Takamine Hideko, a Japanese actress who over the course of nearly 200 films developed from an endearing child star into a powerful representative of the Japanese woman's search for identity and autonomy in the years after World War II, died on Dec. 28 2010 in Tokyo. She was 86.

Born in Hakodate, the daughter of poor parents, Takamine, who never attended school, made her screen debut at the age of five in a silent drama, Mother (1929). For the next few years, her popularity increased as a child star, especially at the Toho studios in Tokyo, where she appeared in an average of four films a year under directors such as Yamamoto Kajiro, Kurosawa's mentor. It was Yamamoto who directed Takamine in one of her biggest successes in her teens, Uma (1941), in which she played the daughter of a family of poor farmers, who raises a horse from birth but has to sell it to the army against her will.

So popular was Takamine that the title of the first film in which she was directed by Naruse, Hideko the Bus Conductress (1941), had her name in the title and not that of the character. However, it was more than a decade later, starting with Lightning (1952), that she became Naruse's leading lady in his shomin-geki films, a genre that concerned itself with precise delineations of the lower middle classes.

Takamine was widely regarded by Japanese and foreign critics as one of the three great actresses of the classical Japanese cinema. In the same way as Tanaka Kinuyo became associated with the films of Mizoguchi Kenji, and Hara Setsuko with those of Ozu Yasujiro, Takamine embodied Naruse's heroines - courageous, independent, strong-willed, conscientious women, faced with misfortune. Naruse and Takamine had an exceptional way of working together. He would go through the script page by page with her, crossing out patches of dialogue that she could render without words, or by a glance, or by a gesture, or simply by her presence. "Even during the shooting of a picture, he would never say if anything was good or bad, interesting or trite," Takamine once explained. "He was a completely unresponsive director. I appeared in many of his films, and yet there was never an instance in which he gave me any acting instructions."

Apart from Naruse, Takamine worked with some of the best Japanese directors, most often as a liberated woman. In Ozu's The Munakata Sisters (1950), she plays a free-spirited modern girl, in contrast to her more traditional kimono-wearing older sister. (Takamine had appeared as a seven-year-old in Ozu's Tokyo Chorus, 1931.) In the title role of Kinoshita Keisuke's Carmen Comes Home (1951), the first Japanese feature in colour, Takamine is effective as the flighty heroine, a pretty Tokyo stripper who pays a visit to the village where she grew up, scandalising the community. She continued to show her comic flair as a vivacious salesgirl in Gosho Heinosuke's Where Chimneys Are Seen (1953), one of the best examples of "Goshoism", a distinctive blend of comedy and pathos. There was pathos aplenty in Kinoshita's Twenty-Four Eyes (1954), in which Takamine played a dedicated unmarried schoolteacher, one of her most popular films.

But her talents are best demonstrated in Naruse's Floating Clouds (1955), in which she played a secretary in love with her married boss, sticking with him from a wartime post in Indochina to contemporary Tokyo despite his coldness, and When a Woman Ascends the Stairs (1960), in which she played an ageing (30-year-old) bar hostess in Tokyo's Ginza district, who narrates her everyday existence in her basement flat and work in the bar above. "After it gets dark, I have to climb the stairs, and that's what I hate. But once I'm up, I can take whatever happens." In Yearning (1964), her penultimate film with Naruse, she is an archetypical war widow battling to adjust to life.

In this year's festival, we will be presenting some of her films as a tribute to Ms Takamine:

Hideko The Bus Conductress
When A woman Ascends The Stairs
The Munakata Sisters
Immortal Love
Where Chimneys Are Seen

Looking back at our past editions of this festival, we have screened 5 of her films: Flowing, Floating Clouds, Mother, A Wanderer's Notebook and Lightning, in 2002 and 2008.

concept and strategy by LUNA DIGITAL
Japanese Film Festival Singapore 2011 | シンガポール日本映画祭 2011 | July 2-10 | Gallery Theatre National Museum of Singapore