and Japanese film companies. Nonetheless, its anti-colonization undertone might also be interpreted as a satire of the Japanese expansion in east Asia. Regardless, the film was a hit and Yoshiko became a national sensation. Her film theme songs with jazz/pop-like arrangements such as "Candy-Peddling Song" (賣糖歌) and "Quitting (opium) Song" (戒煙歌) elevated her status to be among the top singers in all Chinese-speaking regions in Asia overnight. Many songs recorded by Yoshiko during her Shanghai period became evergreen classics in Chinese popular music history. Other noteworthy hits include "Tuberoses"/"Fragrance of the Night" (夜來香), "Ocean Bird" ("Petrel") (海燕), "If Only" (恨不相逢未嫁時), and "Second Dream" (第二夢).
At the end of World War II, she was arrested by Chinese government for treason and collaboration with the Japanese. However, she was cleared of all charges, and possibly the death penalty, since she was not a Chinese national, and thus the Chinese government could not try her for treason. And before long in 1946, she settled in Japan and launched a new acting career there under the name Yoshiko Yamaguchi. In the 1950s she established her acting career as Shirley Yamaguchi in Hollywood and on Broadway (in the short-lived musical "Shangri-La") in the U.S. She married the renowned Japanese American sculptor Isamu Noguchi in 1951, but they divorced in 1956. She revived the Li Xianglan name and appeared in several Chinese-language films made in Hong Kong. Unfortunately some of her 1950s Chinese films were destroyed in a studio fire, so they have not been seen since the initial releases. Her Mandarin hit songs from this period include "Three Years" (三年), "Plum Blossom" (梅花), "Childhood Times" (小時候), "Only You" (只有你), and "Heart Song" (心曲 – a cover of "Eternally"). She then returned to Japan, and after retiring from the world of film in 1958, she appeared as a hostess and anchorwoman on TV talk shows. As a result of her marriage to the Japanese diplomat, Ōtaka Hiroshi, she lived for a while in Myanmar. They remained married until his death in 2001.
In 1969 she became the host of The Three O'Clock You (Sanji no anata) TV show, reporting on Palestine as well as the Vietnam War.
In 1974, she was elected to the House of Councillors (the upper House of the Japanese parliament), where she served for 18 years (three terms). She co-authored the book, Ri Koran, Watashi no Hansei (Half My Life as Ri Koran). She now serves as a Vice-President of the Asian Women’s Fund.
Ōtaka was considered, by many Chinese in the post-World War II period, to be a Japanese spy and, thus, a traitor to the Chinese people. This misconception was caused, in part, by Ōtaka passing herself off as Chinese throughout the 1930s and 1940s. Her Japanese identity was not officially revealed until her post-war persecution nearly led to her execution as a treacherous Chinese traitor. She had always expressed her guilt for taking part in the Japanese propaganda films in the early days of her acting career. For this, she did not visit China for about 20 years after the war as she felt the Chinese had not forgiven her. She still does not believe she has made enough amends for her involvement.
Here is the definitive website for this remarkable lady - www.YoshikoYamaguchi.blogspot.com
Xianglan at You Tube
The Swallow 1945
Li Xianglan - What Kind of Flower ( Itsuki Lullaby ) sung in Japanese
Li Xianglan - Seven Samurai (sung in the 1954 film)
Li Xianglan - Life Experience Wandering 1955
Li Xianglan (Yoshiko Yamaguchi) - Let's Walk ( sung in Japanese )
Li Xianglan - Lake Taihu Dreamboats 1939
Li Xianglan - Suzhou Nocturne - 1953 ( sung in Japanese)
The Life of the Flower (sung in Japanese)
Heart Song (Eternally) 1957
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